“‘Real Christians’ Keep Telling Me I’m Not a Christian. Are They Right?”

Here’s a letter I got in last night. Its author kindly agreed to my sharing and responding to it here.

Mr. Shore,

Growing up I was raised Christian. We didn’t ALWAYS go to church, but it was a clear situation where my parents believed in God—and by extension me and my brothers did too. However, I never really felt anything at church. Once I got to high school, my parents let me make the decision on whether or not I’d continue going to church, and I decided not to. Mainly because I would simply go there and feel bored, and constantly watch the clock for when I could leave. I didn’t have anything necessarily better to do, I just didn’t get anything out of being there.

Over the past twenty or so years I’ve spent many years homeless, although I’m not anymore. During those years, I’ve been in many different churches of various denominations and style. I’ve been in “White” churches and “Black” Churches, I’ve been in Evangelical and Non Denominational, and many ones run by homeless shelters I stayed in. Yet none of them stuck with me. None provided anything to me.

And more importantly, not once have I ever in my life felt the power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been in churches where people seemed to “feel” the Holy Spirit, and yet I’ve never felt it. I simply sat there feeling more alone than ever.

Now I find myself frustrated and slowly wandering away from my faith. Also, a major issue with me is that I’m constantly being told by people who seemingly are “real christians” that I’m not. That, due to my support of gay rights, and because of my not being 100% against abortion and gay rights, I’m not a true Christian. That if I truly believed in what the Bible and God and Jesus were about, then I would not be in support of those things. I’ve also had multiple people tell me point blank that if I were REALLY a Christian, I would be a Republican. That there is no way I can be a Christian without that, presumably because of the gay rights/abortion aspect.

And hearing these people who by all appearances are “real” Christians, some of whom are people who have been saved for DECADES, (and includes a pastor who point blank told me he didn’t believe I’m really a Christian) makes me TRULY question my faith. Have I truly been fooling myself all these years?

I find it ironic that the thing that is pushing me further and further away for my faith is the people who profess to be of that faith.

I’m sorry for the long rambling piece here, but this is something that truly bothers me. Are these people right? Am I simply fooling myself or something? If I have never felt the Holy Spirit, what does that say about me and my faith or lack thereof?

Thank you for your time, sir.

G.

Dear G.,

You’re a Christian. Okay? You are. The evidence for it is that over all those years (and despite what were clearly some pretty hard times) you kept going to church. Clearly something was pulling you there.

And you better believe that something, friend, was the Holy Spirit.

You’re a Christian, and you have the Holy Spirit within you. The Holy Spirit brought you to church. The Holy Spirit moved you to write this letter. The Holy Spirit got you from whatever tough places you’ve been to the better place you are now.

I support gay rights, and I’m a Christian. Hundreds of thousands of Christians in this country support gay rights. That whole group would argue it’s more Christian to support gay rights than not.

You know how Jesus was disparaged by the religious leaders of his time and place. Those morons were no more qualified to pass judgment on Jesus’ spiritual state than is any arrogant asshat who has ever dared to pass judgment on yours.

God and the Holy Spirit doesn’t work the exact same way for everybody. God’s relationship with every individual is absolutely unique to that individual. So don’t worry if your experiencing of God or the Holy Spirit isn’t just like everyone else’s. No one’s experience of God is really like anyone else’s at all. You’re just being honest about it.

And lots of stuff about church is boring. That’s just a fact about church. I mean … you’re sitting in an uncomfortable seat being told stuff you basically already know. How can you not be bored? Half the people at any given church service are always so bored they’re chewing on the inside of their cheek just to stay awake. But, mainly, if you’re too bored by any particular church, that just means whomever is running that church isn’t doing a very good job. Church has to be a little boring, or even a medium amount of boring. But it’s not supposed to be all boring. If you find a church you’re in too boring, move on to another church, because that’s not the church for you.

Remember, though, too, that church is meant as a participatory phenomenon. If you’re too consistently bored in too many churches, it might just mean that you have to more consciously participate in the church service. Give yourself over to the power of the Gospel being read, or to the stories people are telling, or to the power of the Holy Spirit that you can always feel moving throughout a church service. You know what I mean. Give yourself over to whatever’s happening, and whatever’s happening is bound to become more interesting to you.

So remember: You are a Christian; God is all the time talking to you through the Holy Spirit within you; and … church can be pretty boring, but it’s not supposed to be a Broadway show.

Love to you, friend. Thanks for letting me share the Holy Spirit in me with the Holy Spirit in you.

P.S. I think you’re a ThruWay Christian.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Kara

    I agree with John. The need to police the “reality” of the faith of others shows a desire to know things only God can know. I disagree strongly with the political and theological positions of James Dobson, but I would never claim to know if he’s “really” a Christian or not. God is not a Republican or a Democrat, God is love.

    I’ve experienced something interesting with regards to this kind of identity policing lately. I’ve had atheists tell me that I wasn’t really a Christian when I rejected the infallibility of the Bible, the doctrine of hell, and many other fundamentalist positions. They said I was just “making up my own religion.”

    The thing is, though, we’re all only doing our best to understand God and life and all the complicated, hard truths in this world. And I think searching and looking for what makes sense to you is a far better plan than just taking what someone else tells you at face value.

    May you know peace and comfort, my friend, and be assured that you are unspeakably, fully, wonderfully loved by God.

  • http://www.hillsideslide.blogspot.com TinaC

    This is a time that I wish blogs were coffeeshops (or a bar, minus the loud).

    G, maybe you’re a Christian. Maybe you’re not. You’re the only one who can make that determination. But, if we were having a drink, I’d want to hear more about why you go to Church & what faith is to you. John says its different for everyone. So, what’s it like at your end? What do you wish it were like? How does your faith (or lack there of) shape how you see the world & your decisions?

