why I’m grateful for my secular university education

In the Christianized subculture where I spent much of my childhood, characterized as it was by social conservatism and a sometimes thoughtful but often reactionary approach to cultural critique, there was frequent discussion of “liberal,” “secular” higher education and its evils. My parents and their friends were understandably apprehensive of college campuses. Whatever your background, you can easily imagine why the idea of thousands of 19-year-olds living together, under the tutelage of hundreds of self-proclaimed Marxists/feminists/atheists/fill-in-the-blank-ists who profess to offer exclusive access to knowledge, enlightenment, and humanism, would be distasteful to conservative evangelical parents.

But, I never fit in very well with the Christianized subculture in which I came of age, familiar as it was. I had no desire to stay within it in adulthood, because of its flaws and my own flaws working in synchrony. Thus, I never considered attending a religious university, and set my sights on UC San Diego (its department in my field of study is well-renowned, and I love my home city). Now, this side of graduation, I’ve identified some specific reasons for why I’m so grateful for that choice.

**My goal here is to articulate gratitude, not to make a comparison or persuasive argument.

My liberal, secular higher education taught me how to speak English the way normal people do. While there is certainly a place for the rich terminology granted to us by our biblical, theological, and ecclesial traditions, there exists in American Christendom a particular social dialect that is often unintelligible to outsiders. A lot of it is shorthand drawn from biblical imagery, as when you hear people say “a seed was planted.” That means that some portion of Christian teaching was shared with a non-Christian, with the hope that said person’s interest in Christ will grow over time. Like jargon everywhere, it serves the functional purpose of allowing people to say what they mean with brevity. But, it also creates the impression that the world of Christians who are fluent in the jargon is a different world from the one where the rest of us live. It can also prevent us from actually thinking through what we mean. Much of the time, phrases and idioms are parroted without understanding. My time at university forced me to avoid the American Christian dialect and taught me how to express my beliefs in everyday English.

Living on campus made me learn how to live with sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc (that is, with young people). It did not change my convictions about the moral status of these behaviors. If anything, it reinforced ad nauseum how damaging promiscuity is and how unattractive substance abuse is in otherwise amiable people. Nonetheless, learning to live with and love people who think of these behaviors as normal or natural saved me from becoming a moralist. Jesus preached against the self-righteousness of religious people much more than the self-indulgence of pagans. Spiritual pride is the deadliest of sins. Thus, living in an environment run by self-indulgent pagans solidified my own moral convictions while at the same time forcing me to learn how to “eat with sinners,” for my good and theirs.

Living on campus gave me the chance to become friends with people who are vastly different from me. One of my roommates during my first year was a sorority girl who seemed to know everyone at our school of 28-thousand. She’s pretty, bubbly, outgoing, a natural romantic. That’s not me at all, yet somehow we became friends. Another girl in my hall taught me how to skateboard, and we challenged each other frequently on politics and God, even though by the end of the year she was tripping on acid almost every day. Another friend of mine struggled with her self-image for the first two years that I knew her, until she decided to start the process of female-to-male transition last year. The point is that I made real, actual friendships with people I would otherwise have little opportunity to know. Living in the dorms was hard for a lot of reasons, but it was worth it for that.

My secular university education taught me how to be fair to my intellectual opponent.  On both sides of every ideological divide there is a pernicious tendency to read and cite the best, most nuanced sources produced by the acceptable side, and then compare that with pop journalism produced by the unacceptable side. This leads to a lot of straw man arguments, which in turn leads to a lot of self-congratulation despite the fact that no real intellectual work has been done. By exposing me to the best, most nuanced ideas produced by my intellectual opponents, my secular education made me a more fair-minded thinker. There is no need to resort to mockery as a form of self-defense when you understand that your opponent is sincere, and probably as thoughtful as you. Rational dialogue can actually happen between people who are in deep ideological opposition! It may be rare, but I learned how to do it at school.

