If I could sit down for an hour with anyone, one person would be the late Christopher Hitchens. Everything I read about him, and much of what I’ve read by him, is fascinating to me. He was a passionate proponent of atheism and openly skeptical of the Christian faith in particular. But as skeptical and as strong a voice for the cause of unbelief as he was, what I’ve found is that he was a greater advocate of rationality—especially among the religious.
In December, 2009, Hitchens was interviewed by Marilyn Sewell for Portland Monthly. Sewell, a Unitarian minister and self-described liberal Christian, recognized his tendency to cite “fundamentalist” sources in his books. As one who doesn’t take the stories of Scripture literally and doesn’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (keep reading, we’ll get there), she wanted to know if he made a distinction between “fundamentalist faith and liberal religion.” His response was breathtaking:
I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.
Cue the altar call, y’all.
Seriously, though. Years ago, probably around the same time this interview was being conducted, I watched a video with a hipster (now ex) pastor who was delivering a message about the gospel. And at the end, he said the gospel is you. You are the gospel, he emphatically declared as the indie rock swelled.1 Which is probably the most depressing message you’ll ever hear, because I’m a pretty lousy gospel. I might be an okay witness at times, but I’m not the good news.
But what is so powerful about Hitchens’ statement is that he actually got it. He knew exactly what the gospel was, even if he didn’t believe it.2 The gospel is that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Messiah, who died for our sins and rose from the dead. Fundamentally, this is the gospel at its core.
If Christopher Hitchens could get the gospel right, surely we can, too. Let’s not get wishy washy about it. Let’s not hide it under a rock. Let’s keep boldly proclaiming this good news that is the foundation of our faith until there’s no longer anyone who needs to hear!