Who Is a “Christian”? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

Here’s an interesting Question that Haunts Christianity from loyal reader Rob:

Hey Tony. I will try to make this short… I was raised in the church, became a youth leader in my early 20s, then a worship pastor/elder, then a staff deacon at a large church. Almost three years ago, my family and I walked away, with no plans on returning to “the church.” I don’t intellectually assent to any of the things that orthodox Christians are supposed to (i.e. the Trinity, the physical resurrection of Jesus, etc.). I don’t read my Bible very often. I never pray. But, I cannot escape the cultural influence that Christianity has had upon me, and it’s very difficult for me to think outside of that framework. I also try to embody the trajectory of Jesus’ life (the way of love) in my life every day. And, I think that his way is – universally – the best way to live. Do I still have “the right” to call myself a Christian?

You answer here, I answer Friday. Let’s hear if Rob’s a Christian or not!

  • http://coolingtwilight.com Dan Wilkinson

    If I may be so presumptuous as to try and answer Bob’s question:
    Of course you have “the right” to call yourself a Christian. You can call yourself whatever you want. And what could be more Christian than trying “to embody the trajectory of Jesus’ life”?
    But…you’re also going to have to live with a fair amount of confusion from others regarding what you actually believe. The label “Christian” is generally used to describe those sets of orthodox beliefs you’ve rejected, so by using that term to mean something broader you’re tearing down the carefully defined box that most people are familiar with. So as long as you’re comfortable subverting the label people understand Christianity to be, then be all means continue to proudly declare yourself a Christian.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks, Dan. I’m not Bob, yet, though…

      Honestly, in most conversations I have with people, it’s much easier to say I’m an atheist (or at least agnostic) – because I don’t “believe” that the deity that most orthodox Christians believe in exists. But, if someone is willing to have a much longer conversation, I think they will quickly see that my vision of the world has been most influenced by the Way of the Christ.

      • http://coolingtwilight.com Dan Wilkinson

        Ah…Robby, sorry for the name slip-up. ;)
        You’re right about how it comes down to our personal interactions and our willingness (or unwillingness) to engage in conversations that move beyond superficial designations. Of course the labels atheist/agnostic carry all sorts of baggage as well. People are extraordinarily complex and to think that any single terms can accurately sum up a whole slew of beliefs and feelings sells short the richness of who we are.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          Totally agreed.

    • Jubal DiGriz

      I completely agree with this. “Christian” has such a broad range of meanings it’s impossible to honestly give a single summary. Even “believes the Nicean Creed” cuts out a substantial fraction of identified Christians. “Follower of Christ” is as good a definition as any, and (probably) doesn’t exclude any thoughtful self-identified Christians.

      • http://www.lara-thinkingoutloud.blogspot.com Lara

        He (and I) could be called followers of Jesus, but can we be followers of Christ (Christian) if we don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ)? I’m still working through this one. I believe that Jesus was amazing. People filled with that much spirit are rare, but was he “God’s Anointed One”? I don’t know if I can assent to that, if I don’t believe in the Ancient Hebrew God. It gets complicated….

        Thank you Tony for this question. I’m not an athiest (yet), but currently I’m trying to figure out if this label still fits me or not as well.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          I definitely don’t “believe” that Jesus was/is THE Messiah – at least not in the way that orthodox Christians do (which would imply that all Jews who disagree are therefore damned).

          • Curtis

            Not all orthodox Christians believe that Jews are damned.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            That’s true. Maybe I should have said more conservative orthodox Christians, like certain kinds of evangelicals.

  • http://www.iNFLiKT.net Ian Matthew Rice

    “Anyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7)

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Amen.

  • Sarah

    I guess my question would be, does his belief system produce a change in his heart and his behavior? “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Is he really believing in Jesus? Or is it a Jesus that just fits who he wants Jesus to be? If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then is there true victory in a person’s life? If Jesus didn’t physically rise from the dead, then what would the point of His death be? To me, you can’t have one without the other. If He only died and never resurrected, there would be no hope for everlasting life. Is the Bible true or is it only partially true? We don’t come to God with how we want Him to be. We either except Him for who He really is, or we don’t truly believe in who Jesus really is. He said he doesn’t read his Bible, so I wonder where he gets his belief system from???

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Sarah, I’m not sure that I can respond to your comments and questions.

      I’m guessing it’s kind of like someone who was raised in a country speaking one language, but then later in life moved to another where a different language is primarily spoken. It’s very difficult for me to speak the language anymore that your post is couched in.

      If you have the time, I would definitely recommend that you check out my blog, as I’ve tried to communicate where I’m coming from there.

      Thanks for the feedback, though!

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      He doesn’t read the Bible “very often” anymore. He rose to the level of deacon. He get his belief system fromthe same place everyone else gets it. From the culture that surrounds him.

      • http://lisamamula.blogspot.com Lisa Mamula

        Well put, Lausten. It’s possible for someone to grow up in America without ever attending church, and yet absorb enough Christian imagery and language to have a belief system similar to many lifetime churchgoers. I might argue that the bible doesn’t “give us” a belief system, but we read and interpret the bible according to our belief system. (And incidentally, I don’t read much of the bible these days, and I don’t hesitate to call myself a Christian at all.)

    • Paul D.

      “I guess my question would be, does his belief system produce a change in his heart and his behavior?”

      I think that’s a poor criterion for identifying a Christian, since, in the United States at least, evangelical Christians are as bad or worse than atheists in practically every ethical and moral category, from divorce and crime to support for war and torture.

    • LianneKaos

      “We don’t come to God with how we want Him to be. We either except Him for who He really is, or we don’t truly believe in who Jesus really is.”

      And who is God? I can go to three different churches, and be given three different – and at times, opposing – descriptions of who God is; all with scriptural support. How do I know which of the three (if any!) are teaching “who He really is” and which are merely teaching passed-down ideas of what their denomination’s first spokesman wanted Him to be?

      Or do we accept a form of doublethink, where God is all things – even opposing things – and thus what I want Him to be is both as true and as false as what RandomPreacher wants me to see Him as?

  • Taylor George

    I appreciate Rob’s humility here. I’ve come accross guys in the church with very similar issues as Rob with the same kind of baggage, but rather than ask if they can hang out they claim to be THE WAY. Really like Rob’s approach here, but to answer his question we obviously has to first decide what a Christian is…

  • Taylor George

    And BTW, I have my own “baggage” too.

  • Nate

    Last night a former coworker of mine, a student at a conservative Christian university, asked me to speak with one of her friend and fellow student on a similar topic. For the past few years I’ve been in dealing with the same questions as Rob. This bible college student was beginning to see the cracks in his own faith but did not want to jump ship simply because the voyage brought about unexpected problems. The specific issue he was facing was reconciling the faith of his adolescence with new found knowledge on the way the universe actually works. He was beginning to feel uncomfortable with referring to himself as a Christian within an environment that wholeheartedly rejected the conclusions that he came to. Even though he now believed that the Earth is wee bit older than 6000 years old and that we didn’t ride around on dinosaurs in Eden, he still wished to retain everything he has learned through the teachings of Christ. He wanted to know if he could still refer to himself as a Christian. Keep in mind that this kid is 18. He has never experienced anything outside of an evangelical and pentecostal environment. He has yet to discover the rich history Christianity has outside of the past 100 or so years.

