The word perennial means to continually endure. The word transcendent means that which is over all. Thus that which is perennial and transcendent is both over all and ever enduring. God, ultimately, is transcendent and perennial in that He is over all things as to their being, before all things as to their cause, and never ceases to be. The way, though, I’m using perennial and transcendent, for this post, are analogical uses. That is, they are not actually the “perfect” uses of the word. Rather, analogously, I’m asking and answering the question “what are the most pertinent perennial questions for man?” More particularly, I’m asking what are the most pertinent, perennial, and transcendentally meaningful questions regarding man in relation to Christianity? What questions, rationally, would a man coming into contact with Christianity need to ask? Imagine having no contact with Christianity and then having to ask meaningful questions regarding it and it’s claims. What would they be?
Question I: What is it?
First, you’d ask what is it? That is, what is Christianity? You’ll certainly come across a vast array of different answers to this question by various “Christians.” How do you deal with the many different conceptions of Christianity pervade the public arena at this time? As you know, the Catholics have their version, the Protestants theirs, and the Orthodox theirs. So it follows first that you ask the question “what is real or true Christianity?” Among Protestants, there are many different conceptions of “what” Christianity is. Sure, there are men who want to define it historically, that it is simply the Nicene faith. These historicists certainly mean well, but are you actually persuaded that a simple “appeal” to a historical authority yields the mental and psychological peace of someone who “really” wants to know what Christianity is? See, it is a large question “what is Christianity?” With so many voices and opinions, it is an impossible task to simply submit yourself to the crowd. No, no, no. The question is too big a deal; many within the crowd are claiming that eternal heaven and hell are in the balance, you owe it to yourself to find for yourself what Christianity is. With so many differing and contradictory voices, you must free yourself from the comfortable shackles of childish ignorance, to know what gentle Jesus meant when he said if you’d be my disciple you must become like a child. Appeals primarily to authority, tradition, and comfort are persuasive to comfort your weak flesh but are they really, ultimately, satisfactory for the depth of your mind?
Question II: Is it all true?
After coming to a basic understanding of what Christianity is, the next logical question you’d probably ask is whether or not it is true? In asking this question, I don’t mean you’re bogged down about the many different “truth” theories (epistemologies). The question is resolutely simple at a common sense level. Is Christianity true in the same sense that I mean, “It is true that I am reading this article right now.” That is, does Christianity accord with reality? Is is actual or is it fiction? Is it, as Marx said, an opiate for the masses? Is it, as Nietzsche said, “Gnosticism for the people!” And thus false? Is it as the Pope says, the hope of the world? Is it as Luther said, the peace of the soul before eternity? Is it what your grandmother says? Is it what your Pastor says? Is it, whatever it is, true? Does it accord with reality? Philosophers delude themselves with theories of truth in order to dissuade themselves of the most obvious and transcending realities: but you know externality is real, it impresses itself clearly onto your mind regardless of whether or not you want it there. Your emotions, your feelings, your thoughts: none of these have any bearing on whether or not, when you walk outside, you see and feel the sun. Simultaneously, if it is true – your feelings, thoughts, prior beliefs – all of it, they don’t matter, in one sense, with regard to Christianity. If it is true, you must live in accordance with it. Just as if it is true that there will be a blizzard tomorrow, you cannot safely go to the beach without a coat no matter how much you may wish to do so. Objectivity, in addition to being undeniable, makes no amends with your preferences, wishes, biases, and the like. It simply is. And if Christianity is, it demands your full attention. Especially given the drastic nature of it’s claims.
Question III: If it is true, how do I become of it?