    I’d just like to see more places and spaces where people get to talk, judgment free, about their faith expereiences & questions. It’s one way we get to know & love one another.

    Peace~

    • Diana A.

      Indeed! This is one of the reasons why I do love John’s blog and Thruway Christians.

  • Laurie

    Just posted this on another blog where the topic was that Christianity is a journey and self-righteousness is a developmental stage that many Christians go through (for various reasons). The cross point in these two separate discussions is that we should all be focused on our own journey and not worry about others (worrying about other people’s self-righteousness is a form of self-righteousness. Kind of a Catch 22)

    “Theo, you once mentioned that you were 43 years old. That is pretty much the average age when most of us just get tired of thinking we have all the answers and finally start turning toward humility. (humility is the best response to a midlife crises.) Just like within childhood developmental stages, biological developmental is very important. Our bodies just get too tired to exhaust all that energy into the mental gymnastics necessary to be judgmental of others while justifying our own sins. Saying that we wished we had turned towards humility sooner is like saying we wished had reached Piaget’s formal operation stage sooner. Maybe some prodigies can, but there is no shame in being at an age appropriate level. The important thing is that you get there and not when you get there.”

  • Mindy

    John, you wrote: “How you feel about gay rights has as much to do with how Christian you are as does how you feel about chamomile tea. One has nothing to do with the other. And shame on anyone who says differently.”

    And I would adamantly disagree with you on this. From everything I understand about Christ, one cannot profess to follow him and simultaneously deny gay rights. Jesus would not denied gay people the rights of all citizens, were he alive now – of that, I am certain to the core.

    All those people who are insisting this writer is not a REAL Christian because he supports gay rights have it all backwards and wrong. THEY are the ones not living as real Christians. And they should be ashamed.

    • Kara

      For me, there’s a difference between being a Christian and living like Jesus would want in all areas of life. My entire extended family is against gay rights. But I still believe they’re Christians. Does that mean that I think they’re acting particularly Christian when they work against equality? No. But I can’t deny the honesty of the faith of those who introduced me to the beauty of living in and for Christ. It makes me sad for them, and I don’t believe Jesus would agree with what they’re doing, but I think Jesus was big on loving and accepting people even when they messed up. Honest seeking is the key, I think.

      • Mindy

        Point taken, Kara. Honest seeking is exactly right. I just know that anyone who discriminates – based on any innate quality of humanity, whether it be race, orientation, athletic ability, handedness, or whatever – is not practicing the central tenet of Christ’s message – which is compassion.

        • Kara

          Agreed, and wholeheartedly.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      Why speculate on what Jesus would say or do if he were alive now, when the fact is that he is?

  • http://twitter.com/adamhouston Adam

    John, I think this response is definitely coming from a good place and I hope it helps G. feel comfortable progressing in his faith journey instead of being turned off by the jerks who have, well intentioned or not, driven him from the church.

    I just wanted to throw out that when you say “How you feel about gay rights has as much to do with how Christian you are as does how you feel about chamomile tea. One has nothing to do with the other” you obviously mean it as an extension of the idea “you can support gay rights; it doesn’t make you less Christian”. I agree with that re-phrase of your intent, but I wanted to say that one’s Christianity should always inform their beliefs in things like this. I support gay rights, but I would like to think I do so not “despite being a Christian” as I feel like you’re implying, more like because I am a Christian truly seeking to live in and react to the world as Christ would today.

    Anyway, definitely I join you in encouraging G to keep going and not be discouraged in his faith.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Good point, Adam (and you, too, Mindy). I’ve changed the text to reflect that good input. Thanks, guys.

    • Matthew Tweedell

      “I am a Christian truly seeking to live in and react to the world as Christ would today.”

      And it is my hope that, as for me, I might live in and react to the world as Christ DOES today.

  • A’isha

    I get so frustrated with Christians who say others aren’t because of X, Y, or Z. Nobody has a right to judge the soul of another person. That alone is left to God. Just like those people shouldn’t tell you that you’re not a Christian, I can’t say that you are a Christian, because none of us knows your heart like you or God do. Have you talked with God about this? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the one who saves you and not church or the people in churches?

    Jesus was pretty clear that He is the only way. And, like John pointed out, Jesus had big issues with religious leaders of his time. He told us over and over that love–for God and for others–is what is important. His love for us and what he did on the cross and through His resurrection nullified the old covenant where keeping laws was essential. Now we just have to believe Jesus, love God, love others. Pretty awesome!

    Another thing to remember is that sometimes our feelings get in the way of true faith. We often think we don’t have solid faith because we don’t “feel” it. We don’t feel moved in church. We don’t feel the Holy Spirit in our lives. During those times when it’s easy to doubt, I always go to the Bible and remind myself of the truth. The truth is, if we’ve accepted Christ, we DO have the Holy Spirit in us because it’s a truth that Jesus told us would happen. I spent a lot of years floundering because my feelings confused me. Once I started looking at the truth of who Jesus is, who God and the Holy Spirit are, and who I am in God the feelings no longer mattered. I could logically accept what was true regardless of how I felt about it.

    Blessings to you, G.

  • http://www.facebook.com/isobelfrances Isobel Connell

    John, I love this. I don’t like it when someone says another person is ‘not a Christian’ purely because they don’t tow the party line on certain issues. I have faith enough in God that I feel no need to critique another persons’ faith, regardless of how wildly different their political opinions are to mine.

    God bless.

  • Mary G

    I have to say that given that no where does “G” mention any particular relationship with Jesus Christ, I suspect that his “faith” isn’t faith at all, but a habit of attending a church looking for the love of God. I would suggest two things for G.

