Are you curious about Christianity? Have you recently become aware of the feeling that God's hand is upon you, that he is ever so gently guiding you toward accepting the truth that some two thousand years ago he really did manifest himself on earth as the man known to history as Jesus Christ? Has something inside been urging you to ignore all that our ever-manic media has been yelling at you about Christianity this week, and to instead find out for yourself what eternal truths Jesus might be waiting to offer you?
If that's where you are, we hope you're excited about what you sense God is saying to you these days.
Or maybe that's not exactly where you are. Maybe you're a little further down the road. Maybe you've already taken a firm hold of the Lord's hand; maybe you've already given yourself to the one whom you know gave himself for you. Maybe, because of your new relationship with him, you're in that thrilling, blessed phase of every believer's life where all you want to do is get to know the Lord better and better every day.
Or, conversely, perhaps you're at the end of a period in your life that began when you started to feel you knew him a little too well --- when you got bored or restless with God, and as a result sought solace and substance in pastures that at the time seemed greener but turned out to be no fun at all to play in. Perhaps you're just now emerging from the spiritual malaise and/or existential doubt that can sometimes overcome even the most devout of Christ's followers. Maybe now, like the prodigal son himself, you're wanting to return to the arms of the Father, who has never for a moment stopped loving you.
Perhaps none of the above describes you. Perhaps you're someone who has loved the Lord for a long time, who has not wandered away from Jesus, but who's feeling in need of a recharge in your appreciation and enthusiasm for him. Maybe you're just burned out on "religion" and are simply looking to have the fervent immediacy of your love for Jesus rejuvenated.
Wherever you happen to be along the believer's continuum --- earnestly curious, recently committed, suddenly saved, lapsed but returning, devoted but seeking reinvigoration --- this is the book for you. Because while it's true that different people have different spiritual needs at different times of their lives, everyone always has the same four basic spiritual needs: for answers, for guidance, for confirmation, and for inspiration. Here's how we believe this book satisfies all four.
We asked a lot of people, and did a lot of thinking and praying, in order to come up with the questions about Christianity and its attending issues that we feel even the most experienced believers sometimes want answered. Being Christian is not a primer on Christianity; however, it does ask and answer a wide array of the faith's most basic and core questions. Thus you will discover that our response to each inquiry, while always being (if we daresay so ourselves) straightforward and clear, is also informed by all the depth of feeling and thought that the Lord brings to any who believe in, study, and sincerely seek him.
Such questions as "How do I deepen my relationship with God?" and "What if my spouse or family member isn't Christian?" and "How can I increase my compassion for others?" and "How do I keep believing in God after what seems to be a senseless tragedy?" might seem simple --- and of course, in their way, they truly are --- yet countless books have been written on those and similar other "simple" questions. Here, we demonstrate how the questions and answers we're putting forward are both simple and complex. It's our hope that by treating them as such we've succeeded in making of them what we most desire them to be, which are catalysts for a more rewarding understanding and a more direct experiencing of God.
Figuring that doing so would pretty thoroughly cover it, we divided this book's questions into two main sections: GOD Inside, and GOD Outside. The Q and A's found under GOD Inside are subdivided into three chapters: "God and You," "God, You, and Others," and "Everyone: Sin, the Human Constant." The Q and A's found under GOD Outside fall within two chapters: "The Bible" and "The Church." This structure allows you to locate as quickly as possible (via the Table of Contents) whatever question happens to be most immediately on your mind, and it facilitates the book being readily modified or personalized for the study needs of any individual or group.
Beyond that, we sought to make this book a guide for the enhancement of your relationship with God through two means. First, we made sure the responses to our questions combine two sorts of material: factual and spiritual. It's easy enough to answer questions in a way that satisfies the intellect; we sought to provide answers that at the same time serve to guide you toward the source and substance of all knowledge. Second, we used the questions themselves as a means of spiritual guidance. In this sense, Being Christian is most assuredly not Christianity for Dolts. "What exactly is the Holy Spirit?" and "Why is repentance so important to me?" are question-types that lend themselves to answers able to illuminate the mind and the heart. We sought to provide answers that do both.
It is our belief that at some level of their being everyone who asks a question about Jesus already knows the answer to that question. We believe that the singular challenge of all persons --- believers, nonbelievers, doubters, and anyone else anywhere in between --- is to strip away everything within them that stands between themselves and their full and (we believe) inevitable love of Jesus. We are certain that people can't help but sense everywhere around and within them the constant, steady, and majestic presence of God.
