My Own Attempt at “Mere Christianity”

Posted: July 29, 2010 by Scott Kistler in Theology
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As a history teacher, I think about ways to make the most complex and confusing story we know, human history, more understandable to college students.  Last year, I think, I tried to put the main doctrines of Christianity on a Power Point in a way that most who have called themselves Christians throughout the centuries could agree on.  This was for my lecture on the beginnings of Christianity.  Since all traditional Christians say that their beliefs go back to the first century, I thought that it made sense to capture what they could agree on while also trying to be faithful to what the earliest Christians believed so that it wasn’t just watered down.  I said that traditional Christians would generally agree with these statements, although they would interpret and explain them differently.

This year, I’m thinking about giving out a sheet with the basics that we would return to in the later parts of the course, as we look at the post-apostolic church in the ancient world, the Orthodox Church, the medieval Catholic church, and the different Protestant groups.  This would give the students an opportunity to explain how the different churches would explain these Christian basics.

So the reason that I put them up here is to ask you this: what do you think of this list of four basic Christian statements?  Do they need to be modified?  What am I missing?  Keep in mind that I am trying to reflect what we know about the earliest Christians without adding on the layers of interpretation that (necessarily) had to take place afterwards.  But maybe you think that’s a goofy way to approach it, and I would appreciate your constructive criticism too.

Here they are:

  • Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and incarnate Son of God
  • Faith in Jesus’ Lordship, death, and resurrection led to forgiveness of sins and eternal life
  • Believers were baptized into the church and expected to live holy lives
  • Jesus would return to judge the earth

I can think of some ways to improve them just by reviewing them again, but I will leave them as is to get your responses.  Thanks!

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Comments
  1. Hey Scott, read the comments on your blog on this post. I support your revision on the baptism statement, even though I’m a baptist.

    I would add a statement about the Eucharist and the Scriptures.

    • Scott Kistler says:

      I meant to respond to this a while ago. I am trying to finalize my summary this week, which brought this post back to my mind.

      I’m going to add both of those points and see how it works this semester.

  2. Greg Burkheimer says:

    Scott, sounds like this would be a fun class to be in! I have had an interest in Church history since listening to some lectures from Dr. Frank A. James III over at RTS through ITunes. I am currently reading The Story of Christianity by Justo L. Gonzalez and loving it.

    I really like Gonzalez’s states about Church history in his introduction:
    “Like it or not, we are all heirs of this host of diverse and even contradictory witnesses. Some of their actions we may find revolting, and others inspiring. But all of them form part of our history. All of them, those whom we admire as well as those whom we despise, brought us to where we are now.”

    “Without understanding the past, we are unable to understand ourselves, for in a sense the past still lives in us and influences who we are and how we understand the Christian message”.

    Gonzalez states that the early Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. Their faith was not a denial of Judaism but a conviction that the Messianic age had come. He also states that the early Churches gatherings were to celebrate the resurrection and this is what the communion service centered on. There were also times set aside for sorrow of one’s sins (fasting).

    I think your approach is a good way to start your class. As a student I would appreciate starting with the basics and then branching out to the different interpretations.

    • Scott Kistler says:

      Thanks for your comments, Greg. I meant to get back to you earlier. I’ve really enjoyed Gonzalez’ book too. I’ve read a lot of it but not the whole thing. I’ll need to go back to it some day. I liked his combination of faithfulness and academic rigor.

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