    I asked similar questions a few years ago when I completely abandoned the beliefs I grew up with. However, the question that I have now found myself asking is the inverse of whether or not I should have the right to call myself a Christian. The question that I believe should be asked is whether or not those who claim an orthodox understanding of belief, yet fail to adopt the radical lifestyle of Christ, have the right to call themselves Christians.

    The best example I can give is from growing up within a Pentecostal context. While I was a student leader in my youth group there was a debate on whether or not the gift of speaking in tongues should be considered the primary evidence for baptism in the Holy Spirit (Note: This is not a debate on the validity of this specific spiritual experience. Please don’t be a dickhead and trail off topic). The overwhelming majority of the congregation, youth group, and pastors all affirmed this belief. However, there were a few of us who broke ranks and claimed that the primary evidence was found within espousing the “fruits of the spirit”. If someone spoke in what I perceived to be gibberish yet did not possess patience or self-control, could they claim this as a gift?

    I could be entirely off base, but I think the questions that we are asking are wrong. If there is such a thing as a spiritual realm of sorts, does it truly matter what sort of linguistic aesthetic it appears to possess or is the evidence found within the life pursued? I understand this opens a whole new can of worms, but why should we continue to try and reconcile a cosmology from the first century to the understanding we have today?

    To try and answer the question: Yes, I believe that you have the right to call yourself a Christian. Now pursue that trajectory to its fullest extent.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    The question that I believe should be asked is whether or not those who claim an orthodox understanding of belief, yet fail to adopt the radical lifestyle of Christ, have the right to call themselves Christians.

    I’m all about broadening who has the right to call themselves Christians – like Richard Dawkins, who calls himself a “cultural Christian” (something I think most of us raised in a Western context could probably agree with). And, I’m not willing to make a judgment upon anyone who doesn’t “adopt the radical lifestyle of Christ” (for the most part, how would I know?)

    But, I think you make a great point about priorities.

    • Nate

      ‘And, I’m not willing to make a judgment upon anyone who doesn’t “adopt the radical lifestyle of Christ”‘

      That’s more of an extreme take on things. A lesser example is the debate within evangelicalism on homosexuality. Can someone claim to be a Christian while supporting the GLBT community?

      Maybe we just need to ask why we have an “all or nothing” approach.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Nate, at this point I’m not convinced that anyone has the right to Decide who’s “in” or “out.”

        As Doug Pagitt said awhile back, no one has a monopoly on Christianity.

        • Nate

          And that would be the point I’m trying to make.

  • Steve Pinkham

    Well, if you can’t, someone needs to take down the Christian Atheism Wikipedia page. ;-)

    I have described my current place to people in almost those exact same words as you do. I feel I deserve to use the label Christian, but I don’t usually do so. Occasionally when I want to answer a lot of questions I’ve called myself a Christian Igtheist or Christian Existentialist, but usually I try to avoid labels all together or use the atheist label.

    In my experience, when most Americans try to define Christian, they use the Nicene creed as the benchmark. The fact that there were many deviations both before and after that point doesn’t seem to faze them. Heck, when it comes down to it, most Americans have no idea how many of their ideas did not exist before the First and Second Great Awakenings, and that most of them weren’t around before the Reformation. They just accept what their culture tells them without any idea of where it came from or well thought out epistemology to justify it. And don’t get me started on what they don’t know about the last 150 years of science and biblical studies, because I’m already half into my rant and it might take on a life of it’s own. ;-)

    If you follow the one called Christ, you deserve the label Christian. Whether you want to use it or not is another question. For me, it’s no longer my primary identifier, but those 25 years from when I said the “sinner’s prayer” to my deconversion still greatly color my thoughts, and there’s much of that that is OK with me.

    I identify strongly with this statement by Peter Rollins:

    you have to stand somewhere and it is in standing somewhere that one can begin to look out into the wide expanse of the universal. Most of my friends are not Christian, many of them having left it as part of a past they never wish to return to, and I would be happy to follow them. However, the conversation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, which stretches up to today (particularly in the work of people like Badiou, Zizek and Caputo), continues to provide me with a wealth of ideas. I do not see it as a doctrinal system somuch as a tradition which reflects upon (and shapes) life and thought. If I had numerous lives I would look as closely at other traditions. But sadly I barely have enough time to scratch the surface of this one.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Steve, great thoughts as usual…

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Rob . . . I always enjoy your comments. As for this question, which is superb, the precision of your words is right-on (and important): “Intellectual assent.” “Embody the trajectory of Jesus’ life.” You and I are, I suspect, on the same river, just different kayaks.

    Do you have “the right” to call yourself Christian? Yes. Of course you do. Just as I do. It boils down to what you accept as the standard. Is it a particular church or denomination? Is it the Bible? Is it a consensus of “believers?” Is it Tony? Is it Frank?

    If Jesus is your standard, which appears to be the case, then I’ll assume you would at most acknowledge the Bible as an information source, even if you don’t accept it as a product of “divine inspiration.”

    That is, very basically, my position. And I call myself “Christian” (taken, as you know, from the Greek χριστς which means “anointed”) because I accept Jesus of Nazareth as having been uniquely “anointed,” specially touched by the Love of God, and by that anointing he personified the human ideal, and illuminated universal principals by which humankind can live and realize its true purpose.

    Here’s some qualification: by accepting Jesus as “anointed,” this does not mean that I see him as the savior Messiah of later Jewish prophecy. Nor do I accept him as the Messiah King foretold in the Torah/Tanakh. Jesus was an Israelite. He was intensely dedicated to his Hebrew faith, loved the Torah deeply, and saw its universal value and taught that value. Namely, “love God, love your neighbor as yourself, and in doing so create the ‘kingdom’ of God on earth.”

    Finally, Jesus died. And he stayed dead. But his vision and teachings — and the universal Truth they bear witness to — remain alive. And if the Jesus Way is the best way for living authentically, then “resurrection” need not be “confessed” as a physical reality, but can be accepted as a powerful spiritual reality by which we can experience the re-creation of new life in the midst of this one.

    So yes. You absolutely have “the right” to identify as Christian.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      R. Jay, this is brilliant. Thank you!

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        My pleasure Rob. And thank you as well.

        I said it quite a while ago here on Tony’s blog: I take on the label of “Christian” largely because of geography, history, and culture. It is a resonant paradigm here in the west, and so it is a logical lens through which to express and live my faith. Had I been born and raised in the far east, and had I had the same essential upbringing, family dynamic and values, then I suspect I would have been a Buddhist who lived a life of principals identical to the Jesus Way (though, obviously, I would have called it something else). The Buddhist, the Hindu, the Muslim, the Atheist, the Jew, or the Wiccan who practices the same universal Love and seeks the same universal vision of Life that Jesus embraced and taught, then he or she is a brother or sister as far as I’m concerned.

        A universal principal has its twins all over the globe, but this does not mean those twins need be identical.

        So why, for example, did I not then choose Buddhism, some might ask? Because it is much less resonant here in this western culture. Most people do not speak its “language” and therefore would not understand or identify as readily or easily. And since I already understand and speak the “language” of the Christian paradigm, logic then dictates my choice.

        • Jubal DiGriz

          Which, oddly enough, is why the Dalai Lama thinks Western folks should be reluctant to embrace Buddhism.

    • Curtis

      I agree that anyone has “the right” to call themselves a Christian. But along with that comes the obligation to honestly answer challenges to their self-proclaimed definition. If I believe Jesus Christ came from Mars and currently lives in a hotel in Cleveland, do I not also have “the right” to call myself a Christian?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Honestly, someone’s understanding of Jesus could be historically improbable, but if they are actively pursuing the Way of the Christ, sure, why not?

