Why I Am a Christian

My aim here is not to evangelise, convert or even to persuade anyone. Rather, I will try to explain and clarify the convictions that inform my perspective on issues of life and faith.

I am a Christian because I want serious and theoretically-engaged answers to the most pressing questions of human existence and cosmic purpose. I want to avoid becoming so caught up in the pressures and trivialities of everyday life that I am no longer able to be seriously concerned with such foundational questions as ‘What is the meaning of life?’ ‘Why am I here?’ ‘What do I believe in?’ ‘What do I hope for?’ ‘What are my values?’ ‘Who am I?’, and so on.

Yet I am by no means an uncritical exponent of the faith I profess. I have read the sceptical literature – including Freud’s psychological refutations, Marx’s anti-religious prophetic polemics and Nietzsche’s vehement tirades against religious truth claims. I admit that, on occasion, I have found myself in sympathy with many aspects of these sceptical critiques.

Yet I have never relinquished the faith completely and am in no danger of doing so. That I have not done so can be explained in quite simple terms, in fact in one word: Jesus. For all the frustrations that I have experienced with organised religious rituals and the institutions and hierarchy of Christendom; despite all the intellectual doubts I might entertain about the specific dogmatic claims; despite all my depressing encounters with other Christians; despite all the moral objections that I have against certain Old Testament passages in which God purportedly commands the ethnic cleansing of entire populations – despite all this I still find myself drawn irresistibly to person of Jesus.

Christianity teaches that God reveals Himself in the person of Jesus Christ and that if we want to know what God is like, we should look at Jesus. In Jesus, I perceive a God who is very much alive, a God of active, sacrificial love, a God of irresistible grace and vitality who is active in the world in wondrous and mysterious ways – a sort of “divine conspiracy”, to borrow a term from one of my favourite books by Dallas Willard.

For those who want to retain a sense of childlike wonder at the sheer beauty and absurdity of this unique and complex world and the equally bizarre and complex nature and motivations of the human creatures which inhabit it, the person of Christ provides a fulcrum for the imagination as well as a rational framework through which to appreciate such absurdity and beauty.

I am a Christian because I have a conception of God not as an omnipotent, impassible cosmic dictator, but, as one notable philosopher put it, as the “fellow sufferer who understands”. The God to whom I have pledged my life and fate is the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ. This is the God whose nature is unfathomable and mysterious, yet all all-loving, gratuitously merciful and generous. I understand Jesus as the Lord of life and the one in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden (Col 2:3).

This is the God whose presence I feel and whose countenance I see reflected in the faces of those whom God calls me to love and serve. In some cases, these will be the faces of my family and friends, my nearest and dearest. In other cases, however, it may be that the God whom I know in Christ manifests himself to me in the guise of a stranger. I recall, for instance, the distorted, rugged and despondent faces of the homeless people in Prague whom it was my privilege not merely to serve but also to call my friends when I lived and worked in the Czech capital.

My experience in Prague taught me that it is one thing to read books and write essays about Christian faith and, in particular, Christ’s compassion for the ‘least of these’ – the homeless, the diseased, the downtrodden; it is quite another thing to actually live out these convictions in real acts of love and service.

I believe that rumours of God’s death have been grossly exaggerated. I am convinced that God is very much alive and that He is not distant or aloof from human concerns. On the contrary, God is the fellow sufferer who takes his place alongside suffering and broken human beings, such as the homeless in Prague.

It seems impossible for me to conceive of an impassible, transcendent “God of power and might” who is able to enter into a loving or even meaningful relationship with suffering human beings. As a Christian, I therefore reject the false image of God, whom Blake characterises as the “God in the dreary Void [who] Dwells from Eternity, wide separated from the Human Soul” (Jerusalem, 23:29-30). In this sense, Nietzsche was absolutely right: This God is indeed dead.

But the God of suffering love and solidarity is very much alive. In Christ, we learn that God’s relation to the world is based not solely on his omnipotence but on providential interaction with human beings as co-creators in the great drama of cosmic redemption. I hold this to be a proper understanding of the God of the Christian scriptures, whom Paul refers to as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

In other words, we, as human beings made in God’s image, are invited to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). We are not the passive objects of divine decrees or hapless pawns in a vast and incomprehensible eschatological process. On the contrary, human beings become salient change-agents of history, working in tandem with the grand eschatological purposes of God through their participation in God’s saving work in history.

This, in my view, is what makes it worthwhile to be a Christian.

Therefore, although I won’t be able to give an entirely rational ground for my faith, I do not concede that my Christian faith is irrational. I have also become aware recently that many of my friends would probably consider themselves to be atheists or agnostics. Still others have a vaguer conception of God as a ‘force’ or ‘energy’, in which all concrete forms of existence are extinguished and the whole world becomes illusory.

My evangelical Christian faith enables me to be a little more affirmative concerning the reality of the world as well as the truth and validity of the Christian faith. Although I am open to being proved wrong on this, I would argue, this allows for a more affirmative and certainly more hopeful kind of existence.

This, in short, is why I am a Christian.

Called in One Hope

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As a loyal and long-suffering supporter of Middlesbrough FC, he has had to learn the theological virtue of keeping hope alive, even in the most hopeless circumstances!

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