The Surprise of Being a Christian

Stanley Hauerwas is a theologian and a professor of theology at Duke Divinity School.  I do not agree with everything Hauerwas teaches, and I would be extremely cautious around anyone who claimed they did.  But I do find him extremely insightful and helpful in my own thinking.

I recently finished his memoir, and I learned that his relationship with God is very similar to mine.  He writes

I still find it surprising that I am a Christian. God is just not there for me the way God is there for some people. I am not complaining. I assume that that is the way God works to make some of us have to think hard about what it means to worship God. I use the language of worship rather than belief because I am never sure if I believe in God. I do not trust myself enough to take what I believe seriously. But I do worship God, and I do so with joy.

This is how I feel.  “I do not trust myself enough to take what I believe seriously.”  That’s it precisely.  Sometimes I feel sorry for those who think they have to depend on their own capacity to believe the right things in order to saved.  It leads to all sorts of anxiety.  What if I am wrong on transubstantiation?  I feel especially sorry for apologists who feel their faith in Christ is only as strong as their most recent argument’s effectiveness.  C. S. Lewis wrote a poem called “The Apologist’s Evening Prayer”:

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
at which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Much better, as both Hauerwas and Lewis recognize, to trust in our belonging to a community that itself participates in God, the body of Christ.

As such, I am extremely grateful for the community that has handed down the faith these thousands of years, and continues to embody the truth to this day.  I criticize the church and call her to high standards, because I believe, along with Cyprian, that “he cannot have God for a father who will not have the church for a mother.”  To be born again means to be born into a relationship, into a family.

The surprise of being a Christian is the surprise that all you sought to discover and create for yourself was actually a gift, and was waiting for you all along.


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