Both Todd and DJ Clark have recently expressed the view that it’s difficult to find agreement amongst Christians on the essentials of the Christian faith (see blog on Positive v Negative apologetics). This is an important issue. If we can’t find a ‘mere Christianity’ (heart/essentials of the faith) that a large majority of committed Christians agree with then I think we’re lost. I’m going to list below what I think these essentials are. But first we need some qualifications in order to be able to consider them.
- What do I mean by heart/essentials? The basic beliefs that allow the faith to be a logical story that makes sense. They will contain the essentials of what we need to accept in order to be Christians. They will be consistently portrayed in scripture, although they may be highlighted in different contexts and expressed in different ways which, whilst not changing the basic belief, will encourage us to wonder, dwell on and develop its full meaning.
- Those who would wish to subtract from or dilute these essentials (not just reword) are changing the heart of Christianity and hence departing from it. They are being agnostic where the Bible is dogmatic.
- None of this means that there will not be discussion and disagreement as we develop the meaning of the essentials at the heart of our faith. For example; God as Creator is, on the one hand, the core belief that He made everything. But we could appropriately debate and agree to disagree about why and how. However, as we do this, it’s vital that we distinguish these discussions between Christians, about the full meaning of aspects of ‘mere’ Christianity, from the challenges made by sceptics to the veracity of the basic belief.
- Whilst these basic beliefs encapsulate the faith, they are not the only things that Christian’s subscribe to. Almost all Christians would rightly wish to add to them with perspectives and emphases from their own particular tradition and experience: hence the different denominations. So Christians don’t believe only this core. This is actually a strength because it allows the Gospel to be embraced by different cultures, whilst preserving a non-negotiable core. However, such additions, qualifications and perspectives shouldn’t be unbiblical, diminish the central beliefs, and become essential to being a Christian or binding for Christians from other streams of the Church. We must not be dogmatic where the Bible is agnostic. Christians have to keep the main thing the main thing, avoid majoring on the minors and forcing the Bible to make essentials of our preferences.
- My definition of the heart of the faith is a work in progress. We must strive together constructively to find the best list.
With these qualifications in mind, here’s my list of basic beliefs.
1. The only true God is the Creator and sustainer of everything material (space, time and matter).
2. Humankind is created in His image. We are meant to have a close relationship with God our Father and to develop the Earth’s potential by appropriate stewardship: to care for creation.
3. But we have broken that relationship. We have chosen to be disobedient and selfish: to go our own way and ignore God. The resulting separation means that we lack God’s wisdom and love and so we indulge in wrongdoing and mismanage nature.
4. But our heavenly Father continues to love us and seeks to make Himself known again, first through a nation (the Jews) and then through Jesus Christ.
5. Jesus is Immanuel (God with us), an expression of God on Earth as testified to by what He taught, claimed and did. Through His death on the cross He offers forgiveness for our wrongdoings, a mending of our brokenness and an eternal restoration of our fractured relationship with God to all who will turn from their self-focus (sin, if you prefer), accept what Jesus has done for them, walk in daily repentance and seek to follow His teaching and call on their lives. This is what becoming a Christian entails. It makes us Jesus’ disciples through which we desire to become more like Him.
6. Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead then inaugurates God’s realm coming on earth. This is witnessed to by the power, gifts and blessings of God’s Spirit re-birthing Christians to become a new creation. Through this transformation, the Church (believers working and worshiping together) is empowered to be able to follow Jesus’ relational commands – to love God and each other and to spread the Gospel by sacrificially bringing justice, healing, loving care and Jesus’ good news wherever they are. As Christians become this holy people, they pick up their God-given role and reflect God’s glory, sovereignty and character to the world and start to bring His Kingdom to Earth and begin the restoration of creation.
7. Jesus will return to complete this restoration when the world’s powers will finally be overthrown and there will be a resurrection of the dead and a judgement of all who have ever lived.