My time at university deeply challenged my beliefs. I arrived at school with the presupposition that the search for truth would be worthwhile, no matter where it led me. That enabled me to take classes and read books without fear that my belief system would be undermined. If it was capable of being undermined, I didn’t want it. Many others have made similar attempts at objectivity and have arrived at different conclusions, so I know that teachability will not overcome confirmation bias always and in all cases. Nonetheless, there are times I have wanted Christianity to be false, because that would make some things in my personal life a lot easier. So my own confirmation bias was lessened, if still present at some level. Some of what I learned at school forced me to seriously reconsider some things I had assumed as true, in light of new evidence–and recognizing flaws in your belief system can be a painful process. Despite all of that, my faith came through the other side, refined and modified in some ways, but still intact, and still orthodox. Looking back now, I think my faith is, though much more humble, more confident than ever. It faced down its ugliest demons and came through victorious. That kind of intellectual and personal harrowing taught me not to fear the truth. If it’s true, and if God is real, then the truth unquestionably belongs to him.

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God as father

Why is the biblical God typically (not exclusively) described in masculine terms?

So far I’ve had two friends cite this as one of their main complaints against the Christian God: “he” is too paternal. Too male. In an era when, thankfully, women are finally able to challenge the structures of male domination which have caused inestimable suffering, and when, unfortunately, the subsequent attempt to purge our culture of “patriarchy” has led to a unilateral rejection of masculinity even in its virtuous forms, this is not surprising. I have asked myself the same questions: is there a reason that God wants us to call him father and not mother? Since he is spiritual, not bodily (John 4:24), why does he use gendered terms at all? Why not something more philosophical or mystical such as “pure being” or “the One”? Something less tainted by the kind of emotional baggage that human male authority figures tend to create?

In fact, from the beginning, the biblical God has used a brilliant, non-gendered ontological self-descriptor: “I am,” which is the root of the Hebrew word Yahweh/Jehovah, the most common name for God in the Hebrew Bible. This teaches us that God cannot be fully described by human language and that (his) self-existence far transcends the limited categories of sex and gender.

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I Am has sent me to you.'” Exodus 3:14

All our ideas about God are limited by our “epistemic humility,” our inability to grasp anything beyond our familiar world of matter, space, and time. Anything we know of the divine is nothing more than a fraction of an infinite whole. That much has always been clear.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? Job 26:14

With that said, here are four ideas as to why the Bible generally presents God as a masculine, paternal figure.

1) The Bible anthropomorphizes God as a gift to us, making him more comprehensible than he would otherwise be.

The question “why use gendered terms at all?” points to a larger question regarding the Bible’s tendency to use anthropomorphizing terms to describe God, and worldly terms to describe otherworldly phenomena. Think also of how often Jesus spoke in parables, or short stories, rather than theological treatises. The Bible is mostly made up of stories and poems which were first composed orally and only later codified in written text. This reflects a fact about our world: most humans in most times and places have been illiterate, oral learners. As a species we tend to absorb information better and faster through storytelling than through argumentation. What’s easier to remember: a two-hour movie or a two-hour powerpoint presentation?

Human languages divide the world into categories which God doesn’t fit into, but which God nonetheless adopts in order to give us a foothold into understanding who he is. Language is limited, but without it we wouldn’t be able to say anything at all about God. One could object to this and say that, therefore, we shouldn’t even try and should be content to be agnostic. But if God has actually given us a set of images and terms and has told us to latch onto them, while recognizing their inherent limitations, then that is an incredible gift. There is a risk that we will take it all too literally and think that heaven is really made out of gold or that God is really male. But at least gold and fathers are things we can imagine, while heaven and divinity are not.

Especially considering that the vast majority of human learning is picture-oriented, the anthropomorphizing terms that the Bible uses to describe God are an expression of grace, proving that our Creator wants us to know him.

2) Many people lack father figures (more so than mother figures).

Elsewhere I’ve mentioned the biological reasons behind this, and for people who have been around long enough, it’s a simple reality. It’s easier for fathers than for mothers to abandon their children, and so more of them do. That means many more people lacking a loving, protecting, paternal voice, which is universally desired – at least, I can think of no exceptions. The Bible has always called out “the fatherless” as a special group for whom God is concerned. Thus, God as father fills this gap when he tells us to call him abba, the term used at home with dad because you’re safe under his domain and you know that he loves you.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship*. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15

*The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture (note from the NIV).

3) The fatherhood of God redefines human fatherhood.

