It's funny/sad how some false notions are like movie monsters.
It doesn't matter how many times or how utterly Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, or countless other baddies are decimated. If the box-office is good enough, they'll be back again for another round of bloody cliches.
I recently read the solemn remark that Christianity is not a relationship with a book, it is a relationship with God. The writer further said that he did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because he read it in the Bible, and he expressed the hope that this was true also of every reader.
Ah, it's back again. Calvin killed it, Luther killed it, Owen killed it, Machen killed it, Clark killed it, Henry killed it, Schaeffer killed it. Yet here it is, and as sure as squash is yucky -- surer, some will say -- many will "discover" and embrace this notion anew today, as if it had never been decisively and utterly killed over and over again already.
So, let me say first that I'm perfectly happy to be a disappointment to the writer, in this regard. You ask me how I know He lives? The Bible tells me so.
One of my heroes, the great J. Gresham Machen, was asked to write on "My Idea of God," and these were his opening words:
If my idea of God were really mine, if it were one which I had evolved out of my own inner consciousness, I should attribute very little importance to it myself, and should certainly expect even less importance to be attributed to it by others. If God is merely a fact of human experience, if theology is merely a branch of psychology, then I for my part shall cease to be interested in the subject at all. The only God about whom I can feel concerned is one who has objective existence, an existence independent of man.This is the point at which genuinely Christian theology parts company from everything else. Whence comes your knowledge of God? What is its basis? What is your authority for anything you say about Him?
But if there be such a really and independently existent Being, it seems extremely unlikely that there can be any knowledge of Him unless He chooses to reveal Himself: a divine Being that could be discovered apart from revelation would be either a mere name for an aspect of man's nature – the feeling of reverence or loyalty or the like – or else, if possessing objective existence, a mere passive thing that would submit to human investigation like the substances that are analyzed in the laboratory. And in either case it would seem absurd to apply to such a Being the name of "God."
When a writer or speaker fills the air with God-statements bespattered with "I think" and "I feel" and "I just have to/can't believe," you can be fairly sure he's not doing Christianity. He is not telling us about God. He is telling us about himself.
I don't say that he or she isn't a Christian. There are frames of mind in which the holiest saint doesn't "do" Christianity very well. But whether or not the person is Christian, that way of "doing" theology isn't. It is a frame from which no good, and no God, can come.
It should be beyond argument that Christianity should have something fundamental to do with Christ. If so, there is no doubt that Christ-religion is a religion of the Bible first and foremost.
To start with the most forehead-slappingly basic touchstone, I'd ask this: Tell me something about this "Christ" you say you believe in.
If even one intelligible word is offered in answer, two things will necessarily be true about it: (1) it will be a doctrinal statement; and (2) it will either be directly from the Bible, or it will be false at worst, or trivial at best.
Was your "Christ" virgin-born, God incarnate, come in fulfillment of prophecy to effect atonement for His people? Did He live a sinless life? What did He teach, what did He say, what did He do? What did He command, promise and threaten? How did He die? What happened then? What happens next? What does any of it mean? What should it mean to me?
Any truthful, consequential answer to any of those questions will come from the Bible.
Suppose we have dealt with that fact, and are ready to concern ourselves with what Christ actually taught. What do we learn?
We learn that Jesus Christ never spoke disparagingly nor disdainfully of the written revelation of His Father, nor of His own words, nor of the future words of His apostles. Quite and radically to the contrary, none spoke more highly of God's verbal, then enscripturated, revelation. It was the very word of God (Mark 7:13). It was not capable of being broken (ou dunatai luthenai he graphe, John 10:35).
He spoke just as highly of His own words, which were spirit and life (John 6:63), and would stand for all eternity (Matthew 24:35). In fact, it is most instructive to see the connection between close study and retention of His words and a vital relationship with God. Did Jesus bifurcate the two? On the contrary, He hinged the one upon the other:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?" 23 Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:21-24)
This cannot surprise anyone whose concept of Christianity comes from Christ, rather than religious tradition, cultural fads, or personal vapors. After all, Christ said that the distinguishing mark of a genuine disciple, or student, of His was continuing in His word (John 8:31). Only thus can one know His freeing truth (v. 32).
(An aside: surely at this point someone would want to burst out, "What?! What about love? Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian!" To which I'd respond, "How do you know that?" And I hope the reply would be, "Because I read it in the... oh.")
But, even all that aside, how does the mystics' favorite apostle, John, see Christian worship and spirituality? What he says is too often overlooked, or over-glanced:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)First, the foundation is the apostles' own abiding knowledge of Christ (v. 1). They verbally transmit that knowledge to others (v. 2), in writing (v. 4). By those words, readers have "fellowship" with the apostles and, through that fellowship, they have "fellowship" with the Father and the Son (v. 3).
Therefore, "fellowship" with the First and Second Person of the Trinity comes by means of "fellowship" with the verbal revelation which the apostles passed on, in keeping with Christ's promise (John 14:26; 16:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:2, 15-16).
Thus we know what we know of the Father and the Son, and we enjoy the fellowship we have with the Father and the Son, by means of the words of the apostles.
Nor was Paul's thought any different. To single out but one example, have you ever noticed how the great apostle describes conversion in Romans 6? How would you describe it? Repentance, coming to faith in Christ, coming to Christ, being born again -- all true. But notice how Paul describes conversion, almost in passing, in Romans 6:17 -- "But thanks be to God that you were slaves of sin, but you submitted from the heart to the pattern of teaching to which you were committed" (my literal rendering). Conversion is, among other things, submitting to a pattern, an example, a standard of teaching, of doctrine. And how do we, in our day, encounter the pure doctrine Paul had in mind? We have no apostles.
But we do have their writings.
So do we have fellowship with writings, or with God?
It's a false dichotomy.
God tells us that we have fellowship with Him by means of the words that He moved men to write.
To the degree that something else, some other method or direction, entralls us -- to that degree, we are no longer "doing" Christianity.