It's exciting to think about world religions, but let’s make sure we understand basic Christian beliefs before we dive into other beliefs. Click To TweetBefore we start diving into world religions, it’s important that we have a firm grasp of what Christianity teaches. It is fairly common knowledge that when federal agents train to spot counterfeit money, they study the real thing first. The theory is that if the agents become very familiar with genuine money, they will be able to spot a counterfeit a mile away. This is true of Christianity. If we study God’s word and are completely in touch with the truths found in Scripture, we will be able to spot heresies and errors in our own churches, as well as other belief systems. It’s exciting to think about world religions, but let’s make sure we understand basic Christian beliefs before we dive into other beliefs.
How easy is it for you to tell others what you believe about God, creation, or Jesus? Can you adequately explain the Trinity? What about the afterlife? How is it that we are saved? Some of you may already know all of the Christian answers, and that is awesome! For those of you who struggled a bit to come up with a response, this article is for you. Here’s a crash course in the fundamental beliefs of Christianity, complete with some Scripture references to help you out.
Founding. Christianity was founded around AD 30, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Middle East. Jesus was the founder, but Christianity was carried forth by his disciples and other followers, like Peter and Paul. Yes, Jesus was Jewish, and most of the early church consisted of converted Jews, but his followers were (and are still) called Christians.
God. If someone were to ask you to describe God, what would you say? No seriously! Before you read the rest of this, turn away from the computer and see if you can describe God.
What’s the first thing that came to mind? Some people can’t get past visualizing a big bearded man in the sky. To understand God, it is important that we understand the orthodox attributes ascribed to God. While knowing these attributes cannot replace a personal relationship with God, a personal relationship should always start with knowing the one with whom you are having this relationship. Here are the main attributes described in the Bible:
- Immaterial (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17). God isn’t someone we can touch or feel. He isn’t made up of matter. He is Spirit.
- Omnipresent (Jer 23:24; Ps 139:7; Isa 57:15). This is just a fancy theological term that means God is everywhere. This should not be confused with saying that God IS everything (pantheism) or that God is IN everything (panentheism).
- Infinite (Rev 1:8 and 4:8) and Eternal (Ps 90:2; Isa 41:4; 1 Tim 1:17). God is, was, and is to come. His existence is eternally in the past, present, and future. In fact, you might say He is outside of time. He had no beginning, He has no end. He is the only entity in existence which is uncaused, self-existing, and is capable of causing all other things. Plato refers to this as the “prime mover.” For a better understanding, visit Mama Bear podcast #27: Who Made God.
- All–powerful (Ps 147:5; Lk 1:37). This is also called omnipotence. Do not confuse “all powerful” with “able to do anything.” There are some things that God cannot do. He cannot act contrary to His nature, and He cannot do things that are illogical – like creating a square circle.
- Unchanging (Mal 3:6; James 1:17). This is also known as immutability. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
- All-knowing (Ps 147:4-5; 1 Jn 3:20; Rom 11:33-36). The fancy word for this is omniscient.
- All-loving (Psa 86:15; Rom 5:8; Rom 8:37-39; 1 Jn 3:1).
- All-good (Psa 18:30; Gal 5:22; Eph 4:32; Rom 2:4). This is sometimes called omnibenevolence, which means that God is good all the time. It’s important to understand that goodness doesn’t always mean painless. God’s intent for us is goodness, but sometimes, we will have to walk through the fire. This doesn’t mean God is not good.
- Just (Isa 30:18; Deut 32:4; Psa 9:7-8; Heb 10:30).
- Holy (Ex 15:11; Psa 86:8-10; Psa 24:3-5; Isa 57:15; Rev 15:4). God has no rival or competition. He is set apart and pure. He is worthy of all praise.
Creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). There is a lot of controversy within the Christian church regarding how He created the heavens and the earth. This is a secondary issue to acknowledging that He created. We have Mama Bears in leadership that fall on both sides of the old earth/young earth controversy. We purposefully chose to have leaders on both sides because we want to express unity within a diversity of orthodox ideas. We can still work together despite differences in issues that are secondary to salvation, and express unity against the real enemy of naturalism–a belief which denies that God was involved in the act of creation.
Humanity. God created humanity in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27). Every human being has value and worth as an image bearer of our holy God. Not only should we look at ourselves differently knowing that our creator (and the creator of the entire universe) made us in His image, but the way we interact with those around us should reflect the honor due to a human made in the image of God.
