As Director of Ratio Christi at SHSU, I am always collecting “tough questions”. I want to be sure I am addressing the deepest questions that are percolating below the surface of the students’ calm and cool demeanor.
I also challenge the students to be ready to answer the First Question – “What do you believe and why do you believe it?” So I thought I would put down my answer to this question in blog post form, for them and for you.
Q: “What do you believe and why do you believe it?”
A: I’ll answer this in two parts since it is a two part question.
Part 1: What do you believe?
This question is easy to answer in some respects, because it is one that has been at the heart of the church for 2000 years. Since the beginning of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2), the Apostles began spreading the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the world.
The early Christian Creeds were succinct statements of the Gospel. Take one of the earliest creedal statements as an example,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received,
- that Christ
- died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
- that he was buried,
- that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and
- that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15: 3-6
I have written it in outline form, which is a useful practice when it comes to creeds. This statement is both an eyewitness report that Jesus bodily rose from the dead, and a theological statement that he died for our sins as predicted by the scriptures (Isaiah 53; Watch this amazing dialog about Isaiah 53 in Israel ).
The creeds grew from very simple to quite elaborate as the Church wrestled with finer theological points. But there is broad agreement that the Apostles’ Creed captures the foundational essentials of orthodox Christianity. To deviate from them is to deviate from Christianity. (In this usage orthodox is to mean authentic, not Eastern Orthodox, etc.)
The Apostles’ Creed
- I believe in God the Father
- 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 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 body, and
- life everlasting.
Notice how most of the Creed is centered on our physical and temporal experience of “God with us” which is Isaiah’s prophesied name of the Messiah (Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23). Many of these claims are evidential, observable, and testable (at least at the time). Others are theological. All of these claims are Biblical. In fact, there is an EXTENSIVE Bible study on the Apostles Creed here.
And J. Warner Wallace has a nice blog post on early Christian creeds and confessions of faith.
So as a Christian, my simple answer to “What do you believe?” is given to me and to you in the Apostles’ Creed.
Part 2: Why do you believe it?
The “Why do you believe it?” question is subjective and personal. But this is where the conversation gets interesting, especially if we want to discuss our beliefs with others (i.e. evangelism).
Why would I believe some of the outlandish things put forth in the Apostles’ Creed?
My answer has changed over the years, but it has grown stronger, and I think, more compelling. Here is a timeline:
1968 – 73: Infancy and early childhood, I would have no answer to the “why” question, except “my family goes to church”, or “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” from the familiar hymn.
1974 – 80: Through the Sunday school program at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, TX, I began reading the Bible on my own time, as this was encouraged by my excellent Sunday School teachers. My answer at that time for “why do you believe it?” would have been “because it is in the Bible”.
This is a good answer, by the way. But it requires a second layer of defense, namely an answer to the question, “Why do you believe the Bible is reliable?”
1981 – 92: Through high school and my bachelor’s degree at UT Austin, my faith became more experiential. Emotionally moving worship experiences in both liturgical settings and contemporary settings helped me feel a connection to God. Summer camps, the Baptist student ministry, Chi Alpha at UT, FCA, Longhorn Band Bible study, and ski trips created close knit connections to the Church – the body of believers and the body of Christ on Earth.
My answer for “why do you believe it?” was as warranted as any other belief about a real person. I believed in God because I had “met Him” – in prayer, in worship, in service, in fellowship, and in the church.
This is also a good answer. It is internal confirmation of the Apostles’ Creed articles about the “Holy Spirit” and the “church”. It cannot be easily argued against, because it is experiential.
But it is not very compelling to some because it is experiential. They may not believe that my experience is an indicator of reality about God. I could be deceived or even acculturated to create these feelings in myself to fit into my chosen group – the church.
1993 – present: As a graduate student in Oregon – a very secular part of the country – I was able to see Christianity from “the outside” through the eyes of non-Christians who I met in the billion or so coffee shops and microbreweries in the Northwest. They were happy to let me have my subjective experiential Christian faith. But they were not convinced.
I began to read more Christian apologetics and found a treasure trove of books about and by atheists who became Christians. (For example, my Ratio Christi colleague Joel Furches has blogged about many atheist converts to Christianity, and it was apparently EASY for him to find examples.)
Many of these atheists sought to make an objective and evidential case against Christianity, because they had only heard subjective and emotional arguments like mine such as: – “Christianity is a relationship. Christianity works for me. If you ask me how I know He lives, He lives… within… my heart. (as the hymn goes)”.
I was energized to learn from these converts to Christianity. Their evidential approach convinced them that the Christian truth claims were actually True. I did my best to look at their arguments with “outside eyes”, and I continue to find their arguments compelling.
You may accuse me of confirmation bias, but making an accusation is not the same as making an argument.
Therefore, at the present time, here is my answer to “Why do you believe it?”
