On Authentic Christian Faith (or, Fake It ‘Till You Make It)

Who is me? Who is my genuine self?

Is it the person inside me that constantly doubts, criticizes, is skeptical of any claim for which I do not have sufficient evidence?

Is it the person within that has deep anxiety about the future, about whether I’m being a good enough parent, about whether I am the person that I want to be, day after day?

Is it the person that believes in Jesus, that his life, death, and resurrection are the turning points of history, and that Jesus somehow mysteriously saves us from sin and death?

How do we define ‘authenticity’? How can one become an ‘authentic self’?

Most people put a whole lot of stock in authenticity, perhaps because we are tired of seeing people that seem fake to us. We are tired of hearing people say one thing, but act differently. We vilify hypocrisy.

But maybe – just maybe – that’s not it at all. Maybe we beg people for authenticity because we can’t stand the inauthenticity of our own selves. Maybe we beg for authenticity, conviction, the alignment of words, beliefs, and action, because we know that we are hypocrites. We say we are Christians, but we doubt every other day whether Jesus actually rose from the dead. We say we want to be good parents, that we love our kids, but we become impatient with them, or we are more interested in our smartphone than sitting and reading a book with them.

Authentic Christian faith is a concept that is irksome to me, at least in the way we normally frame it. Many of us, when considering whether someone ought to be called an authentic Christian, point to a multitude of factors. But I think many of us consider the highest factor of authentic Christianity is how convinced a given person is about his or her conviction about the fact claims of Christianity.

For example, if you were quizzing someone to determine whether or not he or she was a Christian, how would you start? Most of us, I assume, would begin with truth or fact claims:

Do you believe God exists? Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? Do you believe Jesus died and rose again, and that he saves those who believe this from their sins? Do you believe x, y, and z?

And usually, we want certainty. We base our understanding of a given Christian’s authenticity, mainly, on his or her certainty that those truth claims are accurate.

There’s just one little problem with this – humans don’t operate this way.

I spend probably half of my time living on a thin sliver of hope that God exists, that beauty is real, that Jesus really does mysteriously save me, constantly. The other half of the time is me swimming in a dark pool of doubt, not knowing which way is up or down, grasping for dry ground that I cannot find. On those days, heaven seems like a bogus idea that humans created because we fear the endless nothingness of death. On those days, God is a distant memory, an almost forgotten lover, a shadow on a foggy evening.

But, despite my misgivings, I know I cannot explain some spiritual experiences I have had with anything other than ‘God.’ I cannot deny that prayer, even on my darkest days, both provides me with inexplicable comfort and (scientifically) is neurologically beneficial.

So, again I ask, what is authentic Christian faith? Is it certainty in fact claims about history, long ago, recorded in an ancient text and passed down from generation to generation? That is important, but no, I don’t think so.

I think authentic Christian faith is about loyalty, commitment, fidelity. It is about me deciding that placing myself within the historic Christian tradition, affirming the Creeds, trusting that the beauty I experience every second of every day – that those things are more important than my darkest emotions and fears and doubts on my darkest day. Authentic Christianity is when we pray, “God, I trust you,” even when we cannot be certain that God even exists.

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