Christianity, as it is commonly practised, can appear to be very odd to the ordinary person. But then, the Christianity we see today is two thousand years old, and a lot can happen in that time. Many people have the impression that it has moved a long way from its roots: almost everybody likes Jesus, but (outside the Church) hardly anybody likes the Church. It seems that, to those looking in, the Church does not look very much like Jesus. And, to be honest, it often doesn't look very much like Jesus to those inside the Church, either.
Christians often seem to be very concerned about things which don't matter to most people: one of the important historic conflicts was about the date on which Easter should be celebrated; they often have strict rules about who is allowed to officiate at a communion service; and they tend to worry about a lot of other things which are only important from a very specific perspective - and seem very unimportant to most other people. Sometimes Christians appear to be (and sometimes they really are) closed-minded, dogmatic, intolerant and bigoted. The Church has often been - officially, at least - on the side of the rich and powerful, keeping the unwashed masses in their place. But Christians have also been on the forefront of much social change, they have created most of the best organisations and structures within our society (such as hospitals, schools, universities and charities) and today they are also very often involved in running and volunteering for projects which support social change, which care for the environment, and for poor, vulnerable and excluded people. It's a mixed story. The Church and Christian people have often been pulling in different directions.
At least part of the difficulty people have with Christianity comes not from the reality on the ground, but from what is communicated. And a large part of the communication problem comes about simply because Christianity has this long and complicated history stretching back two thousand years: inevitably, a great deal of teaching, language, customs and culture have accumulated over that time. Much of the variety in doctrine and practice come about because of the different priorities and pressures experienced at different times and places, the many different perspectives on the events of those two thousand years, and the ideas surrounding those events. Which means there is actually a lot more agreement behind the scenes than you can see from the outside, and most of the disagreement is about issues which the Bible says little or nothing about. Most of the odd things make much more sense when you understand how we got here ... but, apart from satisfying our intellectual curiosity, there is very little benefit to be gained from understanding such details.
The plan here is to cover the ground in two fairly distinct parts, putting less emphasis on the details which only Christians are interested in, and focusing mainly on the Christian faith from the perspective of Jesus, using only language which makes sense to people outside the church. In the process, we can attempt to imagine what the Church might look like if it concentrated on following Jesus in the modern world.
As always, if anyone wants to offer a different framework or strategy, please let us know.
The Message of Jesus
Here is one way of summarizing the message of Jesus.
- You can choose to live in a world where people pursue their own selfish interests through power, or you can choose to live in a world in which people pursue the interests of others through love - but you can't do both.
Here is another way of summarizing the message.
- The kingdoms of this world rule by power, but your Heavenly Father is building a Kingdom ruled by love.
- You are invited to be a part of your Heavenly Father's Kingdom, to live as a citizen and to make it real for other people.
- You have to make a choice about whether you accept or reject this invitation.
- One choice leads to life, a full abundantly experienced life; the other choice leads to conflict, isolation and death.
(If you think you have a better summary of Jesus' message, please let us have it!)
Christianity - For Everyone
Here we are attempting to use only language and terminology which makes sense to people outside the church.
- Christianity: From the Ground Up
- Christianity - The Story
- Understanding and Living
- The Christian Faith Redefined
Christianity - For Christians
Here we are writing for Christians, and for anyone interested in Christian thought and practice.
Here are some other articles we think are helpful.
- What’s a Christian? A short article by a friend, Daryl Martin
- Christians Have to Do Something About Injustice in the World
- My Problem with the Bible, by Brian Zahnd