- The universe had a beginning, and thus must have a cause that was immaterial, powerful, infinitely precise, beyond our conception of time.
The evidence for this comes from astrophysics and cosmology. It essentially gives evidence for the first article of the Apostles’ Creed “God almighty creator of heaven and earth”.
- Jesus of Nazareth is a pivotal character in world history.
The claims about him only make sense if he supernaturally rose from the dead. Many of these facts are confirmed using sources outside the Bible. Consider this research using ONLY non-Christian sources done by J. Warner Wallace – an atheist homicide detective who became a Christian after his research.
- Warner Wallace writes:
“Let’s review what we’ve learned from hostile pagan and Jewish sources describing Jesus. We’ll do our best to discount the anti-Christian bias we see in the sources, just as we discounted the pro-Christian bias we think might exist in some versions of the writing of Josephus. Many elements of the Biblical record are confirmed by these hostile accounts, in spite of the fact they deny the supernatural power of Jesus:
Jesus was born and lived in Palestine. He was born, supposedly, to a virgin and had an earthly father who was a carpenter. He was a teacher who taught that through repentance and belief, all followers would become brothers and sisters. He led the Jews away from their beliefs. He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Messiah. He had unusual magical powers and performed miraculous deeds. He healed the lame. He accurately predicted the future. He was persecuted by the Jews for what He said, betrayed by Judah Iskarioto. He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns. He was crucified on the eve of the Passover and this crucifixion occurred under the direction of Pontius Pilate, during the time of Tiberius. On the day of His crucifixion, the sky grew dark and there was an earthquake. Afterward, He was buried in a tomb and the tomb was later found to be empty. He appeared to His disciples resurrected from the grave and showed them His wounds. These disciples then told others Jesus was resurrected and ascended into heaven. Jesus’ disciples and followers upheld a high moral code. One of them was named Matthai. The disciples were also persecuted for their faith but were martyred without changing their claims. They met regularly to worship Jesus, even after His death.
Not bad, given this information is coming from ancient accounts hostile to the Biblical record. While these non-Christian sources interpret the claims of Christianity differently, they affirm the initial, evidential claims of the Biblical authors (much like those who interpret the evidence related to Kennedy’s assassination and the Twin Tower attacks come to different conclusions but affirm the basic facts of the historical events). Is there any evidence for Jesus outside the Bible? Yes, and the ancient non-Christian interpretations (and critical commentaries) of the Gospel accounts serve to strengthen the core claims of the New Testament.” –JWW
So without even using the Bible, we could confirm the main points of the second article of the Apostles’ Creed.
This is the center pole of the tent of Christianity. If Jesus is who he claims to be, then we get ALL OF SCRIPTURE in the mix. He quotes the Old Testament. The reason why he came is prophesied in the Old Testament.
These prophesies MUST BE FALSE if there is no God, and only nature exists. But if Jesus rose SUPERNATURALLY from the dead, then there is a supernatural realm, and the Bible becomes the best source for learning about God, the Holy Spirit, and all the other theological points – not because we like it, but because archaeology affirms the Biblical accounts over and over again.
- There REALLY is a right and wrong.
- Objective moral laws require a moral lawgiver with authority, namely God.
- Objective moral laws exist.
- Therefore, a moral lawgiver with authority (God) exists.
This syllogism is invincible. In fact, one can find atheists who support a. and deny b. And one can find atheists who support b. and deny a. One rarely finds an atheist who supports both a. and b. because that would make them a theist, or an internally conflicted atheist who ignores his own cognitive dissonance. (This is not much of a slight, though. We all tend to suppress cognitive dissonance. Hopefully, this post is causing some positive cognitive dissonance, for you.)
This moral framework is evidence for portions of the Apostles’ Creed as well – “at the right hand of the Father” (authority), “judge the living and the dead” (moral law breakers), “forgiveness of sins” (reconciliation with God), “everlasting life” (eternal reconciliation with God).
What do you believe? – The Apostles’ Creed is a concise statement of my Christian convictions. I also accept the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, and the Augsburg Confession, and I am a member of Faith Lutheran Church LCMS in Huntsville, Texas.
Why do you believe it? – It is the best evidential description of reality – the way the world ACTUALLY is.
What does this mean?
Wow! This means God REALLY loves me and YOU. We have been in rebellion against him through our self-centered desires. This rebellion will eventually lead to our permanent rejection of all Godly things – the antithesis of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. But God himself took the punishment we deserved, thus healing the sickness of sin that brings death. All we must do is consider the claims of the Apostles’ Creed – that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our dead bodies can be made newly alive. If we accept the cure that he provides, we will live.
If you don’t believe it, yet, that’s understandable. But chew on it.
Don’t ignore your questions. Ignoring spiritual questions is worse than ignoring chest pain.