Most human societies have placed little emphasis on the father’s role in child-rearing. The phenomenon of the stay-at-home dad is extremely modern, again because of biological reasons and the realities of pre-industrialized life. By calling God “father,” the Bible combines the traditional archetype of the distant authority figure who rules by domestic decree with the idea of an intimately involved parent who loves his children ardently. That is, God is “other” from us in his divinity and moral purity in a way analogous to the traditional concept of the distant patriarch. Yet he is compassionate and loving towards us in a way that challenges that traditional concept.

Thus the Bible subverts our assumptions about patriarchal gender roles by teaching fathers to love their children gently and to care for them intimately, in the same way that God loves and cares for us. Think of the father in the story of the prodigal son, who as an aged man runs to meet his rebellious son and kisses him before he has a chance to say anything. That father, representing God, refuses to be treated as a master or employer. Instead he insists on being affectionate and “prodigally” kind to his undeserving child.

And you saw how the LORD [Yahweh] your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child. Deuteronomy 1:31

And my personal favorite verse comparing human and divine fatherhood, in that subtle, piercing tone so typical of Jesus:

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

4) The Bible doesn’t only use masculine, paternal imagery to talk about God.

There’s lots of potential for reflection here, but for now I’ll just list a few examples of the times that the Bible speaks about God as a mother/woman.

[David:] But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2

[God:] Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15

[God:] As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem. Isaiah 66:13

[Jesus speaking, right before the story of the prodigal son:] Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.” In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents. Luke 15:8-10

God is not a man. We have to remember that. In his mercy he has revealed himself to us in certain ways so that we can start to know him even now. The Christian life is a lifelong journey of working through all of this, emotional baggage and all, and gradually learning what it means when we pray, “our father…”

 

shorter catechism update

Four and a half years ago, I wrote this post and called it my own “shorter catechism.” A catechism is a teaching device based on questions and answers that Christians have long made use of. Back then, I wrote ten of my own questions and answers as a way to succinctly express some of the fundamentals of my (teenage) spirituality.

Since then, my faith has been deeply challenged and bruised. I couldn’t have known then the kind of mental discord and spiritual silence I would have to learn to live with. I’ve often felt far from God and I’ve often doubted his goodness and his existence. You could say that, in a small way, I’ve participated in the spiritual loneliness that Christ himself experienced, along with nearly every other biblical and historical saint.

And yet, God is good. I can say that honestly, if not as boldly as before. There are some hard things you have to believe in order to be a Christian. You have to wrap your mind around eternal destinies. You have believe in Adam and Eve. You have to submit to the idea of authority and hierarchy. Etc. It can hurt, at times.

And yet, I can’t tear myself away from the need for Theos or from the love of Christ on the cross. Those two stakes in the ground keep me standing.

Perhaps if I didn’t feel my need for salvation, it would be easier to live without articulated ideological commitments. In other words, I might be more easily swayed towards agnosticism if not for my deep-seated sense of spiritual and moral hunger, a hunger unsatisfied by my own disappointing efforts at intentional living. Some would call that psychological weakness. Maybe. But conviction of sin is like a light turned on in a dark room, and once that light goes on, everything else feels cowardly and self-deceptive.

Thus, everything I wrote four years ago is still true. I’m still a Christian, because Jesus is still the only one who can save me, and I still know that I need saving. Sometimes I’m growing, sometimes I’m barely holding on–may God have mercy on me. Yet God is greater, and God is good. My trembling grip on him is unfailingly overpowered by his unyielding embrace of me.

So, I’d like to repost that old “shorter catechism” as a testimony to the faithfulness of my Father in preserving my faith through this journey in the Beast’s territory. If you are a person who struggles to believe, I can relate. Reach out to me, and let’s talk about it.

mother/woman/human

As usual, controversial moral issues such as abortion are discussed as mere differences of political opinion. Scratch the surface, though, and you see that they expose fundamentally opposed ideas about the nature of reality and the human being.

Woman is both blessed and burdened by her peculiar role as the bearer of children. The biological necessity of Man’s physical proximity to his child ends at conception, while Woman must remain physically close at least until the child is weaned, if the child is to survive. In fact, Woman must literally house her child within herself for nine months, the two bodies as close together as two bodies can be, the two lives inextricably intertwined. Man’s responsibility for his offspring is largely a moral, social one. Woman’s responsibility is necessitated by biology and resides in the very make-up of her body. Add to this the fact that biology also enables Man to initiate and even force the conception of children on Woman, with little risk to his own future and with great risk to hers. This results in a greatly unequal responsibility for children between the sexes.