  • http://sacredise.com John van de Laar

    Rob, I would affirm many of the comments above that agree that you have the right to call yourself a Christian. Perhaps I can approach this from a slightly different perspective, though.

    My questions are these: In the light of your journey, why is the label “Christian” important to you? Why is it important to you that others affirm your right to use that label?

    Perhaps these questions arise from my own journey. Although I remain pretty solidly within the Christian tradition myself, I have grow increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that someone can “be” a Christian. Whether we embrace the religion that is built around the person, teaching and work of Christ or not, I don’t think “Christian” is something that we can “be”. I say this because to “be” a Christian seems to imply a destination, a state at which we have arrived. If it is accurate to call the faith of people who follow Christ “the Way”, then I don’t think of myself as “being” a Christian. I think of myself as someone who seeks to follow the way of Christ – which is what you seem to be saying you try to do as well. This is a process, a journey, not a state of being, in my opinion.

    The offshoot of saying a someone can “be” a Christian is that all sorts of other things also come to be seen as “being” Christian. Not only do we have “Christian” people, but we have “Christian” music, “Christian” bookstores, “Christian” coffee shops, “Christian” art etc. What this means is that we embrace “Christian” as an adjective that we tack on to our lives, things etc. Perhaps I’m just being pedantic, but I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the word “Christian” and more concerned about living the Way of Christ – which has less to do about agreeing with some doctrinal ideas, and more about embodying the life-giving characteristics that Christ did – grace, compassion, justice, generosity, simplicity, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, etc. etc. etc.

    I hope there may be something helpful in these ramblings. Thanks for a great conversation-starter!

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      In the light of your journey, why is the label “Christian” important to you? Why is it important to you that others affirm your right to use that label?

      For a long time, I refused the label for very similar reasons. I totally get where you’re going with this, and, for the most part, I agree.

      To be completely honest, I don’t really care if someone Decides that I’m not “allowed” to use it. I’m not really worried about it. That might sound harsh to some people (people who are probably more committed to the word Christian than to the Way of the Christ). But, that’s where I’m at. I don’t sit up at night wondering if I’m in or out.

      More than anything else, I really thought the question would be good for Tony’s series, and it seems already to have proven to be.

      • http://sacredise.com John van de Laar

        I’m glad to hear that you’ve freed yourself from the pressure to conform to someone else’s standards of being ‘in’ or ‘out’. For way too many people, that freedom is very hard to come by. I think it’s healthy that you don’t care whether other people decide you’re “allowed” to use the label or not.

        As you say, the question has proved to be a good one for Tony’s series. Thanks for asking it, and for participating in the conversation so attentively and graciously.

  • http://salamanderslam.com Dave H.

    I’m chiming in here without any answer to Rob’s question, but instead to say that I’m appreciating the conversation very much. I’m impressed and moved by the care of Rob’s question and the care of his responses in the comments, and the generosity of most of the folks taking on the question. I have dear friends who could be described as very much in Rob’s place, so I’m invested in seeing how Rob sorts through this. Thanks for being open with your thoughts, Rob.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks, Dave.

  • Craig

    Here are two questions that might be interesting and useful to try to answer:

    1. Are there any necessary conditions that an adult human being must meet in order to have a legitimate claim on being a Christian? If so, what are they?

    2. What are some of the maximally lenient sufficient conditions that would qualify a normally functioning, adult human being as a Christian?

  • Craig

    <blockquoteDo I still have “the right” to call myself a Christian?

    As others have pointed out, this might not be a confusing way to pose the question. You may well have a right to call yourself a horse. But this doesn’t mean that you have a legitimate claim to being a horse. So perhaps we should ask, do you have a legitimate claim to being a Christian? Or, is there sufficient reason for us (or for you) to regard you as being a Christian?

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Who determines the standard of legitimacy?

      • Craig

        It’s a good question, since even the OED editors can presumably get it wrong. The standards will presumably depend on the sort of term we take “Christian” to be. Depending on the nature of the word, it may even be that majority of people have wrong ideas about what the term mean, wrong ideas which are even reflected in their erroneous usage. But I doubt that “Christian” is a word like that. “Christian,” I suspect, is more like “marriage.”

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          I think this is a good distinction to make, between right and legitimacy. The problem as I see it with the word Christian, though, is the historical diversity of its usage. I’m not sure there is a “standard” of legitimacy – not an objective one, for sure, but maybe not even an approximate one.

          • Craig

            But you do, I take it, accept that there are some people who don’t have any legitimate claims to being Christians (just like there are some people who don’t have any legitimate claim to being yoga practitioners or athletes or intellectuals–however vague all such designations may be). Right?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            there are some people who don’t have any legitimate claim to being yoga practitioners or athletes or intellectuals

            Yes, totally. Interpretations have a range – but, with Christianity, we do not have access to the precise boundaries.

            For example, I would say that someone who owns a slave is actively living in a way contrary to the Way of the Christ (as I interpret it). But, if we then took that to mean “anyone who owns a slave is not a Christian,” that would “disqualify” a lot of people.

            I guess my bigger point is that maybe no one gets to Decide this for anyone else.

          • Craig

            Rob (and I don’t mean to come across as combative, I just want to keep pressing the conversation, thinking this might be useful for all): in each of the examples I listed we don’t have access to precise boundaries. Precise boundaries are very rare outside of perhaps mathematics. You won’t, I think, find very many precise boundaries even in science–and this is because you won’t find very many precise boundaries in nature itself. Your “bigger point,” moreover, generalizes: rarely does any person ever “get to decide” these things for anyone else. No one even gets to decide for a pine tree whether or not it is legitimately a pine tree. So maybe what I am saying is this: your bigger point is very easy for me to accept, but–perhaps because I take it to be so easy to accept–we should try to press further.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I agree. I’ve actually spent the last several months trying to dig through different people’s thoughts around this kind of question. I haven’t really come up with a reasonable definition – though there might be one.

            For any definition that I’ve found, I can always come up with a counter-example. From my perspective, the Way of the Christ would point me at least in the direction of inclusion.

            What if – in line with John’s thoughts above – “being a Christian” is only legitimate when a person is acting in line with the trajectory of the Christ? Maybe “becoming” is a better term than “being”?

            I don’t know if this is relatively true. But, it’s definitely an interesting line of thinking for me to consider.

          • Craig

            Maybe there’s something worth thinking about in here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentially_contested_concept

      • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

        “Who determines the standard of Legitimacy?”

        I like Peter Rollin’s suggested answer to the question “Are you a Christian?”:

        “I aspire to be” or better yet, “Ask my enemies.”

        • Craig

          In aspiring to be a Christian, what is it that Rollins, in his own mind, aspires to be? And are these indeed aspirations to be a Christian? Could someone with entirely different aspirations (say, aspirations to simply be a atheistic, peace-loving farmer) still be rightly said to be directly aspiring to be a Christian? The sorts of questions I’m after.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Maybe I would say something more like…the divine spark is within all of humanity. And everyone is Christian to some degree. But, some of us choose to self-identify with the Way of the Christ.

          • http://notapastor.wordpress.com Juan Z.

            For me, to really look at Rollins’ ideas, I had to start with how he thinks about identities themselves. So not just “Christian” but any identity that a person might hold (e.g. Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Male, Female”. Rollins’ position is the Christianity is the end of these distinctions.