    1) Read “Mere Churchianity”, by Michael Spencer, and see if that resonates with you at ALL.

    http://www.amazon.com/Mere-Churchianity-Finding-Jesus-Shaped-Spirituality/dp/0307459179

    If that doesn’t, then,

    2) Go visit a Baha’i Faith community center, and talk to some folks there, and see what that does for you.

    Some Baha’is ignorantly deny gay rights too though, so don’t expect any more of the people there than you get at a church, but look at the teachings of the Faith (which include reverence for Jesus Christ, and acknowledging of His holiness, and station as the Son of God; loving all of humanity, that we are all One people; absolute equality of human beings; Justice,….)

    The Baha’i Faith focuses less on showing up at a “church service” and more on daily relationship with God and a life of service to others. This may help you on your journey.

    Or you might explore meditation with a Buddhist, or some other religious tradition. I find that most people who are looking for that sense of the “Holy Spirit within” really need meditation and not a church building. That’s a social habit, and doesn’t even work for devout Christians if they aren’t spending time with God on their own via prayer and meditation.

    Communing with God comes from within, not in a group setting.

    Love and blessings on your journey towards God!

    Mary

    • Matthew Tweedell

      “Communing with God comes from within, not in a group setting.”

      Totally disagree.

      That, there, within yourself, isn’t God; that’s your self. And perhaps you are indeed filled with the Holy Spirit, but do not suggest that He has any existence in isolation from the Son or the Father. Your Source is not within yourself. The image of God is surely there, but to confuse the image with the reality is wicked idolatry. Yet where two or three are gathered in the Son’s name, it is then and there that He is among them. Christ said He is with you (plural)—not thee—always. Of course, Christ does not raise Man from the tomb but that he lift up his hand to meet the Lord’s, but Man surely does not raise himself from the dead on his own.

      • Don Rappe

        There are many references to Jesus seeking solitude. Not least this after his baptism: “Thereupon the Spirit sent him away into the wilderness, and there he remained for forty days tempted by Satan. He was among the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. (Mark 1, 12-13)

        • Matthew Tweedell

          Notice that the Spirit “sent him”, not “led him”. And he didn’t exactly go there to commune with God the Father, but to be tempted by the father of lies. This does not mean the Holy Spirit or the Father was ever not actually with him of course, for angels (who are of the Spirit) waited on him and he was among the fellowship of creation (which is of the Father).

      • Mindy

        Matthew, are you truly saying that one must be in a group to “commune with God?” ‘Cause that’s just poppycock.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          You said “poppycock.” I’m telling.

          • Mindy

            If you tell, I’ll tell what YOU said. And boy is Mom gonna be mad . . . . .

        • Matthew Tweedell

          If by group, you mean two or more independant beings in materially entangled, God, in any sense that is real but distinct from my material being, cannot be known apart from this.

          • Mindy

            I vehemently disagree. I know God and experience “communing with God” when I am alone. But then I’m not Christian, so I don’t have to play by your rules, Matthew.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Keep thinking you’re so alone if and when you’re truly communing with “God” if you want to, but that can’t justify such thinking to be rational. Of course, I’m not saying you need be rational in your private undertakings and personal thoughts; but reason, given form in certain logic, is the true basis for constructive discourse building common understanding. The rules aren’t mine; they just… are. But of course your thinking that we each make up our own rules is fully consistent with your understanding that we each can find God on our own. Of course, the logic here is, “God” then is something made up! Regrettably, the normative consensus, whether of those thinking God exists, or doesn’t exist, or unsure about the matter, does not allow us to think there’d be in reality no single truth about it, ultimately. And why should people have cared to collectively label, much less systematize whole theologies regarding, something so fuzzy, so without objective basis, as to be meaningless as a unified concept?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            Yeah, Ric.

          • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

            lol.

          • Mindy

            Well, if you’re trying to convert me, it’s not working. I fail to see how what I am saying is not “rational,” but I’m sure you’ll explain it. Are you saying I can’t be alone and with God because God is the other? So we’re two, as in, God and me? Because if that’s the case, then I suppose you’re right.

            I meant I don’t have to be with another human to be with God. If you’re telling me that is not rational, then I’m telling you I disagree. And I still think I’m rational.

            Or it’s all the meds talking. Threw out my back, and between the pain and the painkillers, perhaps I’m just confused. Or I lost my Tweedell-ese translation book? Maybe THAT’S why we never seem capable of constructive discourse. I’ll look for it.

            Oh, and btw, my thinking is NOT that God is made up – I have never, ever said that. But if an omnipotent God chooses to reveal himself to each one of us differently, who am I to argue?

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

            “Tweedellese”!

            Reap the whirlwind!!

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Clever! (Seriously, Mindy!)

            Let me put it this way: spirits have their reality through relationships among materially things. There’s no magical netherworld! There have to be at least two things for there to be a relationship acknowledged between/among them, and where you’re present with a relationship, it’s always in relationship *to* (an)other(s). And in relationship, two entities become one, meaning *three* different entities can be recognized, even as they are not independent in being, existing with, in, by, and of one another. It gets to the very nature of existence, but nothing can “exist” in isolation.

            But what all this abstract poppycock is really all about is that people seeking for God primarily within themselves have a definite tendency to find a God very much like themselves, and that’s not particularly beneficial (at least, not for the rest of the world, in many cases), while motivating people to connect spiritually with others seems to be a good thing. It’s about what brings us real and lasting (even when we’re dead) Life. And I don’t want any God but that: life, with truth, and love.

          • Mindy

            OK, Matthew – my “proof” of the existence of God, or a God-like entity, in this world has, yes, come to me in large part through my relationships with others. I know God exists because of how my daughters and I found each other. I have seen miracles that have no explanation beyond God. That very same proof has shown me that my God exists beyond the boundaries and limitations of Christianity, and has helped me define it in the only ways that make sense – to me.

