Keeping Jesus Alive
by Paul Walker
For the last two months I have worked (as a hospital chaplain)
in the secular world, after sixteen years in a Church-based ministry. The
contrast is marked.
One constant, however, is certain people�s insistence that I am not
really a Christian.
While working as a parish priest I was always honest about my beliefs.
People knew that I couldn�t accept the gospel narratives as literal
history. Specifically, I didn�t believe Jesus� mother was a virgin or that
he was literally resuscitated three days after his death. People knew that
I considered the Nicene Creed an interesting part of the Christian
tradition to which I belonged. As such, I was happy to recite it. But they
recognised that I didn�t believe that it accurately described God.
Members of my congregations on the whole accepted that these were my
beliefs. But often more conservative colleagues would become quite annoyed
and insist that I was not a Christian. My attempt to live as I understood
Jesus demanded was not considered relevant. My faith was judged by my
beliefs. These were not "orthodox", or "biblical" or "the faith once
delivered to the saints". So I couldn�t be considered a Christian.
The other day I fell into conversation with two members of staff at the
hospital in which I now work. Both described themselves as atheists. They
were talking about attempts at creating meaning. They asked for my take. I
explained that I thought Christianity is a way of life which demands a
radical rethink of what it is to be human and that it is based upon the
incredible teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. I explained, however, that I
believed that a lot of the traditional stuff about miracles, virgin births
and resurrections was not really part of the core of Christianity but an
ancient attempt to explain things which are hard to grasp.
Both the people to whom I was talking found they were interested in
what I was saying but insisted that it was not Christianity. For them
Christianity is a set of impossible beliefs which they can dismiss.
I suggest that their problem is that my arguments are credible.
Atheists on the whole do not wish Christians to make sense. Better by
far that they remain people who believe, for instance, in the literal Adam
and Eve story. Then they can be dismissed as crackpots.
And there's the rub. I know that many readers of this website come here
because it offers thoughts on Christianity which seem sensible and
thought-provoking. It suggests a kind of faith which might be possible for
intelligent, educated people at the start of the twenty-first century.
That is precisely the kind of faith which is not much on display on the
Internet or elsewhere. It is as if there was a conspiracy between
conservative believers and atheists to prevent a credible faith being
For several years I gave short talks on the radio for the British
Broadcasting Corporation, a notably secular organisation. Two years ago I
explained how the Christmas story was mythical. This created a surprising
controversy and I was told I would not be used again. It is as if we have
either to accept a Sunday School version of Christianity or dismiss the
whole lot. Atheists suggest that the only version of Christianity on offer
is a simplistic one in which we deny our intellect and believe the
This is a quick and easy way to kill Christianity off completely.
Those who come to this website may be told by certain Church leaders
that they are not really Christians. But they nevertheless hold to their
I believe that it is people like you who might just keep the teachings of
Jesus alive for the next generation.