Monday, July 03, 2006

Christianity in One Sentence, But Not for Dummies

The universe (originally good, now fallen, and awaiting its divine judgment and restoration) is created and sustained by the Triune God, who has revealed himself in nature, humanity, conscience, Scripture, and supremely through the Incarnation.


Tom said...

Hey Doug,

Pretty good summation, although I think God's loving nature and/or love for the world needs to get a mention in there somewhere.


Mark Congdon said...

Hmmm... considering the amount of theological heavy lifting that goes behind words such as "fallen", "Triune" and "Incarnation", this isn't really a one-sentence definition, is it? :)

Now, if someone could come up with a one-sentence (or even four-sentence, to be generous) definition of Christianity that used only words that would be understand by someone completely unfamiliarity with Christendom... that would be impressive. I doubt it's remotely possible, though.

Viewing your actual summation on its own terms, I'd say that Paul would be aghast that it made no direct mention of either the Cross or the Resurrection, the two things that I think he would have considered the centerpieces around which all of Christian belief hinges.

You refer to God's future "judgment and restoration", and past/present "created and sustained", and "revealed". The verb I find most strikingly missing is "redemption". The Incarnation was not just a way for God to reveal himself... it had a definite purpose related to God/human relations. Some mention of God's redemption through blood sacrifice seems important, as we have no faith or hope without that redemption. Both the judgment and restoration that you mentioned hinge on this redemptive action by God.

Still, I doubt I would ever attempt to put Christianity in a single sentence, and if I did make the attempt I would certainly not expose it to the world for the type of critique I have just offered, and which I would surely myself suffer. So, I salute your courage. :)


Daniels said...

Thank you Jesus.

Dr Mike said...

Contra Mark, I think if Paul (or Jesus) were to be aghast at anything, it would be the omission of the phrase "kingdom of God."

Since that seems to be critical to the NT message, I would think some mention of the kingdom of God/heaven would be required, whether the definition be one sentence or one book in length.

Mark O. Wilson said...

That will preach!

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Incarnation" is meant to cover Cross and Resurrection. "Kingdom" is implied throughout.

I took my inspiration from a philosopher, William Halverson, who tried to summarize various worldviews in "touchstone propositions." Mine is inadequate in some ways, but it sharpens the mind to attempt to do it--and to compare various touchstone propositions from differing worldviews.

Anonymous said...

Is this touchstone proposition a statement of faith or an objective claim about reality? And, if one is tempted by the "or" to claim this is a false dichotomy, please consider if the cognitive attitude of "objectivity" is necessarily contradictory to the pathos of faith. At least some of Kierkegaard's pseudonyms would support this distinction.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Is this touchstone proposition a statement of faith or an objective claim about reality?"

It is both, of course. Why have faith in what is not objectively true? What is the point? By "objective," I mean that the truth of Christianity in no way depends on me believing it. "Let God be true, though everyone a liar," (Romans 3:4).

I do not mean by "objectivity" uninvolved or uninterested or clinically detached. One should be passionately commited to these objective truths and should internalize them subjectively.

SocietyVs said...

One sentence to define the Christian faith, now that's a hard thing to do. I would go with 'Follow Me & Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'. These were good enough for the disciples in defining that early faith, seems simple but makes a lot of sense. The whole faith is 'following' and that following would be behind Jesus 'the kingdom of heaven'. When? Now, the time is at hand...maybe this is more a salvation message?
What is the faith? I guess it's so many things to so many people. Some emphasize the word, some the life, some the love. Jesus is all these things. A definition of the faith has to be inclusive.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"Follow me..." is intrinsic and inexorable to Christianity, but it is not propositional; it is an imperative (based on propositions about the objective truth of Christianity). By definition, an imperative cannot be a summary of a worldview (or serve as any definition).

Weekend Fisher said...

I'm with you that an imperative cannot define a worldview. But it was the imperative that pulled the disciples into the events that changed their worldview (or moved them to where they had a better view of the world).

But the "Christianity in one sentence" challenge invites a question like this: can we top John 3:16? (And for which purposes and audiences.)

Tom said...

I'm with Weekend Fisher: it's tough to beat John 3:16 (and I'd try to make a conjunction with John 3:17).

Douglas Groothuis said...

The soteriology of John 3:16-17 has to be put into a larger metaphysical, theological, or worldview context in order to generate a "touchstone proposition." Christianity is not reducible to soteriology.

If you want to summ up the gospel, then John 3:16-17 is terrific. Along with 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, and so on. But part of our problem in not communicating Christ clearly to people is that there worldview is antithetical to what Jesus' believed. So, we have to work at that level to make the gospel intelligible and believable: notitia and fides.

daveterpstra said...

I think your sentence still needs some work, but I'm inspired by your boldness and the exercise.

A couple of thoughts:
The uniqueness of Christianity's doctrine of revelation seems to be in the Incarnation and scripture. Other worldviews teach some form of the other means of revelation. I don't disagree that Christianity teaches them, but they seem cumbersome to your sentence.

Shouldn't a definition of Christianity name "the Incarnation"?

You said: "Incarnation" is meant to cover Cross and Resurrection. If you are comfortable with "Incarnation" covering Cross and Resurrection, then let me offer a suggestion to shorten your definition to one word:

INCARNATION (nothing more needs to be said about Christianity's worldview that is not uniquely expressed in the reality and life of the Incarnation.)

However, since I don't think a single word is sufficient, I thought I would venture my own one sentence definition of Christianity which has borrowed several thoughts from yours:
God revealed Himself to the universe by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our world which He created, sustains, loves, and is redeeming from its corrupted state through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

Douglas Groothuis said...

"God revealed Himself to the universe by sending his Son, Jesus "Christ, to die for our world which He created, sustains, loves, and is redeeming from its corrupted state through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross."

Quite so; but then it starts to get very long. I'm thinking of this as a synoptic miniaturization, so to speak, mostly for philosophical purposes. In fact, I use it apologetics, which I start teaching tomorrow for five weeks.

daveterpstra said...


Too long? My sentence is one word longer than yours!

Also, I agree with Mark that theological words require more explanation. So I am attempting to find a definition than even someone far from God might understand.

Understanding your purposes for the sentence I agree with your thoughts on your sentence. Since I'm a preacher-man I thought I would focus my sentence more on soteriology.

Alando Franklin said...

Christianity is "The message or unfolding drama of how God's perfect creation was lost through sin, yet God through His Son, Jesus Christ, is in the process of restoring that which was lost back to perfection"

Anonymous said...

The truth of Christianity in no way depends on me believing it. Just like other truths that we determine dispassionately in no way depend upon my believing them. In fact, the issue of "believing" these other objective truths doesn't normally arise. Why so often in this case?

Douglas Groothuis said...


I thought you were adding what you wrote to what I said. My mistake, it was.