While we’re on the subject of humanity, I want to mention sin. When humanity entered the world, we were in a sinless state. Because of original sin and the Fall (Gen 3), humanity was corrupted, and the image of God was distorted. Every person born since the Fall has been born into a state of sin, which is why we need a Redeemer (Rom 5:12; Rom 5:18; Heb 9:15; 1 Cor 15:22). To be clear, being “born into sin,” is not the same as “having sinned.” Infants, while born into sin, are not guilty of sin.
The Trinity. How can we try to understand the Trinity before we meet God personally? According to the Bible, God is triune. Scripture tells us:
- Each member of the Trinity is distinct (2 Cor 13:14; Matt 28:19; Matt 3:16-17; 1 Jn 5:7-8).
- All members of the Trinity are co-equal (Phil 2:5-11; Col 1:13-20; Jn 10:30; Jn 14:6-10).
- All members of the Trinity are co-eternal (Jn 8:58; Col 1:15-17).
Trying to explain the Trinity is tough, right? It’s such a complex concept, and parents are often tempted to use an analogy to explain it to their children. Maybe you have even used one or two as examples. (No judgment from me because we’re all doing our best to help our children understand.)
How not to explain it: We would be doing you a disservice if we didn’t explain some of the inherent dangers of using analogies, though. While they can be helpful in some cases, analogies can also lead to misunderstanding. Let’s consider some of the more common analogies:
- The egg analogy (e.g., egg yolk, egg white, eggshell). Although this analogy covers the three distinct persons of God, it does not address the unity of God.
- The family roles analogy (e.g., one person can be a mother, a daughter, and an aunt). This is the reverse of the egg analogy because it denies the distinctness of each member of the Trinity.
- The clover analogy (e.g. three cloves make up the clover). This one denies the complete unity of the Trinity.
- The water analogy (e.g. solid, liquid, gas). This is where we compare the 3 persons to the three states of water. This analogy is probably the closest we can get to explaining the Trinity because of something called Triple point, which is the temperature and pressure where all three states of water can exist at the same time.
Here’s a little humorous look at some of the heresies that arise from improper analogies:
That being said, I know it’s difficult to try and explain the Trinity without resorting to analogies. There is nothing that fully explains the Trinity. It’s a mystery that our human minds struggle to comprehend. Some people say that because it is incomprehensible means that it is illogical, so we need to dispel that myth here. Just because we are limited in our understanding of it, it doesn’t make it illogical. There are no logical laws that are being broken when we say that there are three distinct persons who are one in essence. We just don’t have anything like it with which to compare it, so we probably won’t understand it on this side of eternity.
If your kids are struggling with being able to understand how something could be incomprehensible without being illogical, ask them how they would explain color to a blind person. They might use hot and cold for hue or loud and soft for saturation. Eventually, they will realize it can’t be done. Then ask them if color is illogical? Of course not! It just has to be experienced in order to understand it. The problem with the Trinity is that it is a unique aspect of God (referred to as an “incommunicable attribute”). Color is not illogical, it is just incomprehensible to a person without the ability to experience it. The Trinity is not illogical, but we probably won’t fully grasp it until we experience God in person. The difference between illogicality and incomprehensibility is an important distinction, especially when conversing with people of other world religions.
We’ve discussed God above, so let’s talk about the other parts of the Trinity, Jesus (the Son) and the Holy Spirit.
Did Jesus even exist? (Some atheists say no.) Was Jesus fully human? (Not according to docetism.) Did he really die on the cross? (Islam says no.) Was he an angel first and then Jesus? (Jehovah’s Witnesses say yes.)… Click To Tweet Jesus. Jesus seems like He’d be a pretty cut and dry figure, but you’d be surprised at the misinformation circulating about Him. Did Jesus even exist? (Some atheists say no.) Was Jesus fully human? (Not according to docetism.) Did He really die on the cross? (Islam says no.) Was He an angel first and then Jesus? (Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Jesus was once the archangel Michael.)
Let’s address the first question—yes! Jesus existed! Even most atheists will admit that He existed. Check out this video of atheist Bart Ehrman discussing Jesus’ existence. Ehrman says that Jesus’ existence is “not even an issue for scholars of antiquity. … The reason for thinking that Jesus existed is because he is abundantly attested in early sources.”
So, now that we’ve cleared that up, who is Jesus?
