Christianity For Dummies®


by Richard Wagner

Foreword by Kurt Warner

Super Bowl and NFL MVP




About the Author

Richard Wagner is author of numerous books, including Christian Prayer For Dummies, and is publisher of Digitalwalk (, a Web-based Christian discipleship magazine. He has been a guest on Christian radio programs across the country discussing prayer and Christian discipleship issues. Rich has served in church leadership and teaching roles for more than a dozen years. He graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from Taylor University and pursued graduate studies at The American University in Washington, D.C. He lives in Princeton, Massachusetts, with his lovely, quirkless wife and three terrific, though zany boys. You can e-mail Rich at



In the process of writing this book, I was blessed with a superior editing team: Alissa Schwipps, who did a splendid job of managing the project from start to finish; Kristin DeMint, for her terrific ideas and editing prowess; and Dr. Winfried Corduan, for his wisdom, thoughtful insights, and keen suggestions to help ensure the accuracy and representative nature of the book’s text. What’s more, special thanks to Alissa and Kristin, the duo who always seemed to know just the right tweak to make to improve the flow or readability of the book.

Thanks to Kathy Cox at Wiley for her enthusiasm about the book, from the proposal stage to the finished product.

I’d also like to thank my father, Joseph Wagner, who provided helpful, honest feedback on the chapters. I’d also like to thank Pastor Eric Hartlen and everyone at Heritage Bible Chapel for their consistent prayers and encouragement.

Heartfelt thanks to Kurt Warner for his participation in this project and to Marci Moran at Kurt’s First Things First foundation for the work she performed to make it all happen.

Finally, I’d especially like to thank my wife, Kim, and my three sons, Jordan, Jared, and Justus. No author has ever had a homefield advantage like I have; their 2 4/7 prayer support and unbridled enthusiasm for this book were the fuel that the Lord used to help get it from page one to the back cover.



To Joe Wagner — my father, teacher, and friend


Publishers Acknowledgments

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I love a good road trip. It’s a chance to jump into the car by myself with no particular destination, just enjoying the drive and whatever else comes my way. I’ve taken many of these rides during the course of my life, but they were all small-time compared to the one I’m on now — my spiritual road trip. This life-long excursion has just a single purpose: getting to know God through Jesus Christ.

My journey began in a small Iowa town over thirty years ago. I trekked all over Iowa, through most of the United States, and even across the Atlantic. I rose from the unknown valleys of Arena Football to play and win on the center stage of all American sports — the Super Bowl. Through my professional football and private life, I’ve experienced spectacular mountaintops, passed through low valleys, and narrowly escaped horrendous storms.

I’m not alone on this road trip; God’s right there with me. Of course, being the control freak that I am, I started off by assuming control of the driver’s wheel. I had my mind made up on where I was going to go and how I was going to get there. I didn’t need God’s help or want his company, so I quickly threw him into the trunk and started on my way. It didn’t take long, however, before I hit a few snags, had a blowout in the rear tire, and heard a loud rattle under the hood.

During these times of crisis, I’d rush to the trunk, let God out, and ask him to bail me out. Like a spare tire, I saw God as my backup plan, on call 24/7 for whenever I had trouble. I let him fix everything and, after things were fine and dandy again, I’d quickly stuff him back into the trunk.

But after I’d been traveling down the road solo for a while, the scenery became less exciting and the radio tunes grew stale. I started to feel lonely and empty inside and longed for something more. I’d routinely ask God to take a seat in the back and keep me company for a while; we even got to know each other a little bit, sang a few songs, and shared advice. But when he started to tell me where to go and what to do, I’d shove him right back into the trunk and carry on alone.

Eventually, as surroundings became less and less familiar, I discovered that I wasn’t able to rely on my instincts anymore. I kept getting lost and was unable to find my way to a life of meaning and peace. Realizing that I could use some navigation help after all, I invited God to join me in the front passenger seat as my copilot. I threw him the atlas, pointed to where I was going, and asked him to chart the way. I soon discovered that God had quite a knack for plotting a course. He always seemed to select the best route, even if it wasn’t the fastest or most convenient. Many times I didn’t agree with his routing, however, and simply chose to take off on my own. I was in the driver’s seat, after all. Yet, time after time, my plans never worked out. In the end, after 26 years of detours, diversions, and dead-ends, I finally realized that I was better off in the hands of God and decided to let him take over the wheel. So, I got out of the car, tossed the keys to God, and slid into the backseat. Yes, I sometimes act like a backseat driver, firing my thoughts and opinions at him, telling him what he should and shouldn’t do. But he always seems to look back at me with a smile, responding with grace and love.

