Christian faith traditions and doctrines have developed over two millennia. They are based on an understanding of scripture and God that was current at the time.
However over the past century, our understanding of the history, literature and culture of the Biblical writers has increased enormously. Sometimes it shows current christian doctrine and traditions to be based on a faulty understanding.
This website is based on the consensus conclusions of experts in relevant disciplines, which have led me to feel increased confidence in the some aspects of the christianity I grew up with. But other aspects have been shown to require updating.
So if you, like me, believe Jesus is indeed “the way, the trth and the life” as he claimed (John 14:6), what should our faith look like in this new millennium?
What is the Bible and how to read it?
Christians believe the Bible records the unfolding revelation of God through the Jewish nation, leading up to the coming of Jesus. It is also a compilation of many ancient texts, much studied and argued over by scholars.
In this new millennium, I believe it makes sense to keep both of these perspectives in mind.
The gospels are a one-time only, not-to-be-repeated record of the coming of God’s son and the inauguration of the kingdom of God on earth.
The remainder of the Bible is a prologue or preparation for that story, or an epilogue or reflection on that story.
We read the Bible with an understanding of its original meaning and with a prayer that the Spirit will reveal to us how to understand and apply it today. We appreciate the understanding of expert historians and theologians, and we trust that what is uncertain isn’t crucially important.
What about the crazy parts?
If you start reading at the beginning of the Bible, you find the book of Genesis, which tells of the beginning of the world, the human race and the Jewish nation. It doesn’t take you long to find parts that seem crazy if taken literally – a talking snake, a couple who were the ancestors of every human being, a ship that contained two of every animal in the entire world and floated on water that covered the entire globe, and more.
Traditionally, most christians have believed these stories to be literally true, but these days scholars tell us these stories are legends which make theological points. There seems no reason to not accept this.
Later in the Old Testament, we find disturbing stories of a God who kills the oldest child in every family in Egypt, orders his chosen people to commit genocide, gets enraged when people disobey him, so much that he kills large numbers of people on several occasions. And this is supposed to be a God of love!
Famed christian scholar, CS Lewis, said that:
If you take the Bible as a whole, you see a process in which something which, in its earliest levels …. was hardly moral at all, and was in some ways not unlike the Pagan religions, is gradually purged and enlightened till it becomes the religion of the great prophets and Our Lord Himself.
That makes sense to me. Rather than God dropping some supposedly perfect book out of the sky (which the Bible doesn’t look like), he gave us a record of how he gradually taught a group of people truths to replace their false beliefs. The nasty stories actually belong to the beliefs that were rejected and replaced as God’s revelation became clearer and more complete.
The New Testament & history
However when we get to the New Testament and the biographies of Jesus (the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), we are now in the realm of history. The stories about Jesus were passed on from believer to fellow believer, orally and sometimes in writing. In the process the stories were very well preserved, though some minor details were varied in the telling. Eventually they were written down in the form we have them today, a few decades after Jesus lived and died.
So we can have confidence that what we read is, in the main, an accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus. The remainder of the New Testament was written by and about some of Jesus’ first followers, and shows how they lived out Jesus’ teachings and carried out the mission he left them.
Reading the Bible
We don’t expect the Bible to be without error, and we know some parts don’t reveal God accurately and are not applicable today. But we do expect it, by the grace of God and the working of the Holy Spirit, to lead us to Jesus and to teach us his ways.
So regular Bible reading is helpful, provided we read both prayerfully and thoughtfully, and interpreted by our understanding of Jesus.
The mission of Jesus
We can believe what Jesus said about his mission on earth:
- To show us God: he said when we see him, we see God (John 14:7-9).
- The kingdom of God: all historians agree that Jesus saw himself bringing God’s long-promised kingdom, or rule, on earth in a new way (Mark 1:14-15), with him as the messiah/king. He saw this rule as being one of love and service, not power and submission (Luke 4:18, 22:27). He called us to join him in this service (John 12:26).
- Salvation: for the Jews, salvation meant a good life free from oppression, in the glorious age to come when the Messiah would put things right. For us, it means we can receive forgiveness and new life now and in the age to come on the new earth.
- How to live: Jesus gave us an indication of how to live, via his example of serving and his teachings (e.g. the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7).
- All things new: in the end, God’s plan is to renew all things – the universe and its people. We will be resurrected on a new earth.
These 5 facts tell us the basics of pretty much what we need to know to understand Jesus and follow him today.
John called Jesus “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus said he would give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). In the context of first century Judaism, the references to the Jewish sacrificial system are clear.
Some christians have deep problems with the idea that God would need to sacrifice his son to atone for human sin, and it is true that some expressions of the atonement are crude and repellent.
But the idea is absolutely central to the teachings of both Jesus and the apostles, so we must accept it, even if we don’t understand it. Somehow, Jesus died for our sins.
There are many theories of the atonement. The most satisfactory (for me) is Christus Victor, that Jesus died to defeat sin, death and evil (in the form of the devil – whether you understand this literally or metaphorically). But as CS Lewis said, christianity entails belief in the atonement, but we aren’t required to hold to any particular theory.
