What is Christianity (Letter 2)


You have provided me with a truly epic brief – to answer the question: What is Christianity? But I think it is well worth our while thinking about how we should present God’s good news to people who have little experience of church or the Bible. My impression has always been that God himself spends most of his time roaming the fringes of established religion, reaching out to the desperate, the lonely, the messed-up and the criminals. It’s not that God is absent from our church life; it’s just that his heart is always reaching out, while our minds are too often focused in.

First I will offer some reflections on your issues with the modern day church and then I will take a stab at tackling the big question. I think you’re broadly right that many of us indulge in a very individualised, self-focused form of the faith. God has a big mission to fulfil and we sometimes miss his call because we are too busy navel-gazing. However, I do feel God intends the two to go together. Transformed individuals lead to transformed communities. It was arguably the mind-blowing conversion of the Apostle Paul that drove the growth of the Early Gentile Church for example. Paul wrote: ‘The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ I’ve said this to you before, but I’m always struck how the Bible links God’s love for us together with the call to go out: ‘Love as you’ve been loved, serve as you’ve been served, freely you have received, freely give,’ and so on. It is only when we experience the radical love and grace of God for ourselves that we have the courage and motivation to become ‘fishers of men,’ for the Kingdom. Note as well the tense of the verbs: loved, served, received. In other words, God’s love for us is grounded in something concrete, historical and immovable – the work of Jesus for us – and has nothing to do with our own morals or performance, so we can move out in courage and confidence, with a firm foundation, without worrying about the questions: ‘does he really love me?’ or ‘am I worthy?’ Second, I agree completely about this life being a preparation ground for the next. C.S. Lewis conjured up a beautiful image, teaching that this life is the ‘Shadowlands,’ a place of darkness, uncertainty and the occasional glimpse of the sun over the horizon, and we will only bathe in the full warmth and clarity of the sun’s rays when we pass on to the next life.

So – in light of this, what is Christianity? My impression is that many un-churched people have two fundamental questions about God – does he exist and if so, what is he like? Tearing myself away from the temptation to use religious jargon, I would answer as follows: God does indeed exist and the message of Christianity is that, rather from being like a ‘strict head master,’ an ‘unforgiving boss,’ or a ‘disgruntled tyrant,’ God is a loving father and like all good Dads, he has great love for you and ambitions and hopes for your life and destiny. These hopes include using you to transform the people and the structures around you so that his love pervades everything and everyone. God has a plan to change the world and he is calling you to be a part of that adventure. It is your choice whether you embrace the challenge or remain on the side-lines. Like all other attempts to define Christianity in two hundred words, this falls woefully short, but it’s a starting point. SMASHY my dear friend,

Sir Tom