Where shall we begin to answer such a huge question? Medieval theologians used to say, “Method does not matter.” This saying makes sense when you consider that the English word “method” is derived ultimately from the Greek word “methodos”, which means “a following after” or “pursuit” or “access.” Christianity is a complex belief system, and one can begin thinking about it at any point within it. What matters is not where you begin but that you “pursue” the whole system of faith to the end.
Different people find themselves at different points in the journey from doubt to faith. For some, their faith in God is unshakable, but their belief in Jesus is tenuous. Others find Jesus’ moral teaching compelling but the church’s claims about him dubious. Still others find themselves at other places on the way from nonbelief to full faith. Ideally, this series would begin by addressing each person’s most pressing question and move from there to cover the entire system of belief. Demanding that everyone begin their quest for deeper faith at the same point would be as foolish as demanding that everyone who wants to go to New York City must begin at Los Angeles. You begin where you are. Hence there are as many beginning places and ways of “pursuing” the question, “Is Christianity true?” as there are individuals.
In this electronic medium, I cannot begin with each reader’s individual questions, which would be ideal. I must use another way, a more general method that will eventually cover all the questions in an orderly way. Two methods come to mind as possibilities. We could follow the “order of knowing” or the “order of being.” If we followed the order of knowing, we would ask ourselves, “What are the first, second, third things one needs to know in order to make the journey from nonbelief to full faith?” Do we begin with the question, “How do I know that I exist or that the external world exists?” Or, do we begin with some other question about what we need to know first? Once we settle on an order of knowing, the outline of our argument follows easily. Though this method has its famous champions, I will not take this approach.
Following the order of being, we would ask ourselves, “What is the order of reality, in order of priority, presupposed and asserted by the Christian faith?” In other words, “What must be true about the way things really are, in order of priority, if Christianity really is true?” Do I begin with the issue of the origin of the world or the first cause of everything or the existence and nature of God? Or, is some other question the best candidate for first place in the order of being? I will follow this method in this series. Along the way, I will explain why I prefer it.
I Respect Your Intelligence
Some of my most faithful readers reminded me recently that I write at a higher level than most bloggers. Yes, I do, and the reason is stated in my first post, August 8, 2013, “An Invitation to Thoughtfulness in Religion.” I really believe that most contemporary Christians do not hear deep and thoughtful teaching in their churches, and they don’t know where to begin their search for deeper understanding. This blog is dedicated to remedying this situation. My compulsion for challenging my readers to think hard is probably explained by my background. On the one hand, I am an academic theologian who teaches theology in a university. I have studied theology for 43 years and have taught it for 25 years. I also served in the ministry for 10 years before entering academia. My passion is bridging the gap between seminaries and churches, students of theology and church-going Christians. I try to avoid technical jargon. But I respect your intelligence and your desire to understand so much that I refuse to speak to you as if you were still in grammar school. I want you to experience some of the joy I have experienced in probing the depths of the Christian faith.
Next post coming soon: what do we mean by “Christianity”? And what would it mean to say “Christianity is true?”