Regardless of your situation or background, you’re at some point on your own spiritual road trip. Perhaps you’re well into the drive, or maybe you haven’t even started the engine. But wherever you are along the way, pull over at the next rest area and turn the page.

When you do, you’ll discover that Richard Wagner is waiting for you there. Rich will lead you on a journey to discover Christianity and what it’s all about. As you turn the pages, I promise you that there’ll be times you’ll laugh out loud at his offbeat approach, but the humor will never quench the truth and significance of his words.

So buckle up, grab the wheel, and set the cruise for the ride of your life. But I must warn you — by the time you’re done discovering what the Christian faith is all about, you might find yourself sliding into the backseat and tossing your keys to a new driver just like I did.

Kurt Warner
Super Bowl and NFL MVP




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Uncovering What Christianity’s All About

Chapter 1: Good News in a Bad News World

Packing Christianity into a Nutshell

Making Sense of Christian Paradoxes

Understanding How the Branches of the Church Came About

Putting It into Perspective: Christianity in the World Today

Chapter 2: Christianity: But Is It True?

Defending the Faith Through Apologetics

Exploring Whether God Exists

Demonstrating Christianity as a Livable Faith

Retracing Christianity as a Historical Faith

Chapter 3: That Amazing Stuff Called Grace

Defining Grace

Receiving God’s Gift of Grace: Salvation

Understanding Salvation by Faith

Being “Born Again”

Dealing with Hopeless Cases

Part II : Exploring the Basic Principles of the Christian Faith

Chapter 4: Sin: Why “Do’s and Don’ts” Miss the Bigger Picture

Desiring to Be Different: The Original Ego Trip

Grappling with the Definition of Sin

Empathizing with God’s View of Sin

Tying in Humans’ Relation to the Fall

Warring with Satan (And Knowing Who You’re Fighting Against)

Experiencing Temptation

Sinning After You’re “Saved”

Chapter 5: Jesus Christ: His Life, Ministry, and Radical Claims

In Brief: Introducing Jesus

Looking at How Jesus Lived

Considering Who Jesus Claimed to Be

Saving People: God’s Game Plan from the Get-Go

Questioning Why Jesus Was Crucified

Peering into an Empty Tomb: Revisiting the Resurrection

Coming to a Conclusion: Was Jesus a Good Teacher or the Son of God?

Chapter 6: Peeking Inside God’s Diary: The Bible

Retracing the Bible’s Formation

To Be or Not to Be: The Apocrypha

Reading the Bible Appropriately

Finding No Expiration Date for the Bible

Chapter 7: The Trinity: How 1+1+1 Equals 1

Introducing the Trinity

Considering God as a Whole

Examining the Three Parts of God Individually

Understanding the Significance of the Trinity

Digging Up the Biblical Foundation of the Trinity

Chapter 8: The Rite Stuff: Sacraments, Ordinances, and the Christian Faith

Understanding the Role of Sacraments and Ordinances

Baptizing Christians into the Faith

Exploring the Lord’s Supper

Maintaining a Christlike Balance

Chapter 9: Heading for Home: The End Game

Enjoying Heaven for Eternity

Being Purged of Sin in Purgatory

Going to Hell: Considering the Underworld

Awaiting the Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Part III : Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple: Peeking into the Christian Church

Chapter 10: Tradition, Tradition: The Catholic and Orthodox Churches

Transferring from a Nation to a Church

The Catholic Church: From Rome to a Parish Near You

The Orthodox Church: Restoring the Image of God in People

Chapter 11: Back to the Basics: The Protestant Church

Exploring the Protestant Reformation

Examining Core Protestant Beliefs

Breaking It Down into Denominations

Looking at More Protestant Labels

Confronting the Challenge of Modernism

Looking to the Future: Trends in Contemporary Protestantism

Chapter 12: Making Sense of Worship

I Worship, You Worship, We All Worship: Defining the Christian Tradition

Examining the Worship Service as a Whole

Exploring Ways to Worship: Liturgical Versus Free Worship

Incorporating Music: A Call to Musical Arms

Crossing Cultures with Worship

Part IV : Christian Living in a Postmodern World

Chapter 13: I’m a Christian — Now What?

