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Basic Christianity, Part One: Ground Rules & Presuppositions
December 09, 2003
A Starting Place
I have been asked by a few different visitors to this site to write a series about basic Christianity. At first I hesitated, thinking that surely there were many, many similar series on the Internet that I could direct people to. I was only partially correct. There are many courses available, but most seem to be geared towards a knowledgeable Christian audience. They assume a belief in the Bible and extensive knowledge of it. I do not believe this is representative of the vast majority of people, so have decided to write this series which will discuss the basics of the Christian faith. I will begin with presuppositions, move to Christianity’s background and then discuss Jesus and His teachings. I will, of course, also discuss Christian living. I expect this series to evolve as it is written and as I receive feedback about the articles.
Below is a rough outline of upcoming articles. Of course all topics and their ordering are subject to change.
- Why Should You Care? (Why should I bother learning about Christianity?)
- What does Christianity offer? (What does Christianity offer and what makes it unique?)
- God – (Who is He and how has He revealed Himself?)
- The Bible – (What is The Bible and what do Christians believe about it?)
- The Human Condition (What does Christianity teach about me?)
- The Old Testament (What does the Old Testament have to do with Christianity?)
- Jesus - Who Was He? (Who was Jesus?)
- Jesus - Fulfillment of the Old Testament (What does Jesus have to do with the Old Testament?)
- Jesus - Life and Times Explained (What was Jesus’ significance?)
- Jesus - His Death and Resurrection (Why did Jesus need to die and come back to life?)
- Biblical Writers/Teachers – (Who wrote the Bible and what did they teach?)
- Christian Life (This section will contain multiple articles. They will include topics such as What is Prayer; What is the church, What is tithing, etc?)
My intention is to have this series appeal to two different audiences – those who are not Christians and are interested in learning about Christianity and those who are new Christians and are interested in growing their knowledge.
If we are going to study Christianity, it would be wise to begin by defining our terms. First, it is important to realize that simply confessing that you are a Christian does not make you one. There are many who call themselves Christians who, by the definition we will use, are not. I can call myself a doctor or an engineer and initially you would not know if I was speaking the truth. Of course you could ask me to provide a diploma or other credentials and when I failed to produce one you would be able to know that I am lying. However, when I call myself a Christian it is much more difficult for you to discern whether or not I am being truthful. The reason for this is that being a Christian is a matter of the spirit; it is internal.
For our purposes we will initially define a “Christian” as “one who professes that Jesus is his Lord and his Savior and has the Holy Spirit living in him.” Now I realize that some of these terms will require defining and we will do that later. The point I wish to make clear is that to be a Christian there must be an internal work of God. This is, of course, impossible to see. It is impossible for me to look at a person and know from his physical appearance if he is a Christian. If I ask for proof of his profession of faith in God, there is little he can offer but his word. So although my definition is specific, it is often difficult to discern who really is a Christian.
Based on this we can define “Christianity” as “the system of beliefs that Christians (those who profess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and have the Holy Spirit living in them) adhere to.” It is the living out of Christian principles.
One further definition is “Christendom.” By this I refer to all those who hold to a system of beliefs based on the Bible. This would include Protestants and Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and all other groups basing their religion on the Bible.
Before I begin this introductory article, I would like to introduce a metaphor; it is the metaphor of life as a journey, and more specifically, as a spiritual journey. I realize that is hardly a ground-breaking concept, but I believe it fits well within the Christian context. Just as every person changes physically and intellectually as he grows older, so each person changes spiritually as life goes on. To remain static spiritually would be as unprofitable as remaining static intellectually, never seeking answers and never learning. It would be as unhealthy as remaining static physically, never exercising.
For some people life’s spiritual journey leads to a belief in God and ends right there. For others that journey may lead to Judaism or Islam or one of the eastern religions. Still others may journey from religion to religion, pausing only briefly at each one.
Let’s consider this spiritual journey as it pertains to Christianity. It is my belief that a healthy journey will not end at a profession of faith in God. Rather, a profession of faith should be the beginning of a whole new phase of a journey. It is a journey that will not end until the day we die.
