A Few Reasons Why I’m (Still) A Christian

I made it clear in my last post that I think what one believes is less important than how one believes. Such an understanding about beliefs has allowed me to affirm a number of various worldviews, not least the ones explicated in the world’s major religious traditions. I think within many of the world’s major religions there are innumerable resources available when it comes to making us more compassionate people.

So why Christianity?

The simple answer is that I am a Christian because I was raised by parents who are Christians in a society that is saturated with Christian language and ideas and that many of my closest friends growing up were Christians. Christianity was simply the water that I swam in as I matured. By the time I was in middle school, youth group and other church functions made up most of my social life. In high school I worked at the church as an intern. In college I found myself at a Bible school. From this perspective, it’s no wonder that I identify as a Christian.

Of course, this is an unsatisfactory answer. No one wants to believe that their worldview is simply a matter of geographical location or social conditioning. Such an explanation seems far too simplistic and reductionist.

I would say that although my claiming the Jesus tradition as my own is not less than a matter of social conditioning, it is certainly more. Growing up for me has been a journey of (and pardon the cliche) “making my faith my own.” Primarily, I identify as a Christian because at the center of this tradition I find the person of Jesus who continues to push me, challenge me, encourage me, and call me towards a life of deeper love.

What else attracts me to Christianity?

  1. The scriptures of the Christian tradition are self-critiquing. Whereas many choose to read the Bible as if it spoke with one coherent and logical voice, I have come to see the Bible as a book containing many voices that speak against and critique one another. The neat and tidy view of Proverbs (If you’re good then good things will happen to you) is critiqued by Job which says that sometimes bad things happen to really good people. Some psalms say that Israel went into exile because God had abandoned his people. Others say that Jerusalem’s destruction was the result of Israel’s sin. At the beginning of the New Testament we have 4 different accounts of Jesus that are less than harmonious. The fact that the Bible is multi-voiced and self-critiquing encourages the reader towards humility. There is no one ideology that can be left unchallenged.*** Thus, as we read the Bible and develop our personal conception of God we join a dialogue that has been underway since the canon was developed. I’ve come to believe that the dialogue that emerges as we read the scriptures is what is sacred rather than one particular “biblical” perspective (I don’t even think this exists). When I read the Bible and communicate what I’ve come to believe about the divine and you do the same, even in the act of disagreement, we encounter God. This is one reason why I love the Christian tradition.
  2. One of the major themes of the Christian story is the welcoming of the stranger. The Christian narrative can no doubt be read with an exclusivist slant. Much of the Old Testament, for example, is a polemic against non-Jewish conceptions of the divine. However, throughout the narrative there are glimpses of radical inclusivity that subvert the exclusivist reading. Boaz marries Ruth the Moabite. Balaam the foreigner becomes a prophet as he foretells the prospering of Israel. Rahab the prostitute is welcomed into the fold despite her non-Jewish descent. Of course, this theme comes into sharpest focus during the ministry of Jesus who reserved his harshest words for the religious, those who believed themselves to already be “in.” When speaking to the religious folk of his day Jesus said: “The tax collectors and the prostitutes will inherit the kingdom of God before you” (Matthew 21:31). The God of the Christian narrative has always been on the side of the marginalized which means that any reading of the Christian story that intends to exclude the other must be called into question.
  3. The God revealed in the Christian tradition is a suffering God who is wholly committed to the flourishing of the earth and its inhabitants. Many would take issue with the idea that God could suffer but for me this has become central to my faith. If Christ is taken seriously as the fullest revelation of God then it seems to me near impossible to deny the reality of God’s suffering. A suffering God for and with a suffering world: this is why I self-identify as a Christian.

This is in no way an exhaustive list. These are but a few of the reasons why I identify as a follower of Christ.

It is also for these reasons that I find it worth inviting others to join the cause of Christ. This serves as a qualification of a statement I made in my last post: I invite others to join the journey that is Christian discipleship because I believe this journey helps to arouse a sense of compassion in the believer. This has most definitely been my experience. The Christian tradition has been for me a deep well to draw from in my pursuit of being a more compassionate person. My motivation, then, for inviting others along on this journey is no longer a fear of hell but the hope for a better global community. That being said, I do not find it appropriate to invite all to the join the Christian community. As I stated earlier, the Buddhist ought to remain a Buddhist if compassion is the result. Attempting to get an eastern individual to accept a western concept of the divine can, I believe, cause more harm than good especially if that individual is unable to translate those western concepts into her or his own eastern context. There are eastern modes of thought that yield compassion and peace in eastern contexts. Thus, it makes sense to me to encourage the other to adopt whatever worldview that best translates to a more just society in their particular context. Of course, a “just society” looks like will change depending on the worldview adopted and at this point I believe that humble dialogue among the world religions is necessary. As we dialogue we become creatively transformed by one another. Where our tradition lacks perhaps another provides and vice versa.

*** It is this element of the Christian tradition that offers the best response to the postmodern critique of meta-narratives which says that all grand stories inevitable lead to oppression and authoritarianism. Because the Christian story is always self-critiquing I believe it is less prone to oppression especially because it is the oppressive readings that are most strongly critiqued in the narrative.


The Functionality of Religion

I have come to believe that how one’s beliefs function practically in day to day experience is more important than the beliefs themselves. In other words, right belief takes a back seat to believing in the right way.

I’ve come to believe this over the course of 4 years of Bible college as well as many years of personal reflection and study, not to mention a lifetime of personal experience. I would almost describe my coming to this particular belief as a “conversion”–it has radically changed the way I interact with others, especially those who are different than me. I have “converted” from a way of looking at the world that says there is one right/correct/orthodox belief that all must conform to lest they inherit eternal punishment. I now believe that there are many correct ways of conceiving ultimate reality.

I would stop short of identifying as a full blown relativist, however. I still believe that some beliefs are better than others. Not all worldviews are created equal.

My criterion for deciding whether or not a particular worldview is good is how well the belief under consideration yields compassion in the believer.

I’ve begun to ask myself: “Do my beliefs about God limit my ability to accept people who are different than me or am I more prone to accept the other because of my faith?”

Additionally, I believe that true compassion reaches out to even the non-human. Thus, I ask myself: “Do my religious beliefs help me to become a better steward of the earth or am I pushed towards selfish consumption of the earth’s resources?”

In short, the goal of religion, in my opinion, is to help one become a better global citizen. I reject religion that has another world as its focus. It seems to me that other-worldly and escapist religion leads to apathy and passive inactivity when it comes to working for justice in the here and now. Religion ought to be about making this world, the world where we live and move and have our being, a better place.

Because I believe that religion must be functional if it is to be accepted, I no longer believe that everyone must become a Christian. If the dominant worldview in one’s context is a particular stream of Buddhism and that particular stream of Buddhism contains the resources necessary to live a compassionate life, then I see my job as a global citizen to be encouraging that person to live life well as a compassionate Buddhist. The Christian and the Buddhist can work together to create a better, more compassionate global community as they are both challenged and creatively transformed by one another.

Thus, I believe that conversion is necessary not at the level of religion but rather at the level of the functionality of one’s religion/beliefs about ultimate reality. In other words, I’m less concerned about making you a Christian than I am with convincing you that living a life of compassion is the best possible way to live.

All this to say, I still self-identify as a Christian and my reasons for doing so most definitely need fleshing out. That will have to wait until another time.