Day 20. The person of Christ

[above: altar of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, the church in which Sayers was baptized. Photo by DAVID ILIFF [CC BY-SA 3.0] / Wikimedia]

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (John 1:1, NRSV)

You are quite right in thinking that for Christians the emphasis is not primarily on the teaching but on the Person of Christ. That does not mean that the teaching is unimportant, but it is important because He is Who He is, and not the other way round.

—Dorothy L. Sayers, letter to Maurice Browne, November 22, 1946

Dorothy L. Sayers wrote the above words to an appreciative reader who asked her a question about the Christian faith. Her correspondents were usually ordinary laypeople who gave no possible advantage to promoting Sayers’s career or burnishing her reputation among the elite. She claimed, in a letter to C. S. Lewis, that “all spiritual experience is a closed book to me. . . . All the apparatus I have by which to apprehend anything at all is intellect and imagination.” 

Maybe so. Yet in so often explaining the basic dogmas of Christianity—patiently, charitably, accessibly, and with no reference to herself—she nudged any number of correspondents toward Christian belief and, therefore, the possibility of enjoying thought, creativity, and even experience in fellowship with God.

For myself, after a lifetime studying obviously authentic, but also extraordinarily diverse, expressions of Christian faith in the past—and witnessing in my own life a fairly wide diversity of faith expressions as well—Sayers’s advice to focus on the person of Christ makes absolute sense. Further sentences from this same letter explain why some who believe will do so primarily with the heart, others with the soul, and still others with the mind:

“The doctrine of human personality depends upon the personality of God. God is . . . the same Person that was manifested as a man in Christ, and He has made us persons in His own image. Our business in this mortal life is to build up the potential personality in us (by the grace and power available through the life of Christ) into the true personality God wants us to have. . . . God wants us to be real persons, he wants us to be ourselves.”

Whether your faith is centered on heart, mind, or soul, God in Christ welcomes all that you are.

PRAYER: Lord, I come to you as myself, bringing my heart, my mind, and my soul to the altar. Take what I have and use it for your glory. Amen.

By Mark A. Noll

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #133+ in 2019]

Mark A. Noll is the author of A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada and professor emeritus at both Wheaton College and Notre Dame.
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