Monday, February 3, 2014

Defining Christianity Like An Atheist Than A Christian

As odd as it may sound, I actually enjoyed listening to the ranting and fodder of the late Christopher Hitchens. I disagreed with nearly everything he taught, but he was likeable and witty, which made him easy to listen to. Hitchens spoke out regularly against religious beliefs, Christianity in particular. He would often debate Christians in university settings, on radio programs, and he appeared on television programs representing atheism, and his particular brand - anti-theism.

On one occasion Hitchens was interviewed on a radio program where a minister from the Unitarian Church, Marilyn Sewell, was talking with him about a book he wrote called God is Not Great. In the book Hitchens paints God as a monster. So Sewell - who seemed to think her and Hitchens were on the same side - implies that Hitchens only seems to be talking about the “fundamentalist” Christians, you know those who believe the Bible, that Jesus lived, died on the cross, and rose again. But she and her denomination don’t believe in all that, they celebrate the example of Jesus and the way of love. Listen to what she asks Hitchens, and his response:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian…

From the mouth of an atheist we see very clearly there are certain beliefs, facts, and particular knowledge claims that Christians hold, that to not hold them, excludes you from defining yourself as a Christian. I would go beyond Hitchens description and add to the list.

Christians believe from the Scriptures that: 

-- God is Triune: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
-- We believe that God is Creator of all and is holy and righteous in all His ways
-- We believe that man was created by God for relationship and to bring God glory, but all men have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
-- We believe this sin condemns us before God and puts us at odds with Him, separating us from relationship
-- But we believe God, in His love, sent forth His Son to reconcile sinful man to Himself by lifting the curse off of us and punishing it on the head of His own Son as a substitute in our place
-- We believe that Christ, who was crucified was also raised on the third day, and that his resurrection is the justification of who he was, what he taught, and evidence His Father had accepted his sacrifice for sinners
-- We believe that all who place their faith in the sacrifice makes for sinners will be saved and made children of God, reconciled to relationship

Christianity is not what you want to make it. Because Christianity is a knowledge tradition, it is not simply a set of religious beliefs. Christianity makes claims about reality (metaphysics), not just religious claims.

The two most common groups to misrepresent and/or redefine Christian beliefs are atheists, who love to create straw man versions of Christianity, and liberal Christians, who retract doctrines that have grown out of favor with the culture. Both of these groups define Christianity wrongly, assuming it is a define-it-for-yourself endeavor. The problem is, one of these groups openly acknowledges they are not Christians, while the other group is deceived in thinking they are. So while I would add much more to my definition than Hitchens did to his, I would rather define Christianity like he did than like Sewell. In this case, I would rather define Christianity like an atheist than a "Christian."

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