One of my favorites can be found in Dostoevsky's The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor chapter in The Brothers Karamazov. I have published this excerpt on this blog many times over the years, but never as an encapsulation of what it means to be a Christian. Without further ado, here is the excerpt:
Thou didst desire man's free love, that he should follow Thee freely, enticed and taken captive by Thee. In place of the rigid ancient law, man must hereafter with free heart decide for himself what is good and what is evil, having only Thy image before him as his guide.
Those lines -- spoken by the Grand Inquisitor, who is, ironically enough, an enemy of Christ -- provide an effective and succinct definition of what a Christian should be.
Not only does it cover the core features of what being a Christian means, but it also strikes at the very essence of what a Christian should do.
And it does all of this in a way that is easily comprehensible -- even to a child.
- In place of rigid, ancient law
- Free heart
- Decide for himself what is good and what is evil
- Using only Christ as his guide
As is the case with every encapsulation, this compact excerpt from Dostoevsky misses a few key features -- resurrection, everlasting life, heaven. At the same, it gets to the very root of what being a follower of Christ means -- the foundation upon which all else is constructed.
When I consider the simplicity, accessibility, and comprehensibility of excerpted lines above, I am immediately struck by all the unnecessarily complex, inaccessible, and incomprehensible aspects of Christianity that often bury the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
So many doctrines, denominations, rites, interpretations, reinterpretations, credos, creeds, tenets, precepts, principles, systems, canons, and so forth -- all created to explain and glorify the substance of an offer that is -- fundamentally -- so simple and so clear that even a child can understand it.
Christians need to become children once again -- at least when it comes to knowing what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Note added: The close positioning of "follow Thee freely" and "enticed, and taken captive by Thee" in the Dostoevsky excerpt reveal much about the spiritual freedom Christ offers.