Editor’s note: Sean McDowell and John Marriott’s book Set Adrift is for those who are questioning their Christian faith but don’t want to lose it. People all around us are walking away from what they once believed because they’re facing cultural challenges that are truly difficult. McDowell and Marriott offer ways to approach those questions while hanging on to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Enjoy this excerpt.
True Christianity is an all-out commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. ~William MacDonald
Why do you call Me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? — Jesus, Luke 6:46 NIV
Imagine for a moment that you’re remodeling a building. Two steps are involved in any remodel. First, you must dismantle certain sections of the building. Second, you have to put them back together again differently than before. There are a lot of ways you can go about dismantling a building, but one thing is certain: if you stand on it while you tear it down, you’ll go crashing down with it. To dismantle a building, you need to stand back from it.
Deconstructing one’s faith is a lot like remodeling a building. It’s an exercise in taking apart and then reassembling a belief system. Both remodeling a building and deconstructing one’s faith have a set of tools to accomplish the task. Dismantling a building uses sledgehammers, crowbars, and jackhammers. Deconstructing your faith utilizes the tools of question-asking, reflection, and analysis to question beliefs taken for granted. Remodeling a building requires a solid place to stand; so too does deconstructing your personal faith. In other words, deconstructing your faith requires a foundational theological commitment that’s exempt from analysis, which is to say that deconstruction can’t even start without a belief that’s immune from suspicion. In matters of faith deconstruction, there must be at least one theological given. The question is, What could that theological bedrock be?
- Is there one foundational, non-negotiable belief of Christianity that can’t be questioned, but from which all other beliefs can be? Yes, there is, and His name is Jesus.
What Do You Say?
Christianity isn’t first and foremost a set of beliefs. Christianity is first and foremost a Person. Jesus is Christianity. That’s why the first followers of Jesus were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26). The name Christianity literally means “the religion derived from Christ.”1 He’s the hinge on which the door of the religion hangs. He’s the foundation on which the entire house of faith is built. You can take off the roof, pull off the siding, remove the windows, and even take away the frame, but if you break apart the foundation, there’s nothing left to build on.
If you’re serious about rethinking your faith and you’re equally serious about remaining a Christian, then the deconstruction stops with Jesus. He’s the bedrock of Christianity.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue refining your concept of Jesus. You can and you should. We never have a perfect understanding of Jesus. As his followers, we ought always to seek a clearer and more accurate picture of him. But Jesus Himself established boundaries that the refining process must stay within. Otherwise, you will have moved off the foundation and onto theological quicksand.
“Who Do You Say That I Am?” echoes a question Jesus once put to His disciples (Matthew 16:15). Impulsive as usual, Peter spoke up and declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16). Those who follow Jesus recognize that’s a good answer even though it requires some explanation and exploration. Getting a handle on what is meant by “Christ” and “Son of the living God” helps establish the foundation on which any authentic version of Christianity must be built. The term Christ comes from the Greek word meaning “anointed one” and is related to the Hebrew word translated as Messiah. Christ is a title, not a last name. It indicates that Jesus is God’s anointed representative, sent to be the Savior-King of the new Kingdom that God is building. The title Son of God indicates that Jesus is literally “of God,” which means even though He was human, He shared in God’s very nature, making Him divine. Now, we doubt Peter understood all the theological implications of his statement at the time, but his answer to Jesus’s question indicates that the man Jesus of Nazareth was (and is) the Messiah and the divine, sovereign authority over all creation. We believe affirming those two claims is crucial to having a solid foundation on which to rebuild your house of faith.
Jesus wasn’t just a rabbi. He wasn’t just a prophet. He wasn’t just a miracle worker. No, Jesus is the Christ who was prophesied in the Old Testament. As Christ, He is Lord, and as Lord He is God. As such, Jesus sets the rules for human beings. He calls the shots, and He says that those who love Him will obey Him (John 14:15). As you rethink Christianity, it’s important to appreciate that, according to Jesus Himself, He is the one who determines what it means to be a Christian.
- Christianity begins and ends with Him.
Therefore, to deconstruct what you believe without sinking your faith, it’s imperative to make sure you have at minimum a correct conception of who He is.
Jesus’s discussion with Peter reveals that there are at least two nonnegotiable aspects of Jesus. The first has to do with Jesus’s identity as Christ. Having a minimally correct concept of His identity is necessary to be a Christian. Without it, you’re not in the Kingdom. John says that the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar who does not have eternal life (1 John 2:22–25). The identity of Jesus is serious business.
The second nonnegotiable has to do with how we must respond to Him as Lord. Unless our posture toward Jesus is correct, we won’t be willing to let Him define what it means to be a Christian. We’ll take that prerogative for ourselves and, in doing so, create Christianity in our image, not His. Again, the demons correctly understood the identity of Jesus. When Jesus came to their town, the two demon-possessed men identified Jesus as the “Son of God” (Matthew 8:28–29). They had a good theological understanding of Jesus’s identity, but they rejected Him as Lord. Correct beliefs alone about Jesus are not enough. Jesus’s identity as the divine Son of God and our response to Him as Lord is the place where the dismantling aspect of deconstruction must end and from which the rebuilding begins.
Excerpted with permission from Set Adrift by Sean McDowell and John Marriott, copyright Sean McDowell and John Marriott.
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Do you know anyone who is struggling in their faith in Jesus? Maybe you are, too. What is non-negotiable for you? What are you unwilling to walk away from? What would happen if you challenged everything you believe but kept Jesus as your foundation? ~ Devotionals Daily