Introducing people to Christianity is tricky business because most Americans think they already understand it fairly well. Ask them, and they will tell you they are pretty confident it is about believing in God, Jesus, and the Bible. Or they might say, “It’s about loving your neighbor and going to church.” So they probably do not think they need another lesson at this point.
In fact, it would seem most people in our society are more familiar with Christianity than any other religion. Some of this familiarity is from personal experience. Many used to attend church, Sunday School, Bible study, or a Christian camp. They remember well the days when Mom, Dad, or Grandma brought them to church regularly. Those days are gone but the memories remain. Then there are others who never went to church but who have read the Bible all the way through. Many have Christian friends and have engaged them in conversations about religion. They too think they have a good grasp of the message.
I would argue, though, that most folks, even those who are generally well educated or exposed to Christianity in America, don’t grasp the Christian message very well. Why not? Because its message is commonly misrepresented and misquoted, even in church.
Don’t misunderstand! The Christian message has been delivered with clarity directly from God, and He was not purposefully confusing. He used simple, everyday language and stories to convey it. Still, the message is hard for people to accept because it is not a flattering message. It is not one which boosts our egos. So it gets warped and twisted by people who have other agendas than conveying its simple, humble message. That includes leaders inside the church who unfortunately twist it into a more appealing message to keep people in their church and increase donations. People have to like what they hear in church or they walk out the door. People gravitate to positive messages and shun negative warnings even if there is validity to those warnings. So human demand can mold the message of the church rather than the church holding tenaciously to its original message.
It doesn’t take much searching to see that the human race is in lots of trouble and has oodles of problems. With all the wars, divisions, hate, greed, lust, hoarding, oppression, child abuse, indulgence, bigotry, and selfishness, do we really think the God of love would have a soothing and flattering message for His creation? If you know anything about people, you know they tend to state things the way they want to hear it. People have their own agendas, especially when it deals with power and position. They are prone to dishonesty when it suits their purposes. That’s why even the message of the Bible gets hidden, rewritten, sidelined, covered, or just plain altered to suit people’s fancy.
In some cases the grand message of the Bible has been diluted or reduced to a mere ethic. In other cases its history has been rewritten to fit an evolutionary understanding of the development of humanity. Still others redefine it or syncretize it with other religions giving it a meaning it never was intended to have. Even people who go to church regularly may not grasp what God has said. Many faithful churchgoers have only observed the outer shell (the traditions) of Christianity not its essential message or teachings. They regularly see the churches, cathedrals, priesthoods, choirs, activities, sacraments, and practices of Christians, but they are unfamiliar with its central message.
Not every institution which claims to be Christian is harmonious with its original teachings. Sure, they will tell the faithful that it is about Jesus! Of course they do. To deny that Christianity has to do with Jesus would be too great a departure, and their reinvention would never gain traction. But what did Jesus teach about the predicament in which humanity finds itself? What solution did Jesus offer to humanity? Who exactly was He, and where did He come from? What was the cross supposed to accomplish? Why did He come to earth in the first place? What makes Him so different from other leaders? Why was it necessary He be born of a virgin? How would that even be possible? What were His miracles supposed to tell us? How are miracles even possible? Why was His bodily resurrection so heralded? What are we supposed to learn from it? How does His coming back to life separate Him from everyone else? How do those ancient actions by Jesus connect with us today? Is He really coming back to the planet to reign over it, and how would we know?
The meaning of these events in Jesus Christ’s life have been diluted, spiritualized, politicized, and twisted by countless books, teachers, churches, politicians, and institutions. Through all the fog, it’s hard sometimes just to get the basic message across. It seems layers of misunderstanding have to be pealed off before one can get to the unembellished core. Yet for those who desire it, the core message has always been there to read and ponder. It came to this planet long ago, and it was written down so it would last through the centuries for our benefit today. It’s been put right under our noses! And it’s not really hard to understand.
So let me reintroduce you to the Christian message presenting it in its original light without all the redefinitions people have attached to it through the centuries. I want to bring out its simple yet striking message along with it historical credibility, attractive beauty, loving intent, and intellectual consistency. Hopefully if you have a negative or cavalier view of Christianity presently, you will see this world-leading faith, not the way many people wrongly construe it, but the way it presented itself to humanity at the beginning – as the answer to our hopes and aspirations, the needed provision for everlasting life, and the means for acquisition of the true knowledge of our origin and destiny.