Experiencing Spiritual Transformation

Fellowshipping with a Church

Going One-on-One with the Lord

Being a Disciple

Living Out Your Faith

Taking on a Christian Worldview

Chapter 14: Being in the World but Not of It

Being Salt and Light for the World

Living Out Christ’s Calling in Different Ways

Delving into the Messy World of Politics and Governing

Chapter 15: Tackling Thorny Issues in the Church

Observing Hypocrisy

Dissing Nice-Guy Thinking

Playing Salvation Monopoly

Chapter 16: Taking On Tough Issues Raised in the Real World

Wondering Why Bad Things Happen

Debating Moral Relativism

Considering Darwinism

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 17: Ten Christian Holy Days, Holidays, and Seasons


Palm Sunday

Maundy Thursday

Good Friday



National Day of Prayer

All Saints’ Day



Chapter 18: Ten Christian Leaders You Should Know About

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Thomas Aquinas

Martin Luther

William Tyndale

John Calvin

John Wesley

William Wilberforce

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Chapter 19: Ten New Testament Teachings You Should Know About

Walking Along the “Roman Road” to Salvation

Listening to the Sermon on the Mount

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Identifying with the Prodigal Son

Detailing the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Going Out with the Great Commission

Appreciating Ancestors in the Hall of Faith

Mixing Faith with Deeds

Promising the Coming of the Holy Spirit

Suiting Up with the Armor of God

: Appendix A

Glossary of Christian Lingo

: Appendix B

Timeline of Christian History

6–0 b.c. (approximate)

a.d. 27 (approximate)

30 (approximate)








































When I start to rattle off the host of names ascribed to Christians, I begin to feel like Bubba, the Alabaman shrimp farmer from the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump.

Anyway, like I was sayin’, there are born-again Christians, evangelical Christians, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, mainline denominational Christians, non-denominational Christians, charismatics, Pentecostals, and Calvinists. There are Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Free Methodist, Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and African Independent. You’ve also got your Shakers, Quakers, Amish, Coptic, Plymouth Brethren, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Evangelical Free Christians. That — that’s about it. . . .

Although the taste differences between Bubba’s shrimp burger and coconut shrimp are great, each dish has the same primary ingredient. Similarly, Christians have a multitude of names with as many shades of belief, but the centerpiece for each Christian, no matter the label, is the same — Jesus Christ, a Jewish carpenter who lived some 2,000 years ago.

Christianity For Dummies is a friendly, approachable guide that introduces you to Jesus Christ, the Christian faith, and the Christian Church. This book is written for people who are curious about Christianity and wonder what exactly it means to be a “Christian.” It’s intended both for people who aren’t Christians and for Christians who are interested in discovering more about their faith.

Keep in mind that any author brings to a book his or her background, experiences, and a specific set of beliefs. From the outset, let me make it clear that I’m a born-again, evangelical and Protestant Christian. However, my overriding goal for Christianity For Dummies is to be unbiased, fair, and respectful toward all branches of the Christian Church, so that a Christian from any of these backgrounds can point to the book and claim, “Yeah, that’s my faith.”

About This Book

If you want to know absolutely, positively all the nitty-gritty details of Christianity, I recommend getting a semi, driving to your local university library, and persuading some students to help you load up racks of books into the semi trailer. But if you want to discover what you need to know about the Christian faith, then you’ve come to the right book. Christianity For Dummies provides a hearty exploration of the Christian faith, but does so without requiring a semi or a band of starving students. This book also approaches the subject matter in an easy-to-understand manner, without overloading you with a lot of theological mumbo-jumbo.

If you read Christianity For Dummies from cover to cover, you find the topics logically ordered, with each succeeding chapter building upon what you read about in earlier chapters. However, the book is a reference book, so don’t feel like you must read it from start to finish. Instead, you may wish to open up the Table of Contents and find a topic that suits your fancy. Or flip through the pages ’til you find a section that jumps out at you. Or perhaps you want to peruse the index for the subject that you’ve been curious to explore.

Conventions Used in This Book

To help you navigate through this book, I’ve set up a few conventions:

bullet Italics are used for emphasis and to highlight new words or terms that I define.

bullet Boldfaced text is used to indicate the keywords in explanatory bulleted lists and the action part of numbered steps.

bullet Monofont is used for Web addresses.

