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I've identified several potential pathways for why someone may embrace Christianity:

  • Option 1: Influence of birthplace, culture, and upbringing, possibly resulting in a 'cultural Christian'. See related discussion: How is it possible to be a "cultural Christian" without being Christian?
  • Option 2: Conversion influenced by interpersonal relationships or community dynamics. This could involve being inspired by the faith of friends, family, or mentors, or finding belonging and conviction within a Christian community.
  • Option 3: Just choosing to believe. Right now. Just believe. That's it.
  • Option 4: Persuasion through intellectual engagement, often via philosophical reasoning found in natural theology and apologetics.
  • Option 5: Personal religious, spiritual, or mystical encounters—a direct and intimate experience with the divine.

Option 1 often draws criticism from skeptics due to its reliance on factors such as parental and cultural influence, which are heavily tied to one's place of birth. This means that individuals tend to adopt the religion of their parents and the prevailing culture in their geographical area. For instance, Muslims predominantly reside in regions where Islam is prevalent, Buddhists in areas where Buddhism holds sway, and Christians in societies where Christianity is dominant. However, the mere circumstance of birthplace lacks persuasive power in determining the validity of a worldview. Hence, we can disregard this option.

Option 2 shares similarities with Option 1, yet it might appear somewhat more appealing, particularly on a psychological level, due to the perceived advantages of belonging to a supportive community. However, skeptics can readily question this option, as we can find people joining all sorts of religions around the world for similar psychological and sociological reasons. Relying on a worldview solely because the associated community offers a sense of belonging and support lacks convincing force. Therefore, we can discount this option.

Option 3 is known in philosophy as direct doxastic voluntarism. It's a highly contested view and I'm personally extremely skeptical of its existence.

Option 4 stands as a huge philosophical battleground, characterized by a vast array of debates, arguments, and counter-arguments, along with an abundance of literature exploring every major claim of the Christian faith, from the existence of God to the resurrection of Jesus. Notable examples include debates such as:

These discussions involve highly intelligent individuals representing various viewpoints. Some argue that evidence, reason, and arguments can prove the existence of God, while others disagree. Option 4 presents a double-edged sword. Some individuals may find certain philosophical arguments compelling, sufficient to ground their faith. Conversely, others may find arguments to the contrary more convincing. As an outsider, discerning which side holds the upper hand is challenging. The ongoing nature of these debates, spanning millennia, may suggest an epistemological stalemate where neither side manages to sway the other convincingly. This impasse might lead one to consider agnosticism as a more intellectually honest and humble stance (Why Am I Agnostic? by the Majesty of Reason YouTube Channel provides further insights).

If we dismiss Options 1 and 2 due to their lack of persuasiveness, and Option 3 due to its profound philosophical controversies, we're left with Options 4 and 5. However, Option 4, despite being a fervent philosophical battleground, offers no clear path to resolution. Therefore, we'll also set it aside. This leaves us only with Option 5, which, in my humble opinion, appears to be the most promising avenue. After all, what better foundation for one's faith in God than a direct encounter with God? What better basis for faith in Christ than a personal encounter with Christ? The Apostle Paul's experience, vividly depicted in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, echoes this sentiment perfectly well.

Which Christian theological perspectives would agree to a significant extent with this reasoning?

Which Christian theological frameworks support anchoring one's faith in a direct encounter with God?


Clarifications on Option #5

The five options I have enumerated and described above have been criticized in the comments due to (purportedly) lacking "love". Quote:

What is completely absent from all of this is any trace of love whatsoever. We love him, because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19. Down-voted and voted to closure for lack of focus. The question has no heart. – NigelJ

The reason @NigelJ's comment is important is that all Christian religions embrace the idea of being touched by the love of Christ. If you're willing to include that in your option #5, then the question is trivial. You seemed to imply a "direct encounter with God," which would suggest standing face-to-face and talking to one another or (since you mention Paul) at least physically hearing a voice - which is a LOT different. Do you also include experiencing the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12)? In which case we're back to everybody agrees. BTW, having been a proselytizing missionary myself, options 1-4 make for a poor conversion (see Matt 13:3-8). My option #5 includes everything from standing in the presence of the Father, Jesus and/or the Holy Ghost to experiencing the Gifts of the Spirit to personal revelation - all of which, when combined with experience actually repenting and choosing to follow Christ, makes for a strong conversion. You don't seem to be interested in any of that as an option, however. – JBH

