applying Occam’s razor to Christianity…

When (Barnabas) arrived (in Antioch) and saw evidence of God’s grace, he was overjoyed and encouraged everyone to remain fully committed to the Lord. Barnabas responded in this way because he was a good man, whom the Holy Spirit had endowed with exceptional faith. A considerable number of people were added to the Lord. Barnabas went to Tarsus in search of Saul. When he found him, he brought him to Antioch. They were there for a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching large numbers of people. It was in Antioch where the disciples were first labeled “Christians.” Acts 11:22-26

Occam’s Razor is the principle that, of two explanations that account for all the facts, the simpler one is more likely to be correct.

– Derek Maul lives, thinks, and writes in North Carolina

Wednesday evening, while talking with the mid-week men’s Bible study, I noted an interesting principle. It was something so obvious I don’t know why I haven’t considered it before – or at least paused while the thought bounced around, long enough for the truth of it to sink in.

Essentially, my observation is the Occam’s Razor of Christianity.

I had posed the following question as part of our ongoing discussion around sharing faith. “If someone wanted to know what it is to be a Christian, then what would you say?”

The answers were all thoughtful, honest, open windows into the faith of the Wednesday evening men. What I especially appreciated was the absence of pre-packaged catch-phrases or formulaic language. Nobody had – ding ding ding!!! – the “right” answer.

But I did notice something I can’t let go of. Let me try to explain.

The Essential Truth:

Several of the guys offered heartfelt, beautiful, “rings true” statements comprising just one or two key phrases. Things such as, “Being a Christian means to love and trust Jesus.” Or, “To understand and accept what Jesus did for me through his death and resurrection.” Or, “to remind people of who Jesus was and what he did.” Or, “To love in the way Jesus loved.”

Then, some of them tried to say some more, explaining or elaborating. And I immediately thought of Occam’s Razor because – while nobody said anything wrong, or heretical – the more they said the less clear their definition of “Christian” became.

In the New Testament, the early believers were first known as “Followers of the Way.” I have always liked that. Then, in Antioch, the name “Christian” was first used because – quite simply – these believers reminded people of Jesus.

There is such a lot of debate, and argument, and judging, and “I’m right you’re wrong!” in the world of Christianity. But at its heart the Good News is simply an invitation – through Jesus – to put our faith and trust in God, and to live in response to God’s radical love.

So I tried to sketch this out, as simply as possible:

  1. First, there is the fact of God and the obvious broken relationship between Creator and creation.
  2. Jesus was then born into history as God’s invitation to a restored relationship; “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” he said.
  3. Christianity is the religion that has been constructed around the fact of Jesus, a religion designed to point humankind toward new life in Christ.
  4. Denominations (such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Pentecostal etc.) provide a more nuanced framework, within Christianity, where people can worship in community and be encouraged to practice their faith. Our WFPC church mission statement puts it this way: “Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.”

What would people call us?

The early believers were called “Followers of the Way” because they were obviously following Jesus. They were called “Christians” because seeing them in action reminded people of Jesus. These were not self-selected names but offered in response to who they were. This begs the question, “What would people in our community likely call us (as individuals, or a church body) if they had to come up with a descriptive moniker based on what they observe…?”

This is what happens to me when I meet with the most excellent men in my Wednesday evening small group. They make me think. They make me – I believe – more faithful.


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