            I fully believe that God can reveal him/her/itself to each person in a different way. I am not asking you to believe that, simply telling you that I do, and it’s not wrong, and you dismissing it as such doesn’t make it wrong.

            All that being said, I can sit quietly in my room, in a state of meditation, and know God, commune with God. He/she/it is there, with me, knowing me. I feel it to my very core.

            I don’t really care that you tell me it’s impossible. You are personifying the unbendable, disagreeable Christian that tells this original writer he isn’t Christian because they say so. You quote the Bible as if it is natural law, and while I respect that you believe it is, you must respect the fact that not everyone does. To someone who is not Christian, a Bible quote simply doesn’t provide defense of a statement you are trying to “prove.” Sorry.

            OK, back to your regularly scheduled comments, John. :)

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Thank you for making it more and more clear why it’s never been a respectable idea that individuals, often laying aside logic for passions, think they could understand God just fine for themselves.

            “I fully believe that God can reveal him/her/itself to each person in a different way. I am not asking you to believe that, simply telling you that I do, and it’s not wrong, and you dismissing it as such doesn’t make it wrong.”

            I *never* dismissed God’s capability to do whatever He pleased! (Of course, it doesn’t follow from God’s being able to do things whatever way He desires that you yourself are able to respond to Him in whatever way *you* desire.)

            “You quote the Bible as if it is natural law, and while I respect that you believe it is, you must respect the fact that not everyone does.”

            What the fudgesicle? I do not believe that, and I do not quote it as such. I only quote it as authoritative reference regarding Christian belief and/or for those identifying with the Christian faith, Mindy!

            So what? You don’t like that I provided proof for you based in rationalist thought, because you can’t really argue that, so you argue against what you have deemed to call “proof” that I provided for others based on the Scripture??

            “I don’t really care that you tell me it’s impossible.”

            Really… do I tell anyone that? Hmm… I seem to recall saying somewhere something implying *exactly the opposite*. But of course, that assumes that you really might know God, and I’m not even sure you’re able to an angel from a demon in any real, consistent way. Of course, I’m not sure I can either, but at least I *have* a consistent way to do so even if I am unable to consistently follow it!

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Forgive me, Mindy, if I’ve given you the impression I’m a religionist. As I mentioned to you several months ago, it would seem you’re more of a Christian than I am.

            I guess you’re right. We don’t get to choose what we believe or how we call it; so I guess the guy who wrote in isn’t a real Christian after all, and neither am I. We’re in the same boat with you, Mindy, and I guess we cannot christen the vessel “Christianity”. It is a sin of human weakness that we should deign to give it a name at all. For the Santa Maria, having found the Way to the New World, was found, even upon the arrival on Christmas Day, physically beyond repair and, having given of herself the substance of which La Navidad was made, ceases necessarily to truly be the vessel we know her as. For when the year of our Lord exceeded the millennium of His Dominion, the house was divided against itself: such a house cannot stand, and so it seems unwise to stand in it.

        • Don Rappe

          We’ll rock around the poppycock tonight and today!

          • Mindy

            Don, I will enlist your help in getting back at John when he tells on me. ‘K?

          • Don Rappe

            Indeed!

    • jorgelm123

      What?! You need to read the bible

  • Jeannie

    You are a Christian. I could say more, but what I would want to say has already been done so by others. Here is a virtual “hug” from a Christian sister who is also not a Republican, supports gay rights, supports a woman’s right to get an abortion and has definitely been bored in church. Blessings to you today.

    • jorgelm123

      You are not born again

  • Matthew Tweedell

    No one has “been saved for decades”: there is temporal salvation that lasts only as long as each passing moment, and there is the eternal salvation which is a destination reached after the journey of a lifetime! Jesus is the Way, not the ticket! And I’m afraid the pastor who told you he didn’t believe you’re really a Christian took a momentary detour, because “[love] believes all things,” (1 Cor. 13:7) and “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Speaking of which, you say you’ve not ever felt the Holy Spirit—have you ever felt love? Anyway, if you have faith, you have faith. No one can question that, least of all yourself!

    • Mindy

      Argh, Matthew – people question their own faith all the time. Why would you tell this guy that he can’t? We learn by questioning, we grow by questioning. No one else can question his faith, but he sure can, and probably will more than once throughout the rest of his life. That’s NORMAL. Don’t tell him it’s not! That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have it, it simply means that he may have to redefine it for himself. He’s questioning it now because others have tried to define his faith. When he understands what faith feels like to him, he will be able to ignore the ignorant others – but as he ages, matures, learns and experiences more time on this planet, he may question and redefine it all over again.

      And YES, Matthew, many people consider themselves “saved for decades.” Or years, or weeks or minutes. Because that is how we lowly humans mark time. You may have faith that you have achieved eternal salvation, but you won’t really know that until, well, eternity has passed. !! But you do know how long it has been since you were first saved, or accepted Christ or however you name it. And I’m fairly sure you knew darned well that is what he meant. Your analysis would mean soooo much more if you didn’t pick apart these sorts of things as if you want to appear philosophically superior to others. It’s so . . . off-putting. As I’m sure you’ve been told before.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Remind me not to ever get into a writing argument with you, Mindy. You’re just too awesome.

        • Matthew Tweedell

          It is interesting she doesn’t go after your “You’re a Christian. Okay? You are,” when she attacks the less persuading and more trivial “No one can question that, least of all yourself!”

          • Mindy

            No, Matthew. It is not interesting.

            John was telling the guy not to let others question his own personal faith. You said no one can do that, not even the guy himself – and I disagreed with you on the last part only.

            I think it is only interesting to people who like to take thoughts apart word by word and words apart letter by letter in order to tell someone else they are wrong.