Humans have typically interpreted this natural inequality by keeping Woman confined within the sphere of child-bearing and child-rearing. This is understandable, especially in rustic settings, since the survival of children is dependent on the attention given to them by Woman and since biology makes this non-negotiable. Also not surprising is that fact that, due to humanity’s ability and tendency to see meaning everywhere, we have abstractly considered “bearer of children” as essential to defining “Woman.” Thus we have traditionally understood womanhood and motherhood as nearly synonymous. If you will suspend your modern, First World assumptions for a moment, this will probably become obvious.

(Though granted much more freedom of movement, Man is not therefore unbound by biology and free to seek his own welfare exclusively. During pregnancy and nursing, children depend directly on the Woman for sustenance, keeping her close to them. This makes Woman herself dependent on the labor of Man, placing the responsibility for her survival largely on his shoulders. Again, we have therefore usually imagined “provider of food” as essential to defining “Man,” making manhood and bread-winner nearly synonymous. Genesis 3:16-19 succinctly summarizes these facts about the human condition.)

But, then. Our society experienced an industrial revolution which has enriched us beyond our ancestors’ wildest dreams, creating less rustic environments in which we have unprecedented control over our surroundings and over our bodies. For the first time, less worried about survival and with lots more free time, people suddenly possessed the luxury of questioning our assumptions about Man and Woman. For a female to be “fully a woman” (abstractly, of course), must she always be a mother? Is there something pernicious in taking the two things as synonyms, thereby limiting Woman forever to the realm of home and children? With millions of women now able to prevent pregnancy and able to live comfortably with fewer children or no children, what is Woman after all? For that matter, what is Man, if Woman is equally capable of the non-physical labor that makes up most of the modern industrialized economy? Modern affluence disrupted our ancient lifestyle patterns based on gender. This in turn caused us to lose our footing in how we conceive of the archetypal categories “Man” and “Woman.”

The implications of these historical developments can and should be investigated in regards to all our modern problems of (trans-)gender, sexuality, marriage, parenting, family, masculinity, and femininity. For now, let’s consider the original topic of abortion. Here is where we find the conflict between fundamental beliefs about reality.

For the secular person unconcerned with transcendence, there need be no inherent connection between womanhood and motherhood. Equal parts Gnostic and Darwinist, the contemporary secular worldview is free to utterly divide one’s biological identity (“bearer of children”) from one’s abstract identity (“woman”). The abstract identity is meaningful only insomuch as human minds assign meaning to it, anyway. Add to this no reason to believe in the inherent value of human existence (even apart from human personality) and the prizing of unrestrained personal freedom as the key to happiness, and you have created the pro-choice person. A purposeless natural world enables us to separate meaning from biology, motherhood from womanhood, and thus the human body inside the womb from the human body around it.

What about the Christian who believes in transcendence and cares about God’s will for the world? The Christian worldview cannot so easily disentangle biology, or what God has created, from what it means abstractly, or the meaning the divine mind has assigned to it. A woman’s pregnancy is no mere physical accident divorced from the way she conceptualizes her personal identity. Put another way, she is not an enlightened mind inside an animal body. Rather, she is soul and body, made by God. Her capacity for pregnancy, and her pregnancy itself, say something about who she is.

We all see the danger in too closely associating “woman” with “mother.” Childless women have been shamed and even despised for millennia. Civilization has suffered from the historical exclusion of women from public spheres. Great injustice has been done to untold numbers of women who could not bear children or who would have been greatly useful outside the domestic realm if given the opportunity. We know very well, then, that a woman is a Woman (and first, a human being) whether she bears a child or not. For the Christian, that is basic imago Dei doctrine.

But do we see the danger in separating “woman” from “mother” entirely? Are women in the first stage of motherhood–i.e. pregnant women–still not truly mothers in any sense, such that their children are mere bundles of disposable tissue and not children at all? Is the biological fact of their pregnancy totally unrelated to their femininity or to their personal identity? (Furthermore, can a male really be called a woman if he is without the remotest capacity of ever bearing or nursing a child and if his body does not every month prepare for the possibility?)