Imagine that you are traveling from New York City to Washington. As you travel you will need to pass through several other cities – Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore all lie between you and your destination. You might measure your progress by the cities you pass by. For example, when you pass through Baltimore you will know that you have completed more than three quarters of your journey. Now consider that same map as a map of a spiritual journey. A person may become a Christian in Wilmington, about halfway through his life. Wilmington, though, is not the end of the journey but is the beginning of a whole new part of the journey.
If we examine the articles I have listed, we see that they can be divided into different phases of a journey. The introductory articles, such as “Why Should You Care?” and “What Does Christianity Offer?” are questions each person must deal with before becoming a Christian. Similarly, knowledge pertaining to God, the Bible and the human condition must be settled before anyone can make a Christian confession. After all, to become a Christian I must first know why I need God (the human condition), I must learn who God is (through the Bible) and I must believe that He can help me (Who God is). These are all topics that must be dealt with before arriving at Wilmington (to continue with our analogy).
Many of the other articles will examine subjects that involve the Christian life. This, then, represents the next phase of the journey. At this point the person has already made a Christian commitment and is traveling between Wilmington and Philadelphia. These articles will examine how Christians are to live out their lives.
Through this series I will return to and expand this analogy.
Ground Rules & Presuppositions
It seems that the Christian world is buzzing with excitement about a book called The Purpose Driven Life. In this book Rick Warren, who is both an author and a pastor, seeks to answer the question of “What on earth am I here for?” I was given a copy of this book and my first thought was that it takes a very brave (or maybe very arrogant) man to claim he can provide people with the answer to this question, knowing that millions of people will read the book. I am certain that as he wrote the book he often felt intimidated, wondering if he could really do justice to such a vast topic.
Having been challenged to write an introduction to Christianity, I feel similarly intimidated (though I am confident I will never have the audience Warren does!). The question arises of how does one go about introducing a topic as vast as Christianity? I considered starting with the Biblical account of creation as that seemed like a logical place, but came to realize that the story of creation assumes some knowledge of the Bible and some degree of belief in it. I then considered starting at the end, as it were, with the death of Jesus. But again, that introduces the same problem. So I decided to take a different angle. I am going to start by establishing some ground rules and then in our next article will begin a discussion of why an understanding of Christianity is important. Essentially, as a starting point I will seek to answer the question “Why should I bother learning about Christianity?”
First, let me set some ground rules and presuppositions for this study.
- I believe that most people who are not Christians have an inaccurate view of what Christianity is really about. What they think they know is really a caricature of Christianity. The media often presents Christians as either “Ned Flanders” do-gooders, or as judgmental fundamentalists. It is rare to see a Christian character on television or in the movies that is an accurate portrayal of your average Christian. I am going to try to present Christianity as it pertains to an average person.
This introduction to Christianity is not necessarily intended as a means of persuasion for the reader to become a Christian. My intension is to provide an explanation for what Christianity is, where it came from and how faith plays out in the lives of Christians.
- I am a committed Christian. Therefore this series is written from a perspective that is knowledgeable about Christianity, but necessarily biased. As I see it, there are really only two options when it comes to such a series. It could be written by an outsider, seeking to be objective, or by an “insider” seeking to present it as accurately as possible. I have no choice but to opt for the latter.
- Too many introductions to Christianity are really aimed at Christians, and many of those seem to be aimed at Christians with a very solid theological grounding. I will seek to avoid using “Christianese,” a word which describes words and phrases Christians use that are devoid of meaning outside of the Christian context. I am assuming that more than professing Christians will read this series, so will not use words only Christians will understand. When necessary I will define terms as I go.
- I encourage you to post comments using the commenting feature at the end of each article. If you have questions you can also feel free to email me using the address posted at the top of each page on this site. By doing this we can make this an interactive journey.
Now that we have settled the ground rules and presuppositions, we can move on to the matter at hand. Tomorrow we will discuss reasons why you should have some knowledge of Christianity. Some important terms will receive further explanation when you hover your mouse over them.