When Being a Christian Is Like Being a Californian
guest post by J Warner Wallace*
I live in California; that makes me a Californian. I’ve lived here in gorgeous, temperate, beautiful Southern California my entire life (are you jealous yet?) I’ve got a right to call myself a Californian, even though I often take it for granted. After all, without doing some research online, I’d have great difficulty telling you when the state of California was even established or what that historic process looked like. I really don’t know the precise structure of California state government (i.e. how many members are in the state legislature). I also have no idea how the state government operates (i.e. the rules that govern how a bill is turned into a law), or the content of any of its core value or mission statements (if it even has such things). I barely know the names of the counties in my area, let alone the northern part of the state. I’m a rather poorly informed Californian, I will have to admit. But I do know that I like it here. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s sunny.
So if you ask me why I’m a Californian, I guess I’d really have little to offer you aside from the fact that I was born here, am comfortable here, enjoy my proximity to the beach and the beautiful weather. While those are good reasons to live here, they have nothing to do with the rich history of our state, the way the state operates or the objective truth of its propositions. I have very selfish reasons for living here and I will readily admit them.
As I travel and speak at churches around the country, I’ve come to realize that many of us are Christians in the same way I am a Californian. Maybe we have parents that were Christians and we’ve been a part of the Church for as long as we can remember. Maybe we like the Church because it’s
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comfortable, familiar or helpful. As a result, we haven’t really taken the time to understand what the Church truly claims about Jesus or about the nature of the world around us. We haven’t even taken the time to study the history of the Church or how the truth has been handed down to us. In many ways our membership in the Church is a lot like my citizenship in California; we’re just here because we were born here, it’s comfortable and it serves our purposes.
When someone then asks us why we are here, we can offer them our personal testimony, but little more. We can give them subjective opinions, but no objective evidence to support a case for citizenship in the Kingdom. Are we really satisfied with this kind of response? Will this kind of subjective response suffice in our world today? I don’t think so. I have many Mormon relatives. They are sincere, loving, devoted believers, but they are not evidential believers because they cannot hold on to the claims of Mormonism if they tried to defend them with evidence. They insist, instead, on defending them with testimony (personal, subjective reasons why they remain in the LDS Church). As Christians, we can defend what we believe about Jesus evidentially. We can make a case with the evidence from the first century and the universe around us. I pray that you and I, as Jesus followers, can become “Evidential Christians.” In the increasingly antagonistic culture in which we now live, we no longer have the luxury of being a Christian the way I am a Californian.