This is a serialized adaptation of my forthcoming Easter sermon in article form. This isn’t a traditional Easter message. Instead of simply presenting the resurrection, I challenge visitors to think about the bankruptcy of their secular worldviews, as compared to the Christian faith and message. This appeal culminates in a brief explanation of the resurrection, its place in the Christian story, and an appeal to “come in from the cold” (so to speak) and join God’s family.1
When Jesus commands people to “repent and believe the Gospel,” what does He mean by that? What does it mean to “believe?” What does it mean to “have faith?”
There are many distortions of what “faith” and “belief” are, in a Christian context. One is that “faith” is just blind faith opposed to evidence, even if it exists! Another is that “faith” is a “leap in the dark” based on no evidence at all, like one the learned Professor Henry Jones was obligated to take to save his father’s life. There are others, but these are the two I want to focus on, because they’re the most common.
Where do these wrong ideas of “faith” or “belief” come from? Some are pushed by Christians, in a well-meaning but terribly wrong way. Others are pushed by secular humanist evangelists, like Richard Dawkins. Whoever is pushing them, these distortions have nothing to do with what the Scriptures say “faith” or “belief” is, which is trust and allegiance based on evidence.
Faith is trust and allegiance based on evidence
Jesus summarized the Good News (Mk 1:15) and commanded people to “believe.” I’ll give the background context about this command soon. For now, it’s enough to know that Jesus never calls people to believe the Good News despite the evidence to the contrary, or without any evidence at all – there are no leaps into the abyss!
What kind of evidence does the Christian faith and message offer? The same ordinary, commonsense kind of evidence that’s good enough for you in every other area of your life. Consider something as simple as driving. It would only take one brief flick of the wrist, a casual moment of inattention from the oncoming driver … and your life could end in an auto accident. But, you trust that your state’s Department of Licensing has trained and certified the other drivers reasonably well, and that’s why you felt safe enough to drive to work this morning. You don’t know exactly how DoL certifies drivers, other than some half-remembered memories from when you were 16. But, you know they do, and you know it generally works, and that’s good enough for you.
Think about electricity. Your home could catch fire and you could die tonight. You trust that the people wired your house right. You trust that it’s still wired right; that this “rightness” is going to continue. You trust that when you flip the switch, the lights will come on. You don’t know precisely how it works, but you know from experience that it does work, and that’s good enough.
Jesus calls you to “believe” and exercise “faith” based on this same kind of evidence.
A worldview is your translator for reality
So, what is the evidence? There are many directions I could go from here, but I’ll focus on one single line of inquiry - your worldview.
What’s a “worldview?” It’s an interrelated cluster of central assumptions and presuppositions about reality2 – the things we believe about the basic make-up of the world.3 You have a particular way of looking at the world. You got it from your parents, from your own experiences, from your own pragmatic trial and error, from your own socialization in a particular strand of culture (American, or otherwise), and from your own religious upbringing.
A worldview is a bit like a religion, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines in one sense as “a particular system of faith and worship.”4 It’s an internal grid of assumptions that you believe in and rely upon to understand the world. You could say a worldview is a translator that filters reality. It tells you what’s spam and what isn’t, what’s preposterous and what’s rational, and it shapes how you think and respond to various things.
So, who cares? Well, when Jesus calls you to “believe” and to “have faith,” He’s calling you to exercise trust and allegiance based on, among other things, a very particular way of interpreting the world and reality. He’s asking you to believe His message because it’s the only message that explains and answers the “big questions” of life:
- Where did we come from and why are we here?
- Why does evil exist?
- Is there any hope?
- How can it all be fixed?
- How will everything end?
Think about it:
- What’s the particular system of faith and worship you have that answers those questions?
- Have you ever thought about the answers to those questions?
- What are your answers to those questions?
- Can your way of looking at the world answer those questions in a real way? Or, do you … just have blind faith!?
More than that, if you have answers in your mind right now to some of these questions, does your worldview give you a foundation for those answers? For example:
- you assume beating up and robbing elderly ladies is bad
- but (if applicable), your secular humanist worldview says there is no real, concrete thing as “good” or “bad;” they’re all cultural constructs
- therefore, you actually can’t say anything is “wrong” or “right.” Your worldview gives you no foundation; your face appears next to “contradiction” in the dictionary!
- If you say this train thought is wrong, you’re still not getting the point!
The Christian faith and message is that the only thing that makes real sense of reality, of our world, of ourselves, and that answers the “big questions” of life, is the Good News that Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to reconcile you to God. That central event is a high watermark (but not the culmination) of a storyline that goes back to the very beginning.
Jesus’ claim is that you must surrender your guerilla war against God, lay down your arms5 and exercise trust and allegiance in Him, because of who He is and what He’s done for you. If you do that, He’ll forgive your crimes, adopt you as His brother or sister, and welcome you into His family.
He had to bring this message because we’re terrorist insurgents who’re born fighting against the King who created and sustains us. But, instead of a hangman’s noose after the surrender, Jesus offers you membership in His family as His brother or sister. One of the reasons why this love is available, why you can have a warm embrace instead of the sudden sharp drop from the figurative gallows, is because of the resurrection – which is what Easter remembers and celebrates.
You can believe this message because it flows out of the Christian worldview, as revealed in the Scriptures. And, you have better reason to exercise trust in Jesus and His message and His worldview than any other alternative out there in the market.
In the next installment, we’ll examine the implications of the secular and Christian worldviews.
1 I’m seriously thinking about titling the sermon, “The Terrorist Who Came in from the Cold” (a riff on the classic John LeCarre novel), but I haven’t decided yet.
2 I adopted this from Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove: IVP, 2011), 74.
3 James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), 17.
4 ”religion, n.” (sense 4a). OED Online. March 2019. Oxford University Press. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/161944?redirectedFrom=religion (accessed April 14, 2019). Likewise, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary defines this same sense of “religion” as, “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith,” (11th ed [Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2003], s.v. “religion,” 4).
5 I’m indebted to C.S. Lewis for this analogy. “Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of our ‘hole.’ This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance,” (Mere Christianity [reprint; New York: HarperOne, 2000], 56).