What is your best reason for being a Christian?
There was a time in my life I would have said that the best reason to be a Christian is that God is offering you the greatest conceivable bargain. In exchange for a small suspension of doubt, you get an enormous reward. Forgiveness for your sins and a worldwide community of welcoming people, for example, not to mention eternal salvation.
Now, though, I don’t think it’s quite right to frame the choice to become a believer in those terms. Christianity isn’t a transaction. You shouldn’t be a Christian because you carefully tallied the costs of faith on one side of a ledger and found that the sum total of benefits on the other to be larger.
My real best reason for being a Christian is that God will provide a reprieve from the brokenness of the world. There’s no guarantee that this reprieve will be soon its coming, and no guarantee that once you accept that it is coming that life will be any less broken. Being a Christian is believing that there’s a light at the end of tunnel, but having to remember there’s still a dark tunnel.
Part of me wishes that the sales pitch for Christianity was easier. That I could spell out all the wonderful things that will come to you when you accept Jesus (and there are many wonderful things) and explain how all the things you’ll still have to endure after you do (and there are many difficult things) will become a bit more bearable. But in doing so, I’d still be framing things in terms of an economic interaction.
It’s said that Paul (the Apostle) believed in Jesus so thoroughly, and knew God so well, that he would have gone to Hell so that another could go to Heaven. I don’t have that kind of faith. I don’t know anyone with that kind of faith. For all my trying, I still look at things in terms of what benefit my soul will get in the end. But that Paul’s level of selflessness is attainable, that is my best reason for being a Christian.
What evidence or experience (if any) would cause you to stop believing in God?
I’d like to say that I’ll always believe in God. That no matter what evidence my eyes see, my faith would be stronger. That no situation would make me doubt all the experiences I’ve had with Jesus. I’d like to say that, but I don’t know whether it’s true.
There’s not much risk to my faith from scientific exploration. If tomorrow scientists were able to prove unequivocally that humans evolved from fish (as I understand it, modern mammals and modern fish both have DNA that suggest common origin), I wouldn’t pray any less. The Bible doesn’t say that God didn’t work using DNA, or that he didn’t re-use common elements while adding life to Creation. I’d like it if many other Christians took this view – instead of attacking the science of evolution, they could learn about it as a way of catching a glimpse of their Creator’s toolkit.
I hope I would fare as well if I experienced what seemed to be the fulfillment of some non-Christian prophecy. For example, if the sky were to open up and I recognized Loki, Thor, and Odin from Norse mythology as they engaged in a battle that inundated the world, I might fear that I had chosen the wrong path with my faith. However, I hope that my faith would be strong enough to stand such a test.
The real risk to my faith, I think, is less fanciful. Witnessing the suffering in the world – disease, famine, natural disasters – is difficult, and I have a hard time with it already. Experiencing it myself would be more difficult. Recently I heard an interview with some Christian missionaries who were captured and tortured in the Philippines. They didn’t give up their faith, but I fear that if I were in their situation that I might not have that kind of strength.
Why do you believe Christianity has a stronger claim to truth than other religions/On what basis do you reject the truth claims of other traditions and denominations but accept your own?
I’ve come to think that humans trying to understand truth is a bit like a dog trying to understand calculus. In my view, God has chosen to share some things with us (through revelations, through prophets, through the Bible) and chosen to let us discover some other things (through experience and scientific inquiry). However, the thought that we can know anything but this small fraction of truth seems like a vulgar hubris.
I don’t think Jesus wants Christians to try to wield the small fraction of the truth they’ve been given as a weapon. How many poor souls have turned away from Christianity because some self-righteous evangelist attacked them for not accepting some narrowly interpreted dogma properly? Isn’t it amazing how Satan has managed to associate shame, guilt, and intolerance with Jesus’s message? And that well-meaning Christians have fallen for it? Even the text of this question aimed at Christians assumes that we “reject” certain persons
and ideas that don’t conform properly to the ones we “accept.”
That the Christian Bible reveals truth in a way that, say, the Koran and Book of Mormon don’t might thus seem undecidable. However, it’s the experience of accepting Jesus and knowing God that makes me believe that Christianity is the right path. It’s the chills I get from reading about Jesus in the Gospels, the testimony of friends I trust who have had conversations with God, the feeling of emptiness being replaced with God’s love. This is the real feeling of truth, not conformance to some mystifying rubric.
How do you read the Bible? Do you study the history of its translations? How do you decide which translations/versions/books are the true Bible? How does it guide you if you have a moral or theological dilemma?
There’s not one correct or best way to read the Bible. If you’re reading the Bible, whether or not you’re a Christian, you are learning from the most important and influential documents in the universe.
That said, there’s a few bad ways to read the Bible. Opening it up with an agenda of proving yourself right, or proving someone else wrong, is one of those bad ways. I try to make sure that my reading of the Bible informs my opinions and not vice-versa.
The history of the Bible is a fascinating subject, and not one that any serious student should shy away from. Skeptics sometimes claim that the Bible’s changes over the last few thousand years somehow prove that it can’t be true, but I personally don’t find this argument very compelling. The Bible, divinely inspired as it is, is also a very human book. God has entrusted humanity with the messages he wants us to hear, and that message has survived for centuries, a few mistranslations, transcription errors, mistaken inclusions and
When I pick up a Bible, I’m not only learning about God’s message, but also humanity’s understanding of God’s message. One translator’s reading of the text can amplify aspects that another translator’s doesn’t. Reading the books of Maccabees and deciding for myself whether they resonate is better than accepting or rejecting them simply because the leaders of your denomination have a strong opinion on whether they are canonical.
Personally, I find that the long history of the Bible helps enormously when dealing with dilemmas. Few human situations are truly novel, and odds are that someone, somewhere, has had the same question I have had. The Internet makes it easy to find passages and scholarly (and non-scholarly) Biblical commentary relevant to my situation. When that
fails, I try to read about Jesus for a while, and imagine what He might advise.
Voting opens Friday afternoon