As you read, keep in mind the following additional conventions and definitions:

bullet Capitalization: Several Christian terms mean different ideas depending on capitalization:

Church with a capital C refers to the worldwide body of Christians, while church with a small c means a local or individual church congregation, building, or parish. Another common name for the Church is the Body of Christ or simply the Body.

Orthodox with a capital O refers to Eastern Orthodox Christians, a division of the Christian Church, whereas orthodox with a small o refers to traditional, historical Christian beliefs.

Catholic with a capital C refers to the Roman Catholic Church, while lowercase catholic means “universal.”

bullet Two global Churches: Based on how the Christian Church developed through the centuries, people often draw a line of distinction between the Western and Eastern Churches. The Western Church refers to the Catholic and Protestant Churches, while the Eastern Church is another term for the Orthodox Church.

bullet Referring to Christian groups: In this book, I refer to Roman Catholics as Catholics. Likewise, I call Eastern Orthodox Christians simply Orthodox Christians.

bullet Referring to God: Christians refer to God with many names, but in this book, I generally use “God” and “Lord.” Also, in accordance with historical Christian beliefs, I make use of the traditional masculine pronoun “he” to refer to God.

bullet Referring to Christianity: Christianity sounds like a generic enough word to define, but even this term can mean radically different ideas to different people both inside and outside of the Christian Church. Therefore, when I speak of Christianity, keep in mind that I use the term in three respects:

• “Mere” Christianity: Christian author C.S. Lewis used the term “mere Christianity” to describe the core essentials of the Christian faith that any believer, regardless of his or her background, agrees on. Christianity For Dummies focuses on this common ground across the Christian Church, be it Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox. However, many important differences of belief that one can’t just sweep under the table exist among these branches of the Church. So when there is disagreement on a given topic, I point out these differences.

• “Historical” Christianity: When I claim an idea as a Christian belief, I speak of a belief that has historically been upheld by the Church for some 2,000 years, not by the latest fashionable flavor of Christian thinking that may be in vogue for the moment.

“Biblical” Christianity: Christians have always believed that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative, and reliable written Word of God. Following in this mold, this book treats the Bible as the legitimate “instruction manual” for Christians and the “bottom line” for matters pertaining to the Christian faith. (See Chapter 2 for more on why Christians believe the Bible is reliable.)

bullet Bible references: Because 1,001 different kinds of Bibles and translations are available at your local bookstore, I don’t want to use a page number when I reference a Bible passage. Therefore, when I quote from the Bible, I use the standard way to cite passages. For example, John 3:16 refers to John as the book of the Bible, 3 as the chapter number, and 16 as the verse.

bullet Bible translation: Speaking of the Bible, each Bible passage in this book is from the World English Bible translation (on the Web at On occasion, I paraphrase the text to make it more readable.

What You’re Not to Read

Although this book focuses on what you need to know about Christianity, I do deal with some topics that, though useful, are less essential for you to know, at least during your first read-through. This “skippable” material is identified as follows:

bullet Text in sidebars: Sidebars are shaded boxes that pop up here and there in the chapters. They deal with subjects related to the chapter, but aren’t necessary reading.

bullet Anything with a Technical Stuff icon: This information is technical or historical stuff that you may find interesting, but you won’t miss out on anything critical if you want to pass over them.

Foolish Assumptions

As I wrote this book, I made a few assumptions about you. Whether the assumptions are foolish or not, here they are:

bullet You may or may not call yourself a Christian, but, regardless of your experience or background, you are curious to discover more about the Christian faith.

bullet You’ve likely seen the Catholic pope on television and heard the terms Protestant and Orthodox before, but you’d probably like to know more about the differences among what Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians believe.

bullet You may go to church every Sunday, just once a year, or perhaps you’ve never once entered a church sanctuary.

bullet You’ve probably heard Christian jargon — such as born again, evangelical, Catholic, or orthodox — through the media or in conversations and want a better understanding of what all these buzzwords mean.

bullet You keep catching reruns of Jesus of Nazareth on TV and you’d like to know what it’s all about.

How This Book Is Organized

Christianity For Dummies covers the key topics of the Christian faith in five parts.

