Questions and Answers on Christianity
Christianity can be most clearly understood from the perspective of relationships and value systems...
What is a value system?
A value system is the complete collection of things you care about in life. We have many desires, opinions and preferences. Some we hold strongly, others not so much. Each of these things holds some level of value to us. Taken as a whole, we can call them our value system.
What is Christianity?
Christianity is a spiritual solution to the problem of relationship between man and God, and between humans.
What makes relationship?
All relationships are built on common value systems. note The more of your values you have in common with another person, the more relationship you can have with them. The more conflict in values you have with another person, the more conflict in relationship you will have with them.
Common values together with shared experience makes relationship.
Who is God?
God is a self-existent non-physical being. God is one God, and yet there are multiple persons in God (God the Father, Jesus Christ [the Son], and the Holy Spirit).
God's primary value is beneficial love for others. Each of the persons of God has this identical value system. They are in harmony, therefore, God exists in continuous perfect relationship.
It is impossible for us to understand what God is in detail because God in his existence, stands outside of our temporal, physical world. We wouldn't even have the vocabulary to describe him. However, he has revealed who he is to us through his value system.
Although this universe is astounding to us, God caused it all just by speaking words. This teaches us that God is greater than what we can imagination, and any words of his are deeply profound and powerful.
What is the Bible?
The Bible is a collection of things God has said to his people. It also includes other related types of literature. Because God cares deeply about relationship, God uses the Bible to tell us about himself.
How can I understand the Bible?
God's words in the Bible are powerful and changes lives. However, because the Bible is big, and is a collection of writings through hundreds of years, it is very useful to have help to understand it.
- A first point is that God increasingly revealed himself through time. The older parts of the Bible do not most clearly reveal God. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
- A second very important point for understanding the Bible is that all theology is relational. (Theology is the study of God & of spiritual things.) This point is significant because God wants to guide people to good relationships with him and with others.
Understanding God's value system of beneficial love for others is associated with this last point. This is the central value system that motivates God. It is also the value system that best creates good relationships.
Reading and looking for meaning in the Bible from these perspectives makes it much easier to understand.
What relationship incident happened in the very beginning?
God created the world and humans in it for the purpose of creating relationship. God created the first humans (Adam & Eve) in his image. He included in them his value system. God and the humans had great relationship and enjoyed each others' company.
Another being was allowed to tempt the humans to choose a different value system than God's. His lie was that they could be more like God by choosing their own value system. God had given the humans the ability to choose their own value system, and unfortunately they rebelliously chose a selfish one of their own.
When the humans chose their own value system, their relationship with God was broken. However, God knew before he created the world that humans would fail, and he had already planned a way to restore relationship with them. God's plan would demonstrate to them the full extent of his own value system.
What is the relationship problem?
All relationships are built on common value systems. All relationships without common values will fail. Furthermore, all conflicts in relationships are conflicts over value systems.
Our native value system is selfish. When we were babies, we had no regard for anyone else. However, as we grew up, we were trained through socialization that complete selfishness was not acceptable. Though we learned unselfishness, we did not loose our selfish desires.
God's value system is beneficial love for others (sacrificial love for the benefit of others). God has complete integrity of value system, therefore God both holds and lives his value system perfectly. God has no selfish desires in him.
Our native value system is selfish love for the benefit of me. This produces extensive conflict: We have internal conflict because our learned and native values do not agree. We have conflict with other people because we disagree on who is to benefit from our choices. And we have conflict with God for both these same reasons.
God desires instead that we have his unselfish values. However, since we rebel against them, we constantly create offense against him. The consequence of this is our state of completely broken relationship with him.
Because of God's completely unselfish values, the relationship-hurdle with God is particularly extreme. Our values always retain an element of selfishness and God's values are never selfish. We do not share any core values with him. Therefore, we have nothing on which to build a relationship with God.
What is the relationship solution?
The solution has two parts for us: we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our king, and we adopt his value system. In the first part our problem of the pre-existing relationship damage is solved; in the second part we become enabled to build a new relationship.
