Guest Post Written by Dr. Craig Blomberg on "Why I Am Still a Christian."

I invited Dr. Blomberg to write a post to challenge us at DC, and he's graciously responded in the interests of a fair discussion of the ideas that separate us. No disrespectful skeptical response to such a respected scholar will be published.

Why I Am Still a Christian, by Dr. Craig Blomberg:

I was raised in what I later learned to identify as a very liberal parish of the old Lutheran Church in America. I was confirmed in 1968, the year American society seemed to be falling apart. I took it as seriously as anyone in my confirmation class, which isn’t saying all that much. We spent more time discussing Simon and Garfunkel lyrics and Jesus Christ Superstar than we did Luther’s Catechism.

In my public high school my best friend brought me to our Campus Life club. There for the first time I met kids my own age who spoke about having a personal relationship with Jesus and it was clearly making a difference in their lives. In a culture in which “eggheads” like me who were neither athletic nor very good looking, and as a result had very few friends, they genuinely befriended me (and many others). I wanted what they had and prayed one February night in 1970 to receive Jesus as my Savior and to make him my Lord. But it wasn’t so much a revolutionary new idea as my sense that this was what the Lutherans had once been about but had given it up, at least in my church, for newer, trendier things.

I was valedictorian of my high school class of 750. I set out to be a mathematician. (I did teach high school math for one year.) In college, I encountered religious studies taught from a perspective that publicly acknowledged it was trying to destroy historic Christian faith. A delightful church history professor (and an ordained Lutheran) once told us with a big grin but very seriously that it was impossible to be an evangelical Christian and maintain one’s intellectual integrity. I was enough of an intellectual I determined to see if I thought he was right. Fortunately we had a good library and a couple good local bookstores where I found resources in abundance, not in any religion professor’s bibliographies, that convinced me he was wrong. A disproportionate number of those books in the mid-1970s were written by British scholars or by Americans who taught at a school near Chicago called Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so I decided to go to seminary at TEDS and, later, to doctoral study in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Most seminarians complain of periodic spiritual dry times. I didn’t have that experience. I had spent the previous eight years trying tactfully to share my faith with any who would listen. I’m not sure there were any of the major challenges to Christianity that I didn’t encounter in those volatile years. I had found what I thought were some good answers to some of the questions, but seminary enabled me to find a whole lot more and, of course, to discover how much I didn’t know in other areas of theology. So I proceeded to doctoral study. I felt called to teach New Testament studies and have done so ever since, first at the undergraduate and then at the graduate level.

Why am I still a Christian all these years later? First, I have to stress what I don’t mean by the word “Christian”. I don’t mean someone who has to be politically conservative. On many issues, I am not; I voted for Obama. I don’t mean someone who has to be a creationist; I believe in an old earth and theistic evolution. (One of my daughters, when she was too young to know her hilarious double-entendre, once summed up my views as succinctly as anything I’ve ever heard: if there was a big bang, there had to be a big banger!) By Christian I don’t mean someone who knows God’s will for those who haven’t been given a credible chance to respond to the gospel. As I’ve studied Christian history, I’ve learned there are about six major approaches to the question. I have some hunches, but I ultimately retreat to my convictions about God’s justice and grace. I can trust him to work it out. As for judgment more generally, I like two excerpts from C. S. Lewis in particular. First, there will be three surprises in heaven: who’s there, who’s not there, and there I’m there! Second, there are only two kinds of people in the world—those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.” Finally, by a Christian, I don’t mean someone who pretends to have the problem of suffering and evil solved. But again, an easy-to-remember tripartite answer goes a long way for me. Why doesn’t God do something (or do more than he has)?

(1) He has done something. He sent Jesus to die for human sin, which is a major contributing factor to suffering and evil, and to begin a process of transformation in them for the better. (2) He is doing something, not least in the ways throughout church history in which Christians have helped make the world a substantially better place. (If all you’ve ever studied are the ways people have done bad things in the name of Jesus, check out a book like New Zealander and Oxfordian Nathan Hill’s What Has Christianity Ever Done for Us: How It Shaped the Modern World [2005] and discover the disproportionately large role it has played over the centuries in the disciplines of literature and law, medicine and science, art and education. Note, too, who comes forward to help the most in response to contemporary disasters and who most keeps long term relief and development programs afloat.) (3) He will do much, much more, eventually righting all the wrongs of the world. But the only way that can happen will be for him to intervene so as to abolish human freedom to rebel against him, which will mean the end of the world as we know it and the end of any opportunity for people to freely choose for him as well. He delays the end because of his mercy.

As you can tell, I’ve already begun to answer my own question. The short summary answer to why I am still a Christian is because I haven’t found any other world view, ideology, religion, or –ism that makes nearly as much sense of all of the pieces of the world as I have studied and experienced it. After tragedies like 9/11 or, locally, Columbine, I marvel at those people who can say all humans are basically good. It was G. K. Chesterton who once wrote that the depravity of humanity is the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith! But I also marvel at those who can say that atheistic evolution can account for all of human behavior. What about the sheer altruism, utterly unmotivated by self-interest, which leads firefighters to sacrifice their lives by running back into towering infernos? Only the concept of humans made in the image of God can account for that in my estimation.

In fact, if Christians have to wrestle with the problem of evil, so must everyone else. Indeed, we must all wrestle as well with the problem of good. Where do these concepts come from? What makes the most hardened atheist (usually) insist that there is something just plain wrong, perhaps even immoral, with torturing prisoners, abusing children, raping women, and with someone else gratuitously murdering them. The most advanced of apes has never disclosed any awareness of systems of morality, which is why we never arrest and imprison them, even if they kill humans. (We might euthanize them once in awhile, but not as retributive punishment, merely to protect the rest of humanity.) And we certainly don’t condemn multiple-partner animals of being unfaithful to their mates. Mark Twain (no evangelical he!) put it well: “Man is the only animal that blushes, or needs to.” Near the end of his life, Darwin admitted he had no satisfying explanation for human moral consciousness and reasoning.

Most (not all) atheists I meet are not interested in talking about religion or ideologies that function like religion. No matter how tactful I try to be, they respond to my questions either by changing the subject or by ridiculing or getting angry with me. I do not see them having an overarching purpose that gives their life meaning and fills them with deep joy and confidence in the future despite all the trauma of the present. I do see this, though, in countless theists, especially Christians (which is not to deny that we still sin, sometimes in big ways, and that there are even a few perennial “jerks” in our midst!).

Watching people die is an experience everyone should have at not too old an age in life, but many today don’t because we have hidden death by institutionalizing it. I’ve watched a number of people dying in my 53 years of life and it’s then when you find out someone’s true colors. If there is no afterlife and this life is all there is, I still can’t think of any better way to die than with the peace and quiet confidence I’ve observed in and discussed with several Christians who’ve told me they can’t explain it, it wasn’t anything they conjured up in their own strength, it was simply given to them for their last days. If there is an afterlife and the possibility of being part of the new heavens and earth as Revelation 21-22 describes, however metaphorically, why would anyone not want to be a part of it?

That, in a nutshell is why I am still a Christian. Thanks for reading!