If you found it to be true, what would you do about it? Very rarely does a purported Christian group not make a distinction between Christian and non-Christian. Certain liberal “Christianities” act as though our common nature as humans is ultimate and as though we are all, by virtue of God’s love, are all going to heaven. This isn’t Christianity, but I’m not going to make that case here. My point in all of this is simply that for the majority of Christians, to be a Christian is to inherit exceeding and unending joy and to be an unbeliever is to inherit unceasing and unending sorrow. Thus it follows that if it is true being among it is of the utmost importance. The question is, then, how is one to be converted? What is the proper step (or steps) one must take in order to, properly, convert? Is it simply to be a part of a purported Christian church? Simply wear the jersey and you’re a part of the team. Is it to, as Luther argued, forsake all claims to righteousness and lay your hope solely at the feet of the triumphant and resurrected Christ? Is it to do good works in righteousness after the manner of Christ? What is it? How can I be a part of it? Again, with so many possible answers to the question the individual must seek out an answer for himself. It does you no ultimate mental good to trust a group or tradition without rationale. You say to yourself, well this and this group has been so good to me so I’ll trust them. Do you think that other groups haven’t been good to their people? You say well this and this group is so faithful and smart with regards to its understanding of church history or the bible, I will trust them! Dear sir, are you so vain as to think that only that tradition has skilled theologians and historians? They are everywhere, and in every denomination under the sun. You will have to do better. You have a mind, seek it out for yourself. Dare to know.
The Tipping of My Hat
Though I don’t want to come across as a Teacher or even a guide, I will speak to you as from one wayfarer on the lookout for truth to another (or, shall I say, another scared and alienated man, ready to suppress the truth to others who are talented in the same). I actually think that what Christianity is, is very simple. Christianity, at its most simple conception, when postulated in reference to the individual, is simply the fullness of eternal life embodied in the historical Jesus Christ, for sinners, that they might eternally and joyfully live in Him, as He’s revealed in the Bible. And He is received through resolute trust and resolute submission. That is, Jesus for sinners and sinners for Jesus. He lived, died, and rose from the dead that His people might too rise to a new and coming world; and He bids men to come and die to this life, to live in Him, and to await the next. Christianity, is in other words, hope for man which transcends the world. I tip my hat also to the next question – is it true? I believe it is true; I don’t believe it is true because of all the evidence (though this piqued my initial interest in the faith). I don’t believe it is true because I want it to be true (though I desperately wanted a rationale for my desire to be virtuous before conversion). Nor do I believe it is true because, like Lewis, through it I see everything else (though indeed, post-conversion, it is). No, no, no. I believed it to be true and continue to believe it because when it was preached to me, I saw a glory in the Christ beyond all comparison. I believe it is true because glory like that, along with its presentation, could only be by the God of Israel which the Scriptures proclaims. And thus the God of Israel must be true. I have heard the voice of Christ and He bid me come and I came (Jn 10:27-28). I do not, therefore, separate my experience of Christ from my belief in the Scriptures and in Christianity. No. Apart from my personal, vital, real, and transformatory experience of the Christ through preaching I’d never believe in Christianity; my faith is based on my experience of the resurrected Lord who bid me come and die and live.
Why these questions?
Though I think that the personal relevance of these three questions is somewhat intuitive, I will explicate further why I believe they are three of the most (if not the most) important questions to ask when confronted with purported Christianity. In the first, to ask “what Christianity really is?” is simply the logical byproduct of a man in search of truth when he comes into contact with multiple conceptions of what “true Christianity” really is. Thus, before he even moves into the question of whether or not the conception is true, he must for himself determine which conception is the “most adequate” conception to Christianity itself. Secondly, after determining what it is, the individual must determine it’s potential relevance to his life by determining whether or not it is true. If the message of Christianity, hypothetically, is the most relevant message in all the world, then there exists all the more grounds to determine whether it is true or false. Either Jesus bodily resurrection occurred or it didn’t. Either the Bible is inspired or it is not. These are binary propositions (propositions which only admit of true or false, necessarily). If the truth claims of true Christianity are in fact true, then it has the most immense personal relevance for the individual’s life. If they are false, then it may have relevance in terms of deserving a refutation, but not the life transformatory way of conversion. And finally then, the third question is of utmost importance therefore; if in the case that Christianity is true, then one must determine how one is to “convert to it.” As stated earlier objectivity is the grounds for morality; what you should do is dictated primarily by what is or what reasonably could be; therefore, if Christianity is true, regardless of your preferences, you should convert. And thus “how” to convert is an important question.