The first part relies on the principle that those in authority are responsible for those under their direct authority. When Jesus becomes our king, he rightfully is able to bear the costs of our broken relationship with God. In fact, he already took that consequence when he died on the cross. (For a time at the cross, God completely severed his relationship with Jesus.) Now as our king, Jesus represents us to God. God therefore sees us through Jesus, and sees Jesus' value system when he looks at us.
The second part grows God's value system genuinely within us. The first part (Jesus as our king) put us in a right position to start a relationship with God. The second part (adopting his value system) is where that relationship actually grows in existence. And a consequence of this change of values is that new actions flow out of our new values.
This solution was carefully planned and executed by God. Both parts we do are in response to work that God has already done. There is a consequence to broken relationships, and God has prepared the means to pay that consequence for us. God brings us to the point where we understand the wisdom in his solution. And then he gives us the strength to actively live it in our lives.
What is the process of restoring relationship?
The process of restoring relationship is the process of forgiveness. This process has ordered steps.
- Repenting is changing your mind about some value you held. (It is not the dictionary meaning of an emotional response about the offense.)
- The person to be forgiven changes their mind about about their old value system that brought about the offense; they change to a better value system.
- To confess something is to admit it true.
- The person to be forgiven comes to agreement with the forgiver on the offense, especially regarding the selfish value system that motivated it.
- To forgive is to give release to another from the relationship cost of some offense.
- The forgiver no longer holds the other responsible for the relational consequences of their offense, and absorbs this cost into themselves.
- To reconcile is to restore good relations through work of harmonization.
- Both individuals actively pursue restoration of the relationship, living by shared values.
The process of forgiveness brings about changes in values system within a relationship. That is why it works. The first two steps of the process are very important for that reason. Many times descriptions of forgiveness only consider the one step labeled as "Forgiveness". Such a process will ultimately fail because no values change is being brought to the relationship.
The forgiveness process is also an excellent description of the process of becoming a Christian. By confession, we agree with God that our value system is wrong. Through repentance we change our mind about our old value system, and instead adopt God's value system. God then gives us forgiveness, himself paying the relational cost of our previous actions and no longer treating us according to our old value system; instead God treats us as having a common value system with him. Then by reconciliation we develop and expand the restored relationship together.
How can we know God?
In a very real sense, once you get past physical characteristics, our identity is the sum of our values (the values that we actually live by). They are our morality, and what we hold to be important on vocation, politics, family, leisure, food, humor, goals, dreams, etc. From them come our behaviors. You know someone well when you understand their values so well that you can think the way they would and can predict their behaviors.
The same is true for knowing God. When we understand what he values, we can understand him and his actions. God's value system is beneficial love for others (sacrificial love for the benefit of others). God is inherently relational because God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all have exactly the same value system. Therefore, we also can begin to know God when we understand His value system. This is why Jesus said that to know him (his values) was also to know God the Father. (John 14:6-9)
However, academic knowledge of something is not true knowledge. True knowledge comes with experience. You must adopt and live God's value system. Then you will truly come to know God.
Why is Jesus Christ the exclusive way to God?
The only way to God is one that would restore relationship with him. All relationships are based on a common value system. God's value system of beneficial love for others is the complete opposite of our native value system of selfishness and exploitation. Since God completely separates himself from any value system that is unlike his, humans have no bridge of common values to God.
In fact, humans have two problems:
- Our past actions motivated out of our native desires are a rebellious offense to God. The consequence of this state is our separation from God.
- We have no ability to produce God's values in ourselves by our own power, so we have no means to start a relationship with God.
God's plan to restore relationship solves both these issues. Jesus as God has already absorbed the consequence of our offense, its cost. Because of this, God does not retain any interest in the relational debt we owe him from the offense. Because Jesus has paid this debt, when we ask to be forgiven he can give forgiveness to us for what we have done.
