When I was young, Christianity was a science.
A + B = C
My belief + God’s forgiveness = ETERNAL SALVATION
But let’s just say we meet a someone who’s a new believer. Someone who is introduced to a church community for the first time, who becomes interested in the life that these people are sharing. They decide, “Yeah, I’d like to follow this rabbi from the Ancient Near East who said he was literal-God-in-the-literal-flesh.”
They’ve taken the leap. And then… what next?
Well, the logical thing to do is probably to crack open that old Bible. This becoming a Christian thing is often simply explained to people. You’ve heard the big, common image:
God’s over there somewhere. We’re over here, and we don’t really have a way to get to God. But God has done something remarkable. God decided God loved us enough to come and be with us. And God has done so through a person, Jesus of Nazareth.
But that’s just the beginning of the journey. The next step is that big, scary Bible we’ve got in front of us. This huge book that we’ve avoided or read parts of and didn’t understand, or were frustrated by as kids.
You’d think, wouldn’t you, that you could just open up to page one, read straight through, get the picture of who God is, what God is doing, and what we should do.
But we don’t. We quickly find that this isn’t A + B = C territory. Instead, we’re inserted into a Tolkien-esque world. The first thing we read is a poem:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth
Now the earth was formless and empty
Darkness was over the surface of the deep
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
Hm. Well, that’s not as… simple… as we made it out to be.
Ok, so we read on. And we read all these ancient stories. This mixed bag where sometimes people are awful. Occasionally we get someone who’s a mixed bag that God seems interested in being with.
We keep reading, and half the time the things we hear about God are really just lies from men named Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. We read about liberation and oppression. We read about a kingdom that fails in its faithfulness. We read poetry and ancient wisdom literature. We read more poetry about downfall and death and coming back to life again.
And finally, we get to the Jesus story! Yes! Maybe now we’ll get some answers. Mark seems to be the shortest and simplest, so let’s start there. The good news — the Gospel — that I have been told about should be straightforward. Let’s see what it says:
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
….Interesting. Why is this good news?
Then we read letters written mostly by one guy named Paul who seems kind of upset sometimes, and a little persnickety about a few moral issues, to the point of seeming legalistic and barbaric.
And finally, we get to some really weird writing that sounds a lot like myth and fantasy — again, straight out of some Tolkien-esque world.
We’re given a story. A story that meanders and goes back and forth. A story where God is the protagonist, and generations and generations of humans are trying to figure out what this strange God wants with us.
Christianity isn’t A + B = C, because the book(s) that our faith is based in aren’t science. They are art.
The quicker we invite people into an artful Christianity, the less likely people will be to leave the faith when A + B no longer equals C.