Christianity 101 Lesson 01

Introduction to this lesson series

Intro

Greetings friends. This is Evan Plante. I’m the Director of Mainsail Ministries. Welcome to the first lesson in our series, Christianity 101.

Don’t let the name of this course fool you, though. This isn’t a college-level course. It’s a series of 15-minute lessons about Christianity’s basic ideas. These lessons are free of charge, and in each lesson, I’ll talk about God, the Bible and the Christian culture — but more as a survey of ideas than a deep-dive into any one topic.

What I hope to do through this teaching is engage with the full range of Christians — from new to established believers — and with people who are examining faith from the outside. I want to show everyone that belief in God is reasonable... that the Bible is knowable... and that you can be a congruent Christian who rejoices in — rather than cringes at — the data and analyses of the physical sciences.

How can I promise this? My primary commitment is to the truth — not to a literalistic interpretation of the Scripture. This is freeing!... and I recommend that every believer makes the same commitment. So, join me in letting the truth be the truth — no matter where it falls.

Given this opening salvo, some people are probably wondering if I’m a true believer — one who reveres Scripture and has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Well, I believe that the Bible is God’s inspired word. I believe that God exists in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit— and that Jesus is the Son. I believe that same Jesus was born of Mary — becoming truly human while remaining truly divine — and that he died to save us from our sins.

I get it that that’s a brief statement, but most Christians will recognize that those are the key Christian beliefs. My freedom comes from being open to new ideas. But here’s the thing: I’m not wide open. I pass all ideas through five presuppositions — and I call nothing true that violates even one of these premises!

  1. All truth is God’s truth.
  2. No falsehood can be God’s falsehood.
  3. God has revealed himself in the physical universe.
  4. God has revealed himself in human “soulishness” — that is, through our intelligence, self-awareness and conscience.
  5. God has revealed himself in the Bible... but he used the common language of common people to do so.

The takeaway here is that God has the disposition to reveal himself. Furthermore, he only deals in truth. His nature is such that he cannot do illogical things or tolerate falsehood. So, what do you have to lose by joining us? ... except, perhaps... some ideas that maybe you should lose?

Let’s jump right into the deep end and begin by talking about God himself. It’s good to start new topics with some definitions of the key terms, so who — or what — is God? ... and right off the bat, we have a problem.

God

The job of defining any entity is to put a fence around it conceptually. You want everything that describes the term inside the fence, and everything that does not describe the term outside the fence.

But right now, we’re trying to define God — and God is infinite. As such, he has no “edges” — either physically or metaphysically... so we have no place to put in our fence posts!

But don’t despair. Although it’s true we can’t define him, we can describe him. God is not stingy with information about himself — especially in the Bible. Scripture teaches us about God’s attributes and it also demonstrates them. But what about people who don’t have any Bibles or who can’t read? They can learn about God by observing the universe he created.

But even if we put the physical creation and the Scripture aside, we can learn about God by just thinking about him! That’s where natural theology and philosophy come in. And, since the Bible says that we were made in his image, we can also learn a lot about God by studying ourselves through the field of anthropology.

But today, we’ll focus on just one fact about God — a fact that is arguably the most important thing to know about him: God is self-existent. No one made him. He is the Creator of all things and the uncaused cause of all causes. Theologians have a special word for this property: they call it God’s aseity.

I know I promised you a “basic” treatment on God — and throwing specialized theological words at you seems like a breach of that promise! But we need a few... and I won’t overdo... but building a specialized vocabulary makes communication more efficient. As such, it will help us later. Nearly every discipline has some specialized vocabulary, and theology is no exception.

Now that we know a little more about the person of God, let’s shift our focus to the word of God — the book we call the Bible.

The Bible

The word “Bible” means “book” — and indeed it is. The Bible is the book for us Christians! But it’s not just a book; it’s a 66-volume library that tells the story of God’s people. It begins in the Old Testament by telling us the story of the Jews, then it transitions to the New Testament where it tells us the story of Jesus Christ.

Jesus had an active ministry here on earth for about three years. But not only did most of the Jews reject him, the Jewish leaders had the Romans crucify him! But three days later, he rose from the dead! This gives Christianity its credibility and power! But there’s more.

The resurrected Christ remained on earth for forty days where he appeared to and ministered to his people. Then he ascended to the Father, but he didn’t leave us alone; he sent the Holy Spirit to help us. The rest of the New Testament is the story of this new manifestation of God’s people. God’s people would now be Spirit-filled! ... and they would thereafter be known as Christians.

But the Bible doesn’t just tell stories. It teaches history, genealogies, prophecy, poetry, law and duties — as well as doctrine and propositional truth. It contains everything a believer needs for faith and practice — and everything needed to live a meaningful life here on earth.

You see, we believe that the Scripture was “inspired” by God. This means that God was its primary author, production supervisor and distributor. So, for the earnest Christian, the Bible is a big deal — and we have to study it.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we have some special nomenclature to describe the way God distributes information. It’s based on the fact that God created everything first — and told us about it later. We use the term “revelation” to describe the various manifestations of God’s information output. The action is one of his revealing what is already in place.

So, when talking about the Bible — which is a specific work of God optimized to communicate with literate people — we use the term God’s “special revelation.” This is because we want to differentiate the Bible from God’s “general revelation” — which are the things we can know about him through the physical world. We call the latter “general” because it’s available to all people — whether or not they have a Bible!  

This nomenclature can be confusing, though, because there’s a book in the Bible called “Revelation.” So, when I refer to that book I usually say, “the book of Revelation.” Otherwise, I just cite chapter and verse... like “Revelation 21:1.”

Now, this is all useful information, but the question remains, why even bother about God? Why study the Bible at all — because frankly — what I’m telling you seems like a lot of work!

Well... I won’t argue with you; doing our duty to God is a lot of work; it’s no different from doing your duty to your family or your country. It should involve work! What’s different is that God has a purpose for each of us, and to accomplish that purpose, we must engage with the world. So, we should make ourselves informed persons. We should always be learning more about the Bible and about the world God placed us in.

The World

The world is where you and I and everybody else lives. So, not only is this our home, but it is also our place of ministry. God told us to “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

That’s known as “The Great Commission” — and it’s clear enough: make disciples, baptize and teach. This is why we need to study the Bible. We need its instruction, its examples and its doctrines. But the Christian life is a four-legged stool. Bible study is just one of those legs — but it’s a good one! When you read the Bible, this is God talking to you.

But you also need to talk to God... and that’s what prayer is all about. So, think of prayer as the second leg of the stool. The third leg is fellowship. You should join a Bible-believing church and develop Christian friends. The fourth leg is service. God has purposes for all of us — and you need to find yours! But in the meantime, do whatever work is in front of you.

If you are ever “out of sorts” as a Christian, it’s probably because you are neglecting one of these legs — and your stool is wobbly! Christianity is merely regular life, only Christ-centered, and as in regular life, balance is the key.

Close

We are free people... so, you may continue to pursue God, or you can ignore him. I’ve made my pitch. So, I’ll close today with Joshua’s challenge to the Jews as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14–15, NIV, emphasis mine)

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210208 Christianity 101).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)