In the legal model of justification, Jesus paid the cost of our sin through the cross. However, this payment can become effective for us only when we put ourselves under his direct authority as our king. Jesus then represents us to God, God sees us through him, and sees Jesus' perfect values.
At that point, a relationship between us and God has been established. Because of that relationship, God can send the Holy Spirit to transform us, giving us strength to live God's value system. As God works in us to grow those values in practice, they become our own values.
When we are forgiven by God, we have a common value system with God and shared experience with him, then we have relationship with God. We know the relationship is real because God's values, and not our selfish own ones, are the ones we live by.
All other religious or metaphysical systems fail to address and solve all these problems. Access to God is a values and relationship problem, and Jesus is the only one that solves it. It is because of this that Jesus is the exclusive way to God. (See also)
What is the goal of Christianity?
The goal of Christianity is restoration of relationship with God, and that we become like Christ in our character and being. This goal also results in restoration of relationship with people. This is accomplished as our value systems are transformed to be like Jesus'.
We become like God by adopting God's value system of sacrificial love for the benefit of others, and living it out to others. We share values with God and therefore can have a relationship with him. We also share the same values with all other Christians and gain the same relationship growth with them.
What is the core value system of Christianity?
Christianity's core values are the value system of God. God's value system is sacrificial love for the benefit of others (which Jesus modeled in his life on earth, and then through the cross).
In contrast, the native value system of humans is selfishness for the benefit of me.
What is Christianity's premise?
Christianity says that we do not have access to God because of a fundamental breakdown in relationship with him. (This is because we do not natively share any values in common.) Through the good news of the Kingdom of God (the Gospel), that problem has been solved. This is accomplished when we believe in Jesus as our king, and we adopt his value system as our own.
What is the Gospel?
The gospel has two parts for us: a part we believe and a part we do
- We must believe that Jesus is our King.
- We must adopt Jesus' value system.
The belief part has some more underlying detail:
- We must believe that the man Jesus, is God.
- We must believe that Jesus is Lord and King.
- We must believe the Kingdom is spiritual and for all people.
- We must believe that Christ's death and resurrection established the Kingdom. (And then repeating:)
- We must adopt Jesus' value system. note
The Core Elements of the Gospel quoted from Darren Twa
Together, these points contain the gospel. (See also Essential Good News)
What rules are there in Christianity?
There is one rule in the Kingdom of God: Love each other like Jesus loved us. Jesus gave this single command to his disciples (John 15) in a culminating dialog just before he demonstrated what he meant by this kind of love.
What unifies Christianity?
Belief in the Gospel core unifies Christianity. Christians agree on the Gospel.
What distinctive characteristic is Christianity to show to those outside of it?
Jesus said that love of Christians for each other would show everyone that they were like Christ (John 13:35). This occurs when we live Jesus' (God's) Value System. (See also How should we Love God?)
Are there other beliefs in Christianity?
Christianity has a long history of complicated theories of theology. (Theology: the study of the nature of God and of religious belief. See also Can We Know Theology?) However, the most important part of Christianity is the Gospel - the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is clear and simple; and agreement on the Gospel is the core of Christianity.
There are many other beliefs in Christianity. For example, there are many possible interpretations in the study of events that are to happen at the end of time (eschatology). Other topics of study have similar amounts of variety.
Why does this occur? It is a simply a problem that comes from trying to make a comprehensive assembly of knowledge that extends from areas that are well-understood out to areas about which we have very limited information. There is more than one way of structuring that knowledge which could be valid and useful. In addition, in areas about which our knowledge is incomplete, we do our best to fill in the gaps so as to bring clarity and consistency. Our understanding is an interpretation based on that limited data, and these interpretations become a part of our traditions.
As Christians we have freedom of belief in our traditions and interpretations with one limitation: they cannot conflict with the Gospel. It is particularly important that we live the Gospel by becoming more like God in his signature value of sacrificial love for the benefit of others. When Christians do not lose their focus on the Gospel, these freedoms in other beliefs never become a problem.
The value system concepts and perspective on the gospel that are on this page are based on ideas from the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.