In a previous post I examined both the implications and the motivations related to describing Christianity in particular ways. Having discussed implications and motivations, let’s take a step closer to answering the question: “What is the nature of Christianity” and how might one describe this nature?
So, how would one go about describing Christianity?
For many Christians, Christianity simply means following God: obeying God, loving God, and certainly believing in God. Also, Christians typically use Bible verses to describe their belief / Christianity. So they may cite (or paraphrase) verses about loving God and loving their “neighbour” (Mt 22, Mk 12, Lk 11, etc.), about how much God loves us (John 3, etc.), or about the sinfulness of humanity (Rom 8, etc.).
On the one hand description though citing Bible verses is valuable, as the Bible represents an important (and indeed, essential) “informer” about the Christian God and the Christian faith. Yet on the other hand, while Christians must always seek to be informed by the biblical texts, I believe that the goal for every Christian is to describe the nature of Christianity—in truth, the nature of their own Christian belief—in their own words.
To my mind, the difference between presenting Christianity via scriptural quotations versus offering one’s own description—in one’s own words—often amounts to the contrast between believing in God / adhering to Christianity versus having come to a place of understanding that belief and having lived out the trust that such understanding implies, over time and in real-life situations. As such, it is the difference between tacit acceptance (of how one was raised or of one’s culture) and active engagement (which includes not only affirmation but also critique).
Again, I am not suggesting that Christians should put the Bible aside.
Rather, I am suggesting that they should cultivate the integration of their biblical understandings and experiential contexts to the point that their disposition towards their faith germinates into what might be called “ownership.” Ownership implies intimate involvement: caring deeply about the health, development, and outcomes of something. Ownership further implies deep personal investment (and by extension, it requires significant understanding).
Now an impediment to actively engaging with one’s faith is that in many churches (and indeed, in many Christian traditions) an emphasis on ownership does not exist or, where it does, the sort of “creative fidelity” that the notion implies is seen as at least misplaced, if not wayward. In other words, in many Christian environments the faithful yet creative appropriation of Scripture, integrated with one’s own experiences of living out one’s relationship with God (where both are distinct and in productive tension, allowing mutual corroboration and correction) is not seen as necessary to a vibrant and tenable Christian life.
In some Christian traditions adherents are taught that “belief is enough” (or even given the tacit message that understanding is non-essential). And while belief is an essential component, viewing relationship with God as being based on “belief alone” is sorely to misunderstand the situation in 1st century Palestine when Jesus called his fellow Judeans to “believe.” Indeed, these were people for whom the necessary understanding was already in place, but which needed to be re-oriented according to the perspective that Jesus offered on God, himself, and how people were to relate to both of them.
In my view then, emphasizing “belief alone” is in fact a detriment to Christians as it does not encourage them to adopt (and develop skill in using) the tools needed to become “owners” relative to their Christian beliefs. Instead, where Christians actively engage with their belief they are always looking for ways to understand those beliefs better, to explain them more fully, and to engage in their relationship with God (that is at the core of those beliefs) more vibrantly.
Thus the impetus for framing one’s Christian convictions / the nature of Christianity in one’s own words flows from one’s intimate involvement and personal investment, with the advantage that framing our faith our own words affords greater clarity of vision and purpose (for ourselves), as well as explanation (for others).
Finally, as I noted above, this degree of personalization (or ownership) requires “creative fidelity”: the faithful yet creative appropriation of Scripture, integrated with one’s own experiences of living out one’s relationship with God.
Here Scripture and experience are distinct and yet situated in a relationship of productive tension, allowing these each component the possibility of corroborating—or correcting—the other.