Suppose you have the occasion to sit with someone, an interested party, and explain to them the Christian faith. How do you tell the story? When I was in college we had groups who shared the 4 Spiritual Laws – a version of a Christian story, but not the one I would tell.
We do not think long and hard enough about the imagery and language that we use. Frequently, our religious faith becomes ingrained in jargon that we no longer notice when we use it. What are the fundamental images that your sharing of the Christian faith uses?
My earlier arguments about essential elements of the Christian story is to argue that we should have digested the whole of the New Testament, as well as a couple of centuries’ worth of Patristic writings (the 1st two centuries are not really that much), before we begin to give an account of what Christ came to earth to do. If your version of the story requires the lens of the Reformation – then you’re probably telling a 16th century story and not the New Testament, despite whatever verses you may cite.
But back to the fundamental question at hand. How do you tell the story and what images do you use?
It is these fundamental images – Virgin Birth, Crucifixion, Death, Descent into Hades, Resurrection, Ascension into Heaven, Coming of the Holy Spirit – that make up the Christian faith. Interestingly, all of these images can be rendered in picture – form. Indeed, in the Orthodox Church we do render them in picture form and place the icons of these events in the middle of the Church on their feast days.
I can recall an old Evangelical tract called “the Roman Road” that gave an account of salvation solely from verses drawn from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. It’s a nice turn, but was quite truncated in its account of the Gospel and our salvation.
If we read St. Irenaeus or even St. John of Damascus (5 or more centuries later), we will encounter the same Gospel that will carry us through the same images. But I suggest to my readers – take some time. How would you share the saving story of Christ? What are its images? Are those images faithful to the whole gospel?
I can recall an incident that occurred early in my ministry. I was serving as a Deacon in an Episcopal Church – a woman came to me who wanted to be baptized. As I recall, she had grown up in Hawaii. She had never been “churched.” She said that she mostly knew the name of Jesus as a curse word but did know that He was some sort of religious figure.
I remember feeling more pressure than I ever had on an exam in seminary. This was a true test for a Christian. Could I share the good news of Christ with someone who was well-favored towards conversion – and give her enough information to lead her to the path of salvation? I know that I worked harder for that Baptism than almost any of which I have ever had occasion to be a part.
I am convinced that we need to live closer and closer to the very root images of the story of our salvation – that the more we abstract the more likely we are to go astray. I am not arguing for any sort of anti-theology (I care deeply about theology) but for a theology that is, in fact, a mediation on the good news of Christ, and not an intellection five to ten steps removed from that good news.
Strangely, although Orthodoxy is 2000 years old, it continues to maintain this dogged affection for the most primitive layers of the Christian story. I believe that this is a correct instinct – a prompting of the Holy Spirit – Who seeks to lead us into all truth.
Go back to the story. How do you tell it?