So let’s back up and broaden our vision. Let’s make sure we take in the view with the widest possible lens so we can place Christianity on the vast mural of the universe and human life on this planet. Christianity claims to explain all we need to know. Christianity claims to be the solution to our greatest problems: the problem of evil, the problem of death, the problem of division and war, and the problem of ignorance about life. It claims to be that message from beyond to give us that coveted higher and more accurate perspective. Let’s take a look at what it actually says.
To do this we must join the teachings of Christianity from what is called the “New Testament,” to that of the teachings of ancient Judaism which is called “the Law and the Prophets” by some and the “Old Testament” by others. Christianity claims to be the continuation of the Old Testament revelation bringing that revelation to completion. Put together, the whole incredible picture can be viewed. The two halves are meant to go together – side-by-side.
Christianity has long asserted that there is Someone intelligent way out there, who both exists and has spoken to the inhabitants of this planet. What has He said? First of all He has emphatically declared that He is the only true God. He alone is the eternal creator of all things. Nothing existed before Him and nothing is equal to Him. He claims to be the eternal spirit which brought all things into being including His highest and greatest creation – mankind. He is God above – God Most-high. In fact, He is the very God who created the planet in the first place with stunning brilliance. Even more, He constantly sustains the molecules and atoms of the universe so that everything holds together. Even more, He drew up a plan for the ages involving humanity, then put humans on this planet for a purpose, placed moral tests before us, urged us to resist evil, sent a Deliverer to rescue us from the consequences of our own bad choices, and remains to this day very interested in our outcome.
Did you know all that about Christianity? But there is more …
He further describes Himself as a personal God, who made us in His very image, so we could know Him, enjoy Him, and live happily under His just and gracious leadership. He is not against happiness and joy. Rather doing His will is the best way to attain happiness. He proved Himself very generous in the creative gifts He gave us, and He even tolerated us when we perverted those gifts. The evil (described not as a thing but as the corruption of good things) dwelling in the planet is not what He designed as the norm, but is an intrusion into His ultimate plans. Tragedies, malice, and violent upheavals He allowed as part of His judgment against the evil choices of humanity. They are necessary to teach us, yet even here He has been very patient and long-suffering holding back the full fury of His wrath against evil. He teaches us of the ugliness and wastefulness of evil by allowing us to taste the consequences of our decisions, but he never abandons us and always holds out hope for us as long as we live.
As a personal God He also created human language and gave it to us as a gift. He determined to communicate to us through human language. He is fully capable of sending accurate messages to us via both spoken and written words. Man is thus well capable of receiving His message and understanding it.
Christianity claims that this eternal God has already spoken to us definitively and with clarity. There are indeed several detailed messages provided to us from outer space, or more accurately, from beyond space – beyond the universe, a place called “Heaven.” The word “heaven” has been so overused in western society that people roll their eyes when talk of it arises. They think Heaven to be merely a dreamland of false hopes. People have all kinds of variant notions about heaven. For some people heaven would be filled with chocolate. For others it would be a place with no rules or responsibilities. Some people think talk of heaven is just for fairy tales.
However heaven is the source location for life. It is the place God as the eternal Spirit dwells. Heaven is not the boring place popular culture imagines, with naked babies playing harps. Rather it is an awesome, powerful, and pristine location outside of our universe, yet every bit as real as our universe. Often it is referred to as the spiritual realm, but since we don not fully understand what “spiritual realm” entails, we take it that it is a place of existence quite different than this universe. Its laws of physics do not apply here. It is a different dimension.
So coming from a place like that, these messages are very important, very informative, and very exciting! Indeed they should be the foundation of all our thinking about truth. Miss this message and one is merely groping about in the dark.
