What do Chance the Rapper, Snoop Dog, Blake Shelton, Avril Lavigne, and Justin Bieber have in common? Beyond perhaps that they sing music you do not like? They have each expressed more than a passing interest in Christianity in recent years. They have this in common with 2 billion other people today, and a further few billion throughout the last two millennia. There is something compelling about Christianity. What is it? Why has Christianity stood the test of time? Why has it weathered every storm, from within and beyond?
Some have said that Christianity is appealing to people who need a crutch. Perhaps that is what is compelling. However, people like C.S.Lewis, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace have found it compelling for other reasons. Thinker C.S. Lewis became a Christian through thinking it all through. Journalist Lee Strobel became a Christian through a journalistic enquiry. Cold case detective J. Warner Wallace considered the evidence and became a Christian. None of these felt any need for a crutch. They, along with many, many others, have found Christianity to be compelling.
When it comes to providing compelling answers to important questions, Christianity is like a banquet. I am reminded of an invitation Jesus speaks of in Luke 14:
Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ Luke 14:16-20 (NRSV)
An invitation was given to great dinner. But some fluffed it off. While billions of people have found Christianity compelling why have billions of others not? Some things to think about:
People can be distracted by chip trucks.
You are invited to a great dinner, but on the way you drive by a chip truck. You have heard the french fries there are really good. You stop and your appetite is satisfied. “Please make excuses to the dinner host, I cannot come now.” This kind of thing happens with regards to worldview. When a worldview answers a few of the questions of life well, people may not feel the need to look any further. It is like enjoying great french fries at a chippy daily, yet not realizing what delightful foods are being served elsewhere.
To give an example of this, consider those worldviews that make reference to karma. The idea of karma gives a compelling answer to the question; “why do good people suffer?” The answer is that good people who suffer now must have been bad people at some point, likely in a previous incarnation. They are now working off bad karma. There is “cosmic justice” after all. The righteous really are rewarded and the evil really do suffer. Some people find this way of looking at things compelling. It is a nice tidy answer. However, how well do the karma-focused religions answer all the other questions? For a worldview or religion to be truly compelling it must provide compelling answers to many questions. In the weeks to come we will be looking at how Christianity provides compelling answers to many questions.
People can be distracted by various religions, which may offer good answers to some questions in the way a chippy can offer some tasty food, but what about those who say they just don’t believe anything?
Dinnertime comes for everyone.
Those who refuse the invitation to the great dinner are not saying “I refuse to eat.” They are saying “I refuse to eat what you are offering, I will eat something else.” All people have a way of looking at things. All people have some perspective on religion and “religious” truth. It is sometimes said that only people advancing religion who hold a burden of proof. As a Christian I don’t mind shouldering a burden of proof. There is good evidence for the truth of Christianity. It is compelling. However, anyone advancing any kind of perspective has the same burden of proof. The atheist who says there is no God and the agnostic who says it cannot be known if there is a God or not, will still need to give reasons why their perspective is compelling. All people have religious views. God invites all people to the banquet. All people need to think through their response to the invitation. All people need to explain why they find their choice compelling.
We focus on the food and forget about the host.
Think of someone you would not dream of declining if they invited you to lunch. Perhaps it is a loved one you have not seen in ages. Perhaps it is a celebrity you adore. Whoever it may be, you excitedly accept the invitation no matter what is on the menu! Now consider that God Who has revealed Himself in the Bible is far greater than that person in every possible way. The dinner is not that important after all. Being with the host is!
In the great dinner parable told by Jesus, the initial invitees are too wrapped up in themselves to go. Jesus told this parable to people too wrapped up in themselves to care about him. The scribes and the Pharisees could not, and would not, grasp the identity of Jesus. He did not fit what they thought the Messiah should look like. In the parable there are those who are initially invited, who then make excuses and decline. These represent the Jewish elites, invited by God to participate in what He is doing, yet who decline the invitation to participate in what He is doing through Jesus. Watch what happens next:
So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’ ” Luke 14:21-24 (NRSV)
The religious leaders did not respond well to Jesus, but everyone else is invited! We are reminded of these words from John, chapter 1:
He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13 (NRSV)
While we will be looking at many reasons Christianity is compelling in the weeks to come, the most compelling thing about Christianity is not a thing at all, but a person, Christ Himself. Yes, the food is really great. But it is really about the host!
In the parable of the great dinner the master sends his servants to compel people to come to his banquet. It is funny that the servants would need to compel people, for there were already compelling reasons to go! It is a great meal, it is free, there is great company. You are invited to the table of the Lord. On the first Sunday of every month we invite people to partake of the Lord’s Supper, a symbolic remembrance of Christ’s body broken, his blood shed for forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. There are compelling reasons to say yes to the invitation to the table. The invitation to be reconciled to God through Christ is a compelling invitation indeed.