The Difference Between Believing the Gospels and Trusting the Gospel

I leaned over and said, “I think it may be true.” “What may be true?” asked Susie. “Christianity,” I responded. “The more I look at the Gospels, the more I think they look like real eyewitness accounts.” I spent months examining the claims of the Gospels, evaluating them with the template I typically apply to eyewitnesses in my criminal investigations. At the end of my examination, I was confident in their reliability. I believed the Gospels were telling me the truth about Jesus. But I wasn’t yet a Christian. I had what I often refer to as “belief that”. I examined what the Gospels had to say about Jesus, and after testing them rigorously, I came away with confidence in their accuracy, early dating, reliable transmission and lack of bias. But I still had a profoundly important question: “What is the cross all about? Why did Jesus have to die that way?” My wife, Susie, had been raised as a cultural Catholic, and although she was familiar with the language and doctrines of Catholicism, her answer was simply, “I don’t really know.” After months of investigation, I believed what the Gospels told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept the Gospel of Salvation.

Yesterday, CBN posted the story of my journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It’s really the first time I’ve told the story this completely, and I hope it will help you see the role evidence can play in moving someone from intellectual assent to volitional submission:

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Why It’s Important to Ask the Right Questions as a Religious Seeker

Many years ago, as an undergraduate student, my astronomy teacher used an illustration with our class to demonstrate the importance of specificity when asking a question. He cleverly told us about a dispute he had been called to settle between a professor colleague and a student (in fact, he was merely repeating what has become known as the infamous “Barometer Question” popularized by American test designer and professor Alexander Calandra). My astronomy professor claimed his colleague had asked the following question on a test: “If I led you to a tall tower, and asked you to take a barometer to the top of the tower, how would you use the barometer to calculate the height of the tower?” The professor was looking for a specific answer estimating the height of the building in proportion to the difference between the barometer readings at the bottom and at the top of the structure. But the student, capitalizing on the professor’s lack of specificity, offered a variety of answers without using the barometer as the professor had hoped:

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What should we do when we fail?

I have certainly failed many times in my life. I have said hurtful things to friends that I regret. I wish I could take my words back, but my apology does not erase the past. As a thirty-two year old single man who has never married, I’ve failed in some of my dating relationships. Earlier in my career, I made some poor financial decisions. Even this evening, I let my volleyball team down. My teammates were counting on six feet seven inch tall “Big Dave” to bring home the victory. All I brought home was lots of sand.

Have you ever felt like a failure? Maybe you’ve had an unsuccessful career, a botched marriage, or made a stupid mistake that ruined a friendship. Feeling like a complete failure can be a lonely, depressing experience. One mother expressed her feelings of failure to her pastors in this way:

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The Line

One question I often get asked is: where is the line for being a Christian or not? 

You’d be surprised at how often I get asked that question.

Some people focus on a specific point and time for a decision to follow Christ. I certainly think that any decision of that magnitude should be the watershed in your history….and a hard to forget. But for some, they don’t really remember that “point”. For some it’s more gradual.

One seminary professor put it this way: “Everyone has to cross the Mississippi River to be a follower. You’re either on one side or the other. But the Mississippi River is narrower at some points than at other points. Some step over. Others ride a boat.”

I agree.

But the real problem today is that few actually knows what constitutes the “Mississippi River” of faith. Few know where the line lies. So here’s a simple way to remember:

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Is It Wrong to Have Doubts About God?

God wants us to believe in him. He wants us to place our faith in him and believe he has our best interest at heart. So is it wrong to have some doubts creep in—doubts over what God has to say about what he has commanded in the Bible or how we are to live out the Christian life?

The faith of the great John the Baptist seemed to waver when he was imprisoned and things were looking grim. He sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).

Remember this is the man who had said, “I testify that he [Jesus] is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:34). But after John was thrown into prison he must have wondered why Jesus wasn’t coming to rescue him. Like many of us do when faced with difficulties, John the Baptist experienced doubts.

I Dreamed a Dream: What Book Can Explain Jesus?

I dreamed last night that a friend I have been praying for finally became interested in Christianity. He asked me, “What’s the best book I can read to understand Christianity?” I was puzzled. At first, I thought, Mere Christianity, only to realize that Mere Christianity is better suited for a new Christian or someone who needs to become more serious about their faith. Then I was troubled. I didn’t have an answer.

My friend had asked me the question because he had recently heard me pray. While I was praying, he realized how much Jesus means to me and desired to believe—but wasn’t convinced yet—that there could be more to life. I assumed, in my dream, that the prayer made him realize that I actually believed that I was having a conversation with God: not just that I was petitioning, but that someone on the other side heard me, listened, and spoke back.

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