Professor writes textbook to reinforce core Christian beliefs among students
“The Basics of Christian Belief” is available to the public for Bible studies and class curriculum
Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078 |
Fueled by a desire to fight a current trend within today’s younger generation to water down Christian faith into generally moral wishful thinking, Lipscomb University Associate Professor Josh Strahan (’04) has written a new book, The Basics of Christian Belief: Bible, Theology, and Life’s Big Questions, that will be incorporated into the freshman Bible curriculum at the university this fall.
Having taught courses in freshman Bible and the New Testament at Lipscomb since 2011, Strahan sees this trend, described as moralistic therapeutic deism by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, lived out in front of him each school year.
“Moralistic therapeutic deism takes ideas such as the priority of love or the hope of heaven from a Christian framework, but it doesn’t have the pillars that can support it—pillars such as the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It lacks substance. It’s rhetoric without reasoning. This can become especially apparent in times of crisis,” noted Strahan, “when one realizes that it offers no real basis for hope other than wishful thinking.
“But Christianity provides the framework to make sense of love and grace and mercy and peace and hope,” he said. “That’s part of the reason it’s so necessary to see what Christianity is doing.”
Based almost entirely on intuition, rather than on Scriptures or history or reason, this watering down of Christianity is characterized by the following commonly held spiritual beliefs, Strahan noted:
- Moralistic – There are right ways to act and wrong ways to act. Being a “good” person is something to strive for, but there’s no explicit authority that determines which things are good and which are bad.
- Therapeutic – Spirituality should help us feel better about ourselves and propel us to achieve our true potential. It also provides hope that good people will go to heaven, and really bad people might have to face some form of retribution.
- Deistic – This is the type of deism where God interacts with a light touch: offering some assurance, some peace, some inner guidance. But God’s not really doing anything drastic. Humans are ultimately masters of their own lives.
Strahan has noticed more students in his college classes and in Sunday school classes adhering to this generic worldview. It doesn’t seem to matter whether participants have attended church their whole lives or not: It seems that students don’t always know the basics of Christianity, why those basics matter and, most importantly, what makes Christianity both distinct and beautiful, he said.
In The Basics of Christian Belief, Strahan sets out to explain in detail the significance of Christianity. The book is intended to be used as a college textbook or as a study guide for church groups or Sunday school classes looking to explore the significant themes of Christianity.
The book is split into three parts. First, it goes over the Biblical story line (the Old Testament, the Gospels and the New Testament) in a sweep of Scripture intended to let readers know major players and events, as well as how they fit together.
The second part of the book goes over the Apostles’ Creed, a confession of central ideas in the Christian faith that’s been around for centuries and is rooted in early church practice. “Before there were easily accessible Bibles, before there was a lot of literacy, it was a shorthand way of handing down the faith and making sure people knew what was central,” explained Strahan.
The third part of the is book an explanation of how Christianity is doing something distinct among worldviews and religions.
“There is an assumption that is very much influenced by the dominant culture that all religions are basically the same,” said Strahan. “This book is a way of saying, no, in fact that is not true. While there may be some overlapping beliefs and morals, Christianity is offering a unique perspective on life—a distinct set of answers to questions about who God is, what it means to be human, how to live wisely and what happens after we die.”
The Basics of Christian Belief explores why we need to know Scripture and how we can benefit from the ancient wisdom passed down from the early church in the Apostles’ Creed. Strahan noted that Christianity has thrived in various locations and cultural settings for nearly two thousand years. Despite all this diversity, the Apostles’ Creed has been, and continues to be, regarded by the Church as basic wisdom, having stood the test of centuries, cultural shifts and denominational differences.
Asking life’s big questions
One of the threads that runs through the book is “Life’s Big Questions.” Strahan says exploring these questions is a great way to show comparison among worldviews.
For example, is there a God? Do we have a soul? What is the purpose of life? What happens after death? Is there a right and wrong, and how do we determine what those are?
Those big questions that everyone has to deal with crop up throughout the book and provide points of comparison. Strahan uses these as a way to illustrate what is beautiful about Christianity.
“I think when we slow down, when we’re not distracted by the business of life and the pull of smart phones and social media, we know those big questions really matter,” he said.
The Basics of Christian Belief is available through Amazon.com.
About the author
Strahan has worked in both campus and youth ministry in Tennessee and recently received an Outstanding Teacher Award at Lipscomb. He received his bachelor's degree in Bible from Lipscomb University in 2004, his Master of Divinity degree from Abilene Christian University in 2008 and his Ph.D. in New Testament from Fuller Theological Seminary in 2011.