Scripture tells us that:
- Jesus was fully human (Phil 2:8; Rom 8:3).
- Jesus was fully God (Col 2:9; Jn 10:28-30).
- Jesus was born of a virgin (Mt 1:18-25) which was prophesied (Isa 7:14).
- Jesus died on the cross (Jn 19:30; Lk 23:33).
- Jesus has always been the Son of God (Lk 1:35; Jn 3:16). He took on human flesh to become Jesus, but the Son existed before the man Jesus walked the earth.
- Jesus was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isa 9:6; Jn 5:39, 46; Mt 5:17-18).
- Jesus became human so that he could die on the cross for humanity’s sins (Phil 2:8; Rom 8:3).
- Jesus was resurrected three days after he died (Mk 16:1-7; 1 Cor 15:1-11).
- Jesus ascended back to heaven to be with the Father (Lk 24:50-53).
- Jesus will one day return bodily, to gather his followers to himself. (1 Thes 4:16-17; Jn 14:1-3; Mt 24:30-31)
The Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus promises that God will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to be with the disciples after Jesus is no longer with them. The Holy Spirit is not just God’s divine inspiration (Judaism) or God’s “active force” (Jehovah’s Witnesses). He is a unique person of the Trinity and fully God.
Scripture says that the Holy Spirit is:
- A comforter and counselor (Jn 14:26; Jn 15:26). The Greek word is “paraclete,” so you sometimes might hear that word instead of comforter or counselor. Paraclete means “called to your side.”
- An intercessor and advocate (Rom 8:26). The Holy Spirit acts on our behalf.
- A guide (John 16:12-15).
- Powerful (Rom 15:13).
- Truth (John 14:17).
If you’ve been studying apologetics long, you’ve probably seen 1 Peter 3:15 quite a bit, but it merits mentioning here. It specifically tells us, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer [defense, apologetic] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you.” We will not be prepared if we do not prepare.
Salvation. Atonement (salvation) is available because of Jesus’ work on the cross (Isa 53:5; 1 Pet 2:24; 1 Jn 2:2; Rom 5:2). Scripture says it’s a free gift through faith, not through works. James consistently refers to faith and works as separate things. Yes, as Christians, we should still do works because Christ did, and we are to be like Christ. Also, faith without works is dead, but the works should be an outpouring of our faith, not something we do to achieve salvation.
Afterlife. The Bible says that there is an eternal heaven and hell (Matt 10:28; Matt 25:46; Jn 5:24-28; Jn 11:25-26; Rev 21:8). Hell was originally intended for Satan and his demons (Matt 25:41). God does not wish for anyone to go to hell, and he continues to work through the Holy Spirit and humanity to save as many as possible to spend eternity with him (Rev 21:4-7).
Before we wrap up, I want to add a note about the historical reliability of Scripture. I’ve cited a lot of Scripture above because it’s vital to know where we get our beliefs from. I also wanted to show you that these beliefs are in the Bible, not things we’ve made up. As Christians, the Bible is the standard for what we believe. Maybe you’ve heard that Scripture isn’t reliable. How do you respond? Rest easy because both the Old and New Testaments are historically reliable. I want to recommend some resources that may help assure you that this is true.
For more information about the historical reliability of the Old Testament, I recommend this short video [5:37] of a conversation between Tim Keller and Martin Bashir, as well as this video [3:55] featuring Dr. Sean McDowell.
For the New Testament, you may find this video [1:14:00] of Dr. Craig Blomberg from Denver Seminary helpful. As a general overview of the reliability of all of Scripture, you may be interested in this article from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
Remember, this is just a basic overview of what Christians believe, and the Scripture references are not meant to be exhaustive. Even though there are different denominations and sects, most orthodox Christians believe the fundamentals provided above.What does the Bible teach about God, Jesus, the Trinity, the afterlife, and salvation? Do YOU know the basics? #apologeticsmatters Click To Tweet
Is there a fundamental doctrine that we missed, or one that you have always been confused about? Let us know about it in the comments!
Lindsey Medenwaldt is our resident Mama Bear expert in world religions. She is a perpetual student and a bonafide nerd (but the good kind), and she has a J.D., as well as a Master’s in Public Administration. Currently, she’s earning a Master’s in Apologetics and Ethics at Denver Seminary and will graduate in May 2019. She’s been married to another apologist, Jay, for 12 years, and they have three incredible daughters, ages 11, 8, and 5.