The physical resurrection of Jesus is another core teaching of the New Testament. God raised Jesus from death because death couldn’t hold the son of God, but rather he defeated it.
The evidence for the resurrection is:
- Jesus’ tomb was empty (most historians seem to accept this).
- Jesus’ disciples had visions of him alive after his death (again, most historians seem to accept this, even if they don’t believe these appearances were physical and real).
- Belief in the resurrection was a major motivating factor in the subsequent missionary zeal of the church.
- Many sources, including the 4 gospels, other parts of the New Testament, and the writings of Josephus, record the resurrection and/or belief in it. If it weren’t so miraculous, it’s historicity would be unquestioned.
If we accept that Jesus was God’s Messiah, then his actual resurrection appears to be the best explanation for these facts. And the Bible teaches that because Jesus was raised from death, so we can be confident that we too will be raised from death at the end of this age.
Our part in Jesus’ mission
We are called to be part of Jesus’ mission:
To show God to the world. We are called to live in a way that shows God’s character of love, forgiveness, mercy and justice to people who may not see it any other way.
To bring the kingdom of God on earth. Jesus told us to pray that God’s goodness would be seen “on earth as in heaven”, as each of us join in allowing him to rule over our lives. All that we do should be filled with the values of God’s kingdom.
To share God’s forgiveness, grace and salvation. We have found forgiveness from God, so we should be offering it to others who are willing to hear the good news.
To care for the poor and marginalised and work for justice and peace. There is so much work to be done, we each have a place in making the world a better place.
To make all things new. This is the goal. Everything put right. It won’t happen until Jesus returns to finish off the task, but we are called to do what we can.
This is a cause worth living for.
Things to do
Living for the kingdom of God leads christians to serve in so many different ways:
- working in “helping” professions such as nursing, teaching, social work, police and environment protection;
- provide support for neighbours who are doing it tough – via food hampers, home-cooked meals, friendship visits, free financial and legal advice, and more;
- visit and meet with prison inmates;
- support safe houses for families fleeing domestic violence, with finance, goods and friendship;
- fight human trafficking and sex slavery;
- support for refugees in detention, help in gaining residency, and assistance in settling into society;
- self esteem, 12-step and other support groups for people suffering addictions, mental illness or low self esteem;
- many christian denominations have extensive aged care facilities, and some christians regularly visit those who otherwise wouldn’t receive many visits.
It isn’t always possible to be part of such serving, but we can all follow Jesus in being generous and loving, forgiving those who hurt us, avoiding materialism and greed, and being humble and peaceful.
There is always a goal to work towards.
The Holy Spirit
If Trinitarian theology is true (it isn’t explicit in scripture) then God is one being composed of three persons, Father, Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit. (An analogy might be a cube is a solid object made up of 6 squares.) So the Spirit is both divine and personla, and should be referred to as “he” or “she”. But too often the Spirit is either ignored (by many evangelicals) or over-emphasised (by some Pentecostals).
Jesus said it was better he left earth so the Spirit could come (John 16:7), so we must know that the Spirit’s coming is a big deal.
The Spirit guides us into truth, convicts of sin, develops character in us, is the source of gifts to build up the church, assures us of God’s love for us, and more.
If we want to be effective in following Jesus, it is good to pray for the Holy Spirit to fill us and give us all these blessings.
Different denominations each have their own emphasis, but it is good to try to holistic in our faith. I suggest our lives and churches will be balanced if these four elements are included:
- Word: scripture, understanding, knowledge, truth.
- Spirit: Holy Spirit, devotion to God, prayer, spirituality.
- Action: serving, changing the world through justice & mercy.
- Community: mutual love, caring, friendship and service.
The classic spiritual disciplines of Bible reading and reflection, prayer and meditation, regular fellowship with other believers, filling our minds with what is good (Philippians 4:8) and loving service, will all help us here.
How to respond to God
It is tempting to work out a simple and clear way to respond to God – a “sinners prayer”, a statement of faith, a commitment. But each person is different, so it seems better to offer a few ideas that may be helpful.
Forgiveness: we all know things we’ve done that we know to be wrong. Asking God for his forgiveness allows us to start with a clean slate (1 John 1:9).
Invitation & commitment: we want to be part of team Jesus bringing in the kingdom of God, so acknowledging this to God and inviting him to lead us and use us must be useful. This implies belief in Jesus, which is important in scripture.
Talk and action: Jesus said that our actions reveal our true selves more than our words do (Matthew 21:28-31). Part of our response to God must be to try to live in a way that pleases him.
But above all, we remember that we serve a God whose nature is love, who always shows grace and mercy towards us, and is always ready to forgive us if we ask.
Let’s do it!
This website aims to help people see the truth of God’s existence and his revelation through Jesus. If you’ve got to the point of sharing this belief, than it’s time to join in the movement.
May the blessing of God the father, son and Spirit go with you!