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If you knew how quickly people would forget about you after your death, you will not seek in your life to please anyone but God. 

- St Chrysostom

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans xii. 2

‘But what about you?’ Jesus asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 

Matthew xvi. 15, 16


Christianity is a radical way of thinking, feeling, and believing.

This conviction only deepened after a conversation with an old acquaintance on social media. I had shared the quote from St Chrysostom above and received a honest and direct response from her:

“You know… I kind of think this is [garbage]. We don’t refuse to “live for God” to be remembered. We do it because sometimes it makes more sense to pick the present moment than to live for the promise of an “elsewhere” (that may or may not come)?”

As I’ve shared elsewhere, I usually don’t engage in social media debate or dialogue as it’s so often fruitless, but as I had known this person to be thoughtful and interesting, and in honour of the friendship we’d shared years ago, I dove in.

Long story longer, we found ourselves at different ends of the Christian spectrum. She found herself in a place of doubt, no longer feeling at home in the Christian faith we had shared and enjoyed fifteen years ago. Three main reasons were given:

  • She viewed the bible as largely the product of Emperor Constantine’s imperial authority and therefore a product of power meant to control the masses

  • Christianity was really a ‘white man’s’ religion that erases the unique narratives of each culture and person and therefore the desire for Christians to evangelise and grow is wrong

  • The legacy of sexism and colonialism undermined any credibility of the Christian institution and faith

I processed these three ideas she shared with her, I’ll share just a bit here with you:

  1. The revisionist historical claim about constantine reminded me of C. John Sommerville’s response to Dan Brown when he made this same claim in his fictional bestseller ‘The Da Vinci Code’:

    [Dan Brown says] that the Emperor Constantine imposed a whole new interpretation on Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325. That is, he decreed the belief in Jesus’ divinity and suppressed all evidence of his humanity. This would mean Christianity won the religious competition in the Roman Empire by an exercise of power rather than by any attraction it exerted. In actual historical fact, the Church had won that competition long before that time, before it had any power, when it was still under sporadic persecution. If a historian were cynical, you would say Constantine chose Christianity because it had already won and he wanted to back a winner.

    The thing with history is that you can’t really provide a deductive proof in a mathematical way, , but I believe that a trained historian is in a better position to make an assessment of the historical data than characters in Dan Brown’s fiction novel.


  1. The ‘white man’s religion’ claim is something I’ve heard before but, in all honesty, reveals more of the truncated perceptions of the one making this claim than it reveals any meaningful truth.

    When I look at my faith, the Christianity that shapes and animates my life, I am challenged and encouraged by Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa, Lamin Sanneh, Óscar Romero, Saint Monica, and my Grandmother Avelina Santos Blanco who first taught me the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, my native tongue.

    The message of Jesus is not owned by any one culture. It started as an ancient Jewish movement, moved to a Greek setting, then to African nations, then to Europe. And now if we look at Christianity by the numbers, it’s likely a Chinese religion.

  2. Her last point on the sordid history of the Christian religion is a reality that has been on my heart this past season. No doubt the harm done by Christianity is recorded in world history and would be incredibly evil to deny. And yet given the wonderful saints like those noted above, how do we harmonize this tension of the good and the evil in the same faith? 

    I’ve been really grateful for the historian John Dickson’s latest book ‘
    Bullies and Saints: An Honest Look at the Good and Evil of Christian History’ that has walked me through the history, painfully and honestly pointing to where followers of Jesus went extremely wrong and where they followed Jesus with integrity.

    And though I can agree with my friend that there is serious loss of credibility in the Christian institution, it does not undermine my trust in Jesus. For nothing Jesus said or did endorses the evil that humans have done in his name.

    For example, I’ve heard people often point to Christianity as endorsing slavery. But the existence of the ‘Slave Bible’ shows that’s not the case. Because slaves were given a bible with many books and verses removed, such as the book of Exodus (the story of God rescuing slaves from the evil of slavery) and many other passages that show that God is against slavery and wants freedom for all people. Clearly, if the bible endorsed slavery then slavers would have been only too happy to give their slaves the full King James. But they didn’t. Because it doesn’t.

    The message of Jesus is one of freedom and love. Jesus sees us in our slavery to sin, and that sin creates systems in the world and in our hearts that keep us enslaved to what ails us. Jesus wants to heal and restore us. To redeem us from the traps we’ve made that we’ve fallen into.

    Some Christians have really got this backward, no denying that. But as John Dickson points out, just because his playing of the opening bars of Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major is rough to say the least, nevertheless his playing isn’t an argument to dismiss the work of Bach.

    In the same way, it would be the deepest shame if we dismissed Jesus because of the real wrong some have done in his name. 


After we got through the philosophy and theology, we landed on the hurt we had both experienced in the church. She still identifies as a Christian but is processing a lot of pain dealt to her by representatives of Jesus. And we both considered that the context of our pain would make those objections she levied more persuasive as explanations and reasons to reject the Christian faith.

And what I shared with her in the end is better encapsulated by St Paul’s words in our Sunday readingsr:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans xii. 2

We are not called to conform to the patterns of this world, but to have our minds renewed by Jesus. In other words, the context from which we process our lives can’t ultimately be the narratives we weave to explain our lives to ourselves. For the narratives we weave are often hard copes, ways of explaining our lives with incomplete self-knowledge or making sense of our lives in such a way that evades responsibility for our part in our misery. This isn’t the path to healing, just another avenue of delusion, often masked in Christian circles by simple piety.

What we need is a context of truth that can carry our stories all the way to the healing we need. And that is found only in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. For only Jesus can carry the freight of our longings and sufferings, only Jesus can explain who we are and what we are meant for: we are meant for relationship with God found only in Jesus. 

Only Jesus heals and restores everything and gives us the capacity to begin to understand what has happened in our lives. Only from the life of Jesus can we begin to discern the thread of God’s presence when we thought we were alone. 

Only in Jesus can we know that our suffering isn’t meaningless, rather as we give our suffering to God, God begins to grow in us a ‘weight of Glory’. This weight of Glory is a garden in our very being that grows in us the life of God. And it is this Divine life that swallows up pain and creates love, that swallows up alienation and creates community, that swallows death and creates life. 

For this reason Christianity is a radical way of thinking, feeling, and believing. And because it is true, it is our only hope.

My friends, some of your lives are a desert, they look great on paper but inside there’s a spiritual dryness that no amount of hiking or mountain vistas can enliven. You’ve tried everything else. Now all that’s left is to answer the question Jesus is asking: who do you say that I am?

My prayer for my life and yours is that we answer with St Peter when he says:

‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

For only the Son of the living God has what you need. He gave his life that you might have the chance at the life you were always meant to have. A life full of peace and love forever, and that can begin today if you let it.