Many moons ago, I looked at the argument for a single, true religion. Now I’m going to take a shot at arguing that the Christian faith is that true faith.
What is Christianity anyways?
With hundreds of denominations (or “factions”) that differ from each other in major or minor ways, defining Christianity may seem like a daunting proposition. One author suggested that Christianity was best described as a personality cult focused on Jesus. Jesus is at the center of the Christian faith. Ask a self-proclaimed Christian what Jesus is like, and their answer will tell you what they themselves believe. While some versions of Christianity have tried to theologically demote Jesus from the rank of “God” (such as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Arians), no one can escape that Christianity is about Jesus Christ and who He is.
A Christian, regardless of the Christian faction he belongs to, claims that Jesus is at the center of the religious life. To be a Christian is to strive to be like Jesus; to believe as He believes, to love as He loves, and to sacrifice as he sacrifices. It is to claim that it ought to be, in the words of St. Paul, no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. It is to subject the claims of all other authorities to Jesus Christ and His Gospel. No Christian takes issue with this, whatever their denomination.
Okay, how do I know that Christianity in general (without reference to a denomination’s particular beliefs) is true?
If you believe or accept the argument that God is real, then the possibility exists that God has at some point made contact with humankind. Philosophical arguments for God’s existence are rooted in God’s relationship with the natural world. We cannot assume that moment of causation (creation) is the only point at which God makes himself known.
For Christianity, God’s contact with humankind is concentrated in Jesus Christ. The vast majority of Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead, validating His spiritual claims. The crux of the matter is this: either Jesus rose from the dead or He didn’t. If He did, that is more than sufficient reason to take his claims about God seriously. If He didn’t, you cannot offer a convincing objective reason (only subjective reasons) for following Christ.
Jesus a figure who is surprisingly open to analysis. The vast majority of people from even scant centuries ago have passed into the mists of time unremembered. Many famous figures of history are only known from evidence dated hundreds of years later. In contrast, Jesus is the subject of a number of written works from the same century. We know Jesus is a real person and nobody with any grasp of history disputes that. We also know that the Gospels in the Bible are the best source of information on Jesus’ life. Any reasonably educated scholar will admit that, even ones who disbelieve the Gospels.
The Gospels are the best known and most studied works in all of history; a vast and unending field of scholarship that dwarfs all others. Some faiths have a hostile relationship with scholars, but on the whole Christianity has been ready to lay bare the tomb and pick up the cotton swabs. Archaeological studies and textual criticism flourish in all the major languages and in many cases boast an array of amateur friendly texts. You simply can’t do a comparatively deep study on any other figure – but when investigating Jesus Christ, you can go as deep as you have time for. Investigating the Gospels is the way to authenticate Christianity.
Can I rationally investigate and reach a certain conclusion?
I’m going to start this section by saying that there is no treatment of Christianity that will remove the need for faith. With any piece of history, one eventually needs to trust a story that seems most plausible, even though not all of the details can be investigated, understood, or substantiated.
The best approach here is the abductive approach. That is, rather than formulating a theory and trying to support it with evidence (like Sherlock Holmes) or making specific observations until one has enough to form a general theory (like Father Brown) investigating faith requires that one be willing to collect an incomplete set of observations and then make a decision as to what is the most likely explanation.
In that vein, the basic evidence for Jesus amount to this: Jesus was a real person who during his life was rather unimportant by worldly standards. He was crucified by the Romans like dozens of other political troublemakers in a backwater province. His tomb was found empty by a group of women. Hundreds of Jesus’ followers believed that they saw Him alive after death. As a result, his followers successfully claimed that he had risen from the dead, attracting a wide range of converts, in the very places where they claimed these events had taken place. These same people went on to die brutal deaths in order to spread this story as widely as possible; from (perhaps) Spain to Ethiopia to (perhaps) India. This wild story was plausible enough and accompanied by miracles such that within three hundred years, the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Armenia embraced Christianity. Today, through a maze of sinners and saints, the Christian faith continues to spread and grow as the world’s largest religion, and claims of miraculous encounters with Jesus are ongoing.
Faith hinges on what one chooses to do after collecting the evidence. In a sense, I haven’t made the argument I set out to make. This is because a thousand blog posts would not provide sufficient space to encapsulate all the relevant details of this story; and at any rate, the accompanying discussion diversifies into many academic fields. All this space can do is provide you an outline; the details are yours to uncover. Looking for Jesus is a lifelong journey. The terrifying and wonderful thing about pursuing this investigation is that at some point, you may find that someone has already been looking at you.