Guest Post by: Dr Myk Habets[1]

This I Believe

It is a useful exercise to have to clarify what it is you really believe. Here I am thinking of the efforts of the great C.S. Lewis, Oxford don and advocate of Christianity who spoke of his ‘mere Christianity’, or G.K. Chesterton, arguably one of the best writers of the twentieth Century, who simply spoke of Orthodoxy. ‘This I Believe’ is my attempt to briefly present a sort of ‘Dummies Guide’ to my Christian belief for people who have no resemblance to dummies whatsoever. In presenting my beliefs I hope to stimulate your own attempts to think through what you believe.

To begin allow me to speak to my context. I am a man, a husband, a father, and a Christian. I am a conscious and devoted follower of the God who has revealed himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In this I am not alone, of course. Christianity has three grand traditions: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Protestantism. While each tradition has its origin each also claims to be the most faithful expression of what it means to be a God-fearer and Christ follower. While I have the utmost respect for my Orthodox and Catholic sisters and brothers in Christ, I prefer the Protestant flavour. More particularly, I am a Reformed Protestant, those who affirm the basic truths of Christianity around several phrases:

  • Sola scriptura (Scripture alone) – the Christian scriptures are the ultimate authority for Christian belief and practice.
  • Sola gratia  (by grace alone) – a right relationship with God may only be received as a gift – that is, by grace.
  • Sola fidei (by faith alone) – relationship with the Christian God requires individual trust. 
  • Sola Christos (By Christ alone) – there are many ways to Jesus but only one true way to God – through Jesus alone. And,
  • Soli Dei gloria (to the glory of God) – all we think, say, and do must be to the glory of God who is the highest good of all.

I am an ecumenical Theologian by vocation. By ‘theologian’’ I refer to the fact that I am an established member of the academic guild of theological educators. I have a PhD in systematic theology, I publish articles and books on constructive theology, and I teach students and supervise theses and dissertations on theology.

By ‘ecumenical’ I mean that my ultimate commitments are larger than to any one sect of the Christian tradition. As faithful witnesses to Scripture, I believe in the ecumenical creeds of Christendom which are binding on the whole church. Here I am thinking specifically of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Definition, and the Athanasian Creed. As a theologian I seek to work within these confessional standards, making clear what they made clear. Thus ecumenical theology is theology for all Christians, regardless of tradition. Ecumenical Christianity seeks to uphold the standards of the faith ‘believed by all people everywhere,’ as one early Father of the faith expressed it.

What then constitutes the essential content of my ecumenical, confessional Christianity? While we could fill an entire books in reply, I think it fair to say there are several unique claims the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ. I want to address four of them.

1. Jesus and the Scandal of Particularity

‘The dogma of the Incarnation is the most dramatic thing about Christianity’, wrote Dorothy Sayers in 1937. And she was correct. She continues, ‘And indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment.’[2] In a letter she wrote in 1945 Sayers speaks of the ‘scandal of particularity,’ the fact that Jesus Christ was a real person, in a real place, who lived a real life. And that life was a disclosure of the nature of God. Unfortunately, writes Sayers, ‘the people of that time had not the faintest idea that it was happening.[3] Here I wish to pick up on her phrase – the scandal of particularity, a phrase which has gone on to enjoy an extended outing. It is the particularity of Jesus to which Christianity claims is part of its uniqueness. We hear this from such texts as John 14.6 and Romans 10.9. It is this claim that God resides in a real human person, a man from Galilee, a carpenter, that is at the core of Christianity and forms the basis for the critique of those who wish to challenge Christianity. This is the scandal of particularity.

Let us be clear on what the Christian claim is. According to the early creeds Jesus Christ has a complete, real, substantial human nature. He is the same as you and me. And yet at the same time Jesus Christ has a complete, real, substantial divine nature. He is the same as the Father and the Spirit – he is God. In mathematical terms, always a clumsy vehicle for speaking of divine mysteries, we may say Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine – at the same time. In non-technical speak Jesus is unique, a one-off. But what sort of ‘one-off’’ we may ask. Is he the prototype or the archetype? This is important. If Jesus is the prototype then we may assume he has been bettered. By who? Well by us of course! This is a view Christianity rejects. Thus Jesus is seen as the great archetype. In fact the Apostle Paul writes that Adam, the first created human in the biblical story, is the prototype and Jesus is the Last Adam, the great archetype (1 Cor 15.45). This has immense implications.[4]

A Christian understanding of Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine also requires that people believe human flesh can be a suitable vehicle for divine incarnation. Any philosophy or religion that despises the flesh for any reason is thus incompatible with Christian theology. Those Christians and non-Christians alike who have sought to downplay the flesh, to diminish the role of the body or of things physical, have, in the opinion of ecumenical Christianity, grossly misunderstood the incarnation. You may know of this through the caricatures of Puritanism, or Christian prudishness, or some such. Here, as elsewhere, we must make a distinction between Christianity and individual adherents – the Christians. If nothing else, the incarnation shows that Christianity is a physical religion, related to our reality in every way possible.