For me, as a woman, as a believer in transcendence, and as a person deeply interested in the well-being of all women, abortion denigrates women by utterly severing the tie between body and soul, between biology and identity.

These topics deserve further discussion, within the Church and within broader society. I would love to hear from you.

When You Left

When you left, I could hear you from across town.

Sure, she was a stinging drink that smacked you awake —

some girls are like that —

but slurring, stumbling is no good for steering.

When that door closed, it was you who closed it;

you, or God.

Not us.

 

Ten months later and I watch you at the coffee shop.

How are you, fine, I miss you, dear —

some words are like that —

but halting, hesitant is no good for hearing.

When that door opens, it’s you who’ll open it;

you, or God.

We’re waiting.

a season of dying

I’ve been thinking a lot about death. That will happen, sometimes, in the midst of total normalcy and the endless forward march of time. Neither crisis nor an imminent sense of my own mortality brought about this reflection. It’s just part of being human, I guess.

Once the concept began moving to the forefront of my thought-life, it started arising in lots of contexts. Such as: driving on the freeway on a road trip, my only passenger asleep, and how utterly striking it suddenly became that one effortless flick of my wrist could end both our lives in an instant. And no one would ever know what happened. Or: if [that’s a significant “if”] we each get only one opportunity to exist, and for as short a time as the human lifespan, major decisions such as career choices and marriage partners are mindbogglingly weighty. If you pick a job or spouse that you end up hating, then you have to spend your life hating it–and then you never get to exist again. If you suffer from chronic pain or long-term depression and if this is your only shot at existence, then this is your only shot at existence. And: what if [x person in my life] died today? The world I inhabit would be fundamentally altered, and I’d have to keep living in it. But it would be a whole new world, forever. Etc.

Lent, the Christian season of fasting and repentance before Easter, is in some sense a season of dying. Fasting is the practice of “mortifying” one desire in order to enhance other ones (like when your sight is taken away so your hearing becomes acute). Repentance is a process whereby “you” die, and God remakes a new “you” in your place. This season of dying culminates in Good Friday, the remembrance of divine death itself.

And then Easter comes along. The resurrection of Jesus says a lot of things, if you’re willing to listen. Among them is the idea that there may in fact be more than one shot at existence. There is the idea that death may not be the end, but rather the entrance into a truer Truth, a truer Life. It is the shape of the Christian narrative and thus the Christian life: fasting and feasting, repentance and regeneration, humility and exaltation, death and resurrection.

I’ve banked my life on that narrative, not to escape the terror of life decisions and the fragility of existence–although one must wonder why it’s so universally disconcerting, if it really is the only option–but because a God who would die for me is not a God I can walk away from.

So, consider death. Consider how it ought to make us live. Consider the God who creates out of nothingness, resurrects from the tomb, and regenerates human persons so that we become, finally, alive.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

suffer like a Christian

        

Violent protests have broken out in many parts of the world–from Western Europe (France) to West Africa (Niger) to Central Asia (Pakistan)–as Muslims have reacted to the publication of a now infamous cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Yeah, Charlie Hebdo. You’ve heard of it. It got me thinking about what the difference is between the Christian and Muslim ethic for responding to blasphemy.

*For the non-religious, consider it a study in comparative religions.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21

Non-religious or barely-religious people may have a hard time understanding how inflammatory something like a cartoon can be for a religious person. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are doubly awful because not only do they portray the Prophet in a highly offensive way, but the portrayal itself is offensive. That is, it violates Islamic law which forbids the visual representation of God’s Messenger, lest the faithful be tempted to worship someone other than God. We in the West can all believe in free speech, but that doesn’t obligate anyone to suppress their other ideals in order to respond neutrally to us. Just like you might believe in non-violence, until someone tries to assault your child. We hold some of our loves more dearly than others.

What if the cartoon had been of Jesus instead of Muhammad? Well, of course, we all know how plentiful the blasphemous depictions of Christ are in our era. Mocking Christianity is fair game everywhere. I’ve noticed, as a college student, it actually seems to be the only religion that anyone can mock at any time without violating social sensitivities (on a university campus).