We believe that in a very real sense, then, people are less interested in knowing what they don't know than they are in having definitively confirmed for them what they very strongly want to know, which is that God is as real as real gets, and that Jesus Christ was and is God come to earth as a man in order to sacrifice himself as an atonement for their sins. Without in any way shortchanging anyone's intellect or ability to reason, we answered each question with an eye toward affirming the innate knowledge of God we assumed would most likely have been quickened in the soul of anyone asking that question in the first place.
In the final analysis, belief in the reality of God is a dramatic leap from the comfort of the staid, everyday life of our mechanistic world to the blessed free-fall that comes from knowing that God has your back, front, side, top, and everything in between. Something has to spark one's appreciation of God to go from the theoretical to the actual, from thinking or even hoping that God is real to knowing that he is. It is of course our deepest hope that through the power of the Holy Spirit, our words might at some point provide the catalytic flash that transforms one who is seeking into one who has found. And we're confident that if anything we've written here ever does happen to trigger such a magnificent occurrence, it will have as much to do with what we didn't write as with what we did.
We know that you can point someone toward God, but you can never push anyone into a relationship with him. Ultimately, faith is a willful leap, and there's no leap without space between origin and goal. Throughout this book we've endeavored to bear in mind that oftentimes the best way to honor the end result of the greatest leap of all is to honor the integrity of the space it must overcome.
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We sincerely hope that through its questions, answers, and the way in which they're organized, Being Christian will become for you a means of further understanding and/or discovering your relationship to God. Its purpose is to call you beyond itself; to inspire you to enhance your relationship with God through study, prayer, and reflection; to more freely love and engage both the believers and nonbelievers in your life; to better comprehend and deal with sin; to more regularly and effectively engage God through the glory of his Word; and to help you become an active, informed member of a church in which you feel nurtured, excited, and challenged.
Whoever you are, and wherever you find yourself on the path toward God, we invite you to come with us, as together we move ever closer to the one from whom we all came, and to whom, if we but believe, we will one day gloriously return.
God and You
Because God, faith, and church can all seem like so much to handle, it's easy to forget that the only thing that really matters is your relationship to God the Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. That relationship is the deepest and most personal you'll ever experience. So let's spend some time talking about what it means to say and know you're a Christian.
What's the single most important thing I would have to believe in order to officially qualify as a Christian?
As we're sure you know (but on the very off chance you're not perfectly clear on it), there is no single set of beliefs to which all Christians uniformly agree. There's no regularly updated Register of All Christians kept anywhere, no membership card we're encouraged to laminate and keep with us at all times, no sticker or decal every believer is supposed to stick on his or her car, truck, minivan, or skateboard. There's nothing like that at all. There's just ... people, walking around with a lot of different ideas in their minds and hearts. So we want to come alongside you and help you understand what is and isn't true about being Christian.
While many concepts, notions, ideas, and convictions are out there about Christianity, there are core beliefs shared by (roughly estimating) 99.99999 percent of all Christians. You'd be extremely hard pressed to find one who doesn't believe, for instance, in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus was both God and man, period. Everything about our faith is grounded in that conviction.
Functionally speaking, one of the great things about Christianity is that it's been around for a very long time. What makes this quality so valuable is its guarantee that such questions as "What do we really believe?" have been thought about, written about, convened about, debated, discussed, refined, and flawlessly articulated for millennia. And throughout history there have been times when, for one reason or another, it was crucial for Christians to be very clear about what exactly it is they believe. The fact that so many minds have given so much attention over so much time to that specific question has resulted in a body of historical documents called creeds (or confessions). Each was formulated in its own time, for its own reason, and to its own effect, but the intent of each was to as fully as possible articulate what Christians believe.
One of the oldest creeds remains of particular importance to Christians around the world today. If you want to know what we believe, you can't go wrong with the Nicene Creed, which is universally acknowledged as a comprehensive and inspired articulation of the faith. Just about everyone who calls themselves Christian will readily claim the Nicene Creed as their own true confession.
The creed is named for the First Council of Nicea, which created its first form. In the fourth century Emperor Constantine called together bishops, leaders, and theologians from all countries to Nicea (in present-day Turkey), for the specific purpose of coming up with a uniform statement of faith that all Christians could agree upon and embrace. Up to that point there'd been certain variations of belief essentially vying for dominance; once the elegant and comprehensive Nicene Creed was issued, it became the standard confession of faith throughout all Christendom. Today millions of Christians around the world --- whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant --- still include reciting it as part of their regular worship practice.
The Nicene Creed reads as follows:
Excerpted from BEING CHRISTIAN: Exploring Where You, God, and Life Connect © Copyright 2011 by Stephen Arterburn and John Shore. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House Publishers. All rights reserved.