I was listening to my Mars Hill Audio Journal recently when I heard one of the guests claim that the current question about faith for the younger generation (ages 18-35) has moved from Is Christianity true? to Is Christianity good?
I am on the upper end of this demographic and this claim at first struck me as false. After all, much of my youth, especially in high school and college, was spent learning apologetics, learning how to prove to everyone around me that Christianity was true.
(This book not particularly recommended!)
We’ll ignore the fact that most people turn to Jesus because of a friend who lived Jesus rather than because of a stranger who argued Jesus. I was taught all of the classic defenses and I read all of the classic books: Mere Christianity, A Case for Christ, etc.
None of this is bad. It is wise to know whether or not your faith is true, to know whether it is intellectually probable. It would be foolish to “believe” solely because you were raised that way. The question of whether or not Christianity is good simply never occurred to me.
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I think that perhaps this claim is, after all, true, at least to some degree. Even beyond the question of whether Jesus is necessary (if you persist in believing that you are not “that bad” then you will not believe that you need such an ultimate sacrifice as the cross), if you believe that human dignity and human good are based on human freedom, and if you believe that freedom is synonymous with autonomy, than Christianity is emphatically not good.
Christianity speaks much about submission, about losing your life, about obedience, and these words sound oppressive in light of what most believe about personal freedom. Yet any thoughtful person knows when it is articulated clearly that limits are good, that complete autonomy for every individual leads to unsustainable living conditions.
After all, limits provide constraints, but they also provide direction and therefore opportunities. Leon Kass, an American physician, scientist, and educator, pointed out that gravity is a form of limit but without it we could not dance.
Many of us who follow Christ try to retool the Bible to fit what modern culture has taught us is good. We want to make Jesus less about submission and more about social justice.
I think most of us do doubt at times whether Christianity is truly good, wondering whether freedom might be a better path. After all, our culture has taught us that the ability to make all of our own choices is more important than the quality of any of those choices. Our own Supreme Court has stated that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. (Planned Parenthood vs Casey, 1992)
If we can pause for a moment, however, and remember that freedom is not the same as autonomy, then the gospel begins again to become good news rather than being burdensome and dictatorial.
Thus the answer to the question “Is Christianity good?” is an emphatic yes. But only if we step back from our culture’s definition of freedom and move back to a truer definition. A definition that replaces our autonomy with our very truest selves.
I know which one I would rather have.
What have you found in your relationships? Do people care more about whether Christianity is true or whether it is good?