            In *Insurrection*, Rollins builds the case that Christianity is not about the teachings of Jesus or the miracles he performed, nor is it about a new religious system developed out of the record of Jesus and his followers. Rollins talks about Christianity as the crucifixtion, meaning the giving up of our beliefs and identities, and the resurrection, meaning embracing our lives as they are.

            So, as for who is or is not a Christian, Rollins says, “We can even say that in Christ there is no Christian nor Non-Christian — for the word ‘Christian’ itself now refers to the embrace of a concrete identity, with a concrete mythology, rather than the renunciation of these.” (Insurrection p.168)

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I’ve interacted with Rollins before on this idea of renouncing all identities. It seems to me that to exist is to exist within a “concrete identity” – we cannot avoid it. But, what we can do is seek to become people who don’t have such tight grips on whatever our identities are – to see them as necessary fictions. To be without a concrete identity, then would be to cease to exist.

          • NateW

            Rob – Maybe this is what you are saying, but I read Rollins as saying that what is fictional is ultimately the idea that our identity lies in who we think we are, or who we self identify with. Rather, I think he would say that we need to come to the point of knowing that my identity lies solely in that which my actions attest to. My “concrete identity” is bound up then only in how I choose to live in the present moment. But of course, how I choose to live in the present moment is also determined by what I believe is my concrete identity.

    • Curtis

      ” this doesn’t mean that you have a legitimate claim to being a horse.”

      Why not? If I, in my own mind, believe I am a horse, how is that not legitimate, in the context of my own mind?

      Of course, if I have to convince others I am a horse, that is a different question. If agreement with others is important, and I cannot convince others that I am a horse, then I have lost legitimacy.

      But what is not legitimate about a belief I hold in my own mind, independent of what others think?

      • Craig

        Curtis, it’s a strange (though probably not incoherent) view of meaning under which every word means whatever the user takes it to mean. For instance, under such a view I suspect that it would be quite difficult to give a non-revisionist interpretation of the following claim: “You spoke falsely when you called that man your daughter.”

        • Curtis

          But the original question was about how to name a relationship God. The original question was not about odd-toed ungulates.

          It is the nature of God that any word used by a person to describe God means whatever the user takes it to mean. Yes, it is strange. But isn’t God strange, by definition?

          • Craig

            I thought we were talking about the meaning of “Christian.” The relation of this term to God is open to debate, and your take on the semantics of God-describing terms is highly dubious on its own. And special pleading isn’t a good thing.

          • Curtis

            “Christian” is a name for a particular framework of understanding human-kinds relationship with God. The central articles of belief for the Christian Church were outlined in 381 AD. Certainly, there was much decent about those beliefs then, and even to this day, but the decision was made.

            An individual’s attempt to define God, outside of any specific religious framework, is completely open-ended. I know a guy in my 12-step group that insists God is a couch. How can I argue with him?

  • Carl

    Amazingly, Jon Stewart kind of addressed this on the Daily Show last night,

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-december-3-2012/the-war-on-christmas–friendly-fire-edition—bill-o-reilly-s-philosophy. (sorry for my lame tech skills at providing an active link)

    I recognize it’s tongue in cheek, but it seems appropriate.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Love some Jon Stewart. One of our greatest prophets.

      Sadly, though, I think he’s wrong on this one…

  • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

    What I hear in the question is a belief that philosophies can be pinned to a person, or at least a set of books. I first stopped calling myself a Christian when I stopped believing in the resurrection, that seemed like a requirement to me. But then there were all these ideas that came to me via Christianity, that I still liked. As I delved into those, using the ideas and writings of others, I realized that very few people call themselves Aristotelian or Rusellists, although they may form much of their worldview around those philosophers. The difference is, philosophy, as a discipline, builds on the contributions of each generation. It isn’t trying to come up with final answers and label them. You can see this type of inter-generational discussion happening in the Bible and there are people like Tony attempting to keep it going. Unfortunately there are some loud voices that want to stop it and claim Christianity is one thing for all times and of course they know what it is.

  • Frank

    Anyone has the right to call themselves anything but that does not make it so.

    As the bible is the primary source of who Jesus was and what he did, unless you believe what was written about him and what he said then I don’t see how the label “Christ follower” is valid or appropriate.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Frank lives! I was seriously waiting for this one.

      So, your criteria is simply if you “believe what was written about Jesus and what he said,” then you are in? And if you don’t, then you are out?

      What do you mean by “believe”?

      • Frank

        I don’t understand your question. Believe is a word that is pretty straight forward. And yes we either believe what Jesus said or don’t. He defined what it means to be a follower.

        • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          And that’s as far as this will get. Frank says, “it’s clear”. I’ve never heard anything more substantial from him.

        • JimA

          I think you might really be saying that you are believing what the writer of the Gospel according to John says that Jesus said, though written many decades later, …and without firsthand knowledge.

          • Frank

            If you do not believe in what the bible says where are you getting your information about Jesus?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I – like everyone else – do “believe in” some of what the Bible says. I’m just (finally) in a place where I can admit that I pick and choose.

          • Frank

            Rob I respect your honesty. If only more people would follow suit.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            The Koran has numerous passages about Jesus, and beautiful ones at that. They are freed from the theological constructs that later Christians manufactured and placed upon the human person of Jesus of Nazareth. Of course, I see the Koran similarly (though not identically) as I see the Bible: an information source.

  • Scot Miller

    I always enjoy Rob’s comments here, but I highly recommend his blog. Great stuff.

    After 4 years of Christian college (Bible major), 3 years of Southern Baptist seminary, and 4 years of graduate school, and 10 years or so teaching in a Southern Baptist university, I could hardly believe anything that passed for Christian belief. It’s only been within the past three or four years that I discovered that that was a good thing. The first step in faith is to abandon faith (which is sort of like Socrates’ idea that the first evidence of wisdom is knowing that he knows nothing [Apology; cf. Meno]). I think it was Ernst Bloch who said, “Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist.”

    It’s only been in the past three years — well after I quit teaching — that I’ve discovered alternatives to my previous approach. In particular, I like the idea of “Christian atheism,” or Peter Rollins’ a/theism, or Richard Kearney’s anatheism, or Jean-Luc Nancy’s Dis-Enclosure, or Gabriel Vahanian, etc. But even though I tried to write a dissertation on Meister Eckhart, it’s only been since reading Rollins et al that I have begun to understand what Eckhart means when he said, “I pray God rid me of God.” Just as there isn’t one “theism,” but many theisms (depending on the god one accepts), so there are many atheisms. There are many gods to reject. By rejecting the transendent God of onto-theology, perhaps there is a discovery of a God in the mundane, a God without being who comes into being whenever one follows a Christ-like pattern of life.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks, Scot, for the recommendation!

      I’m totally picking up what you’re throwing down.

      This pretty much sums up where I’m at: “perhaps there is a discovery of a God in the mundane, a God without being who comes into being whenever one follows a Christ-like pattern of life.

    • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

      Rob and Scott – I was going to throw Peter Rollin’s name out there as well. Rob, if you haven’t you should definitely read both “How (not) to Speak of God” and “Insurrection” by Peter Rollins.

      Rollins’ “a/theism” is, to paraphrase his words, not necessarily an intellectual disbelief that god “exists” but a fundamental change in how we relate to Him. It is rejection of god as a “Deus ex Machina”, (a deity who acts upon the world/our lives from outside the natural plot line) and an embrace of God within not intellectual belief, but in the active embrace of others.

