Patheos Spirituality Channel welcomes Marcus Brotherton from the Patheos Family Channel in his submission to the Stepping Stones on your Spiritual Journey Series
I was driving back from an airshow with an SUV full of WWII veterans when I was asked outright: “Marcus, what religion are you, anyway?”
I never know how to answer that.
It’s honestly asked, yet it tends to invite misunderstanding and judgment. No matter what you answer, you’re bound to get stuffed into a box.
I say “honestly asked,” because when I interviewed WWII veterans for my oral history project We Who Are Alive & Remain, we talked about everything imaginable—fear, killings, nightmares, marriage, and, yes, religion and politics.
Very few of the veterans wanted to discuss politics at length (except Lt. Buck Compton, who’d been a judge after the war—he could talk politics all day).
Yet all the men—without exception—wanted to discuss matters of faith. I guess when you get to be their age you can’t help but wrestle with life’s biggest questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going when we die?
The men’s answers ranged all over the place. Several said Catholic. Sgt. Shifty Powers was a Baptist. Lt. Roy Gates had conquered a drinking problem through A.A., (an organization that leans on a higher power), yet said he was a staunch atheist.
How did I answer?
I grew up in a world where religion and questioning mixed together. My father was a minister; my mother a journalist. So I grew up believing in God, yet asking him all the hard questions I could.
No matter how religious someone grows up, there comes a time in everybody’s life where he needs to make his belief system his own, apart from his parents’ faith. For me that happened in college and graduate school. I studied theology and journalism myself—not so much to get a job, but because I wanted to grapple with life’s hard questions.
I began to read the books of men such as Dr. J.P. Moreland and Dr. William Lane Craig—clear-minded, intellectual giants who had not only studied theology and philosophy, but also chemistry, mathematics, and science.
Through the Kalam Cosmological Argument, they laid out a logical case for what they termed “a personal, infinite, first cause” for the universe. In other words, God, plausibly, and even mathematically, could very well exist.
Fine, I thought, both Pascal and I could accept a God. Or at least wager in God’s direction.
But this other part of my religious upbringing, this Jesus Christ, was a much trickier horse to bet on.
I didn’t doubt that a famed historical teacher once lived and breathed in the ancient near east. Even secular historians like Josephus described the existence of Jesus of Nazareth as fact.
A nice enough guy, that Jesus. A good leader. And he surely captured the attention of the crowds.
But to form a whole world-view around him?
Seemed a little overboard.
From the perspective of textual criticism, there was strong evidence to conclude that the accounts written about Jesus were accurately reported. Still, there was this one thing Jesus said about himself that was difficult to accept.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,
And no one can get to God except through me.”
That was a bold statement for a mere leader to make. Too bold perhaps. For some time I needed to wrestle with its implications.
I mean, can you imagine any of today’s influential leaders saying the same things about themselves? What if Bill Gates said that about himself? Or Bono? Or President Obama? What kind of reaction would that provoke?
Or think of it this way. Through books, I am an influential leader. What if I said …
“Hey everybody, guess what?
Me, Marcus Brotherton: I am THE way.
I’m the sum total of all truth.
And no one can get to God except through reading my book Shifty’s War.”
You’d think I was a lunatic—on the level with someone who claims he’s a box of breakfast cereal.
And I’d be a liar too. Because none of that’s true about me.
Therefore, I concluded, there was no way that Jesus, if he was simply a good teacher, could justifiably make those statements about himself.
That Jesus was a crazy liar.
Unless—and this is what I gradually came to accept, and this is how I answered the question in the SUV—there was one more option.
He was telling the truth.
Question: What do you think about Jesus?
See more of Marcus Brotherton’s essays and books at www.marcusbrotherton.com