            If the shoe fits, and all that.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            Who likes doing that?

          • Mindy

            Gosh, I don’t know.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            And again, if you have faith, you have faith. You can’t really question it, ’cause if it’s there, you know it’s there (and that means that it’s real)!

          • cat rennolds

            nope, sorry. you can so. life and the weird twists of the human mind and people like you can be incredibly distracting and obfuscating.

            Me, I can -and do – question anything at any time for any reason. if it’s still THERE after you’re done questioning it, then it’s real. If you can’t question it in the first place, it probably isn’t.

            e.g., “I believe I have a leg, even though I can’t feel it at the moment. I see it, but I don’t feel it. Is it asleep, or am I having a stroke? Now it’s dark, I can’t see it either….maybe it isn’t really there. Maybe I never had one….Maybe this is a nightmare…..AAAAARGH, pins and needles. yeppers, it’s still there.”

            Have fun!

          • Matthew Tweedell

            “If you can’t question it in the first place, it probably isn’t.”

            Excellent point.

            I pity you that you be so full of doubt as to feel the need to ever question things the reality of which is, at that moment , irrelevant. Blessed is he who has not seen but has believed, provided he has believed whatsoever is true and necessary for his salvation.

            Belief is a subjective state of affairs not at all like the objective reality of a leg! If you believe something, then there is belief. If you don’t think you’re believing, you’re not actually believing; so what you think then is right: no belief. Yet with a leg, what you think of its reality is immaterial to the nature of the reality. Now, you can believe about your leg, but to believe about beliefs is absurdity. That’s not merely what I believe about believing about believing, because, as you can see, the fact that I might continue that on indefinitely without any basis in anything real outside of that thought itself renders the thought vain: reductio ad absurdum.

            Peace to you and yours.

        • Mindy

          You’re just feeling guilty because you threatened to tattle on me for saying poppycock. There. I said it again. ;-p

          But thanks. Now, if I can only remember what I want to say long enough to win an argument when I’m actually conversing with someone . . . .

      • Matthew Tweedell

        People may give the appearance of questioning their faith, but their faith is not subject to answer to anyone (only the ways in which their faith gets expressed): the truth is that he either has faith or doesn’t, and if he’s “questioning” it, that means it’s there to begin with, and so he does have it. This of course says nothing about what it *is* (whether it is true, etc.), but I trust that if he believes his beliefs to be Christian, then they are, and if they are developed in the course of life experience, then they’re probably, in some significant sense, true.

        I think we all could do a better job distinguishing perceptions from realities. I never said that people don’t *consider* themselves to be “saved for decades”.

        “But you do know how long it has been since you were first saved, or accepted Christ or however you name it.”

        No, I honestly have no idea. And what if, actually, I’ve never truly accepted the real Christ deep down (which I can doubt *without* giving up faith that I have, at least in the present moment)?

        I was addressing spiritual matters concerning Christian theology, which, although I would be glad to debate you within the proper context of understanding if you’d like, you do not subscribe to and so need not interpret to have any meaning for you at all.

        • Mindy

          Matthew, you were addressing scholarly Christian theology, while I was addressing Christian PEOPLE. Because it was a Christian lay person who wrote the letter.

          I love this: “I think we all could do a better job distinguishing perceptions from realities. I never said that people don’t *consider* themselves to be ‘saved for decades’.”

          Oh. Well. That clears it all right up. Because I’m sure the letter writer was discussing the “reality” of everlasting salvation rather than the mere “perceptions” of the people with whom he was so frustrated.

          :::::sarcasm font off:::::

          Because the REALITY is that everlasting salvation is one tenet of one religion, and while it may be a reality to you, it is, to me, only your perception of your religion. To non-Christians, everlasting salvation is most certainly NOT a reality. It is a wish and a dream that is part of a belief system to which only a portion of the human population subscribes. So I’d argue that calling eternal salvation reality is a real stretch. I do realize that within the framework of Christian theology, it is reality. I am just out here talking about the real world.

          The REALITY is that John, for instance, came to believe in Christ in a broom closet of his office one day many years ago, so the reality is that he now considers himself saved, since that day however long ago. Is it eternal? Well, he believes so. You believe so. Me? Not at all certain about that. But I do believe that John experienced a moving spiritual awakening that day, and that he considers himself to have been saved at that time and ever since.

          You have such a knack for reducing human need and emotion and connection down to theological and philosophical semantics, Matthew, that it takes the ‘umph’ right out of what you have to say. Try coming out of your head and down into your heart before you write. I’m telling you, it will mean far more.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            “To non-Christians, everlasting salvation is most certainly NOT a reality”

            So then all non-Christians go to hell, right?

            “I do realize that within the framework of Christian theology, it is reality. I am just out here talking about the real world.”

            Ok… so which world you think it is that Christian theology exists in and for, Mindy?

            “But I do believe that John experienced a moving spiritual awakening that day, and that he considers himself to have been saved at that time and ever since.”

            Why not let John speak for himself as to whether he recons his salvation from that moment on, or from the moment when Christ said, “It is finished,” or from the moment of the Fall, or from the moment God said, “Let there be light,” or from the infinite past, or rather simply doesn’t recon it in such a way at all?

            “You have such a knack for reducing human need and emotion and connection down to theological and philosophical semantics…. Try coming out of your head and down into your heart before you write.”

            It all starts with the heart. The intellect is the tool of the heart. Life experience pours into the heart. Consciousness is the filter of the contents of the heart. The tongue is the release valve for the overflow of the heart. The pen draws its ink from the reservoir of the heart.