Fortunately God in His wisdom had these messages recorded and compiled in a book. More accurately, a series of ancient documents have been bound together in a book for easier reference and for longevity. We call this book “The Bible,” as if it was a single book. However, that is inaccurate. The term “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblia” which means “books.” So the Bible really is a series of writings put together (and in modern times bound into a book.) These messages from God came over a very long period of time as God unveiled His plan proportionately to various chosen people throughout human history. Since God is eternal He has worked with humanity from the beginning. He unfolds His message in stages and does not give the full plan all at once. So the Bible is not one book written at one time, but a series of collected documents bound together in one book as a divine library.
Together these documents tell us the message of God and the meaning of life from God’s interactions with people for thousands of years. God meant to reveal his plan and will in stages, a little at a time as He worked in people’s lives throughout history. Put together they give us the whole picture. Since we are living toward the end of time we are in a better position than earlier man. For we can read the whole plan and see how it all fits together.
This was the most effective way for God to communicate with the human race. Rather than sending us a textbook or stale lecture or abstract philosophical message which would not be understood, He taught us in real space and time who He is and what He expects of us. In other words, the message of God came in everyday practical situations with a concrete context.
The Bible obviously is a controversial book. It elicits different reactions from different people depending on their background. To some people it is a purely human book with human error. Many today view it as nothing more than an expression of Jewish religion as it evolved through the centuries. To people of other religions it is sometimes viewed as inferior or even false teaching. It is in competition with their writings. Still to others it is just an old book with little relevance to life today. Some people remember being scolded from the Bible in their youth and now have a strong distaste for its words. Others started to read it but got lost in the monotonous details somewhere in the Law of Moses. Still others find it intriguing and want to know more about what it means. Some of us believe it is all true. Others believe it is partially true. And others think the whole book is hogwash.
One of the critiques of the Bible is that since it is a book written by many human authors, it cannot be a book from God or beyond, as we are contending here. How could it be this fantastic message from beyond the earth, from way out there, if it is so common and so disregarded? How could we believe it is the one unique message which unveils the meaning of life if it was written by common people using their own vocabulary and styles of writing?
This is such a widespread objection one wonders if the people who object have examined their own logic. The critic who comes to this conclusion must assume God is not very smart nor able to work through His own human creation. For what they are really asserting is that God does not know how to use human mouthpieces to convey His eternal, other-worldly message accurately even He made the human mouth piece and the language it speaks! That’s a bit comical. These critics have to assume God can’t (or won’t) use the very human language He gave to us to express ourselves and to listen to Him express Himself. If God is the Maker of mankind, an all-knowing spirit, and present everywhere, He certainly can speak accurately to us in human languages about transcendent truths. Such an act would be a trifling thing for the Almighty!
Proving that the Bible was written by humans in no way disqualifies it from being a message which originated before and beyond those humans. The human authors of Scripture were just the mouthpieces for ultimate truth. They did not invent the message. They were merely called upon to deliver the message without alteration.
Furthermore, if God chose not to communicate to all humanity at one time directly – from, say, a loud voice from the clouds – but chose instead to work more deliberately and less dramatically through certain human instruments in the outflowing of normal human history, that is certainly His prerogative. He obviously thought it more effective and lasting to speak in the context of human interaction over a long period of time rather than making a splash all at once.
It is easily within his power to speak through a human being – or even supernaturally through an animal, if He so wanted! The rarity of such an event does not make it implausible. So when skeptics rule out the use of human instruments to convey His divine message, they really have no leg to stand on. They are grasping at straws. That view only reveals bias against the concept of divine revelation through human instrumentality. However, if there is an absolutely limitless God, and if that God has spoken via divine revelation, it could easily be channeled through human instruments.
Besides that, God has not left us to guess about his revelation. God has graciously left behind certain evidence or clues or signs that the messages in these collected documents are truly from Him and not a hoax. I hope to explore some of this evidence for the divine quality of the Bible in future posts. (There certainly is a plethora of sites on the web presenting and defending the historical foundations of the Christian faith and the uniqueness of the Bible.) For now I will merely mention some of the qualities which serve as evidence of His authorship as He superintended the human authors. Some of this evidence appeals to commonsense. In other words, if a book containing a series of messages were truly from God, what qualities would we expect that book to have? I guess different people will have different answers to that question. The answer depends on what kind of a god one thinks exists. However consider these unique qualities of the Bible which are signposts of its divine origin.