        

How ought a Christian deal with such mockery? Shut up and deal with it, you deserve it–so would say lots of folks I know. Well, something like that is actually the biblical perspective on the question.

Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, said that it is a “gracious thing” to endure abuse and offensive remarks when you are mindful of God and the sufferings of Christ. Jesus himself said to rejoice when anyone mocks your love for God, since all saints in all ages have been mocked for the same thing. So the Christian ethic is: endure, rejoice, stay quiet, do not retaliate, respond only with kindness and humility. Don’t protest in the streets; don’t file lawsuits; don’t react in kind with sarcasm or insults. Imitate the silent suffering of Christ as he was led to the cross. It is not the Christian’s job to vindicate God. He will surely vindicate himself. Rather, it is the Christian’s job to funnel the Holy Spirit to the world by suffering abuse with love and patience.

So the Christian ethic is again supremely unique in a world where even the enlightened rationalists and the devoted faithful fail to see to the heart of the matter. The expectation for Christians is always modeled after Christ himself, which is what Peter says just after his exhortation:

He [Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:22-23

Christian friends, may we live this out so that the beauty of Jesus may become clear to anyone paying attention.

5 things the world needs to hear from the church

“The world” means not only institutions and cultures, but every person. “The church” means not only preachers and organizations, but every Christian. The world is full of prejudices and misunderstandings, and the church is full of bad examples and average people without all the answers.

We all could use some clarity.

1. We [Christians] are not interested in collecting converts like trophies on a shelf. If we are talking at you to prove anything to ourselves, our Christian friends, or God, we are completely in the wrong. Christians are under scriptural mandate to respect all people (1 Peter 3:15). We adhere to a biblical, dual anthropology which teaches that, on the one hand, every human being is an image-bearer of God and therefore valuable and honorable, and that, on the other hand, humanity is, comprehensively, morally broken and spiritual bankrupt, Christians included. In other words, we are no better or smarter than anyone else. In fact, we may appear weaker and more foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27), because God wants us to be amazed at him, not ourselves.

The reason we want to talk to you about our faith is that we earnestly believe Jesus is who he said he is and that he really is able to give the joy, peace, answers, and fellowship with God that he offered. We want the world – especially our friends and family, the people we care about most – to hear him out.

2. We care deeply about personal morality, but not for its own sakeThe aim of a Christian’s life is this: to worship God and express love for him by thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting like Jesus Christ. This means much more than behaving like a better person or giving up bad habits for good ones. It is more spiritual and more profound, and more impossibly difficult. Some of us with the right genes could pull off being “good people”; i.e. people with enough morality and likability to please the culture. None of us accomplish Christ-likeness in its fullness before we die. The idea of grace is so important to us for this reason. We want to be like Christ, but we fail miserably, and still, God chooses to love us as if we had succeeded, for Christ’s sake.

This is the tension behind our views on personal morality. The personal conduct of you and me is extremely important because it has to do with the aim and orientation of our lives, and yet is almost trivial when considered in the light of our failure and God’s grace.

3. We actually believe what the Bible says about Judgment Day, the wrath of God, and life after deathWe believe that God, who is exactingly holy, is angry with the world. We do not believe that he is only angry – Jesus taught that God loved the world to the point of sending his Son, Jesus, into it, to save it (John 3:16-17). Yet our scripture teaches that God will not overlook our outrageous disregard and mockery of him, which is the disease of sin that infects both our societies and our personal lives, forever. Soon, God will demand from every human being an exhaustive account of how they lived their lives. On those souls not shielded by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God will rain down his justice in hell. It will be terrible, and fair.

In a culture of Self and non-accountability, we take this seriously. We want to do whatever we can to help people save themselves from themselves by entrusting their lives and their fates to Christ.

4. We struggle (with depression, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, loneliness, unmet expectations, sexual temptation, doubt, and on and on) as much as everybody, but we believe that Jesus is more real than all of itWe do not fool ourselves into thinking we have it all together or can refute every argument. We understand that Christian belief is hard – the  apostles understood that (Matthew 28:16-17). Our inner turmoil is often intense and our lives are often a mess, like everyone else.

We are also aware that we are not doing everything as we should be doing it, and that very often our words must speak louder than our actions. The difference for the Christian is not his or her own ability to rise above. The difference is faith in a God who transcends us and a Messiah who knows what it is like to be us.