            My heart deems it important to convey some sentiment, but it pains the heart to be wrong; so I attempt to wrap meticulously wrap them in fully consistent, defensible, and hopefully (if it can be done consistent with the previous) relatable truth. But of course, different people have different modes of relating to the truth, and I can’t please all of them; so I end up with something rather bland, that, though it causes you discomfort, is hopefully most true to my hearts desire for an anesthetic approach to that which may be taken negatively, and the most pleasing approach to that which is most positive, judging as best I can from a given audiences diverse points of view.

            I *don’t* like it. My heart is a fool even to begin it.

          • Mindy

            But you don’t meticulously wrap things in defensible truth, Matthew. You wrap things in rhetoric, in *your* version of truth which simply doesn’t apply to everyone.

            Look at your first comment. I said non-Christians don’t (necessarily) believe in eternal salvation. Your “truth,” then, is that they are all damned to hell.

            Huh?!?! No, Matthew. To some, they are left in nothingness. They just . . . end. To some, their souls are reborn as something/someone new. To others, their souls live on, still involved in this world but in a different way. YOUR truth might be that everyone not eternally “saved” is eternally damned, but that just isn’t the truth. At least not for others. I even know a lot of Christians who believe that even those who have not been “saved” but who live as Jesus taught will be just fine for all eternity.

            As for your second question, Christian theology exists for Christians. Christian theology may tell Christians to lay their beliefs on others, but when others don’t buy into it, well, it returns to being just for and about Christians. That’s fine. But the fact that I don’t buy into it only dooms me to hell in YOUR reality – not mine. Truth? Hmmmm . . . .

            As for John, he HAS spoken for himself on the matter. Whole blog post about it, referenced regularly. And since this is HIS blog, I fully trust that if I misquote him or misinterpret something he says, the dear man will correct me, right here in the comments, and I’ll take my mea culpas at that time. So thanks for the comeuppance, but really, not necessary.

            Sorry, Matthew, moving on now. I’ve done this with you before, and all it really does is bore John’s readers and give me a headache.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            I have to wonder why you feel compelled to begin such nonsense then.

            “Your ‘truth,’ then, is that they are all damned to hell.”

            What is this? Where did I ever say that? In fact, did I not elsewhere on this very page affirm, for instance, the salvation of the Jewish people? I asked you a question, regarding something that followed from your silly attempt to argue within the context of an understand of the world that you refuse to accept, and rather than answer the question, you seem to think you have discovered some evidence of something you think I’d call “truth”!

            “YOUR truth might be that everyone not eternally ‘saved’ is eternally damned, but that just isn’t the truth.”

            Umm… if “truth” is something to be discovered in light of reason, then yes – yes, it is. Whether anyone is actually meaningfully saved/damned at all is another question however.

            “I even know a lot of Christians who believe that even those who have not been ‘saved’ but who live as Jesus taught will be just fine for all eternity.”

            So this hinges upon your use of “saved” in quotation marks, doesn’t it Mindy? A bit dishonest considering that is not the way I meant it. Or if not, then find me one such Christian who doesn’t recognize being fine for all eternity to mean being saved.

            “But the fact that I don’t buy into it only dooms me to hell in YOUR reality – not mine.”

            [Sigh.] You really seem to have a rather nebulous manner of thinking, allowing much of what I’ve consistently claimed, directly to you even, to go overlooked.

            “As for John, he HAS spoken for himself on the matter. Whole blog post about it, referenced regularly.”

            B.S. — I have to call you out on that one: John *never* said he thought his conversion experience made the salvation realized in that moment effective only from that moment on, or retroactively throughout all eternity (or something else altogether)!

        • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

          Matthew: You said, “Either he has faith or he doesn’t.”

          This presupposes that faith is a noun. I’ve heard it expressed many times that another way of seeing is that faith is a verb.

          It’s not a simplistic answer either….it takes some noodling to get to the heart of it.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            According to what dictionary? I’ve never heard anyone saying, “I faithed for it,” or “You faith a lot,” or “She’s faithing him.”

            Of course it’s a noun; the corresponding concept among the verbs is “to believe”.

            Sure, there’s no faith without believing. But if you believe, so you believe.

            And I believe these arguments are getting quite ridiculous!

            Some people just want to make it artificially complicated, so they can find a way in all the fuzzy unreality to make everything warm and cozy.

          • Don Rappe

            “To have faith in” can be understood in an active way. It does not mean the same as “to believe”.

          • Matthew Tweedell

            “To believe in” can also be understood in an active way, and both Thesaurus.com and Freethesaurus.net would have us think that, in its primary meaning, “believe” is indeed synonymous with “have faith in” (and Merriam-Webster Dictionary even gives its very first *definition* of “believe” as “to have a firm religious faith”).

  • JoAnn Mitchell

    Ok, we are all in Heaven in a banquet room; as a older grandmother conservative DEMOCRATE WHO STANDS UP FOR GAY RIGHTS AND NEVER WANTS TO SEE BACK ROOM ABORTIONS EXIST AGAIN….

    I will be sitting at that same table with the rest of you… we will be the one’s filled with joy, love, acceptance….

    I have had “visions” of asking some Christians in Heaven to help serve the banquet meal; I can see it now; those judgemental, conservative Repulican Christans walk into the room and drop their jaw and tray…. serving food to all the colorful, gay, non-gay supporter Christians….

    God does have a sense of humor; and He uses demonstrations to make a point… He will do this.

    Nothing about the way I live life would show anything but a clean cut grandmother Christian; Yet, because I learned to study for myself and not rely upon others; I years ago became a thruway Christian… just too the internet to find the part of the Body of Christ I belong in…

    • JoAnn Mitchell

      my computer keys are a sticking… so noticed some letters are a missing….