      Faith then, is not merely an intellectual belief held despite a lack of rational evidence, it is a choice to fully embrace the lives of others as being good and meaningful even when that good and meaning cannot be seen. As Pete says in his blog post today, faith is the moment by moment active pronouncement that “it is good”.

      As for calling myself a “Christian”, I love Pete’s suggested response and use it when I’m asked: “I aspire to be” or, even better, “Ask my enemies.”

      The center of Christian Theology is nothing but the Cross itself. Christ reveals God to fundamentally be one who, for all of time, subjected himself to death. To follow Christ is nothing less than to step into the abounding emptiness, the loveless void left by God’s self-giving death, and to physically be, in every moment, a second coming of Christ, as we die in love for others, and thus also the site of God’s resurrection from the dead.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Huge fan of Rollins. And Caputo. And (when I have the patience for) Zizek.

      • http://notapastor.wordpress.com Juan Z.

        Hey, Nate, I just posted a comment on Rollins too. I said something about crucifixion being giving up identities, But I think you stated it better as “to follow Christ is nothing less than to step into the abounding emptiness.” Yeah, it really is that profound.

        And I think I often miss the positive side of Rollin’s work (and Christianity as a whole). What you’re retelling as the “moment by moment pronouncement that ‘it is good’”. and that resurrection is not just awakening into our lives, but also to “die in love for others.”

        I think I started reading this comment thread out of curiosity, but I’m surprised to find myself actually remembering that there is a reason why I *want* to be a Christian.

        • NateW

          I find myself having to look hard for the positive side of Rollins as well. He is doing his best (and a darn good job I think) to speak about that which cannot ever be fully spoken. To follow Christ is to embrace, by active faith, the great paradox that Life rises in me when I give my life away; Peace reigns when I give up my need to be at peace, love conquers when I stop gaming for the love of others, and rest is found when I give up basking in God’s grace and throw myself down into the world of works for the sake of others.

          In a real way, to follow christ is to live as if every day is “Holy Saturday”. All we know for sure, as we honestly look around the world, is that Christ (that is, love, peace, joy, and rest, embodied) is dead. Is radically absent. We cannot know for certain what will happen tomorrow. But to follow Christ is to live as if we know that the way to life is following him into death. This is faith INTO Christ (as the Greek “eis” bears the nuance of moving into, not just being “in”).

          What is this death? It is a moment by moment entering into the world of others, actively being WITH and FOR the least. To use Brian MacLaren’s language, it is to give up my identity as a part of “us” (whatever group of like people I have identified with) in order to stand beside “them”, those who “us” sees as outsiders. It is standing beside those who are and despised and rejected and so being despised and rejected with them. It is being crucified by my own people, and even being hated by those I have tried to stand up for.

          I think we need to be careful in this discussion that we don’t fall into saying that “all religions are equally true” as I think it is more accurate to say that all religions are equally UNTRUE. Religion is radically oriented around removing pain, removing shame, and guaranteeing happiness. The way of Christ is to Love even unto despair for ourselves, to admit that we have been forsaken, and yet to find within our shared experience of God’s absence the ability to Love. God has literally been crucified. He is weak, he is powerless in this world, and in this is His mightiest strength: Community within shared pain is God’s essential “being” in this world, and our participation with others in this “being” is the only path by which death will be rendered stingless.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Nate, I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. But, I would also hesitate to use any kind of language that suggests that the self should be completely obliterated for the sake of others. I, personally, have found a lot of help from Tillich’s distinction between “living FOR others” and “living FOR oneself WITH others.” To me, there is a huge difference between the two. My own version of Christianity for years was an unhealthy version of the former, to the point where I had no self left. That is a dangerous road to depression and potentially suicide.

          • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

            Good call Rob. Perhaps I wasn’t careful enough in qualifying. In no way do I see following Christ as being dismissive of my true self. I have spent years drowning on this path of mental self-flagellation as well. What I described above is, I suppose, what it looks like to truly follow Christ, but for the follower this is not–cannot–be a path walked by compulsion, moral obedience, or desire for promised rewards. To follow Christ is to first be filled with Grace and then to simply live from that place. Modern Christianity would often have us berate our “wretched” selves, but the Word spoken/lived by Christ is that our true/deepest self is good and beautiful. Being stripped of the dirty rags I wear will feel like my “self” is dying, but in reality is the very process that reveals the fullness of who I truly am as a human being.

            The mark of the true Christian is that he is one who loves, but the true Christian identity is in being one who IS loved, or, even more simply, one is free to simply “be”.

    • toddh

      Wow! Great stuff, thanks Scot. I feel like I am on a similar journey.

  • http://iJoey.org Joey Reed

    I would encourage further pursuit of the differences between Cultural Christianity and the practices of the Christian faith.

    At this point in history, we are far enough away from the person of Christ that we can very easily say that both institution and culture have emanated to the point that both contain elements that Christ never intended. Cultural Christianity has become a leverage point for political operatives in this country in particular. And the trappings and politicization of the Church has made it over in the image of the Pharisees in many respects. Neither of these would have been acceptable to the 1st century person of Jesus, IMHO.

    However, I’m not sure that anyone who is able to say “I never pray” can legitimately purport followership of Jesus Christ. He taught his disciples specifically to do just that. He not only encouraged it and taught it, he modeled it.

    If we’re straining gnats, I think I just found a labrador retriever.

  • JimA

    Wow. Great conversation. A lot of resonances here for me. It is apparent that one gets a different answer depending upon whether “the right” to call one’s self a Christian is referenced to the relatively tightly defined tradition expressed in mainstream orthodoxy, …or to some less-widely held expression/tradition still falling under larger umbrella of Christian thought and practice, …or referenced to a personal, perhaps idiosyncratic, distillation of the essence of the example and teachings of Jesus. In the first two, “the right” is referenced to a consensus of like-mindedness in community. In the third, it’s more about self-identification, I think.

    The point is, these anchorages are not interchangeable, though they share a name. We may even move among them. This situation is not unfamiliar to us, in that we have other identities (e.g., national, political, etc.) that manifest similar sorts of differences, simultaneities, and tensions.

    The way I look at this is that in much of Christianity, we have overstepped our sense of “rights” in this respect. The expression of what Jesus was, did, and taught occurred for sure in cultural contexts, but what he seemed to hope we would grasp was something else, something that transcended all this man-labeling and man-ownership stuff, …hoping that we would somehow gain a connection with the divine that allows these to fall away (at least momentarily in those “thin places”) in irrelevance.

    Ultimately, I think if there is an identification with the Christ one wishes to make, they have “the right” to do so, though not the right to insist others comply with their particular definition (their own man-ownership) of exactly what that means. We just have to be prepared to live in some resultant dynamic arising from differences in the details, even the most important-to-us ones (e.g., whether gaining heaven or living this life is “the point”). The beauty of that ideal is that we can converse and learn from each other, instead of dissociating ourselves. Surely the latter would in fact NOT be in Jesus’ playbook!

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    I’m not sure that anyone who is able to say “I never pray” can legitimately purport followership of Jesus Christ. He taught his disciples specifically to do just that. He not only encouraged it and taught it, he modeled it.

