Which Christianity Am I Defending?

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Part of the extended series Evidence for the Faith

Skeptics like to point at all the different versions of Christianity and ask, “Which one is the true one, and how do you know?” It’s an important  Christians, meanwhile, bemoan the differences among us. We are all too aware of the different Christianities that lay claim to being the True Version. It’s a diminishing trend: denominational leaders are more likely these days to accept that members of other churches can be true Christians, yet it still has its strict limits. Mormonism is not Christianity. Neither is the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. How do I know? What is real Christianity?

This is a crucial point to clarify as I begin a series explaining reasons to believe in Christianity.

Real Christianity is first of all biblical Christianity. Its authority is rooted in Scripture, its beliefs are tested by Scripture, its principles are guided by Scripture.

That’s a true answer and yet not quite adequate, for there are multiple Christianities that claim to be founded on Scripture and yet have different beliefs. Church history demonstrates that it took years to develop a solid and workable statement summarizing several key doctrines, especially on the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus Christ. These statements, or creeds, were worked out in a series of Church Councils convened to discover what the Scripture really said about these key topics.

If you have an iPad, I highly recommend Doug Powell’s “iWitness Heresies and Cults” as a guide to these councils. Doug’s approach to cults and heresies (besides being enormously creative and visually appealing in design) was to focus on the truths of creedal Christianity, to which the doctrines of non-creedal religion could be compared. I think it’s safe to consider true Christianity as residing within the boundaries of these conciliar creeds.

(Protestants, however, tend to avoid the term theotokos, “Mother of God,” applied to Mary, not because it is entirely false—she carried and bore Jesus Christ, God in the flesh—but because she is nevertheless not mother to the one eternal God, and because Protestantism is wary of following the Roman Catholic path of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, prayers to or via Mary, etc.)

If you don’t have access to that app (iPad only), then you might take a look at this summary of the councils’ work.

C.S. Lewis spoke of “mere Christianity”—that which is merely Christian rather than specifically Protestant (Reformed/Anglican/Calvinist/etc.), Catholic, Orthodox. His mere Christianity is roughly the same as the creedal Christianity I’ve just described.

The great majority of what I write will apply to all creedal Christianity; in fact, as I think ahead to the content I will include, I can’t think of any of it that would apply more narrowly than that. [Update: see comment 7]

Yet I am not a Roman Catholic or a member of one of the Orthodox churches. I am a Protestant with certain specific convictions. and just a few items of belief on which I am suspending any final decision. I heartily accept the statement of faith adopted by Ratio Christi, the mission group in which I now serve as national field director, as well as that of Cru, with which I served for 34 years before that. The two statements overlap almost completely.

If you want to know which version of Christianity I believe and practice, those statements will tell you almost all you need to know. If you want to know which Christianity I’m defending in this series, look first to the Bible, and along with it also the early church councils and their creedal interpretations of God’s authoritative word.

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10 Responses to “ Which Christianity Am I Defending? ”

  1. Good day. I fail to see how you can defend christianity AT ALL when it patently isn’t working! As a group with a loving father to help and guide – and answer prayers – I would imagine christians would be visibly better off than the rest of us heathens. But no, it seems there is no benefit to be gained. Christians are not any better off – they lie and cheat and steal, they get awful cancers, they have horrifying car crashes, they are swallowed up by earthquakes and battered – along with us all.
    So what exactly has your god been doing? Twiddling thumbs it appears! Certainly not helping out the faithful!

  2. J brigg, one of the strongest defenses for Christianity is in its effects on the lives of its followers. If you’re unaware of it, please do stick around for when I get to that.

    Meanwhile, please be aware of the discussion policy. I see that your shift key works.

  3. Mike, I believe in sola scriptura, and I said as much in different words. Maybe I could have stated it in stronger language. I’m probably guilty of thinking I said it more clearly than I actually did. It’s in the statements of faith that I linked to.