    • jorgelm123

      You are mistaken

  • http://wilkinsonweb.com Dan Wilkinson

    Great post. I think it’s a mistake to get hung up on whether or not someone is a Christian. Ultimately, it’s the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes us Christians, but I think we all experience that in different ways. I have never had a profound, overwhelming experience of the Holy Spirit . I haven’t spoken in tongues or danced in the church aisles or seen a flame over my head. But nevertheless, I truly believe the Holy Spirit is in me and is part of who I am. I think God has chosen to speak more subtly to me, with gentle nudges and soft whispers that I might miss if I’m not paying attention. This makes it all the more important to pay attention: to spend time in prayer and reading the Bible, to listen for the echo of God’s voice throughout my life and to continue to seek him wherever he may lead.

    I also think much more emphasis should be placed on what one DOES rather than what one BELIEVES. Not to say that belief isn’t important, but the expression of that belief through action is what really matters. If you’re loudly proclaiming that you’re a Christian but you’re not out there seeking to express Christ’s love towards people than you’ve lost a lot of credibility with me. But if you’re an agnostic/atheist who is humbly seeking to help the poor and downtrodden, then I think you may be much closer to the kingdom of God than many professing “Christians.”

    • Mindy

      :::::::applauding::::::

      Dan, your second paragraph should be read repeatedly by every single human being. All of ‘em. Well said!

    • Don Whitt

      In a nutshell, your particular brand of faith does not matter. It’s what your faith drives you to do in the world that matters.

    • Don Rappe

      I agree. It would be impossible, I think, to even get even a large plurality to agree on a definition for “Christian”. I know John wants to save the word, but it is probably not possible. I personally favor the meaning: “A person who is subverting the established order of things; Should we confiscate his property and put him to death?”

      • Matthew Tweedell

        I hope you’re right that it’s not possible to save that word.

  • http://microdro.blogspot.com/ Dr. O

    I just stumbled over here from Sarah Hoffman’s Twitter page, and I love this post (plus several others you’ve written). My Christian friends from back home in the South have used this same phrase about numerous individuals (including our president). It’s their way of saying “they’re not what I believe a Christian should be”. But you know what? They’re not what I believe a Christian should be. The facts on faith: Nobody has ownership on truth. Nobody has ownership of your relationship with God/Christ. And nobody can tell you what your faith should look like.

    I also agree that getting involved in a church community is way more productive than passive attendance. My Hubby would never attend with me if it weren’t for the community involvement of our church (that dreaded social justice), and the manner in which we’ve grown in fellowship with other attendees through our church choir. We learn, love, witness, give, and grow as a community. And that’s what a church should be – a community that loves and gives and worships and teaches each other about God. “Faith is personal, but not private” – I can’t remember who this quote belongs to right now.

  • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/ Shadsie

    People who think Republican = Christian and Christian=Republican are confusing faith with franchise.

    I seem to remember something about Jesus saying that God’s kingdom was “not of this world,” so I would say that people who think it is or must be associated with any particular political party are thinking a little too wordly.

  • ScottNotSteve

    John, what a service to G. you provided here, and kudos to G. for laying bear his spiritual concerns.

    To G., I can only say that you are not alone in wondering if what you are being told is correct. Years ago, in school, out on my own in th world far from home and my church, I was confronted with the proposition that I should seek to convert some close Jewish friends of mine to Christianity so that they would not burn in hell. It’s the sort of mindset in John’s previous blog about evangelicals (and yes, this was akin to a campus-based evangelical group).

    I came back home on break and confided my instincts (those crusaders can’t be right, can they?) to be consoled by my pastor, much like John consoled you, that it does not matter what these so-called, self-styled Christians believe, it is not what YOU need to believe to identify as (or “be”) a Christian. Since then I have journeyed and thought and read and got involved in a church of my choosing that does not deny me my core beliefs. You might be a TWC, as John suggests, as much as I see myself having much in common with that movement, though still a churchgoer. Regardless, and more important, you are a spritiual being, with a spritual path and a mind eager to work through the challenges. I think that comes as part of the territory once the Holy Spirit, as John says (which works for me), or whatever it is that moves you, works into your mind and heart at the same time. Peace be with you.

    • Don Rappe

      The point of view always cracks me up. Jesus is Jewish. Does this mean he’s burning in hell? How much more evidence is required to see that salvation comes not from religion, but, from the grace of God?

      • Matthew Tweedell

        Yeah, but Jesus believed in Christ! (Just sayin’… not that the Bible doesn’t clearly teach that Jews have their place in the plan of salvation.)

        • Don Rappe

          Jesus seems to have believed that the messiah would fulfill the Torah and command it down from the hill of Zion and out to all the nations. Without one jot or tittle changed.

  • http://twitter.com/dland Dave Land

    John,

    You’ve hit the nail on the head again. You are a living, breathing example of the “priesthood of all believers”. G came to you “in your office” on the Interwebs and you counseled him, generously inviting us to sit in with you both. Thank you for that.

    If your writing isn’t an outpouring from the Holy Spigot, I don’t know what is.

    Dave

    • Don Rappe

      Si si! Father, Scion and Holy Spigot. What a fortuitous typo.

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    I (italicized and underlined) HATE it when people get convinced that THEIR experience of a thing is the ONLY experience of a thing. When they belittle or demean or denounce another person’s experience or, even worse, their TEMERITY in questioning their experience. G, in my humble opinion if you believe in Christ, you’re a Christian. I have some friends who define themselves as Christian even though they question the validity of the resurrection story, but they follow Jesus’ teachings as a way of life and so call themselves Christians.

    I don’t know where people get the idea that there’s a “right” way to believe in God or to have a relationship with God. I think it takes real arrogance to think that there is only one way and it happens to be theirs. I suppose its not worth being angry about, but it does make me angry. I makes me on behalf of myself and others who have been told we were not as good as someone else because they way we felt or practiced our faith wasn’t the same as the people who were “doing it right.” I have news for those folks: Christianity: You’re doing it wrong.