If God pours out his love over a human being, and that human being experiences such supernatural love, that's a religious/spiritual/mystical experience by my lights. So experiencing God's love is definitely encapsulated by Option 5, and thus this specific critique is misplaced in my opinion. The same goes for experiencing the Gifts of the Spirit and receiving personal revelation, as suggested by @JBH. These are all examples of spiritual experiences. However, Cessationists would take issue with the suggestion that one can experience (certain) spiritual gifts today, thus challenging @JBH's assertion that "everybody agrees".

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  • @NigelJ How is that different from Option 5? Experiencing God's love is a particular instance of encountering God, which is encapsulated by Option 5.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 8 at 2:27
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    The reason @NigelJ's comment is important is that all Christian religions embrace the idea of being touched by the love of Christ. If you're willing to include that in your option #5, then the question is trivial. You seemed to imply a "direct encounter with God," which would suggest standing face-to-face and talking to one another or (since you mention Paul) at least physically hearing a voice - which is a LOT different. Do you also include experiencing the Gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12)? In which case we're back to everybody agrees.
    – JBH
    Commented Apr 8 at 2:46
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    BTW, having been a proselytizing missionary myself, options 1-4 make for a poor conversion (see Matt 13:3-8). My option #5 includes everything from standing in the presence of the Father, Jesus and/or the Holy Ghost to experiencing the Gifts of the Spirit to personal revelation - all of which, when combined with experience actually repenting and choosing to follow Christ, makes for a strong conversion. You don't seem to be interested in any of that as an option, however.
    – JBH
    Commented Apr 8 at 2:49
  • @JBH All your examples are instances of religious/spiritual/mystical experiences, so they are encapsulated by Option 5 in my opinion. You also mention experiences with the Gifts of the Spirit. Cessationists would have a problem with that, so at least in that respect I would challenge the assertion that "everybody agrees".
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 8 at 3:06
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    – curiousdannii
    Commented Apr 9 at 5:40

3 Answers 3

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It might be quicker to consider which Christian theological frameworks rule out (or say it's 'dangerous' or suchlike) to anchor one's faith in a direct encounter with the God of Christianity. As far as I know, all orthodoxly Christian groups would say that that can be one of several different reasons for anchoring one's faith in the God of the Bible. However, from what I know of many denominations, I would think they would be careful to say that that alone could turn out to be deceptive, so it must combine with confirmatory evidence God has had written down in his holy Scriptures.

Those Scriptures record many examples of individuals having a direct encounter with God, which caused them to become Christians (as opposed to merely becoming deists.) Saul of Tarsus is a classic example. He hated Christianity and Christians so much, he was a vicious persecutor, trying to wipe them out. He already believed in the God of the Scriptures he had, but that doesn't make anyone a Christian. Even demons believe there is but one God - and shudder! (James 2:19) Then Saul had a spectacular encounter with the One he was really persecuting - the resurrected Jesus Christ - became a Christian and was renamed Paul, the Apostle.

Those 5 options are wasted on me because I find in the New Testament all I need to know about the wonderful variety of ways God calls individuals to repentantly believe in Jesus Christ for salvation (which is what turns a person into a Christian). This answer might not satisfy the OP but my simple answer is that the theological framework that supports putting one's faith in a direct encounter with the living Christ, is the entire framework of the New Testament, with nothing left out. Now, that does not stick rigidly to the wording of the question (deliberately) because I'm dealing with becoming a Christian, not just a deist.

