How to Explore Christianity Authentically
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2017 Aug 10
Christianity is the world’s largest religious faith with ~2.3 billion adherents around the globe. The birth of Jesus was so monumental that it split our reckoning of history into two parts: Everything that has happened on our planet took place either “before Christ” or “after Christ.” As Philip Yancey has observed, “You can gauge the size of a ship that has passed out of sight by the huge wake it leaves behind.”
If you, or someone you know, is looking to authentically explore the Christian faith, I want to offer five suggestions to get you started on this journey.
1. Maintain an Open Mind
First, decide that you’re going to maintain an open mind. Sometimes we say we’re going to explore something when we know that we are not really open to what we might find. Having an open mind doesn’t mean blind acceptance of whatever you explore – you need to evaluate differing views, have some healthy skepticism and check out the facts.
What it does mean, however, is that you begin with an openness to what might be discovered. If you start off saying, “Yeah, I’ll check it out, but I know it isn’t true,” then you’re not exploring with an open mind. To explore authentically means that you keep a healthy balance between solid investigation and a willingness to accept what you find.
2. Determine What It Is You’re Looking For
Second, when exploring the Christian faith, determine what it is you’re looking for, and make sure you have fair expectations. Most people would say they are after spiritual truth. People want answers to life’s ultimate questions. They are looking for God and a relationship with God so they can order their lives accordingly. And that’s fair. But people don’t always stop there. Sometimes they tack on expectations that are not fair, such as, “I want whatever I find to solve all of my problems – instantly.” That isn’t going to happen. Nothing works that way.
Life is difficult, and the Christian faith never promises it will deliver a life free of such difficulty. The Bible teaches that when you give your life to Christ, your eternal destiny is altered, you experience a radical reorientation of your priorities, you find a new purpose in life, and you encounter the power and work of God in your life. But these experiences are far different from the instant removal of every problem, every struggle or every issue of pain.
Christians believe that the Bible says God can and does do miraculous, incredible things when you are in relationship with Him, but that’s not what you should look for, or what God always promises to deliver. Instead, God’s power and presence, which come from being in relationship with Him, give us the ability to go through the difficulties of life with strength and hope.
It’s also unfair to want whatever it is you find to complement your lifestyle rather than change it. Few religions, and Christianity in particular, allow for a mindset that sees spiritual faith as an accessory item that does little more than enhance one’s existing quality of life. Since your deepest needs and issues are spiritual in nature, you should expect your search to lead you to the deepest corners of your life, and you should expect what you find to change you from the inside out.
3. Check Out the Source Documents
Once you’ve determined that you’re going to search with an open mind and you’ve got a handle on what is fair to expect from your search, it’s time to begin the actual work of this process. Begin by checking out the source documents of the Christian faith. The Bible is a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over a period of several hundred years. Christians call it God’s Word or God’s revelation to us. The word revelation comes from the Latin word revelatio, which means to “draw back the curtain.” In the Bible, God reveals Himself and truth about Himself that we could not otherwise know.
So start by reading the Bible, and here are two suggestions for you to keep in mind when you do: First, make sure you begin with a modern translation and, second, remember that it really is a library of books.
A bit on translation. The Bible was written in two languages: Hebrew and Greek. Hebrew was the language of the day when the Old Testament was written and Greek was the language of the writers of the New Testament. As a result, all our Bibles today are translations of those original languages. So get a good, modern translation that is easy for you to read and understand.
And then when reading the Bible remember it is a library of books, so you possess some freedom as to where to begin reading. I would suggest starting with one of the four biographies of the life of Jesus found in the books Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (named for the four men who wrote them). These books will lay a good foundation of the central message of the Bible: Jesus and His life and ministry. After that, move on to the book of James, which is a practical little book containing five chapters that will show you what patterning your life after Christ might look like. Then read the first book, Genesis, where you’ll find answers to some of the foundational questions of human existence in light of what you’ve learned about Christ.
4. Come to Terms with Jesus
My fourth suggestion involves the focus of your search. Focus on Jesus, for He is the heart of the Christian faith. When I say “focus on” Him, I mean that you need to come to terms with His identity.
Here we have a man who walked the earth and claimed to be equal to God. No other major religious figure ever made that claim – not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Confucius. Only Jesus Christ claimed to be God in human form. Was He or wasn’t He? This is the ultimate question someone who is exploring must answer when it comes to the Christian faith.
5. Find a Church That Lets You Explore
The final suggestion I have to offer is this: Find a church that will let you start exploring where you are. In other words, find a church that will let you come explore and that will help you through this exploration process. Why attend a Christian church to explore Christianity? So that you can talk firsthand with people who are Christians, listen to their stories, raise your questions, enter into a dialogue with them about their faith.
This exploration process is the most important one you’ll take for your life. In truth, there’s no such thing as a “spiritual life” – there’s just life, and your spirituality courses through its every vein.
Thus, finding the door to spiritual truth, opening it, and walking through it make up the most significant journey you can ever undertake.
For on the other side is not simply spiritual life…
… but life itself.
James Emery White
Adapted from James Emery White, A Search for the Spiritual (Baker).
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.
Image courtesy: ©Thinkstock/BrianAJackson