    Apropos of nothing, a friend shared a witticism with me today that I fell in love with: Be careful when you’re trying to teach a pig to sing. The pig might actually like it.

  • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

    Words of wisdom form Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church:

    • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

      (Hit the wrong key) moving on:

      “You only need to lose track of who you are, or who you thought you were supposed to be, so that you end up lying flat on the dirt floor basement of your heart. Do this, Jesus says, and yo will live. As hard as preachers may work to clarify this koan, I do not believe that it can be done. The promise contains truth that can only be experienced.”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    I thought this very short piece might have some relevance to the (awesome!) conversation going on both here and on yesterdays post: Christians: Don’t Too Readily Dismiss Atheists.

  • http://rinmmkay.blogspot.com Mariah

    After all the thoughtful comments here, I have only two things to add.

    1. G, I know the place you are in pretty well. Coming from a family where my faith is constantly being questioned because of ridiculous things like the books I read, lack of desire to attend church, and my support of gay rights, I have been there. Your faith is between you and God. No human being has the right to pass judgment on it. Your personal relationship with God and Christ is your own. Not everyone feels that connection with the Holy Spirit through going to church. Not everyone feels that living as Christ commanded entails being Republican, or being against gay rights, or abortion, or any of the million other insignificant things that humans beings will find to nitpick about. Anything you do, say, or feel is subject to criticism, because people need to feel superior. For many, supporting things like gay rights is caused and supported by their faith. I personally find it distasteful and wrong to criticize or question another person’s faith. It is a personal experience. You find your own way through God.

    2. John: Thank you for using the word “asshat”

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      My pleasure. Seriously. Best swear word ever.

  • Don Rappe

    Is there a name for the sin where you worship a political party instead of God? Politicolotry?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      There’s a name for it now. I think you just made history.

  • charles maynes

    its called Christianity 2.0….

    the public reaction is sort like how it was a the begining of Christianity 1.0….. except we dont get to see Jesus get crucified physically….

    where does condemnation join hands with love…. as the song sez- “they will know we are Christians by our love.”…. right?

  • http://www.searchingforchetbaker.com G

    Wow, I don’t even know what to say in response to all the supporting comments from those on here (even the “poppycock” comment from Mindy) lol.

    I want to thank everyone for the kind words. It is very much appreciated.

    G

    • jorgelm123

      You can’t support something God says is wrong and then claim to be his child…sorry but it just doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry that most are supporting you in this and making you feel comfortable and leading you down theroad of destruction.

  • http://none Dennis Gilbert

    Thanks for allowing me to join you all in church this morning…real church, real community, a community of faith that remembers that above all else Jesus was about love, compassion, and grace, and an inclusivity that got him nailed to a cross for us. That was the price he paid for insisting that everyone had value in his heart. Thank you John, for reminding in sometimes charming language that Jesus turned no one away…well done, once again!

  • http://none Dennis Gilbert

    G. I’m praying you find a church with people that are like the ones on this forum…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Bless your heart, Dennis. Thanks for these very warm comments of yours.

  • Jim

    FROM THE OUTSIDE IT SEEMS G HAS No RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST.

    He never once mentioned Jesus as his savior–he mentioned not going to Church all the time as if that earns you anything.

    Instead his focus is on gay rights and abortion? What ? A Christian has the Holy Spirit inside or he believes in another Jesus. Believing in Christ/God is trusting that He is right–not YOU. You dont understand why a fetus shouldnt be killed–fine. You dont understand why Men cant have sex with men–fine. BUT you trust that God does understand.

    We dont get to fashion our own god –a god who believes what WE think it is right–because when we do –we are professing faith in OURSELVES.

    You wonder why you dont feel the Spirit? Could it be cause you dont actually trust Good at all? You seem to trust your own opinion instead. Did you write a bible we dont know of? I sense you have some friends who are a strong influence on you and you dont want to offend them, you believe they are good so how could this be wrong. Well, it IS wrong and the Holy Spirit would reveal this to you. You cannot unbelief if the Spirit is in you.

    Most carnal humans know these things are wrong and suspect so do you as well as everyone else here–but we want to surround ourselves with what our itching ears want to hear. Can a person be saved who does these sins mentioned–of course. But you cant believe they are right and you certainly cant teach they are right.

    • Matt Ribas

      Straight up AMEN! brother

      Personally, I don’t understand why women can’t be preachers.

      Frankly, I think women can be better at explaining Scripture than men, so I really don’t understand why women can’t be preachers. However, you make a great point that just because I don’t understand doesn’t now give me the right to pass over God’s command.

      On the flip side, I do think that Christianity has disintegrated into a culture that often is un-Christ like. For example, Jesus never once questioned a poor person as to why he’s poor. Nor did Jesus ever judge a poor person for being poor. Sadly though, since soooooo many Christians are plugged into politics rather than the Word, we see many Christians exhibiting “Republican” behavior rather than Christ Behavior.

      In the end, it all comes down to the question–who are we chasing? Jesus or a social club? Do we want to be one of God’s or one of the guys?

      The Holy Spirit will reveal God’s will AND how to live it out—we gotta listen for BOTH–not just the one and then act God’s will according to our opinions.

      God doesn’t want the message to be one of no punishment for sins, but He also doesn’t want the message to become only conviction for sins. The Gospel of Jesus is one of truth (Ya’ll are thirsty and in need of Me) and grace (I’ll take care of you and with Me you’ll never thirst).

      WE REALLY NEED TO STUDY MORE HOW JESUS PREACHED HIS GOSPEL

      I myself have gotten wrong at times :(

  • jorgelm123

    Not a Christian. ..sorry , but you can’t eat your cake and have it too!


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