2. God the Wholly Other

The second unique claim the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ concerns the question: Who is God? Note that the question is not ‘What is God?’ but ‘Who is God?’ To ask ‘what is God?’ comes close to blasphemy in the Christian tradition. God is a mystery and to ask of God – what are you? – is tantamount to asking God to give us knowledge of all mysteries and thus, to take the place of God himself. But to ask ‘who is God?’ is an incredibly biblical thing to do. In the Old Testament prophets, poets, and writers of wisdom we often find them asking God who he is. Moses, the liberator of Israel, asked God who he was. In the New Testament the disciples ask the same question. Each time God answers and each time he reveals more and more of who he is.

First we note that God is ‘wholly Other’ as the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth called him, bigger, different – transcendent. This is illustrated well when, in her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris includes the following account of the encounter between Moses the liberator of the Jews and God:

Seeing a bush that burns and yet is not consumed, Moses decides to investigate [and] God speaks to him from the bush, saying ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’

     When God demands that he return to Egypt, to Pharaoh himself, and boldly lead the Israelites to freedom, Moses understandably wants to know a bit more about this God who is addressing him. He proceeds by indirection. Not daring to ask God who he is, Moses says instead, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?’ God’s answer is hardly comforting: ‘I will be with you.’ And then follows one of the scariest passages in the Bible. God tells Moses that he will know for certain it is God who has called him to this task only when it is accomplished. Only when he has brought the people with him to worship on this mountain.

     This is a God who is not identified with the help of a dictionary but through a relationship. One that demands great willingness to trust and take risks. Moses is flummoxed. He knows that his own people will need convincing, that they will demand to know this God’s name. The next passage might be seen as the premier Jewish humour, a theological vaudeville routine. ‘What is your name?’ Moses asks, and God says, ‘I Am Who I Am.’ Moses might as well have asked, ‘Who’s on first?’[5]

When we speak of the transcendence of God we are talking about that sense in which God is above and beyond us. It tries to get at his supreme and altogether greatness. Transcendence describes God in his consuming majesty, his exalted loftiness. It points to the infinite distance that separates him from and for every creature.

But this is merely a prelude to the real answer to the question Who is God? God is other, God is transcendent and immanent, God is personal and powerful, but who, who is this God? The theological clarification of this point revolves around the doctrine of settled belief in God the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Ecumenical Christianity affirms its belief, shaped by the life of Christ, that God is one Being, three Persons. God is a community, a divine fellowship, a perichoretic union in which three Persons are so identified with each other and so constitute each other they are, literally, in and of the other so completely that while remaining Three, they are simultaneously One. While various analogies could be employed to unpack that dogma, like jazz music or dance, they finally fail to adequately describe who God is like (mostly because they are actually attempts to clarify what God is).

Christianity has an entire arsenal of arguments to account for its belief in God the Trinity, formed over centuries of reflection on the implications of the life of Jesus the Christ, but I shall spare you from these for the moment. Perhaps it is sufficient for me to state the belief and leave it at that. Christians worship God in their worship of the Father of the eternal Son, in their worship of the eternal Son of the Father Almighty, and of their worship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Sonship and bond of love between the Father and the Son. That is who Christians claim God is.

3. God is God – But what are we?

Central to Christian views of humanity is the contention that men and women are created by God, and are created in his image. Thus: ‘The real human is not what we now find in human society,’ writes one contemporary theologian. He continues,

The real human is the being that came from the hand of God, unspoilt by sin and the fall. In a very real sense, the only true human beings were Adam and Eve before the fall, and Jesus. All the others are twisted, distorted, corrupted samples of humanity. It therefore is necessary to look at [humanity] in [its] original state and at Christ if we would correctly assess what it means to be human.[6]

Christians claim that all humans are created according to the archetype of Jesus – we are images of The Image so to speak. Thus we insist that to know what a human really is, we do not start with studies of humanity (anthropology, sociology, or psychology); rather, we start with the central narrative of the Christian faith: the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals what it means to be truly human in his life, death, and resurrection. All attempts to define what a real person is apart from Jesus Christ are reenactments of the story of Pinocchio: bad company produces bad character. Only in Christ do we find what a real human looks like. And only in Christ’s resurrection do we finally experience our true humanity.

