作者 | Kenny Pierce
翻译 | 舒舒
播音 | 舒舒
One thing I have learned over the years is that a lot of people find it hard to understand why I am a Christian for a very simple reason: to them, a religion isn’t something you choose because it’s true. A very large number of people, when they ask, “Why are you a Christian?” are really asking, “What do you get out of being a Christian? Why do you like being a Christian?” And that is a natural thing to ask…if you are someone who thinks of religion as being a way to get something – to get peace of mind, or to find comfort after your divorce, or to find a god who can cure your cancer. If you think of religion as being useful, rather than as being true, then naturally you want to know what I use religion for, and why Christianity suits my purposes better than any other religion, including the religion of atheism.
Now that has always seemed like an odd mindset to me. It is very obvious, for example, that in most areas of life, mistakenly believing something that is false can get you into huge trouble, no matter how sincere your belief is. Let us say, for example, that you believe the brakes in your car are in good working condition, and you are coming up to a train crossing where a freight train is roaring past at fifty miles per hour. When you push the brake, the sincerity of your belief that you have good brakes will have no effect whatsoever on whether you live or die; if your brakes have in fact failed then you will be dead ten seconds from now. The sincerity of your belief will not affect your fate; it will only affect how surprised you are as you die.
Or again, imagine that you have fallen head-over-heels in love with a woman that everybody around you can see is a manipulative sociopath. It does not matter how seriously you believe that she is the second coming of Mother Theresa; if you marry her, you are hosed.
In other words, in life in general, believing things that are false is a great way to get in really bad trouble, and life doesn’t care about your sincerity. Yet an astonishing number of people think that when you get to religion, suddenly something magical happens and it becomes impossible to harm yourself by believing false things. Religion is just a way to get what you want – to make yourself feel happier, or to have a backup strategy in case the doctor can’t cure you, or whatever. (There are also people who think of religion primarily as Tradition, and they see religion as being about Family rather than about Fact; so if you follow a different religion from your parents you are a bad son, even if you sincerely believe your parents’ beliefs are incorrect. And atheism attracts a lot of people who think religion is Superstition and whose subculture has carefully programmed them to react to any person of sincere religious belief with contempt and scorn. But most people, I think, think of religion as being about Getting What I Want Out of Life – it’s like therapy, and whatever works for you is fine. And most of those people find my attitude toward religion both incomprehensible and disturbing.)
But I have never been able to see any reason to think that religion is any different from the rest of life. Why should we think religion comes with some sort of special pass where there are no consequences for being wrong in your religious beliefs? And besides that…well, I was raised to be honest. Quite frankly, if something is false, I don’t WANT to believe it, even if it makes me feel better, because I do not wish to be either a liar or a fool. If there is no life after death I would rather mourn my parents’ passing bitterly but honestly than comfort myself with a false fantasy of seeing them again in Heaven. I recognize that that is a matter of personal taste – certainly American popular culture is completely dominated by people who don’t think it matters at all whether what they say is true or false, on any subject whatsoever – but it is who I am and I don’t suppose I could change that about myself even if I wished to.
Beyond that, I don’t see how it is possible to read the New Testament and not see that to all of the people who sat at Jesus’ feet and learned from Him, what mattered overwhelmingly about Christianity was that it was true. They are constantly appealing to eyewitness testimony, constantly harking back to the Resurrection and saying, “This really happened,” and there is not the slightest hint that any of the earliest Christians would have countenanced for a moment a statement like, “Look, even if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, still you’ll be so much happier if you just believe that He did so why not just believe it and be happy?”
So I have always believed that, while a great many positive things could be said about the effects of Christian belief on those who believed it and practiced it, still there was only one reason, at least for me, that could justify being a Christian. And that was, that it was true.
“You should become a Christian because it gives you hope to get through the difficult times.” Okay, but is it true?
“You should become a Christian because it gives strength to people who are too weak to make it on their own.” Congratulations to those people…but is it true?
“You should become a Christian because people who follow the principles of living taught in the Bible are far happier and more joyful than those who do not.” Sounds like a good reason to follow the ethical principles…but are the Christian religious doctrines actually true?
And here’s the thing: Christianity – from its very earliest days – has always said that the following statements are true:
1 There is a God, who is much more like a person than like anything else we know, who created the universe.
2 This God has VERY strong views on what sort of behavior is good and what is bad, and his views are non-negotiable.
3 The life that we see is a highly short-term training ground in which we make choices that determine an eternal fate, in which we are either eternally happy with a joy and bliss that we can’t even begin to imagine, or else eternally wretched with an equally unimaginable degree of wretchedness.
