To build a case for Christianity, one first needs to define what Christianity is. In the broadest sense, all who identify themselves as a Christians, are Christians. This is useful for both statistical purposes and civil conversation, and I have no problem with that as a day-to-day definition. I am certainly not in a position to judge who is or is not a Christian.
However, for a website whose purpose is to explain and defend Christianity, some kind of working definition is needed. Following St. Paul, the working definition of Christianity I will use here is the belief that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead. Believe it in your heart, say so in public, and you are a Christian. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that, although if you’d like to read more, you can read my personal Statement of Faith.
What does it mean to say “Jesus is Lord”? Well, Jesus is Jesus of Nazareth, the “Christ” (Greek for “anointed one”), a man who lived in Palestine some 2,000 years ago, whose life story and teachings are told and explained in the New Testament. Is means that He is not just a figure from the past, but someone alive right now as God’s Son. Lord is the traditional English rendering of the New Testament Greek word Kyrios. There is a whole field of discussion and debate on the fullness of what that means, the details of which have caused a lot of heartache and confusion over the years. I think for purposes of Christianity 101, accepting Jesus as Lord means putting Him in charge of your life, not in having a sophisticated understanding of what it means for someone to be God and man at once.
What does it mean to say “God raised Him from the dead”? Again, the important thing is not the exact nature of the relationship between “God” and “Him” (the whole mystery of the Trinity), but that the relationship exists and the event happened. The Resurrection is the most central of the New Testament miracles. I recognize how difficult it can be for modern people to believe in miracles, and don’t deny that something lighter like Christian Deism can provide a helpful way-station on the path from skepticism to Christianity. Nevertheless, it is clear that Christianity in its full and original form proclaims real miracles, and that making one’s peace with that is essential to understanding Jesus clearly.
What does it mean to “believe something in your heart”? I can’t answer that definitively. The heart is inscrutable, and what goes on there is ultimately between you and God. If indeed each of us is being called by God to believe, I’ve always thought it followed that belief is a choice. As such, it isn’t based on some detached “level of certainty” you have about the truth of the Christian claims. When in ordinary conversation, I say I believe something to be true, it doesn’t always simply the same freedom from doubt that I have, for example, about my own name, or the capital of Idaho, or the square root of nine. Doubt is something to be struggled with, but don’t feel like you have to banish it completely before you can start walking with Jesus. If you make the decision to follow Him as Lord, are willing to say so, and take steps to act upon it, that’s probably good evidence that you believe in your heart. Giving you good reasons to believe, and dealing with the objections, is what this website aims to do.
Many say the first step towards accepting Jesus as Lord is to say the Sinner’s Prayer. I agree that this is important, but I don’t think it’s the first thing to happen. Without a basic idea of who Jesus is, and a realization of what makes one a sinner, it’s hard for such a prayer to have its proper meaning. I’d recommend reading one of the Gospels first as a primary source (Luke is my personal favorite). It’s a first-century text, so if you aren’t already familiar with it, much of it will seem strange on the first reading. As an explanation of the Christian faith that is accessible to modern ears, I also recommend C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.