- The Bible accurately foretells the future, sometimes in minute detail, in portions of the Bible called “prophecies.” These prophecies include events fulfilled in the past, events being fulfilled presently, and some events still to come. These predictions can be examined as evidence. Indeed the world today is shaping up exactly as these prophecies say it will be in the last days.
- The Bible demonstrates a startling cohesive and unified message through many centuries so that people who read it can perceive that it is not a collection of different earthly author’s ideas, but the conveyance of one divine author’s message working though multiple human instruments. 40 different authors writing over a 1500 to 2000 year period (including messages from earlier human history on 3 continents, in three different languages, conveying a unified message. In this it is unique in the world.
- The Bible’s later writings unveil and explain earlier writings with more detail to demonstrate that the book is one continuous story with a beginning, a linear plot in the middle, and a conclusion fitting to that message. Clearly it is an organized message to explain life.
- The Bible directly and definitively answers the hardest questions of life from the beginning of the world to the end. It tells us of our genesis, our purpose, the purpose of evil, the right way to live, the right way to worship, and why the world must be the way it is for now. No other document from ancient history which we possess presently even comes close to answering these crucial questions.
- The Bible speaks with great confidence about all its directives and statements. The writers of the Bible do not give the appearance that they were guessing about truth. They write with the confidence that they were relaying absolute truth. There is no agnosticism in the Bible.
- The Bible contains the keenest insights into human thinking, motivations, and inner drives so as to outshine any of the latest psychological theories. It cuts through the deceptive fog of human excuses and tells life like it is. When one considers the great amount of spin and flattery in the world of men today, this straightforward nature of the Bible is refreshing and encouraging. Modern psychology cannot explain human motivation as well as the Bible. Indeed modern psychological theories contradict themselves.
- The Bible pulls no punches when it warns people about their resident evil. It does not flatter man nor stroke his ego. It does not paint a rosy picture of humanity nor leave humanity without hope and meaning. It speaks as one speaks truth. It’s abhorrence of the pomp of man adds evidence to its truthful message.
- The Bible conveys true and equal justice to all people with no ethnic or national prejudice. God’s ways and directives are for all peoples of all times and all places. Male and female are equal though with different but equally important roles to perform. The poor are upheld as well as the rich. The young and old are given dignity. No family, tribe, or nationality is left out of God’s plan.
- The Bible teaches mercy, love, and faithfulness, in a deeper and grander way than that of any other writing. Though others have copycatted the Bible, it was the first to convey such love. If love is the crowning ethical attribute, then the Bible is its teacher.
- The Bible paints the most awesome descriptions of God Himself – an understanding of God unrivaled in any other writings. It gives glimpses of him upon His throne and descriptions of his eternal character which make the gods of pagan religions look petty, sensual, mutable, and tyrannical. The gulf between the god called “Allah” for example, and the God of the Bible is vast. God is faithful, unchanging, and true to his character. Allah is totally unpredictable and furnishes no confidence to his followers.
- The Bible speaks with the authoritative tone one would expect from the Ruler of the universe. It does not pass on suggestions for life but light for darkness, truth for error, commands for the unruly, and knowledge for ignorance.
- The Bible has been amazingly preserved from ancient times all the way to the modern world. No other book in ancient times comes even close to the accurate preservation of the Bible. The tangible proof for this is overwhelming and undeniable. We would expect this if God wanted His messages preserved.
- The Bible consistently focuses attention on God as the One worthy of all honor and worship. Because of His greatness, worship is properly directed. False worship is exposed.
- The Bible aids men and women in all their stations and conditions of life, with wisdom to fit every circumstance of life. It provides truth for the family, truth for businesses, truth for society, truth for rulers, truth for workers, truth for governments, and truth for education. It proves it is the truth by the abundantly practical nature of its teachings.
- The Bible speaks of supernatural events in the past authenticated by eyewitnesses who wrote down what they saw and heard for the rest of us to consider. Their testimony can be studied and critiqued to see if it withstands careful scrutiny. Through the centuries skeptics have hacked away at the testimony in the Bible and have not diminished its credibility. That only increases its reliability.