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  • You say "those 5 options are wasted on me", and then follow that with what seems like agreement with Option 4. 🙂 Granted, "just reading Scripture" wasn't one of the examples Mark gave, but I think Option 4 properly applied would include conversion simply from hearing the Word. That, or Mark's list is definitely missing an Option 6.
    – Matthew
    Commented Apr 10 at 20:29
  • @Matthew I interpreted Anne's answer as agreeing with option #5, because she essentially cited examples of option #5 from the New Testament, and concluded that the New Testament as a whole agrees with faith being grounded in a direct encounter with the living Christ. That's a spiritual experience (option #5), not an intellectual/philosophical argument (option #4). I'm trying to apply my best exegetical skills here. Anne please correct me if I completely misunderstood what you said.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 12 at 1:16
  • @Mark It's just that I'm not up to following convoluted rationalisations; I find the most direct and clear instructions about your Q in the N.T. which does not give me 5 options to choose from. It gives me many examples of how God's hand is not restrained when he has dealings with people. He saves how, and when, he chooses. People come to know it but they don't have to explain to anyone or try to convince others. They begin to live lives transformed by the grace of God and that persuades others, as it brings glory to God. t.y. for the green tick.
    – Anne
    Commented Apr 12 at 8:39
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This appears to be a controversial question but actually I do not think it is.

All protestant churches (and I would even think Catholics as well) believe that it is by a direct encounter with God that a person is saved because anyone that encounters the gospel and is drawn to it, experiences themselves being drawn by the Father diretcly, to belive in the Son, by the Holy Spirit‘s enablement. This is an encounter with God.

John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. NIV

When this hapopens they inherit eternal life. When they are convinced of the truth, through the word, they are directly encountering the power of the Spirit, for otherwise they would consider it foolish. There can be no salvation that is not a direct experience of God.

If it was some other human method of salvation, like reason for example, then you could also be reasoned back out of it.

John 10:28 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. NIV

To be preserved and protected after new birth until death and entrance into glory is also a long ongoing personal experince of God, otherwise, we would be denying that believers have received the Spirit.

As a final observatiuon we are talking about the essence of faith, for faith is also an experience of God, transcending reason through it. I need to quote an older bible versiuon for some reason to better capture the original Greek.

Hebrews 11:1-6 NKJV

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

In other words, our faith makes us experience now, what we hope for in the future. A taste of future glory by faith. It is the ‘subsitance’ of things hoped for. This is tied to a greek word that implies experience or subsistance. That experience that we have is actually then our ‘evidence’ to ourselves of the unseen, of God. Faith creates evidence through experience. Yes some of this faith is simply experiencing the gospel preached to us, as we hear it, but also as it grows inside us and gives us a subatnce of what we hope for. It is like rivers of living water flowing from our hearts.

So not only is experience implicit in faith but our own experience proves to us the existance of the very things we believe through that tasting and experienceing. What more evidence is there that Christ rose from the dead to us besides our own selves experience rising from the dead in new birth by believing in Christ?

Of course their are fake experiences and anyone that does not keep justification by faith as there primary theological interest (for that is the gospel) may simply be deceiving themselves. However that’s another matter.

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The vast majority of conversions happen due to personal conviction and spiritual attraction to God after knowing about him. It is not necessarily a supernatural experience like a radical example of Paul, but most conversion do happen only after personal relationship and experience of God that is also supernatural.

For a sect or theology, you are looking for the Pentecost sect which has an extreme focus on a supernatural encounter of being filled with the holy spirit. Thus, they force those miraculous gifts or encounter upon themselves such as speaking in unknown tongues which leads to faking them etc. This experience is central to their salvation experience.

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    Latter-day Saints also believe in encountering God experientially. See christianity.stackexchange.com/q/100658/61679. "but most conversion do happen only after personal relationship and experience of God that is also supernatural" - What do you mean by "personal relationship"? Can you illustrate with a few examples?
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 8 at 10:57
  • It means simply feeling and experiencing a connection, attraction that this is True God. Based on various testimonies I have seen over many years. Many of them experience results in form of miracles to varying degrees then convert. Many who receive healings don't convert despite the miracles and even visions of Jesus.
    – Michael16
    Commented Apr 8 at 13:09

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