In this article, I would like to offer a six point thought process that it is logical to go through when trying to discern whether or not embracing Christianity is a wise idea. I hope the guide will help someone who is currently agnostic but is exploring (or considering exploring) the Christian faith.
Before we begin, I would like to note my own perspective, which is that I find excellent arguments for embracing Christianity, but also reasonable arguments as to why some areas of Christian theology are problematic. Some of the arguments for and against will come out in this article, but for agnostics who want to go deeper, I have provided a link to an essay I have written at the bottom of the article.
Without further ado, I will state the six aforementioned considerations, with some personal reflections on each consideration under each heading.
Six key considerations
1) In order to have a gospel, you have to have some bad news.
If salvation means anything, we must need to be saved from something. So there must be bad news from which human beings might need to be saved. The bad news creates the problem which the good news (the gospel) remedies.
2) Is there really bad news, or is this a Christian fabrication?
Christians locate the bad news in the fall of man, and sin — ideas found in the Bible. But these are concepts (as I have argued elsewhere) which are questionable in light of a sovereign and omnipresent God, for I believe that God’s boundlessness leaves no room for freedom from God, or free will.
The Christian doctrines of the fall of man and sin would seem to depend on free will. If sin is a part of God’s will, then surely it is not something that angers God, because He has chosen to manifest it. If sin angers God, then logically, He could simply choose not to create sin. So it’s important to consider whether the Biblical ideas of judgement, and punishment for sin, really make sense if there is a God who is in control of all things.
An alternative but related viewpoint (if we acknowledge the idea of sin), is that God creates sin with the specific purpose of punishing sinners, as part a grand plan for humankind. This view is attractive as it upholds God’s absolute sovereignty, but it also paints a picture of a God who seemingly chooses both for people to sin, and to punish them for their sins, which can seem rather cruel. Christians who believe in ‘double predestination’ hold this kind of view. An associated question is whether or not human beings have any right to question God’s authority, even if we might question the way He does things?
There are other philosophical reasons why God might be angry and feel He must punish human beings, which I have discussed in this post. These are not Christian ideas, but they are worth considering.
The only remaining possibility is that we do in fact have free will, and so we are guilty of original sin and also our own sins. This is the perspective which is held by the majority of Christian believers. However, it is my firm belief that an omnipresent God and human free will are logically contradictory and incompatible ideas, which creates a problem for those who hold to this perspective.
Many theologians have tried to tackle the divine sovereignty / free will predicament, and some views worth investigating include Calvinism, Open Theism, and Molinism, which all attempt to offer a solution (see this post). It’s a crucial issue and readers are advised to think this problem through deeply for themselves.
3) If Jesus is God, then we must listen to Jesus on the subject.
If God is omnipotent and has all authority, then we don’t need to listen to Jesus unless He is either God in human form, as Christian orthodoxy argues He is, or he is instead a chosen prophet, or teacher, whose teachings are important.
4) So, is Jesus God?
Orthodox Christians argue that the Bible indisputably portrays Jesus as God, and they can reference a large number of Biblical scriptures to support this view. Muslims, on the other hand, argue that the text of the Bible has been corrupted in order to depict Jesus in a way that has distorted the reality of his prophethood, and made him into God. This, to Muslims, is deeply idolatrous. Messianic Jews believe Jesus is God, while many orthodox Jews disagree. And, of course, there are other religions with their own perspectives concerning who Jesus is.
5) God knows the Truth, so ask Him.
Some Christians insist that questions of theology can only be answered in the pages of the Bible. But is God greater than the Bible? Is the Bible the only book that really matters when it comes to understanding God’s will?
If God is sovereign over all events (which is a belief I hold), then whenever a book is being written, there is a sense in which God is writing the book, even though He is doing so through one or more human beings under His control. Therefore, from this perspective I believe it would be correct to say God has written every book that has ever existed, including the Bible but also the holy books of all non-Christian religions.
To me, therefore, it seems logical that God has authority over the Bible and all other books. This is important because it means that we can turn to God for understanding in relation to the doctrines and ideas presented in the Bible. Christians testify that believers are gifted with the indwelling Holy Spirit, who helps them to understand matters of faith and doctrine as they read the Bible.
Asking God in prayer to reveal Truth seems like a wise thing to do when trying to discern matters of faith. We might pray for God to reveal which religion is true, and which teachings we should obey, as well as whether we should consider Jesus to be a prophet, or God in human form. While I believe reverence for the greatness of God is always appropriate, I believe praying to God to help us understand Truth is an act of submission and humility. If God were to condemn people for asking Him for direction, that would seem to make God very cruel, and I have found no reason to believe He is.
6) Be obedient to God’s response.
If you pray to God, perhaps He will tell you to follow Jesus, in which case that’s what you must do. Perhaps God won’t answer you at all, in which case I suggest you keep searching and asking. Or perhaps God will direct you to understand Jesus as a prophet, but not God, or will direct you along some other spiritual path.
It’s obvious to me that God has created every religion, and even every non-religious perspective. He has created every human being in exactly the way He wanted, with all their myriad different beliefs. It seems to me that prayer, therefore, is the most logical starting point on the journey to discern Truth, and is the best method we have for coming to an understanding of which spiritual path we should follow.
Even readers who are unsure about whether or not a God even exists should consider saying a prayer to ask for help. It is too important a matter not to at least employ a little humility and see whether a prayer might work. There is really nothing to lose, other than a little pride perhaps, and pride is not virtuous for anyone, so I would definitely advise taking the risk and humbly asking God for guidance.
If praying is something you really don’t feel comfortable doing, the other starting point is to simply read the Bible for yourself. You can pick up a One Year Bible, for instance, which will take you through the entire Bible in a year via 365 daily readings. If you’re not sure which Bible translation to go for, consider emailing a Christian friend or a pastor and asking for advice. I personally recommend the English Standard Version.
I hope that this blog post has been helpful to someone. For a more in depth look at the key issues of Christian theology, check out my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament: A Discourse on the Arguments For and Against Christianity’, which is available from these retailers. Thank you for reading!