Ecumenical Christianity is radically realistic, however. Genesis 3 tells us of humanities great Fall into sin. We are, in the language of Christianity, fallen beings, stained beings, sinful beings. And so we live with this consciousness that we are like God by design, but positively unlike him by intent. We are sinners. ‘Sinners’ – this word which has caused untold offence to untold millions through human history is still, and unavoidably still, part of Christian vocabulary. It is not that things could not have been different; it is the reality that things are not different. We live in a world of hostility, and evil, however this may be defined. And any religion or worldview has to be able to account for this.

According to the Christian worldview, sin and evil are realities – but so is Jesus the Christ and he can save us from sin and evil. To speak of evil and sin apart from the realities of grace and Jesus is a distortion. Christian philosopher Cornelius Plantinga puts it well:

God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way. Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to misunderstand its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection, and folly – to say to the world ‘I have some bad news and I have some good news’ – is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.[7]

Well said. And a good segue into the final unique claim the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ.

4. What is to become of us?  

The theme of redemption revolves around the fact that God in Christ did for humanity what humanity could not do for itself. He dealt with sin, with death, and with defilement. This is perhaps what most people think of as central to Christianity, if they think of it at all. And this is obviously important, as important as any equation is to its problem. The solution to the problem of sin addresses the negative aspects of the human condition – but it does not yet address the positive aspects, so often underplayed or even ignored both within Christianity and from outside.

Redemption from sin and evil is only half the Gospel story. This is what deals with our past, if I may so speak, but it does not yet address that which is truly startling, exciting, and most shocking in Christianity – that to which we are conformed. What is to become of us – according to Christianity in each of its three Great Traditions – Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestantism – is truly offensive to human sensibilities.

In the Old Testament, the teaching of the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God and the call of the chosen people Israel through the covenant to a closer communion with God prepared for the development of the theme in the New Testament. The New Testament teaching that God’s Son becomes human so that humanity may participate in God through the adoption of the Spirit is dealt with extensively.[8] C.S. Lewis expresses this belief in future glory and immortality in his classic little work Mere Christianity:

[God said] that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.[9]

I think you now realize why this is close to, if not completely, scandalous to the secular mind. The grand vision and end of all things, according to ecumenical Christianity, is for humans to participate in the divine Communion and yet humans remain human and God remains God! This is the classically articulated doctrine of salvation taught in Scripture, by the Fathers of the Church, and affirmed in Eastern and Western expressions of the Church today. This is what is Good News for those who believe but a stumbling block to those who do not.


What constitutes the essential content of ecumenical, confessional Christianity? I think it fair to say there are several unique claims the Christian church makes in light of the history of Jesus the Christ. I have addressed four of them. First, the question: who is Jesus? To which Christianity replies: Jesus is the Christ. Second, the question: who is God? To which Christianity replies: God the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Third, the question: Who are we (humanity) before this God? To which Christianity replies: people in need of that which they cannot get for themselves. And finally, the question: What is to become of us (humanity)? To which Christianity replies: your destiny is for immortality and the responsibilities that entails. 

This I believe! What do you believe?

[1]            Lecturer in Systematic Theology and Director of the R.J. Thompson Centre for Theological Study, Carey Baptist College. A version of this paper was originally delivered as part of the Horizons Seminars, Unitec,  April 15, 2008. Originally published as ‘This I Believe,’ The Baptist 125 no.6 (2009), 3, 23

[2]        D.L. Sayers to father H. Kelly, October 4, 1937, in The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, vol. 2, ed. B. Reynolds (Cambridge: Dorothy L Sayers Society, 1997), 43.

[3]        D.L. Sayers to I. Amesbury of Bristol, June 1, 1945, in ibid., 150.

[4]        See Col 1.15; 2.9; and John 14.9 for starters.

[5]        K. Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Oxford: Lion, 1998), 122-123.

[6]        M. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 496.

[7]        Cornelius Plantinga, Jr, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 199.

[8]        See for instance: John 120.34 (Ps 82.6), 17.20-23; Acts 17.28; and 2 Peter 1.4. It is not that these are the only verses which speak this way. Texts concerning divine sonship (Gal 4.5ff.; Rom 8.15), imitation of God (Mt 5.4-48) and of Christ (Phil 2.5-11), as well as texts presenting the new life of Christians as a pledge and anticipation of future glory (1 Cor 13.12; 2 Cor 3.18; 1 Jn 3.1-3), must all be considered in this light.

[9]        C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: Fount, 1952), 172.