Pastor Stephen helps us answer the question "Is Christianity Too Narrow In Our Culture?". Many people believe wrong about God, Who do you think God is? Do you think He wants to keep things from you or for you? Find out in part two as we Explore God!
What Makes Christianity Different?
All religions are basically the same, right? How could Christianity be any different?
No matter how each religion gets there, the end result is usually the same: there is a higher power or force of some kind; human life is valuable; peace is better than violence; something happens after we die; and so on. There may be some contradictions in the details, but most religions hold these same general truths.
Many world religions have a creation story, a flood story, a rescued-people story, and so forth. There’s also usually some kind of key person in each religion. Imperfect as people are, each religion presents the case for at least one person who “did it right.” This person is the model; everyone else is supposed to strive to become like them. In fact, each major world religion is even similar in the fact that it declares itself unique in some way.
So how could Christianity really be much different from other religions?
Well, the radical claims of Christianity truly do set it apart. Because of these bizarre claims, Christianity can be viewed as either ridiculously unbelievable or something to be seriously considered.
As the famous atheist-turned-Christian C. S. Lewis once stated: “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”1
The Claims of the Leader
The primary difference between Christianity and all other religions is rooted in the differences between Jesus and other religious leaders.
Almost no one denies that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who lived two thousand years ago, so the issue is not about Jesus’ existence. We must look at what Jesus claimed, for it is his claims that ignite debates about him.
Unlike other spiritual leaders, Jesus openly declared that he was one with God, according to the earliest Christian writers.2 To see him, Jesus said, is to see God the Father.3 Jesus went about forgiving sins4—something only God could do—performing miracles,5 and healing the sick.6
For these and other reasons, the earliest followers of Jesus began to think of him as more than a human being. They began to believe his claim of divinity, and these Jesus-followers began to maintain that he was indeed God in the flesh.7
Those of other (or no) faiths may accept that Jesus was a good man, a wise prophet, and even that he died at the hands of his enemies. Only Christians, however, believe that Jesus was not only good and wise but also fully human and fully divine. These beliefs were reinforced by the reports of his resurrection. Thus, Christians today are convinced that Jesus’ life and claims have cosmic implications.
Implications for Now and Later
Christians say that the most profound of these implications lies in the issue of salvation. Salvation, as taught by many of the world’s religions, is a type of deliverance from the physical and spiritual adversity of the world, as well as a rescuing from suffering or punishment in the afterlife.
Buddhists believe that to reach Nirvana, a transcendental state of bliss, a person must follow the Noble Eightfold Path. This process of personal effort and discipline will end suffering for the individual. Hindus believe that one reaches Moksha—freedom from this world and the cycle of death and reincarnation—by practicing self-sacrifice, meditation, and certain levels of self-realization. Muslims believe that Allah grants Paradise to those who live a life of moral uprightness, using the Five Pillars as basic guidelines.8
This is another area in which Christians depart from the norm. In essence, other religions state, “You need to do these things and live this way in order to earn your way to salvation.” But Christianity says, “What needs to happen in order for you to know God and receive salvation has already been done for you by Jesus Christ.”
At its core, Christianity is the joyful news that Jesus lived and died to open the way to God for each of us. In this act, Jesus saved us from the consequence of our sins—eternal isolation from God—and began to offer us instead forgiveness and eternal life in relationship with God.
Christianity says that Jesus has done everything necessary for people to have the kind of relationship with God that leads to peace in the present and hope for the future.9 For many, this seems too good to be true.
Many atheists, agnostics, deists, and devout followers of other religions are very good people. They live good lives and do good things. They are honorable people, and their contributions to humanity across religions and borders are much needed.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we all sometimes do things we regret; we all make mistakes; we all suffer from egocentric selfishness; we all fail. And what if this “good outweighs the bad” mentality isn’t enough?
According to Christianity, God took the pressure off us by sending Jesus to live a perfect life for us. In Christian understanding, salvation is a gift: “for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”10
For Christians, Jesus is more than a teacher or a role model. He is the means by which people can find freedom from their burdens and baggage and make real changes that improve their lives and the lives of those they love. Christians believe that because salvation is already available to those who believe, sheer joy in that realization and thankfulness for a personal relationship with God prompt right actions and righteous living as described in the Bible.
The Christian does this from a position of gratitude, faith, and humility—not burden or obligation. In one sense, it is the purest form of motivation, because the actions are not being done for personal gain. The reward has already been given.
The personal claims of Jesus and the espoused implications of his life, death, and resurrection stand in distinct contrast to other religions. This is what Christians through the years have called the gospel—which literally means “good news.” The gospel of Jesus is the good news that everything has already been done for you. No other religion makes that kind of upfront gospel promise.
Incredible? Yes. Outrageous? Yes. Hard to believe? It certainly can be. But, if true, it is also profoundly important. It’s worth exploring further.
- C. S. Lewis “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock (London: Collins: 1979).
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, John 10:25-30.
- Ibid., John 14:5-9.
- Ibid., Mark 2:1–12, for example.
- Ibid., Mark 4:35–41, for example.
- Ibid., Matthew 15:21–28, Mark 8:22–26, Luke 4:40–41, and John 4:43–54. These are just a handful of examples.
- Ibid., John 1:1-14.
- The Qur’an, Surah 23:102 John 1:1-14–103, 5:9.