God knew that there would be imposters and false prophets who would imitate and distort His messages. (Why this is so will be the subject of a future blog.) So he gave us these evidences to recognize His true voice and message. We can use our commonsense to discern the voice and message of God.
There is another testimony to the truth of Christianity too. God would have us look at His creation and think upon what that creation reveals to us. The backdrop to the entire message of the Bible is the creation of the universe which we can see with our own eyes. Even before God wrote a book, He revealed His power, creativity, wisdom, presence, and infinite knowledge through what He made. The Sun, moon, and stars were set before our gaze, not to worship, but that we may look up and see that He is there and infinitely powerful. The animal and plant life we enjoy below reveals his beauty, creativity, and intricate skill. The whole planet trumpets the message that only a grand supernatural being could cause and arrange all this. We would expect that when God sent a spoken message, those words would harmonize with the picture we see in nature everyday. Nature is corroborating evidence that the same God who speaks in the Bible can be perceived through the universe He created. Both the revelation through nature and the spoken/written message work in tandem to communicate God’s message to man.
Yet the Bible contains much more information about God than creation. Concerning the written message in the Bible, it is important to understand that His message has come to a few select people called “prophets” down through the millennia. Prophets were normal men or women who were chosen by God, and commanded to speak His message. They emphatically declared that they did not invent a message but passed along God’s message. In fact their whole role was to pass on God’s message and not distort it. They were more like waiters delivering a meal to the table than a chef in the kitchen concocting the meal. They have been recorded, accurately preserved, and passed on to the next generations for our benefit. All the messages in the Bible are a loving provision from God so people like you and me could know the truth.
This information which comes from beyond is called “Revelation” because it reveals to us what we cannot know without it. It is also called divine revelation because it comes from the divine being and is as reliable as that divine being. Since the one revealing it knows everything (because he created everything), the messages are 100% reliable. They are as true as He is true. Revelation also has human characteristics because it is relayed to us through the lives of normal humans who were chosen as prophets. The human element in their vocabulary, culture, style of expression and experience does not dimish or limit the divine component of the message. For this infinite and powerful Being has chosen the human agents to relay exactly what He wanted relayed to the inhabitants of this planet. In other words, God is the quality control of the message. A God who never errs is too experienced and resourceful to let the message be eroded or distorted.
The Bible teaches that we should rejoice in this revelation. This revelation feeds us information and knowledge which becomes the basis of our faith. Faith was never intended to be mystical or mindless. Faith always was intended to be in something which makes sense, can be explained, and is credible. Our faith was meant to rest in something trustworthy not something hazy. The Bible’s explanation of God is of a God who knows all things, never lies or deceives, and loves each of us. His impeccable perspective safeguards the message from error, and His love for mankind guarantees the veracity of the message. With this revelation, faith now rests, not on the speculative philosophy of men (a pure Bottom-Up approach), but on solid revealed knowledge (the Top-Down approach).
Before closing this entry, I want to add this … People of all educational levels, attainments, and life experiences believe the Bible’s message is credible from beginning to end. If you have doubts, you can still use your commonsense to see how those objections are handled. If the answers are solid, your trust factor will grow. In fact the Bible invites critics and unbelievers to test its message. It invites people to step forward and swing their axes to see what breaks – their axe or the message. God is confident that no sound argument can be made or has been made against His word. The harder the anvil is hit, the stronger it is perceived to be. This too increases faith and confidence in the Bible that it is indeed – not just another book – but the book of books, the word of the living God!
Before a defense of that written revelation from God is presented, it would be advisable to offer a summary of the message of the Bible as it is unfolded in its pages. Despite what some people have ignorantly said, the Bible is a fairly easy book to read and understand. Only parts are difficult to grasp due to the differences which exist from ancient cultures and language. But the main message of the Bible is written in story format and in simple statements as God kindly and generously worked with people. So its message gets through unimpeded. Many have complained that the Bible is a very difficult book to read and interpret. These are people who either have not read it or are focusing on smaller portions which are not as clear. The main message, though, is simple enough for a grade school child to capture.
In our next posts we will highlight that exciting and clear message from beyond.