Archive for the ‘Introduction to Christianity’ Category

Report: Michael Green – Why I Am A Christian

October 4, 2010

On Friday night, I attended Michael Green’s talk which was a basic overview of his reasons for being a Christian. It wasn’t in-depth or terribly profound, but a very clear statement of why he became a Christian (encounter), why his faith is rational/credible (evidence), and how it changed his life (experience). The full audio feed is due to be posted on the website of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship. As I didn’t take any notes, what follows is the best I can reconstruct his talk from memory – i.e., please accept all the usual disclaimers concerning accuracy.

Green started out explaining about his journey to faith – his encounter with Christ. Apparently, he was a bit of a rebel in his youth; nasty temper, foul-mouthed etc. Anyway, he was mistakenly(!) invited along to a Christian meeting at his school where he ran into the first proper expression of the Christian faith which he had heard. Over a period of months (6-8), he eventually came to believe that Jesus was who he said he was and that he really had been raised from the dead. The breakthrough came for him during a conversation with the mentor running the meetings (the doctor who edited the BMJ no less). At this meeting, Green realised that he was in a mess and that he needed to be saved and forgiven. From this point, all things began to change. He read the bible daily, which slowly transformed him including his previous foul-mouth and temper. The best thing I really took from this section of the talk was not so much his own personal story, but rather his emphasis that everyone’s journey to faith is different. For most people it’s not a case of blinding lights and voices from heaven but a long, slow, gradual process of appropriating the Christian message and faith as one’s own. While for Green there was an existential point of crisis, he made the point clearly that this is a far from universal experience (he mentioned his own son as an example). Moreover, that following Jesus is something that we can be invited to participate in long before achieving some sort of epistemic certainty (do we ever?). He quipped that we can take Jesus on approval, trying on the Christian faith for size. I greatly appreciated this and actually wish this was emphasised more in evangelism. 

The second section came under the heading of evidence. There were really two parts to this section: a) theism, and; b) Jesus. Those in the know would have recognised brief allusions to a variety of the arguments for the existence of God. I’ve only managed to recall some of them, the audio will give the full complement (cosmological, contingency, design, fine-tuning/anthropic, consciousness, values – both general and specifically moral). Green asked the audience to think about the universe, world and daily lives we inhabit. If nothing comes from nothing, how can the universe have just popped into being from nothing? Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do all of the natural laws work so well and regularly? In other words, why does it all appear so well-designed? Moreover, the universe seems geared to being just right for life (this is the only argument he actually named – anthropic argument), but why? How can we explain consciousness which allows us to freely chose one action over another, which is surely more than just the physical firing of neurons and chemical reactions? Values which we hold dear and essential to our humanity such as love and beauty, which we can’t measure and quantify in a test-tube – i.e., there’s more to life than the merely physical/material. Moreover, we believe murder, for example, is intrinsically wrong. But why? If we believe that there are moral laws, then we must also believe in a lawgiver. All of these could have been greatly unpacked and explained, but Green’s aim in this section was to demonstrate that the Christian faith has its reasons (a lot of them), that it is intellectually credible, that it is rational to believe. He didn’t try to argue that these observations about the world and universe proved the existence of God, his claims were more modest. Personally, I agree with Green on this and appreciated his frankness on the matter. The second part of this section focused on Jesus himself: his character, his charisma, his moral teaching, his miracles, his fulfillment of prophecy (especially in his life and death), his personal claims, and the historical evidence for his resurrection (there was more, but I don’t recall). Essentially, Green challenged us to think about who Jesus is and to ask ourselves if we can really avoid the implications of the answers we come to. 

Finally, under the rubric of experience, Green outlined what happens after coming to faith. This included the transformation of our characters, growing relationship and intimacy with God, and the personal thrust towards sharing what we’ve found with others (i.e., evangelism/mission). Again, there was more, but we were almost up to an hour by now and I was, to my great shame and eternal discredit, starting to switch off.

In general, my impression is that the talk was really intended to act as a jumping off-point for further discussion – an appetizer to be taken up and explored more fully. As such, it wasn’t addressed to me (a biblicist) or the pal I sat with (theologian/philosopher). Nonetheless, what really struck me was his passion and enthusiasm for spreading the good news. He has just turned 80 (and you’d never have guessed so) and is incredibly vital and full of energy. In the end, it was an extremely fluent talk which was a useful introduction for others first thinking about these matters.

