"The Bible is our source of GOOD NEWS for this world, it can be trusted and it’s something not to keep to ourselves but to spread around to others."
This is a great summing up by Paul of just what Christians believe –
the Gospel in a nutshell – and in a modern translation that really
brings the words to life!
100 years ago Christian belief was as natural a part of life in this country as Sunday Roast dinner. I remember growing up and going to church as a very young child, Sunday School outings, joining the choir as an eight or nine year old, being confirmed at eleven and just thinking that Sunday = church.
How times change! Now there aren’t many in this country who see within Christianity the certainty that their grandparents saw. It’s become one faith among many (all roads lead to God), or in the eyes of some has been discredited and disproved by science – believers are suffering from delusions.
The scientist Richard Dawkins who wrote "The God Delusion" would certainly want the world to consider all religions as nonsense, and possibly dangerous.
To him God is dead, Christians deluded.
So what are we to believe? Where do we go to find our hard facts?
There are plenty of books and well respected teachers and authors around that we might approach, but probably the best place to start is the Bible, because that’s where we get the most information about our faith and from the earliest dates after Jesus’ death and resurrection (in some cases only one generation away) so it should be (historically) reliable. Certainly there don’t seem to be any writings from those days saying that it was all rubbish!
Christians believe that God reveals himself to humankind, and throughout history has done that in different ways – in the Bible, which is among other things a history book, we see how this operates.
Firstly we see how God directed the history of his people. The OT is the story of a relationship between a people and their God, which like all relationships has its ups and downs. It’s a story of God revealing himself through circumstances and people, of God saving his people, leading his people and showing both love and justice in equal measure.
If you read from Genesis onward you learn a lot about humankind and also about God – the weakness of humans and the faithfulness of God. Yes, sometimes the OT looks a bit gruesome at times, with all the battles, defeats and victories.
Yes, sometimes God seems a lot more severe in his dealings with people than we would understand from the NT, but then we are told that the Old Covenant that God established was replaced with a new one heralded by the appearance of Jesus, and that changed everything in the relationship between God and his Creation.
Secondly God inspired a written record, a history of this relationship through people he chose. Why? Presumably so that future generations might be made aware of who he is and make a response. He used an interesting collection of individuals to write down his history. Some of them were intellectuals such as Paul, others were just ordinary country folk.
Mark, who wrote the earliest of the Gospels was a bit of a duffer when
it came to writing Greek! But Christians believe that God chose the people
he wanted who were where he wanted them – and then inspired them
to put quill to papyrus. But importantly, Christians also believe that
these "history books" are not just writers putting down their
own words. Paul tells Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed"
or in other words when the Scriptures speak, God speaks.
I heard someone says that yes, God used the talents of ordinary people to put into words his message, along with their limited or extensive vocabulary, their good or bad punctuation and grammar, but that when it was finished, God could still look over their shoulder and say "Yes, that’s what I meant to say!"
Thirdly, God reveals himself through a more general or ‘special’ revelation. Paul saw God’s general provision all around him
"But he never left them (that is the People of God) without evidence of himself and his goodness. For instance, he sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joyful hearts.” Acts 14:17
"For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for n ot knowing God." Romans 1:20
The Bible shows specific occasions when people encountered God. There was the call of Abraham to leave everything, despite his advancing years and head off into an uncertain future; the apparently miraculous birth of Isaac to the aging Abraham and Sarah; the Passover, when God ‘passed over’ the houses of the Israelites, saving them from destruction; that great story of Elijah calling on his God to bring down fire onto Mount Carmel as he challenged the followers of Baal.
Then there were the ways in which people were aware of God speaking to them, either directly (think about Moses and the burning bush), or through prophesy, dreams, visions and through Scripture
2 Tim 3:16,17 "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work."
Lastly of course Christians believe that God revealed himself in a very
special way through Jesus - as the Gospel writer John calls him "The
Word" made flesh. The same Word of God which brought the universe
into existence present in flesh walking around among the same people whom
God had chosen to reveal himself through.
Now there’s little argument about the fact that Jesus was a very real person, most historians would be happy with the amount of first hand testimony from early writers. It’s who Jesus was and is that is the burning question. Was he just a teacher, or was he the Messiah (the Promised One that the Jews were looking for?). If he was just a teacher, however good he might be that would mean that millions of Christians over the past 2000 years have been deluded. There are plenty of wise teachers around who we might look to, but they are not God’s Son and can’t offer Salvation.
Christianity has no room for Jesus just as a teacher. Jesus was quite plain about who he was and the fact that the Scriptures pointed toward him as Messiah. Jesus saw himself as God’s final revelation of Himself to humankind. At one point he says to the Chief Priests and Jewish Leaders
John 39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!"
To his disciples after his resurrection he said
… “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ (Luke 24, 44,45)
As I mentioned earlier the earliest NT writings we have in our Bibles date from only one generation after Jesus, so there would still be plenty of people around who could have told the world that this was all rubbish – but there is nothing at all!
The Bible has been ridiculed, dismissed and reinterpreted over and over
again and survived. 2000 years after Jesus’ birth and 1600 years
after the Bible as we know it was put together, the books and letters
within it still seem to be the right ones – other discovered "gospels"
and writings have generally been shown to be later and less reliable (or
I’ve concentrated on the Bible as our main source of understanding of just what Christianity is all about, and that might seem a bit obvious, but of course the Bible is one of those books that is in most houses and almost never read.
It is so important for Christians to become familiar
with the story – it’s our handbook, the maker’s instructions!
There are many ways of making Bible reading more interesting – Bible
notes are probably the best, and there are plenty of different ones you
can find in Christian bookshops.
If someone tells you that what you believe is nonsense, how would you respond? You need to be sure of the foundations of your faith. The Bible is our source of GOOD NEWS for this world, it can be trusted and it’s something not to keep to ourselves but to spread around to others.