- The Holy Bible, John 14:6, 16:33; Romans 5:8, 6:23, 8:1, 8:6, 10:9–10, 10:13; Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8–9, 2:14–16, Galatians 5:22–23, Philippians 4:7.
- Ibid., Ephesians 2:8–9.
- Photo Credit: Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com.
What Is Christianity?
Where did Christianity come from? How did it begin? What is it?
Christianity is the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched.Francis Schaeffer
Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in ‘another’ or ‘better’ life.Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Christianity is one of the strongest and perhaps most misunderstood movements in the world. Perceptions of the religion and its adherents range from Nietzsche’s, which borders on the militant, to Schaeffer’s, which celebrates Christianity as the climax of humanity.
Indeed, as the last two thousand years of history attest, Christianity has been—at the very least—a polarizing movement.
In the Beginning
Many people place the beginning of Christianity some two thousand years ago with the life of Jesus. In actuality, Christianity began as a reform movement within Judaism, which had been established nearly two thousand years earlier. To understand Christianity, we must go back to the roots of Judaism.
We find aspects of the history of the Israelites recorded in the Bible, which is ultimately a collection of writings conveying the story of God’s relationship with humanity. “In the beginning,” the Scriptures state, “God created the heavens and the earth.”1
However, sometime after creating humanity, things began to go awry. People chose to defy God’s command, and sin entered the world.
As a direct result of this disobedience, humans have since been struggling with broken relationships with God, themselves, others, and creation.2 Even worse, through that act, death was introduced to the world.
In order to restore everlasting relationship with his creation, God chose one righteous person—Abraham—and initiated a plan of redemption. Through Abraham’s family, a people became a nation that was destined to be a light, a blessing, and a model to the entire world: Israel.3
Though there were moments when they forgot who they were and neglected God’s commands, in time the Israelites succeeded in being God’s faithful people—despite threats and attacks leveled against them from surrounding nations. In the Christian understanding, the Israelites’ presence in the world and their message of the one true God prepared the peoples of the earth for the next phase of God’s plan.
Hope for Resolution
Through his prophets, God foretold a final resolution to the broken relationship between God and humans: God himself would enter the world in the form of a human being. He would experience what we experience. He would suffer the pain that we suffer, endure the temptations we endure, feel the emotions we feel.
But more than that, he would be beaten, broken, and crushed.4 In his death he would take on all the sins of man, until “by his wounds we [would be] healed” and set free from the bondage of sin.5 And in the end, he would restore his scattered and dispirited people, ushering in an era of unending peace.
The Promised One?
Early in his life, Jesus distinguished himself as an unusually precocious child, demonstrating tremendous spiritual wisdom and maturity.7 When Jesus sensed the moment was right, he left behind his home and embarked on a new path. He began to preach, teach, perform miracles, and gather around him a band of rag-tag disciples. Eventually, they recognized him as the hoped-for messiah.
What his followers did not realize was that God’s plan was going to take an unusual turn. He was going to restore the nation of Israel, as they hoped, but he would do it in a most unexpected way—not through shows of power and the oppression of enemies but through selfless love and compassion.
According to Christians, Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified, died, and rose from the dead. He conquered sin and death in order to restore humanity’s broken relationship with God, the Father. Jesus did what we cannot: he lived a perfect, sinless life and paid the price for our transgressions.
Christians believe that Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity saved us from the permanent consequence of our sins—eternal separation and isolation from God. Through Jesus, we can attain eternal life in relationship with God. Indeed, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life,”8 and that whoever “believes in [him] will live, even though they die.”9
One day, Jesus promised, he will return to reign over his faithful followers in a peaceful kingdom where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”10 In the interim, he has sent the Holy Spirit to live and dwell with his followers, leading them in the way of truth.11
Today, Christianity is practiced in three primary forms: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant. Within each of these three branches, there are numerous subsets and denominations. However, each group concurs on the general story and purposes described above; they divide mainly in the details of how principles should be applied practically.
Over the years, Christianity has seen its fair share of glorious, proud moments and all too many humiliating, shameful ones. But this is less an indictment on God, Jesus, or Christianity than it is on his followers.
Mahatma Gandhi allegedly once said, “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He voiced the inconsistency found between the Son of God and those who claim to follow in his footsteps.
And yet, should that surprise anyone? The Bible tells story after story of those who failed to live as God called them to live. This is not true just for Christians but for all people. This is why we need a messiah, a redeemer, a savior.
Chuck Colson once said, “Christianity is an explanation of all of reality.” Simply put, we all know the world is broken. The whole world, including me and you, needs fixing. And no matter how many different fix-it methods we try—whether self-help or sex, missionary work or money—none of them can fill the void that all of us feel.
Christianity, from creation up through God’s restoring work in Jesus, is both the explanation of and solution to that emptiness. Ultimately, Christianity is the story of God’s powerful, redemptive love for his people.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Genesis 1:1.
- These ideas are developed more fully in Scot McKnight’s book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
- Interestingly, all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—trace their lineage back to this one man.
- The Holy Bible, Isaiah 53:4–6. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and he Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
- Ibid., Isaiah 53:5.
- Ibid., Matthew 11:27; John 5:23, 26.
- Ibid., Luke 2:41–52.
- Ibid., John 14:6.
- Ibid., John 11:25.
- Ibid., Revelation 21:4.
- Ibid., John 14:15–31.
- Photo Credit: motorolka / Shutterstock.com.