Thursday 31 October 2019

"I'm interested in Jesus/ becoming a Christian - what should I do Next?" - says somebody...

First thing is that such a person needs to be prepared to work at finding an answer. modern people are often extremely lazy and distractible - and this is encouraged by our culture. If you are expecting a snappy answer, or a stepwise recipe - Forget It.

You have to be prepared to work at discovering the truth of Christianity At Least as hard as you have worked at your views on politics - which you have probably been discussing and reading-about daily for many years.

Religion is more fundamental than politics - and if you aren't prepared to work at it, then you are self-excluded from the truth; and you will have to accept passively being fed lies and distortions by the mass media and state bureaucracies.

OK - if you are prepared to grant the subject some sustained attention and thought; and you want to find-out about Christianity/ Jesus - then the first question to ask is about authority. What source would you believe on this subject?

As you are not a Christian and unsure about Jesus; there is no point in advising you to consult the Bible, since you have no reason to assume that any of it is true.

Likewise, it is useless to advise consulting a church, because in the first place why should churches be authoritative for a non-Christian? And in the second place (without begging the question) which church? (Especially as many or most self-described Christian churches are primarily leftist political organisations.)

Equally, there is no point in referring you to tradition, because you have already rejected the authority of tradition. Or theology or philosophy, because you won't believe it else you would not be where you are.

There is no point even in saying you should 'use common sense' - or base belief on 'your own personal experience', and start with that - because mainstream modern society operates in opposition-to and denial-of common sense and personal experience.

In sum - there are no short-cuts - the only viable way is the long way around and through. 

If not, then what?

If you are an ordinary, typical modern person; then the only conceivable place you can start is from  whatever is your own personal intuitive bottom line; whatever is solid and self-validating for you; whatever you personally and actually rely-on and build-on.

What is it that really matters most to you and would matter most even if you were alone on a desert island and could not communicate with anyone; what is it that you are prepared to believe, trust, have-faith-in and know in your secret heart to be true and good - even in contradiction of everybody, every organisation and nation?

This is your discernment, your inner-compass, your personal guidance-system.

You need to know you have such a thing, and you need to be aware of it - to know when it is in-operation and what it is telling you.

You then need to approach the question of Jesus/ Christianity using this personal guidance system to navigate, evaluate and choose-from the many, varied, contradicting sources of information.

It will take considerable time and effort, and only you can do it, and you must choose to do it; but this effort of inner discernment will work, and it will answer your questions.

The process will answer your questions to your own satisfaction (which is what matters) because it does not depend upon any external source of authority. It depends instead on what you already regard as the ultimate source of authority.


Crosbie said...

What is the value of evangelism, if any? Modern man can find the gospels with a few clicks if he wants to. Only discernment can help and that is not in any other person's gift.

Bruce Charlton said...

@C - This blog IS evangelism, of course - but we nowadays (in these end times) evangelists generally need to start at the most basic and fundamental level imaginable; and people need to recognise that it requires (and not by accident, but by design) free personal choice and effort.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Bruce: I agree now that coming to Christ is impossible without discernment and a choice. It's not enough simply to be led, or every Sunday School alumnus would still be a Christian of some sort.
But one must start somewhere. Knowing sincere Christians, observing how they live and their hearts and minds to the extent one can discern, should help.
But still one needs some explanation, some guidance, about why Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Once one is open to the possibility that there is a Truth that transcends the material, there are plenty of competing alternatives on offer.
In recent years, you have focused on the Fourth Gospel. Is there a better written starting-point for an interested non-Christian than reading St. John's Gospel with an open heart and an inquiring mind? And if the Fourth Gospel is not that starting-point, what is the right introduction before one proceeds to it, as I presume you believe the aspiring Christian eventually must?

Bruce Charlton said...

@HRS - I think it is a mistake to be prescriptive about how to proceed beyond what I've said

Or, more accurately; there are already plenty of prescriptive ways of evangelising. They work for some people - but not enough Western European descended/ modern people, and that market seems to be saturated.

If a person can develop their genuine intuitive guidance system - they will be, in fact, consulting with God-within (although that will not be acknowledged until later in the process); and such a person will sooner or later (but in time) be led (probably involving trial and error) to enough of the truth to suffice for his or her own needs.

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

Bruce: I trust you are right. As you've written, a God worth loving would not put man in a situation where it is impossible for him to find the Truth.
In thinking that an open-hearted reading of the Fourth Gospel is a good starting-point to understand the message and promises of Jesus Christ, I'm looking for as non-prescriptive a start as practical. As you say, there are reams of prescriptive evangelical material available to a seeker. Starting with the Fourth Gospel homes in on the essential, in language that's not hard to follow if one pays attention.
I hope the sincere seeker's intuitive compass will point him to Christ, whose Truth He gives us succinctly in the Fourth Gospel. Then, once found, Grace - the Holy Ghost guiding his heart - will lead him home.
But don't we need God-without to strengthen what little we have of God-within to bring us safe home? Perhaps that's the point of your second sentence above. It's hard to see how theosis - becoming partakers of the divine nature - in this life and the life of Heaven after are within reach otherwise. Especially given how prone to backsliding we are.

Bruce Charlton said...

HRS - Since I regard each of us as an unique being (from eternity) I would expect that each person's path to faith would be unique. I'm only concerned here with a first step - which is the step that very few take.

James Higham said...

No shortcuts, no.

Dave said...

Consult Satan's minions at the SPLC. Any church they classify as a "hate group" should be at the top of your list.

Eric Nordling said...

Pray for discernment. BTW, the Orthodox church is the closest thing to the original church that you are going to find IMHO, see if you can find one with an intro to Orthodoxy class.
I like Dave's advice too.

Bruce Charlton said...

@EN - One important point is that the choosing of a church - or, importantly, for some people No church - needs to be separable from becoming a Christian.

I think it is nowadays, usually, an error to try and convert modern materialist atheists 'all the way' to some specific denominational church-based Christianity in a single leap - since this involves seeing the truth in multiple interlocking assumptions all at once. Changing only one assumption at a time does not work.

For example, to accept Eastern Orthodoxy as the original church includings accepting that other churches (and there are several) which make the same claim be rejected; and it includes accepting that Orthodoxy has not changed, the special authority of a particular group of Church Fathers - and it entails accepting that Jesus wanted his followers to organise into a church, and a of particular episcopal and priest-mediated type; and that this church is not just helpful, but *always* helpful and indeed necessary.

I think it would be far better if someone could approach the matter in a step by step way, as their own spirit, and the results of their personal investigations and discernments, leads them.

For me a key aspect is to gain a conviction that this is a creation, and that creation was done by a personal God who loves me and all Men as His children. All aspects of this conviction needed to be confirmed by intuitive personal discernment. Having got so far; I then 'know' God's motivations to a sufficient extent - because I know (from experience) about love between parents and children, and can imagine the ideal version of this relationship.

This generates a confidence that such a God will never leave me bereft, no matter what my current circumstances; but always there will be a path for me personally so long as I am making a sincere effort. With this confidence I can approach life, and investigate Christianity.