5. What we are staking our lives on is Jesus, especially his death and resurrectionThe death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are even more fundamental to Christian faith than the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, we believe in God and the Bible because Jesus did, and we believe in Jesus because he rose from the dead. At the center, our belief stands or falls with him. Understanding the Bible and dealing with questions about Christianity’s rationality become possible in the context of faith in Jesus.

We believe that intellectually satisfying answers to questions about God and the Bible exist and are accessible. It is true to say, however, that everything we are and believe hangs on one person, and the historical reality of two events. Jesus is the central thing, and we believe that every person must ultimately deal with him.

the gospel

gospel = good news that brings great joy

There is no other place to start than with the gospel. The gospel is the central message of Christianity and the grand theme of the Bible. It is the starting place and ending place of the whole Christian life. It’s a story, and it begins with God…

Get a bigger idea of God than the one that you have. God exists: he is completely self-sufficient, independent, perfect, pure, and eternal. He exists in an eternal fellowship of three persons in one essence, whom we call Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. John 5:26

As for God, his way is perfect: the LORD’s word is flawless. Psalm 18:30

Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor? Isaiah 40:13

God created the universe out of nothing, from the vastest galaxy to the protons and electrons of the smallest atom. He created spirits and a spiritual world. He created the earth and everything that lives on it. He created all these things for his own glory and purposes, and for the love and joy of his creation. At the pinnacle of his creation on earth he created humans to “bear his image” (represent his qualities; hold in themselves a reflection of who God is) and to rule the earth: not autonomously, but in everything dependent on God; loving him, praising him, loving and helping each other, and willingly submitting their wills to his.

You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. Nehemiah 9:6

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

Humanity rebelled, and has continued to rebel to this day. Humanity’s rebellion against God, called sin, is an exchange of the worship of God for the worship of self and things God has created. God hates it, for it is a perversion and distortion of what he has made. Its results are suffering, misery, evil, and, ultimately, death and the holy wrath of God.

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Romans 1:25

All humans participate in this rebellion. Not just occasionally, when they lie or steal, but constantly, whenever they fail to worship God with everything in them, or when they love themselves more than other people. All humanity has turned away from God and gone their own way, and as a result, the world is evil, violent, self-serving, and corrupt. All of us have rejected God and pretended we were gods instead. And all of us deserve nothing other than his anger and judgment.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. Ephesians 2:1-3

[God,] your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Habakkuk 1:13

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:31

Now, God – eternal, independent, all-powerful, self-existent, glorious – did not leave it at that. He never planned to leave it at that. In all love, in all kindness, in unimaginable grace, God the Son entered time and space as a man, a real man. He was conceived miraculously, was born naturally, lived sinlessly, was murdered unjustly, and was resurrected to life again after three days. His name was Jesus, which means “God saves.”

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:22-24

Through Jesus and only through him, reconciliation to God and freedom from sin and death are freely available. He lived perfectly so that those who believe can be credited before God with his perfect record. He died on a cross so that their debt to God can be paid for and their sins forgiven by his own taking on of the wrath of God. He rose from the dead because death could not hold him. God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf and promises the same kind of resurrection life to all who believe.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

Through Jesus, the image of God in a person, once broken and distorted by sin, is restored. Through Jesus, sinful humans are recreated into what we were always meant to be. Through Jesus, the judgment of God is turned away and the love of God is lavished on us. Through Jesus, the unapproachable Deity becomes freely accessible; we are adopted into his family. Through Jesus, the Holy Spirit of God lives in us and changes us. Through Jesus come peace, joy, hope, freedom, value, and meaning. Through him comes true, indestructible life. He is the answer to our need, and the purpose of our lives. His love is the most incredible, truest reality in the whole world.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12

It is through faith – belief and trust in what Jesus has done – that any person receives this free gift of God called redemption. No one can earn it; any good thing a person does is merely what they ought to have been doing all along. And even the good things we do outside faith are distorted by wrong motives and self-love. If you think God will save you from judgment because you are “good enough” or because you try to love him, understand that you not good enough and that you hardly love him. Instead, understand, know, and believe that Jesus is in all ways good enough and that he has loved you first.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4:9-10

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15