    Other than theotokos, however, the creeds are helpful in delineating and defining what the Scripture-seeking church has believed from the beginning. Consider a statement of high biblical authority like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It is a statement produced by a modern day sort of a church council. It summarizes what Christians believe on the topic, although in this case it was not a global ecumenical council, so there are Christians who do not sign on to it; it summarizes for a certain group of Christians what they believe on the topic.

    The early councils summarize biblical belief on the Trinity and on Christology in a manner that clarifies what the Bible teaches and that helps separate out groups that claim to accept the Bible (like Jehovah’s Witnesses or the early form of Armstrongism) from genuine Christianity.

    And again, I want to say that the defense that I intend to offer for my evangelical Protestant Christianity is almost entirely applicable to all creedal Christianity. If I were writing my theology in this kind of detail it would be very specifically evangelical Protestant. A series on evidences for the faith just isn’t that specific by nature of the material.

  4. By way of some questions I’ve been asked, I’ve come to realize there is at least one realm in which my defense of Christianity will be strictly evangelical Protestant. There are many things that apply to all creedal Christians: the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus, etc. But there is something I find especially satisfying, both existentially and intellectually, about the biblically-based solution evangelicalism teaches for the universal human problem of sin.

    I won’t preview that here, so you’ll have to wait until I write it up in detail. I will say here, though, that it is such a satisfying answer that I believe it contributes mightily to the intellectual credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Christian explanations differ for how we find our way to a solution. I am who I am partly because I am convinced of the broadly evangelical answer to that question.

    It’s very possible that other things like this will come to mind, where I end up defending a specifically evangelical belief. I said in the OP that I couldn’t think of any such thing while I was writing it. Now with the help of some friends and questioners, I have thought of something. I won’t be surprised if it happens again.

  5. Tom,

    Thank you for taking up this discussion. As we talk about what is true Christianity, I would like to remind us all of the universality of Christianity. I have been blessed with the opportunity to interact and worship with Christian communities in various parts of the world, including Christians in Micronesia and Palau. The people in these geographically remote islands of the northern Pacific have embraced Christianity joyfully and faithfully. In addition to enhancing their lives as individuals and as communities of faith, they testify as to how Christianity has given them a sense of unity with the world, with people and communities they may never come in contact with but with whom they share our Christian faith.

    There are Christians in every country in the world, who has different cultures and speak different languages, who worship in some ways according to local customs and traditions, but are all united in sharing the Holy Communion, the teachings of Jesus Christ and the blessings of his death on the cross and resurrection. We shouldn’t lose sight of this wonderful reality, even as we may squabble over whose expression of Christianity is The One. God is The One and Jesus is His Messiah.

    I also heard a sermon in which the pastor gave me a truism that I try to keep in mind: Christianity is like soap. It doesn’t get us clean unless we apply it.

    Have a blessed day! JB

  6. Christians are not any better off – they lie and cheat and steal, they get awful cancers, they have horrifying car crashes, they are swallowed up by earthquakes and battered – along with us all.

    I’ll leave you to do some investigation into whether your statement lines up with the available evidence.

    However Christianity doesn’t make any particular claim to make its followers “better off”. Was the early church better off while they were being persecuted by Nero? Was the Chinese church better off while they were operating under severe persecution?

    A better measure is to consider what Christianity motivates Christians to do with their lives – like establishing charities such as Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Compassion, the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse, and many more.

    I heard Cambridge historian Tom Holland being interviewed recently, and he compared the Roman Empire before and after it became Christian. Before, Julius Caesar slaughtered a million Gauls and it was a cause for celebration and boasting. One thousand years on, when the Emperor was asked to give a blessing to soldiers killing in war, he instead condemned it. In Holland’s words it was a profound moral and ethical transformation – Christianity brought compassion to the world.

  7. I look forward to reading your defense of Christianity. I like how you’ve started. It was a good idea to 1) point out that there are different flavors of Christianity and 2) what specific beliefs you will be defending. It ought to be an interesting and thought-provoking journey. I’m sure you’ll generate a lot of interaction. I admire your willingness to tackle such a worthy objective!

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