    I will also say that when I was an elder/pastor I never prayed. And, I would say that the majority of the people around me would have said the same. If more people were able to be honest, I bet the majority of church leaders would fall into that demographic. Just an interesting point…

    Jesus (probably) said and did a lot of things – many of which we no longer have access to. Which things matter?

    • Frank

      Have you ever wondered that you find yourself in this position because you never prayed?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        I prayed when I was a teenager. But, no, not recently. I don’t believe in a magic deity.

        • Frank

          So you really have answered your own question then.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Which question?

  • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

    Thanks for the question, Rob. It’s one that’s close to my heart, and I am nowhere near having it figured out.

    My story is sort of the mirror image of yours. After a decade of calling myself a non-Christian, I’ve come back to the church. I now sometimes call myself a Christian, mostly with the adjective “Agnostic” in front of it. I’m attending Sunday services, playing guitar in the “worship arts” team and heading up fundraising projects.

    In my years away from the church, I pursued other beliefs systems: psychology and Taoism. I continue to love them both. But for me a primitive part of my brain keeps experiencing religion and god in the images of American Evangelicalism. My guess is that those images were installed early in my life when I was particularly vulnerable and I’ll never be able to rewrite that code.

    So, even though I’m still an agnostic, I’ve decided to stop fighting Christianity and accept that those are my religious icons. They are the images that help me make sense of my life and my relationship to the vastness of the universe. Even being unconvinced in the factuality of any god (let along the Christian god), I’m now as comfortable being a Christian as I am being a psychologist or an American (or a punk rocker, for that matter).

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks, Juan(?). Definitely sounds similar to where I’m at.

      One of my biggest issues with participating in “the church” at this point is that my family (wife and 13 and 12 year old sons) want absolutely nothing to do with it. So, I can live without it. Maybe later.

      • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

        That’s funny cuz the reason I begrudgingly started back at church is because my wife and sons (6 & 9) really like going!

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          Haha nice!

  • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse

    Rob,

    I’m betting Tony will say you’re safe calling yourself a Christian unless it turns out that you’re a Morman, or some other “Christian Sect.” HA!

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/11/01/watch-this-and-tell-me-if-you-still-think-mormonism-is-christian-video/

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Oh, snap! Tony’s posts about Mormonism were actually part of the impetus for me to rethink this question (i.e. I think Tony is mostly wrong about Mormons).

      • http://www.turridesign.com Jesse

        Yeah, all snarkiness aside though (I know Tony’s taken a beatin’ in the comments lately), I always liked Kierkegaard’s sentiment: on his best day he would say he was trying to become a Christian.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          YES!

  • Chris Miller

    IMO, If following the way of love is being a christian then anyone who believes they act in the way of that love can call themselves a christian or I suppose any other name. From a biblical viewpoint, calling one’s self a follower of the Jesus whom the first followers believed physically rose from the dead and is alive today in some real sense by what we mean by living (not merely metaphorically), is far more complex. It intrigues me that the Scripture reveals God is love. So the “intrigue” for me is to figure out who God is and how God reveals love. If anything we believe is love (even if we call what we see ‘love’), then IMO we are making love whatever we want to. Other than a reference to your culture upbringing, I don’t know what it means to have a “right” to call yourself a christian. Why do you want to, if you have moved away from the biblical beliefs you mention, especially the touchstone of the resurrection of Jesus?

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Maybe the best defense as to why I still want to call myself a Christian is that we all have these kinds of identities, labels, etc. – no matter how hard we try to avoid them. I spent a couple of years trying to deny my own “enculturation” into Christianity, but I gave up on that. Now, I’m in a place where I see that Christianity is extremely diverse, and that there is a place for me (and for everyone). Maybe one of these days I’ll return to some of the “beliefs” that many Christians assent to. But, right now, all I know is the kind of life that I want to live – and that I think is ideal for everyone – despite my own inability to intellectually agree with a lot of what I perceive as ridiculousness. “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

  • Curtis

    The word “Christian” is not used anywhere in the Bible. “Christian” is a cultural construct created by a certain group of followers of Jesus Christ, who hold to specific set of non-universal, some would argue non-Biblical beliefs about Jesus, summarized in the Nicene Creed of 381 AD.

    Christianity eventually became one of the dominant world religions, and as such, there are sometimes benefits accrued to people who claim to be “Christian”. In extreme cases, those who do not claim to be Christian are subjected to enslavement and/or death. This predominance of Christianity in a culture leads many people to claim to be “Christian”, to receive the benefits of being associated with Christianity, even though they do not hold to the original creeds of the fourth century. Despite these various definitions of “Christian” that have developed through the years, “Christian” remains a cultural construct of the fourth century, defined by fourth-century creeds.

    • Craig

      Despite these various definitions of “Christian” that have developed through the years, “Christian” remains a cultural construct of the fourth century, defined by fourth-century creeds.

      Why?

      • Curtis

        Because that is when the first organized attempt to define the word “Christian” occurred, and the followers of those creeds remain to this day and have not disavowed that definition.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          I would guess that this is not historically accurate. I’m no historian, but my initial interpretation of your claims is false.

          • Curtis

            I’m open to correction.

          • http://notapastor.wordpress.com Juan Z.

            I know I’m probably missing the whole point of this thread, but just to nerd in a second, I googled “Christian term bible” and it shows up three times: twice in Acts (11:26 & 26:28) and once in 1 Peter 4:16…

          • Curtis

            I stand corrected about the use of “Christian” in the Bible. It is used a couple times, to indicate a follower of Christ. I still don’t know any more authoritative and comprehensive statement of Christian faith than the Nicene Creed.

            I guess a “reclaim the word Christian” effort has some merit. But I don’t see how it has any value beyond an academic exercise. History has brought us to the definition of “Christian” that we have. The fourth century creeds are central to that definition.

            If I wanted to choose life outside of the creeds, I would not use the word “Christian” to describe my faith, to avoid confusing my neighbors, if nothing else. I think the definition of “Christian” that we have arrived at through history is unavoidable.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            You might be right. The word might need to be discarded, for those in a similar place that I am. But, either way, I’m not going to lose sleep over any of this…

        • Craig

          So I can see that those people have legitimate claim to the designation, but I why it precludes others. Suppose the pre-socratics precluded women and barbarians from the title of “philosopher.” Even if they did, I don’t think we should respect their boundaries on the term.

          • Curtis

            Religions are funny things. I would think if a religion establishes a clear statement of beliefs, and never disavows those beliefs, that those beliefs would be recognized and respected by others.

            Can anyone who proclaims non-muslim beliefs claim to be muslim? Can someone who proclaims non-jewish beliefs claim to be jewish? Sure, they are free to make that proclamation, but they invite criticism from others who still adhere to traditional beliefs. No different with christians.

          • Craig

            You sure there’s a sound and credible distinction between religion and, e.g., pre-socratic philosophy? If there is, why does that distinction make religion special in this specific semantic regard?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Curtis, I’m not sure where you’re going with your comments. But, I can’t speak for other religions. From my (limited) experience and (limited) study of the history of Christianity, there is no objective board of authority that is written in stone (or in the sky), that can Decide these things for any individual.

          • Curtis

            I belong to a church that believes the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople were the objective boards of authority that decide these things for the Christian Church.

            As an individual, you are free to define whatever you want, as I have stated.

            I don’t understand why someone who does not feel at least some affinity for the creeds would want to call themselves “Christian”. Jesus never called himself “Christian”. None of the original disciples called themselves “Christian”. The word Christian originated in the early centuries after Christ, and a definition was arrived at in 381.