4 Without help from God, the choices we make would without exception cause us to end in eternal wretchedness rather than eternal joy.
5 God has chosen to help, but in a very specific way, through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and “no one comes to the Father except through me” (that is, Jesus, who is the one who said that).
6 Jesus proved His claims were true by rising from the dead – not being reincarnated in anything even remotely like the Hindu/Buddhist sense, but by coming back as Himself, in the flesh.
Now if these things are true, then literally what you decide to do about Jesus is the most important decision you will make, whether you want it to be the most important or not. And if they are NOT true, then Christianity is a lie and no honest person should believe it.
That, at least, is the point I reached long ago, and I have never seen any reason to think I was wrong about the importance of the question.
My testimony, then, is really very simple. I grew up in a Christian family and could see that Christianity “worked,” in the sense that families that truly followed the principles of the Bible were joy- and love-filled families, even in the face of tragedies; and also in the sense that when people violated the principles of Christianity it practically never turned out well for them. But of course I also knew that one of the things Christianity taught was that everything about Christianity that worked, worked only for those who had “faith.”
Now there are some very silly ideas about what “faith” is. (It does not surprise me that some people are silly enough and ignorant enough to think that “faith” is believing things not just without evidence, but in the face of evidence; but what is truly gob-smacking to me is the number of CHRISTIANS who seem to think that “faith” means trying really really hard to believe things that all the evidence says is untrue – have they even read the New Testament??) It is not “believing things that aren’t really true,” or “believing things without evidence;” it is not even strictly speaking “belief” at all, being instead a kind of relationship rather than a mental state. But while “faith” is not the same thing as belief, still belief is at the very least part of faith, or one could say a prerequisite of faith. If you don’t think Christianity is true then Christianity itself warns you that lots of things Christians are supposed to do won’t do you any good, because it is faith that makes them work, and if you don’t believe that what Christianity teaches about Jesus is true, then you can’t have Christian faith.
So when I was fairly young – about eight or so – I started wondering whether I had any reason to believe that Christianity was actually true, other than my parents said so…which I could see wasn’t a very good reason to think something was true. After all, Indian childrens’ parents told them Hinduism was true, and Arabian childrens’ parents told them Islam was true, and Chinese childrens’ parents told them some mix of Buddhism and Daoism and Confucianism and atheism was true. And somebody’s parents had to be wrong; so how did I know my parents weren’t the wrong ones?
I had no answer to that question. So I set out on a journey that took many years, involving exploration to some degree of atheism and agnosticism and Hinduism/Buddhism and Islam as well as the many different varieties of Christianity. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that the evidence surrounding the death of Jesus and the birth of Christianity was very easily explained if you accepted that he rose from the dead, and completely impossible to explain on any other hypothesis. In other words, I reached the point of deciding that there were only two reasons not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead: either you were ignorant about the evidence, or else you were already convinced on other grounds that Jesus could not possibly have risen from the dead and therefore no amount of evidence whatsoever could convince you. And I think I have heard all the arguments that purport to show that there cannot possibly be a God or at least that if there is a God He can’t possibly be the Christian one – and, not to put too fine a point on it, they are pretty stupid arguments.
So by the time I got out of Princeton, I had gone back to being a Christian. (I didn’t wind up back where I started, exactly, because while I wound up believing that the core teachings of Christianity were true – that Jesus was God incarnate, that He died in order to reconcile us to Himself, that He rose from the dead, that He offers eternal salvation to everyone who is willing to accept it, and that our eternal fate depends on whether we accept His offer – still on the whole some of the particular beliefs of the particular type of Christianity I grew up in turned out not, so far as I could tell, to be true. )So I started out Baptist, then turned into an agnostic, then came back to Christianity through Anglicanism. But the important thing is that in the end, after investigating all of the main alternatives, the evidence led me back to the Cross and the Resurrection.
I have never regretted coming back to Jesus, nor have I come across any new evidence or any new arguments to change my opinion that Christianity is true. I have learned a lot more about what Christianity means over the last thirty years; that is certainly true. But from those fundamental convictions – the conviction that the evidence says Jesus rose from the dead, and the conviction that if a man is going to look in the mirror and see an honest man then he has to follow wherever the evidence leads – I have never since seen any reason to wander. Because of the empirical evidence, I can say in absolute honesty:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and the life everlasting.
And because I can say in all honesty that all those things are to the best of my knowledge true, and because I choose to do my best (which isn’t very good but is still my best) to live out those truths in my life by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I can say, and do say, that I am a Christian and a follower of Jesus, so help me God.