This is a follow-up to my article “Start with Christianity. Because it works.” Some of the readers responded to that article with a degree of incredulity, believing that while I might have provided a basis to begin an investigation of Christianity, I did not provide a basis to become a Christian. For example, Luke Breuer wrote:
“Randal Rauser, did you mean “begin with Christianity” = “become a Christian”, all along? Lots of people see “become a Christian” as being a pretty big step, with some legwork to do beforehand. You seem to have elided that legwork, which I myself find confusing!”
So to clear things up: yes, beginning with Christianity can entail, for all intents and purposes, becoming a Christian. But what if an individual finds that he/she doesn’t believe with sufficient conviction to try Christianity? To that I reply: how much conviction is a person expected to possess before they find themselves a Christian? Suffice it to say, it might be a good deal less than you think. After all, everybody needs to start somewhere. (I discuss this topic further in “Can a person be 100% Christian if they’re only 50% sure it is true?”)
I suspect that at least some of the pushback to my advice derives from folks who equate becoming a Christian with a crisis moment of radical decision. In some cases it is that. But in other cases, becoming a Christian is akin to watching the approaching day in a deep forest. You may never know when the sun rose from your lowly position on the forest floor, but eventually as the innumerable green and brown hues of the deep forest are imperceptibly illumined and deepened, it becomes clear that the sun has indeed risen.
And so it is for those invited to begin with Christianity. That experience may not provide a crisis moment of radical decision like the blazing sun that suddenly rises above the horizon. It may, instead, be a subtle and delicate affair. “Well I guess the sun has risen.” “Well I guess I am a Christian.”
Is it inappropriate to become a Christian in this manner? Has one violated some unspoken dictum by doing so? I think not. God meets us all where we are at. Sometimes he knocks us off our horse on the road to Damascus, but other times he speaks with a still small voice even as we say “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
And so I’ll close by quoting from the invitation that concludes my contribution to God or Godless (Baker, 2013):
“What if you are at present an atheist? It may be at this moment that you’re thinking there may be something more to theism than you thought. But perhaps you’re not yet ready to commit to Christian theism. Perhaps it still requires you to believe more than you’re able to accept at this time. So what do I suggest for you? Ask yourself if Christianity is a view of the world that you can accept provisionally as you seek to live in accord with the values that make us most fully human. If you find that you can take that step, then start doing so. Live as if Christianity is true. Begin exploring the rich intellectual and spiritual resources of the Christian tradition. Find a community of Christians with whom you can relate openly and honestly by sharing your beliefs and your doubts. Seek to live out the faith you do not yet fully possess through works of mercy and righteousness as you study, reflect, and learn. And then just see what happens. Most of all, never give up your tireless pursuit of that than which none greater can be conceived.” (176-77)