            If that definition does not jibe with you, then why would you want to use the word “Christian”? Why not “follower of Christ” or “disciple of Christ” or something?

            Of course, you are welcome to call yourself Christian, but I’m not sure what purpose it would serve. If you call yourself a Christian but don’t believe Christian creeds, all you do is confuse the issue for others, who end up with a misunderstanding of what you believe. And calling yourself Christian when you don’t believe Christian creeds certainly doesn’t help you clarify your own ideas or beliefs.

            What is the point of using the name “Christian” if you don’t want to claim a part of Christian tradition?

          • Curtis

            If a pre-socratic philosopher wants to step forward and claim the word “philosophy”, explaining how everyone else got this philosophy thing wrong, and are mis-using the word, I’d be happy to hear them out.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Curtis,

            I guess I do feel some “affinity” for the entire history, and all of the divers traditions, within Christianity. But, that doesn’t mean I think most of it is objectively (or even approximately) true.

            I guess, in a sense, I’m part of a large movement of people who want to redeem words like Christian from the Deciders (i.e. the people who Defined Christianity in the fourth century).

            I’m not sure if you’ve read any of my blog, but it might help you to see the kind of project that I am trying to contribute to…

          • Curtis

            Sounds like a great project. I’ll check your blog.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Curtis, will all respect I say….this is weird.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        (Oops, with not will…)

      • Curtis

        I acknowledge your respect. Can you elaborate on what is weird?

  • https://twitter.com/sean_muldowney Sean

    Rob, I’ve seen you around on various blogs, have checked out yours, and really respect where you are coming from. Not only do I think that you have the “right” to call yourself a Christian, but if you also go out of your way to hang out with others who “also try to embody the trajectory of Jesus’ life (the way of love),” I dare say you are (still) participating in the Church (broadly & christologically defined). If that’s the case, how does that sit with you?

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      There’s a well-known Greek Orthodox bishop from England named Timothy Kallistos Ware who wrote an excellent book titled The Orthodox Church (Penguin; 1997). On page 308 of the paperback edition (new) he wrote the following: “We know where the Church is but we cannot be sure where it is not.”

      Ware of course proceeds from the Eastern Orthodox theological perspective but his statement reflects a truism that is applicable no matter where you stand in the spectrum of Christian theology and ecclesiology. Even from a strict traditional theological standpoint, God alone is the sole arbiter of what “Christian” is, and it is not up to people to make the judgment, or determine the standard.

      And to draw from Tony’s post yesterday, giving the “benefit of the doubt” to those who embrace the label of “Christian” is key, because theologically speaking it keeps things in God’s hands and out of ours.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I haven’t (re)considered the word “church” in a long time. Even when I was still employed by one, I started to hate the word. I think it’s another word that has been so misused that it’s almost irredeemable. I could totally be wrong about that. That’s just where I’m at with it.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    I just thought about something…

    Let’s imagine that someone thinks, “No, Rob, you’re not a Christian” (I’m sure there are some Deciders out there, lurking…).

    Then, what? What would you propose that I do? Should I say a prayer? Read a passage from the Bible? Join a church? What action should I do differently to be considered a Christian that I am not already doing?

    In my original question, I “confessed” that I am personally committed to the Way of the Christ, and that I think it is the best way to live ones life. If that’s not enough, what more should I do?

    I think that ones answer to this kind of question will reveal a lot about what someone interprets Christianity to be…

    • Craig

      Rob, here’s what I suspect you should do: specify why it is that you still want to be associated with Christianity. Maybe reflect on what it is that you think would be lost if you broke clean from the designation “Christian,” whether in your own mind or in the minds of others. (I’m not posing these questions skeptically.)

      • Craig

        There might be ways to turn the table on some of these folks, e.g., on those who think only Christians sincerely seek the truth (that only Christians “love the light,” or have “received the love of the truth,” or “who do their deeds in the light”). Under criteria like this, you might claim to be a Christian on these people’s own terms.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Oops my italics got jacked.

      Craig,
      I think that there is a spark – or a seed – within that which gave rise to Christianity that is worth keeping. Beyond that, I think the entire thing ultimately deconstructs itself. Not that everything else is useless, but just that it’s up for grabs. To rethink, reinvent, redefine, etc.

      I, for one, want to watch it burn.

      • Craig

        So what’s this seed or spark? What’s the good essence you wish to see kept? And is it not something accessible to non-Christians as non-Christians?

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          Put simply, love. I know that sounds pretty vague. But, I think that is the “essence” of all good religion. And, no, I don’t think it’s inaccessible to anyone. “I hear them all.”

          • Craig

            So we’ve not identified that for which we are looking.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            “Love.” Amen, Rob!

          • Curtis

            I believe all religions follow this spark of Love.

            If you want to worship Love, more power to you! Really. If only everyone would do that.

            Christianity is one of many frameworks to live out and express this spark. If you were raised in a Christian culture, Christianity probably has much meaning for you. It is yours if you want it, but it is not mandatory, in any sense.

  • Curtis

    “I don’t intellectually assent to any of the things that orthodox Christians are supposed to (i.e. the Trinity, the physical resurrection of Jesus, etc.). I don’t read my Bible very often. I never pray. But, I cannot escape the cultural influence that Christianity has had upon me, and it’s very difficult for me to think outside of that framework.”

    I don’t understand the conflict you feel. Why not accept the “framework” for what it is, a cultural framework and metaphor for living, and leave it at that?

    There are plenty of Christians who take a more literary, rather than literal view of the creeds, but still find them packed full of meaning and truth. Believing that God works to reach out to humans in the person of Jesus Christ is a story packed full of meaning, whether or not you believe Jesus actually, physically resurrected or not.

    If you feel and affinity for Christian culture and values, and think within a Christian framework, then you are a Christian, by virtue of your own claiming of that tradition. I cant’ think of an argument that would prove you are not a Christian.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    I wouldn’t necessarily describe this as a “conflict” – I can’t think of a single decision that I make during a day that would change depending on how this question gets “answered.”

    • Curtis

      So why ask?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        In my previous comment, I said that my primary purpose in asking the question was simply to provoke a good conversation.

        • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

          Mission accomplished!

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Haha win!

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    This might be inappropriate… I’m not too familiar with blogging/commenting etiquette. But, I thought the following three posts might help explain where my research has taken me over the past several months in relation to this question:

    beyond the bounds?
    more thoughts on the Deciders
    the heresy of creedalism

    (If this is inappropriate, I apologize in advance.)

  • http://www.simplyshalom.com Naomi

    Since you live in a “Christian culture”, it is completely understandable that you identify more with Christians than with other religious groups. If Christians were persecuted, e.g. were imprisoned or executed for claiming that Jesus is Lord, would you still call yourself a Christian? How much is living in the way of Christ worth to you? Would you be content to live like Christ without labeling it as such? (How many of us would deny Christ if given the choice between denial and death?)

    I’m not much of a Bible “referencer” but this discussion reminds me of when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And then asks again, “Who do YOU say that I am?” If Jesus is not the Son of God to you, then you really aren’t a Christian in the Biblical sense. I really believe that how you answer this question determines if you fit within the definition of a Christian. Not just culturally, but an “ultimate reality” paradigm sort of way.

    Even if being a Christian is just cultural, then shouldn’t the typical rituals and practices of American, 21st Century Christianity be a part of your life (e.g. prayer, church attendance, kitchy bumper stickers (just kidding), etc.)?

