What Is a Christian?

5602081913_30b82fc2e8_mAccording to recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the number of U.S. adults who identify themselves as Christians has declined—a lot—since the last such survey Pew did in 2007. This information comes out just as I’m in the middle of reading Rachel Held Evans’s latest book, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, a book about Evans’s own frustrations with and hopes for the church and what it means to be or identify as “Christian.”

Though Evans is mostly known as a voice for the generation often referred to as the Millennials, and I am solidly Gen-X, I’ve found myself much in sympathy with her experiences and opinions. Like her, I grew up in an evangelical setting, and in adulthood have struggled with how to categorize, prioritize, and examine (or surrender) my doubts. In a passage that describes almost exactly a process I’ve been through myself, Evans writes:

Evangelicalism gave me many gifts, but the ability to distinguish between foundational, orthodox beliefs and peripheral ones was not among them, so as I conducted this massive inventory of my faith, tearing every doctrine from the cupboard and turning each one over in my hand, the Nicene Creed was subjected to the same scrutiny as Young Earth creationism and Republican politics, for all had been presented to me as essential components to a biblical world view. [Read more...]

The Bible as Icon

For Vic Sizemore

With six children in a Southern Baptist family in the 1970s, we could easily have had a dozen Bibles in the house: There was the giant, gray Family Bible with the embossed cover that resided on the bottom shelf of the living room, which nobody ever read. And there was a scattering of those palm-sized New Testament and Psalms around the place, like silverfish in a drawer—always white or pale green, with ersatz gold leafing that would flake off under the prodding of a fingernail.

There was a Novum Testamentum from when my oldest sister took Latin in college, sandwiched on a shelf. I also always liked the ones from the Gideons (do the Gideons even still exist?) that had translations of John 3:16 in the back. My favorite: Sinhalese.

The vast majority, though, were what could be termed “presentation Bibles.” Invariably from Broadman Press (headquartered in Nashville, the Baptist Vatican), either slick shoe-polish black or steak-slab red “bonded leather” (Ooh, baby!), these had been awarded as part of Sunday School or scripture memorization schemes, and always had about them the whiff of bribery, with the name of the person to whom the Bible was “dedicated” written in ostentatious cursive in the front. “The Words of Christ Are in Red,” it was noted, and in the back was a sheaf of Biblical maps, the topography of the Exodus and Paul’s missionary journeys rendered in Sweet Tart pink and blue. [Read more...]

To Run and Not Grow Weary, Part Two

Maybe it was instinct that sent me back to relive the 1924 Olympic Games.

In Part One of this reflection, you found me despairing, feeling a sudden collapse of my lifelong will to write. Slumped on the couch, I was watching, of all things, Chariots of Fire.

As a child, I loved this movie. But it wasn’t until college that I saw how it stands in stark contrast to so much evangelical entertainment, how it avoids a faith will make your dreams come true pep talk.

In fact, its most fervent evangelical figure, Eric Liddell’s sister, Jenny, is frustrated when her athletic brother postpones his missionary work in China in order to become an Olympic runner. Straightforward evangelism, Jenny believes, is the real work. If people are dying without hearing about Jesus, what is running but self-indulgence?

[Read more...]

To Run and Not Grow Weary – Part One

So, why Chariots of Fire?

Why is that what I chose for tonight’s movie? Netflix is recommending all kinds of recent, highly rated titles. Why revisit this old DVD?

It happened like this:

Two hours earlier, I’d taken the car, planning to drive north to a waterfront park to work on my novel. I planned to walk along the beach and watch the sun’s long surrender while ideas filled my head. Then I’d veer into the nearest café or pub to scribble down scenes while they were fresh.

A strange way to spend a Sunday afternoon? Perhaps.

For me, it’s as automatic as it was for my father and grandfather to watch Sunday afternoon football, as it is for you to do what comes most naturally, and be what feels most like yourself. Filling pages with story—it’s what I’ve done every weekend since I was seven. When I don’t, I feel like I’m holding my breath.

[Read more...]


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