Part I: Uncovering What Christianity’s All About

In the first chapter, you discover the basics of what Christianity is, what it’s not, and how it fits into the context of the world’s religions. This part then dives into the issue of whether Christianity’s a “blind faith” or a faith that history and reason support. Next, you center on the heart of Christianity and discover what the Good News of Jesus Christ is all about.

Part II: Exploring the Basic Principles of the Christian Faith

Part II delves into the essentials of the Christian faith. You look at the human predicament of sin and God’s graceful response — Jesus Christ. You then explore the Bible, who the Christian God is, and what sacraments and ordinances are. This part is rounded out by looking at what Christianity says happens after people die.

Part III: Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple: Peeking into the Christian Church

You discover in this part how the early Church began with Jesus’ original disciples and survived through some tough times, as well as explore the Church’s relevance in the modern era. I know what you’re thinking — history’s boring. Don’t worry, I avoid the “yawning syndrome” often associated with Church history as I show you the distinct backgrounds, traditions, and beliefs of Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Protestants. You then discover what Christian worship’s all about.

Part IV: Christian Living in a Postmodern World

This part discusses what happens when a person makes a decision to believe in Christianity and how one lives out its teachings. If you’re a Christian, this discussion provides a roadmap for your “Christian walk.” If you’re not, this dialogue helps provide a fuller understanding of how Christians aim to live out their faith in the world around them.

Diving headfirst into the briar patch, this part also deals with some tough theological questions, such as: Why does a loving, all-powerful God allow bad things to happen? Why would I want to join a church filled with hypocrites? How can Jesus be the only way to God? For Dummies books are never shy, and so, in that tradition, this part tackles these thorny subjects head on.

Part V: The Part of Tens

In Part V, I provide several handy-dandy resources to help in your exploration of the Christian faith. If you feel like celebrating, check out a listing of ten holidays, holy days, and seasons. If you’re in need of inspiration, flip to the discussion of ten great Christians. Finally, if you’re searching for God’s truth, check out ten key passages in the Bible.

And don’t forget to check out the two helpful appendixes at the back of the book. Appendix A is a glossary that guides you through the world of Christian buzzwords, and Appendix B is a handy timeline of important events in Christian history.

Icons Used in This Book

The icons in this book help you find particular kinds of information that may be of use to you:


Keep a close eye out for the Remember sections; they highlight important ideas for you to keep in mind to deepen your understanding of Christianity.


The Technical Stuff icon highlights information that’s interesting but not critical to your understanding of the topic at hand. So, reading these sections can provide useful tidbits of information, but feel free to skip them on the first reading.


This icon draws attention to key points that help you make sense of the Christian faith or apply it to your life.


Take special note of the cautions I provide in the Warning sections. These will save you from falling into the Pit of M s — misconceptions, misunderstandings, and mistakes.

Where to Go from Here

So where do you go from here? (Well, considering that this is a book about Christianity, there’s one place I won’t tell you to go.) If you’re already captivated by the book’s prose and consider it a page-turner like the latest Grisham thriller, then please turn the page and continue. But if you have a specific topic that you’re eager to dive into, check out the following points of departure:

bullet For the basics of Christianity, see Chapters 1 and 3.

bullet For an exploration of why Christianity claims to be true, see Chapters 2, 15, and 16.

bullet For a discussion of who Jesus Christ is, see Chapter 5.

bullet If you’ve ever read one of those Left Behind books and want to make sense of this “End Times” business, see Chapter 9.

bullet Want to know what a Protestant or a Catholic believes? Or what an evangelical is? See Chapters 10 and 11.

bullet Wonder what it means when some say that Christianity’s a personal relationship with God? See Chapters 3 and 13.

bullet Let’s get practical. How should a Christian live in the 21st century? See Chapters 13 and 14.

Part I

Uncovering What Christianity’s All About

In this part . . .

If you’ve ever left your car out in ice or snow, you know that before driving, you first have to scrape off the windshield to have a clear view of the road. This first part helps act as that ice scraper by creating a clear picture of what Christianity is and showing you how the Christian faith compares to other world religions. Here I give you a backdrop on what Christianity claims as truth, so you can delve into the details that I discuss later in this book and understand why Christians do what they do. In that light, this section explores how Christians answer questions about the existence of God and the reliability of the Bible. I also introduce you to that which is responsible for Christianity’s existence: the message of God’s grace.