I often ask the question of myself, and am sometimes am asked by others, “Why am I a Christian?” By that question I suppose different things are meant, such as “why am I a theist rather than an atheist or agnostic or pantheist?” And, if I am a theist, “why am I a Christian instead of a Jew or a Muslim or a Zoroastrian?”
These are all good questions indeed. I’d like to take a brief stab at answering them, though, in truth, the question could take many many pages, if not books, to answer.
At one level, and quite a apart from any intellectual ponderings about the nature of things, I must say that I am a Christian because “something happened” in my life and heart back in my teens when I first heard the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ taught in the context of a youth retreat. At a simple level Jesus was presented in such a way that I found myself “inviting him into my heart,” to use the language of that day and time. I was prepared for the message I suppose by some innate sense of God’s existence, and it is true that I did not have any significant intellectual hindrances to believing that this Jesus might actually be there and be alive. And so, when I “asked him into my life” it was not against any serious intellectual objections to the basic notions. Perhaps in my youthful wanderings through the woods, in dealing with the difficult issues within my family, particularly my father’s drinking, in feeling incomplete and knowing I was incomplete, possibly after having listened to my sister speak of her relationship to God (though I treated her terribly), perhaps even due to some things I was taught in a confirmation class years before – in all of that I perhaps was “ripe” for the message of that retreat.
So, no, I did not first engage in serious study of the nature of the universe, the arguments for the existence of God, the probability of the resurrection of Jesus, or any such thing. Reflecting back now from the standpoint of my own present Christian world view and faith, I would say in fact that I became a Christian because God came to me and did something to me and in me such that believing in Him at that moment came “naturally.” I believe now that He had prepared me for that moment in time in many ways that I, at the time, was not consciously aware of. It is not without significance that there were after that night of “asking Jesus into my heart” immediate and spontaneous changes in me, changes which were also not brought about at a conscious level by me deciding to live this way and not that way, changes not even brought about by any conscious sense of guilt over wrongdoing. It was as if one day I liked the color blue and awoke the next day to like the color red. I seem to have been made into a different person.
I did lots and lots of reading after that initial conversion. The C. S. Lewis science fiction trilogy was perhaps the most significant tool in teaching me about the larger themes associated with my new faith. I also read most of his other books, and many books by Francis Schaeffer, John Stott, J. I. Packer, and the like.
I now refer to that process as “faith seeking understanding.” Often a person comes to believe, really finds himself believing, and yet his or her understanding of what it is that he or she believes is rudimentary at best. And then the lifelong process of filling in the blanks begins.
So, if any of you reading this essay were hopeful that I would provide the definitive argument for the truth of God’s existence and the truth of the message of the New Testament, as if it was first an elaborate study of such things that led me to faith, well, I hate to disappoint you, but it didn’t work that way for me, and this little essay does not provide any definitive argument. However, what I will do now is answer simply and rationally the questions first listed above as clearly as I can, from the very biased standpoint of one who believes already, and knowing that full treatment of these matters would take volumes.
Why do I believe in the existence of God? Well, even the question itself presupposes very much indeed. It presupposes some common idea of what a “god” might be in which I or others might believe. By “God” I mean an infinite personal being who exists independently of me and of history and who is not equal to and the same as matter and energy.
So, really I am answering the question, “Why am I a theist?” as opposed of course to being an atheist, who believes that there is not in fact such a personal being in existence, or as opposed even to being a pantheist, whose god as far as I can understand it is not a personal being or entity outside of and apart from the rest of the physical/spiritual reality.
We’ll get to that next time.