Personally, I do wonder if the “evangelical narrative” about us being hideous sinners, who know in our heart-of-hearts that we’re in a mess and need rescuing and forgiven, really addresses where we find ourselves culturally these days. Back in the 1950’s maybe, but in the 21st century? Do people feel any genuine guilt/shame about their actions and so feel the need to be forgiven? How much has moral relativism gripped the popular mood and consciousness? That we can do whatever we want as long as it feels good and doesn’t harm anyone else. Can Green’s way of proclaiming the gospel (standard evangelical method) still speak into the situation we find ourselves in now? I’m not at all convinced that it can or does anymore. I’d be interested to hear what others think about this. Anyway, taken as a place to start, Green’s talk was worth the effort to attend. Plus, on a personal note, I got a chance to catch up with a couple of friends and buy another couple of books, which is always good 🙂

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Simply Christian: Introduction & Orientation

September 21, 2010

Some people like to jump straight into a book at the first chapter. Others prefer to read the introduction and gain an understanding of the general shape of the argument, and this allows them to grasp better the individual parts along the way. This post is for the latter folk – people like me.

Wright’s basic aim in the book was to describe what Christianity is all about, “both to commend it to those outside the faith and to explain it to those inside.” (ix) He doesn’t remotely pretend to have covered everything, but has tried to give the subject a particular threefold shape.

In the first part, Wright explores four points of contact with today’s world which he suggests are the echoes of a voice: “the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationship, and the delight in beauty.” (ix) The echoes point beyond themselves to something deeper, more profound, and Wright wants us to keep them in mind as we progress through the book. Having raised important questions in this first part, he will gradually offer answers to them in Parts 2 and 3. All he asks is the patience to bear with him, to wait until everything gets tied together by the end of the book.

Part 2 focuses on the Christian belief about God, that: there is only one true and living God, and this God is to be known in the face of Jesus; this God called the Jewish people to be his special agents in advancing his plans to rescue and restore his good creation, and; this God acts now by his Spirit. Thus,  

Gradually, as this part unfolds, we discover that the voice whose echoes we began to listen for in the first place becomes recognizable, as we reflect on the creator God who longs to put his world to rights; on the human being called Jesus who announced God’s kingdom, died on a cross, and rose again; and on the Spirit, who blows like a powerful wind through the world and through human lives. (x)

Part 3 imagines what it looks like in practice to follow Jesus, be energized by the Spirit of God, and advance the plan of the creator God (i.e., worship, prayer, Scripture, mission, new creation etc.). This leads us to think about the “church”, not as a building or an institution, but as the community of believers who try to follow Jesus. Indeed, what is the church there for, because following Jesus isn’t simply about wanting to ensure a better afterlife. 

Our future beyond death is enormously important, but the nature of the Christian hope is such that it plays back into the present life. We’re called, here and now, to be instruments of God’s new creation, the world-put-to-rights which has already been launched in Jesus and of which Jesus’ followers are supposed to be not simply beneficiaries but also agents. (x)

This gives us a new angle to approach prayer/Christian behaviour, and enables us “to find the “echoes” of the first part coming back again, not now as hints of a God we might learn to know for ourselves, but as key elements of the Christian calling to work for his kingdom within the world.” (x)

To buy: Simply Christian

Simply Christian

September 19, 2010

One of the things I’d like to do over the life of this blog is provide some accessible resources for the church. As such, from time to time, I’ll blog through one of the introductory books on Christianity. As each of these is slightly different and will have varying appeal depending on one’s presuppositions and personality/temperament, I intend to cover a range of material such as Stott’s Basic Christianity or Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Over the next couple of weeks though, I’m going to post on Tom Wright’s Simply Christian, which the blurb on the back cover describes as:

Why is justice fair? Why are so many people pursuing spirituality? Why do we crave relationship? And why is beauty so beautiful? N. T. Wright argues that each of these questions takes us into the mystery of who God is and what he wants from us. For two thousand years Christianity has claimed to answer these mysteries, and this renowned biblical scholar and Anglican bishop shows that it still does today. Like C. S. Lewis did in his classic Mere Christianity, Wright makes the case for Christian faith from the ground up, assuming that the reader is starting from ground zero with no predisposition to and perhaps even some negativity toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. His goal is to describe Christianity in as simple and accessible, yet hopefully attractive and exciting, a way as possible, both to say to outsiders ‘You might want to look at this further,’ and to say to insiders ‘You may not have quite understood this bit clearly yet.’

By the way, if anyone has any books they’d like me to look through or blog on, please do let me know either in the comments or by email (which can be found on my “About” page).