Introduction to Christianity


1.      Numbers: 1,870 million observers – largest religion in the world.; 33% of the world’s population; (19% Catholic, 8% Protestant, 3% Orthodox, rest other forms of Christianity)

2.      A faith based on the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus – a Jew, lived in Roman-occupied Palestine about 2K years ago, taught for less than three years, executed by the Roman government on charges of sedition.

a.       What can we know abut Jesus and his teaching?

1.      Nothing written about him at the time; later, some record of what he had said and done

2.      What we know comes almost entirely from accounts in the Christian Bible, some from historians’ knowledge of the period

b.      The Christian Bible: Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and New Testament (27 books)

1.      Traditionally regarded as the divinely inspired word of God

2.      Hermeneutics: the field of theological study that attempts to interpret scripture.  Two major approaches: literal and allegorical

3.      First four books of the NT: Gospels (“good news”).  Pseudonymous, given names of two of Jesus’ followers (Matthew and John) and Paul’s companions (Luke and Mark).  Greek and Aramaic.

1.      Synoptic: M, M, & L.  Similar

1.      Markan priority, Q

2.      Gospel of John: focus on Jesus as son of God, Word made flesh

1.      Greek influence (light and darkness), mystical

3.      Other gospels circulated, not included in the cannon: Gospel of Thomas. Found in a cave near Nag Hammadi Egypt (1945).  Possibly earlier than the synoptics.  Magical stories of Jesus childhood.  Mystical conception of Jesus.  I am the light that is above them all.  I am the All.

3.      Diversity and unity: central features:

a.       One God, who created all things and rules of history. Highest goal in life is to act in harmony with the will of God

b.      Doctrine of trinity: unique to Christians.  God is one yet three persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

c.       Reality of God is uniquely revealed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The eternal Word of God is brought to humanity through the person and life of Jesus, who suffered and died on the cross for the sins of humankind, then rose from the dead three days later and ascended to heaven forty days after that. Reigns in heaven until the end of time, when he comes to judge the living and the dead in the final resurrection.

4.      Sin is humanity’s biggest problem.  Two dimensions of sin:

a.       Idolatry: treating anything that is not God as though it were equally important (e.g., wealth and power)

b.      Injustice: mainly the mistreatment of others

c.       Christians unique in their understanding of sin and how to overcome it: Sin defined in terms of original sin: the will to do good in human beings has been corrupted by the sin of disobedience to God’s will by the first human beings, Adam and Eve eat of the fruits of the tree of knowledge.  Now humans are compelled to act selfishly, enslaved to the power of sin, not fully able to observe the will of God.

5.      A savior:  Out of compassion for humankind, God sends a savior – his own son, Jesus – to redeem the world by dying in reparation for their past sins.  Recreates good will in them, restores human destiny to the goal of eternal life with God. Jesus known as the eternal Word of God, was God incarnate.

6.      How should we live?  To overcome sin and live a spiritual life, die to self and rise up spiritually through a life of faith in Christ = to become a new creature and be part of a new creation in which sin and death are overcome, just as Christ overcame death on the cross through bodily resurrection.

7.      The kingdom of God: – a new creation of love, compassion, and justice.

a.       The question of how to accomplish the goal of this kingdom becomes framed in terms of the relationship between the church and the rest of the world.