Saturday, October 3, 2020

Becoming a Christian

In 1994 InterVarsity Press published the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli. It quickly became one of my favorite references for arguments about the truth of Christianity. In the final chapter, "The Bottom Line," the authors describe "Four Steps in Becoming a Christian" and explain that their book is only helpful with the first.
1. The first step is mental belief. This is first because you cannot take any other step toward a goal unless you believe it exists. You cannot seek or deal with a Person you do not believe exists. You cannot pray to a God you think is dead.

The next three steps are (2) repentance from sin; (3) saving faith, faith in a more than mental sense, acceptance of Christ as Savior; and (4) living out the Christian life. These three steps all presuppose the truth of the God to whom you repent, in whom you believe and with whose real presence and help you now live. ....

.... The first step is like believing in the accuracy of a road map; the next three steps are like actually using the map.

2. Step two is called repentance. This means not merely feeling guilty or sorry for your sins, but choosing—with that most fundamental and deep-down part of your soul, your will—to turn out of the road you are now traveling down, because you have been convinced that it is not the right road, the true road, the road designed for you by God, the road that leads to God. In the full sense, repentance means renouncing the lord of your present road—the "evil one" (Mt 13:19), the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44) and the "ruler of this world" (Jn 14:30)—so that you can give yourself instead to Christ, your rightful lord. Repentance cannot be adequately understood only psychologically, as something within yourself; it is ontological, it is a real transaction between you and your lord, a change of fundamental allegiance. It is like changing sides in a war, or like divorce and remarriage. It is traumatic.

3. The third step, which is the other side of repentance, is faith, in the biblical sense: not just mental belief (that was step one) but accepting and receiving Christ as God and Savior and Lord of your soul, your life, your destiny.

The first step is believing the road map; the second is turning out of your present road; the third is turning into another road. That other road is a Person: the one who said, "I am the one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6).

4. The fourth step is traveling down his way, actually living the Christian life. Step three is faith, step four is works—good works, works of love. The two necessarily go together. In step three the tree of Christ's life is planted in you; in step four it bears fruit. For "faith without works is dead" (Jas 1:26).

This fourfold scheme puts into proper perspective the modest ambitions of this book. Our hope is only to persuade your honest reasoning that Christianity is true. This is necessary but not sufficient. No one will launch a boat thinking the sea is only a myth; but believing in the sea is not sufficient to become a sailor.
Peter Kreeft & Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, InterVarsity Press, 1994.

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