Religious commitment offers great comfort at times and is often defended with passionate excitement. Bizarrely, my own Christian faith can leave me feeling hypocritical, especially when I don’t live up to (miraculous!) biblical ideals. While usually confident in my beliefs I have begun to wonder lately; am I completely right in my religion?
I had been living and working in a notorious hotel when I became distressed to find that having everything I wanted was not enough. I thought the only thing left to try was religion.
In 1988 I attended a small, charismatic Christian fellowship where the pastor, leading typically enthusiastic worship, announced that his mother had died. His belief was so profound it enabled him to put aside his powerful feelings of grief, while maintaining his love for his God.
Feelings and religious conviction
‘Feelings’ in religion are tricky because some make religion seem very fluffy: devotional exercises are undertaken with, as it were, ‘big, smiley faces’ (especially worship).
For me worship and prayer rarely achieve a big, smiley face; getting ‘lost in wonder love and praise’ more often materialises out of deep biblical study. I understand a big, smiley faced religious event to signify a connection with God which, impacting the individual so significantly, fundamentally changes their life.
Two illustrations help describe how Christianity ‘feels’ to me. During my initial spiritual awakening I remember – very happily – being stunned at the sight of a forest of trees. I saw that although the trees were all green, each colour was gloriously unique: no green was duplicated, even among similar species (perhaps because they came into leaf a few days apart). It is difficult to over-emphasise how wonderfully surprised I was. A similar thing occurred to a friend who was sitting on a bus in central London. Looking up to the sky she said, “It was like I’d never noticed the sun before”.
Connecting to God, while always rewarding, does not always generate a big, smiley face. For instance, Paul forcefully describes how being ‘united with Christ’ (Phil. 2:1) is unity ‘into’ Jesus, joining all believers together: Christianity is all about community. I have always enjoyed my own company so isolationism is naturally attractive, hence, connecting with God here was not a big, smiley faced event.
The Bible as God’s word
Since religion must be ‘living and active’ (Heb. 4:12), devotees’ lives must maintain a process of spiritual growth, often questioning their beliefs.
For instance, a brief discussion of Luke 2:1-3 appeared on television recently:
‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register’ [around 4 B.C.].
The key objection was that a census of ‘the entire Roman world’ would have been logistically impossible  so, as the unspoken criticism went, the gospel of Luke is untrue; therefore, there is no God.
However, my religious convictions do not require a census of ‘the entire Roman world’ to have taken place, even as I do insist – given the Roman demand for tax revenue – on the possibility of a local census .
God uniquely inspired humans to write the Bible so it cannot be without textual problems : I do not therefore feel I have to “commit intellectual suicide” to maintain my beliefs.
If Christianity is ‘right’ what happens when life goes ‘wrong’?
Religious doubts and questions should be encouraged as they fuel the positive forces of investigation. A curious period of questioning has emerged for me recently, stimulated by what has become known as the Arab Spring. Most of these ‘revolutionaries’ are ordinary Muslims rising up against injustice: I have wondered how this bonds with Islamic ideas.
In beginning to investigate I read several accounts of Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. These raw and honest stories appear to have been blessed in ways that I have become familiar with through evangelical Christianity.
I think it therefore natural and healthy to wonder if my beliefs are ‘right’. Is Christianity the only way to heaven? Are Jesus’ words literally true: “No-one comes to the Father except through me”?
Why Christianity offers the right answers
1) First there is recognition of many great evils in the world:
I believe this is a witness to sin which Abrahamic religions identify with ‘The Fall’ (Gn. 3) . Sin became visible as ‘entropy’ (the decay of all energy, including life itself: “You will die” v3b).
2) Therefore, the universe (including humanity) needs purifying from sin (‘salvation’):
I believe God planned salvation ‘into’ creation. (If sin had not entered the universe, the salvation plan would have worked differently ). Sin did appear however, so Jesus was crucified and died (taking on everyone’s punishment for sin) before rising from death, thus attaining salvation for all (who want it).
3) Entropy is universal , so only God himself can defeat it:
I believe in the one God of biblical Judaism: Yahweh. God is superior to, and creator of, all things including all other spiritual forces . This renders all polytheistic beliefs insufficient since, by definition, many ‘gods’ cannot exercise ultimate authority.
4) Lastly, humans are the uniquely special ‘image of God… male and female’ (Gn. 1:27):
There is, therefore, requirement for an equally unique and equally special mechanism to restore the universe to God’s original perfection. As we have seen, this mechanism must constitute God himself but, because humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, this mechanism must also be human.
I believe the New Testament – that Jesus of Nazareth, the son and Christ of God, is both divine and human : clearly, only Christianity can accommodate these beliefs.
My Christian commitment increases
John Stott described the impact of Christian revival:
‘In [Great Britain in] the nineteenth century slavery… [was] abolished, the prison system was humanized, conditions in factories and mines were improved, education became available to the poor and trade unions began… [This] Evangelical Revival… profoundly affected society on both sides of the Atlantic… Historians have attributed to [John] Wesley’s influence… the fact that Britain was spared the horrors of a bloody revolution like that in France’ .
It is clear that revolutions need God to facilitate both social justice and eternal salvation; secular systems show themselves to be idealistic and bankrupt (e.g. Marxism).
Although confident in my understanding of God, I use my (inevitable) doubts as catalysts for faith building investigation and, in so doing, have found my life to be profoundly changed. In being ‘right’ in my religion, the inescapable implication is that all the other religions are ‘wrong’. However, even the Bible allows a little latitude in as much as the God of salvation reveals himself ‘clearly’ through the natural world (Rom 1:20).
While Christianity is, therefore, the only religion equipped to guarantee salvation, I still dare to wonder (quietly) whether any of my Jewish or Muslim cousins might not get into my Christian heaven.
 D. A. Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition’, Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. More problematic is Luke’s identification of Quirinius as governor: ‘Quirinius did not become governor of Syria until A.D. 6.’
 Acts 5:37 describes ‘the days of the census’ relating to events from the mid-30s A.D.: perhaps Luke, author the gospel and of Acts, was confusing his chronology?
 We might note, for instance, that there are no original manuscripts of 1 Samuel 13 in existence.
 The Adam and Eve story may be legendary but the unique spiritual truths are clear: God created the universe in perfection but the actions of humanity (at least in part) corrupted it.
 E.g.: C. S. Lewis, ‘Voyage to Venus’ (or ‘Perelandra’), part of ‘The Cosmic Trilogy’, The Bodley Head Ltd., London, 1943.
 E.g.: Rom. 8:22 & 23 where the whole universe ‘groans’ with ‘pains’ waiting for ‘redemption’.
 E.g.: Eph. 1:19-23: Jesus is ‘in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.’
 M. J. Erickson, ‘Christian Theology’: Part 7, ‘The Person of Christ’ (especially p700-706). Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2006. Modern critics protest that assigning divinity to the historical Jesus is a fourth century innovation! They are mistaken. The New Testament gives numerous (pre-A.D. 70) allusions to Jesus divinity: e.g. Mark 2:5 & 7 and Paul in Col. 1:15 and 2:9, etc.
 J. Stott, ‘Issues Facing Christians Today’: Chapter 1, ‘Our Changing World: Is Christian Involvement Necessary?’ (p25-6). Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2006.