May 21, 2011

Here's Some Good News

In his sermon last week our pastor preached from the passage that instructs Christians to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." That got me to thinking: How would I explain this whole Christianity thing to someone? And could I do it succinctly enough to make a blog post out of it?

First, let's define our terms. Here's Christianity in a hundred words or so, courtesy of the Apostles' Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
Was crucified, dead, and buried:
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
The holy catholic church;
The communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.
Amen.
Okay, good enough. But what's it all about? Well, in modern America it's important to emphasize right up front that Christianity is not some sort of self-help program (How can I relieve stress? How can I get my family budget in order? How can I have my best life now?). It's not a system of ethics. It's not some sort of "family values" platform. Rather, Christianity is a story -- specifically, a rescue story. As theologian Michael Horton puts it,
The Bible, all along -- its whole plot line from Genesis to Revelation -- tells us, "Hey, come over here for a minute. Sit down." It's a doctor giving us the diagnosis: "You have cancer." Once you hear "you have cancer," your whole outlook on what you need changes. And once God tells us, "Look, this is the problem: I am your enemy. I can't be anything but your enemy, apart from you being in the right with respect to my justice and my law, my righteousness. Now ... I'm going to tell you what I did about that."
And of course what He did about that is very good news. Indeed, it is the "gospel" -- the "euangélion" -- the "good news," and it is summarized in the creed above (especially that part about being crucified and rising from the dead). I love this preface to a storybook Bible we used to read to Jack Henry:
Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what He has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne -- everything -- to rescue the one he loves. ... There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
Well, okay, that's all well and good for a children's story. But why would an intelligent grown-up want to embrace it?

Answer: Because it's true. It is not merely a story. It is -- like Hannibal crossing the Alps or the delegates gathering in Philadelphia -- history. If it is not historically true, then it can safely be ignored.

Some people can handle religion if it's sufficiently mysterious and vague, if it's all sweetness and light, if all roads to lead to heaven, and so on. But what kind of religion would go and stick Pontius Pilate right there in the middle of the creed? A specific Roman bureaucrat, for crying out loud! But that's just it: Christianity is rooted in history. The evidence demonstrates that Jesus of Nazareth lived, was executed, rose from the dead, and then appeared to more than 500 people. If you're not persuaded by that evidence, then don't waste your time with Christianity. After all, "if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain," says the apostle Paul. If Christ is not raised, he says, "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."

But if He is raised -- and He is -- then we must repent and believe this good news.

UPDATE: For a terrific two-part discussion on what the gospel is and why we should believe it, click here and here.

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