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7. Christianity is a public statement about the world, not merely a private religion.

7.1 The above proposition is not a definition of Christianity, but a description of one important aspect of its self-understanding. Because the popular image of Christianity falls woefully short of what Christianity claims to be, and because there is even considerable debate on this issue within the churches, it is necessary in this paper to point out some of Christianity's claims.

7.1.1 In what follows, the form of Christianity under consideration is not modern liberalism, but a more traditional substantive form, albeit under the interpretation of Evangelicalism.

7.1.2 Christianity claims to make demands of, and to have an eternal impact on, everyone in the world. Indeed, it claims to be central to the course of the world as a whole, both in its physical and spiritual aspects. Hence, Christianity understands itself as being publicly recommendable to others, not as being a merely private or esoteric experience. It sees itself as the Truth, ignored or repudiated by any individual at his eternal peril. With a message of such far-reaching consequences, promulgation (usually known as evangelism in this context) is at the centre of Christianity, and rightly so if Christianity (as understood in this paper) is true.

7.2 Christianity claims to be more than a private religion. It claims, amongst other things, to be a complete explanation of the purpose & progress of the world throughout time & eternity, at least in so far as it concerns human beings.

7.3 To be publicly recommendable as of practical utility and not merely as of philosophical interest, Christianity, apart from being a correct description of the world, needs to be of value in the ordering of practical life, and so it understands itself to be.

7.3.1 However, if Christianity were merely "something that makes you feel good" (like transcendental meditation) or were simply a moral code, Christianity would be reduced to the status of an ancillary tool. This might still be of value, but is not what Christianity is about.

7.3.2 Christianity treats its moral code as the only valid response of man to God, his creator. Hence, though much Christian morality would still be of great value even if the theistic infrastructure of Christianity turned out to be unsound, it is this infrastructure that gives Christian morality its whole motivation and character.

7.4 Before we can evaluate Christianity, we must first of all decide what Christianity is.

7.4.1 One method of answering the above question is to develop the maximal subset of possible statements about Christianity that are internally consistent and generally believed by Christians.

7.4.2 Since, however, there is no consensus amongst Christians on what all the true statements of Christianity are, the proposition "the statements of Christianity are all true" does not even make sense without further definition. Hence the importance in this paper of making clear what we understand by the term Christianity. I take Christianity to be a more fundamental term than Christian. Hence, there would seem to be circular reasoning in defining Christianity as "what Christians say it is" (C.S. Lewis). We need a more objective criterion. Therefore, we will emphasise the importance of the Bible in defining the meaning of Christianity. Tradition & present experience, the only obvious alternatives or supplements, will be rejected.

7.4.3 The analysis of sectarian beliefs is a separate & inexhaustible exercise which will not be pursued in this paper.

7.5 The fundamentals that are essential parts of any minimal reconstruction of Christianity are given below. Without these, Christianity would be so denuded of content as to have little of great significance to say.

a). The existence of a personal, good, loving and omnipotent God, interested in, but not confined by, the material universe.

b). The existence of ubiquitous corruption in the universe and man, resulting from a fall from initial righteousness, and of some form of universal need in man of salvation.

c). The existence of the man Jesus of Nazareth with a personality approximating to that with which he is portrayed in the Gospels.

d). The extraordinary status of Jesus as the unique Son of God.

e). The physical death & physical resurrection of Jesus.

f). The effectiveness of Jesus' death & resurrection in procuring salvation for the believer, and the efficacy of faith in Jesus to avail the believer of that salvation.

g). The continued and eternal existence of the believer, with a substantially preserved personality, in a state of happiness after death, commencing at or before some form of resurrection.

h). The ultimate restoration of man and the universe to a form analogous to that of the initial righteousness and blessedness enjoyed before the fall.

7.5.1 The above is clearly not a complete account of the Biblical or of the various historical versions of Christianity. It excludes reference to Satan, Creation, the Second Coming, the Virgin Birth, the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, the Church, Special Revelation and, no doubt, much else of importance. My contention is that these doctrines, though important, may be, and in many cases have been, excised without destroying the very foundations of Christianity. I do not think that any of the items in the "official" list above can be done away with without this consequence. The predominance of salvation-historic items in the above list may betray my evangelical background. A more Catholic list might modify item "f" above and place greater emphasis on the constitution of the Godhead and the importance of the Church. A Charismatic emphasis would add the person and activity of the Holy Spirit to the list of essentials.

7.5.2 When we come to consider fundamentalist Christianity we will need to examine items much less central than those above.

© Theo Todman 1992 - 2000.
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