    This is a complex question. I’m glad there are multiple people with thoughts on the subject so we can see a broad range of ideas. Thanks for asking this!

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thanks, Naomi, for your comment, though I don’t know that I have much of a response.

      Here are some related thoughts I had recently:

      To be willing to “die for Christ” is to forsake the way of life which Christ embodied and invited…

      To follow Christ, to embody his way, is to give yourself to actual people. Not to abandon real people for the sake of your own glory. Not to be remembered, revered, as an incarnation of the divine. To seek sainthood is to reject Christ…

      Christ is not a person to be defended, or even to die for, but a memory to be re-enacted…

      Don’t lose your life for Christ; lose your idolatry of Christ for the sake of the world.

  • Ric Shewell

    Let’s see, I would like to thank dispensationalism for this question, and I would like to thank classical liberalism for most of the answers in the comment section.

    I don’t think people really asked “Am I a Christian?” as much before Darby and Scofield, before they reintroduced a major emphasis on the “invisible church.” This emphasis on the “invisible church” made it possible for people to belong to a church and still not be a Christian. All of a sudden, your “Christianness” had little or nothing to do with your participation in a community of worship and mission, and had everything to do with what goes in your head.

    So this comment section has turned into: “What type of things should be going on in the heads of people that call themselves Christians?” No surprise, we have a pretty generous group of people commenting here.

    What is interesting is that all the answers are still about the individual and what the individual thinks about Christ. I want to say that this way of thinking is newish, thoroughly modern, and liberal (that includes you Frank, you’re being liberal).

    To really inquire about someone’s Christianness, we have to ask about their participation with the community, the church. Does the person belong to this community? Does this community belong to this person? Would this person advocate or take responsibility for all others in the community? Does this person feel welcomed and encouraged to correct and help form this community? Does this person lay down personal preferences and rights for the community? Does this person lay down personal feelings, even beliefs, for the sake of the community? etc.

    But I guess the real problem is the definition of “Christian.” I would like to define it in regards to participation in a community. Others would like to define it in regards to “likeness” to Christ. Others mental assent to articles of faith. If we all define it differently, then we really can’t have a language or conversation, so we probably should use the most used and generally agreed upon definition in our culture: the definition that has everything to do with mentally assenting to the articles of faith, usually the Nicene Creed.

    In that case, no, Rob, you are not a Christian.

    • Frank

      Many things have been said of me here on this blog. I have nit felt hurt or insulted by any of them until now. Liberal? I challenge you sir to a duel! My honor has been besmirched!

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Wow, Ric. Thanks for your comment. But, I won’t be able to respond in anything approaching a Christ-like way, so I got nothing.

      • Ric Shewell

        I didn’t think my comment would offend you. I thought you weren’t losing sleep over this, and this answer couldn’t have surprised you.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          I’m not offended. And, no, I didn’t lose sleep.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      Ric, you wrote: “What is interesting is that all the answers are still about the individual and what the individual thinks about Christ. I want to say that this way of thinking is newish, thoroughly modern, and liberal.”

      You are, of course, wrong. According to the Gospel narrative, Jesus himself is said to have asked, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27) Not so “newish” or “thoroughly modern” after all, considering it was a question Jesus supposedly asked from the very beginning (and to which people gave varying answers, even back then).

      You also wrote: “we probably should use the most used and generally agreed upon definition in our culture. . . . the Nicene Creed.”

      The only reason you give for proposing the Nicene Creed as a standard is because of the varying answers people present about what they think “Christian” means, and because you feel “we really can’t have a language or conversation” as a result. Though interestingly, the Nicene Creed does not speak to your own expressed standard of community membership.

      The irony, however, is that many disparate Christian traditions — take the Eastern Orthodox and the Evangelical Lutherans as one example — accept the Nicene Creed as a standard which defines the fundamentals of Christian identity. And yet even at that, they disagree on its precise wording (look up “filioque“) and that disagreement has remained a point of great theological contention for many hundreds of years.

      Of course, I myself reject the Nicene Creed outright, since it is a product of an ancient politicized religion that is a gross aberration of the original Jesus movement of the early first century.

      • Ric Shewell

        Oh, I had no idea that Jesus’ question to his disciples was about their identity and whether or not they are Christians.

        The thing that is new and modern (by modern, I mean about 100 years old) is modernity, making our individual experiences the foundation of our epistemology. This is essentially classic liberalism, Schliermacher and what not.

        The elevation of the individual (thank Kant) happened in the church too. The ultimate importance was no longer the community, but the beliefs of the individual. This is also why we are so confused by baptism and other sacraments, we forget the community.

        I don’t necessarily want to toe to toe, but the Nicene Creed was not originally formulated to be a measuring rod for individuals, but for communities. And there have always been people, accepted into the Church, called Christian, who have disagreed with the Creed, but have remained a part of the community to bring about good change (hopefully good). The Nicene Creed is worship, it’s a prayer. It ends with “amen”.

        Oh, I forgot, this “community identity” is also why we baptize babies. We call them Christians, not because of anything they’ve done or anything they think, but because of who they belong to.

        Okay, Part 2: My concession to the common way of defining Christian today. So, as you rightly point out, my definition is community participation. However, in the greater culture that I live in, I lose. And if a stranger asks me if I’m a Christian, when I say “yes,” their immediate, no-contemplation-needed, thought of me is that I believe Jesus died for our sins and is God. Even if they didn’t ask anything after that question, I would not feel like I needed to correct, define, or give extra context to my answer. I would feel confident that my “yes” would have been understood. There will always be exceptions, but in general, I would bank on my “yes” being the correct answer to their question.

        The way Rob has described himself, if he answered “yes” to a stranger asking him if he was a Christian, would he be answering correctly? Probably not.

        • Ric Shewell

          ugh, obviously modernity is older than 100 years (I just reread my post). I mean classical Christian liberal theology, which is thoroughly modern.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          As I’ve reread your comments, Ric, I find it interesting that you begin your interpretation as progressing (regressing?) from ones Christianity having “little or nothing to do with your participation in a community of worship and mission” but having “everything to do with what goes in your head” but then your “solution” is “mentally assenting to the articles of faith”? Umm…yeah?

          What seems to be the primary thrust (I like that word) of most of what has been said here is that our Christianity is primarily about the kinds of things that you go on to describe, rather than “what goes on in your head” (i.e. “mentally assenting” to anything).

          You ask these questions:

          To really inquire about someone’s Christianness, we have to ask about their participation with the community, the church. Does the person belong to this community? Does this community belong to this person? Would this person advocate or take responsibility for all others in the community? Does this person feel welcomed and encouraged to correct and help form this community? Does this person lay down personal preferences and rights for the community? Does this person lay down personal feelings, even beliefs, for the sake of the community? etc.

          I think most people who have commented, or who read Tony’s blog, would at least agree that, yes, we do need “community” (though I hate that word). We should take responsibility for others, and so on. But, I, for one, would just like to expand on your limited understanding of relationship to include all of humanity, and even…wait for it, my enemies. Rather than clearly define an in group and an out group (i.e. Christian and non-Christian) – which sounds so much like Jesus – I’d like to err on the side of inclusion.

          So, I think you’re confusing some smart people saying smart things with meaningless, purely intellectual, philosophy. I tend to shy away from that kind of cognitive circle jerk – I’d much rather spend time with my family, my friends, trying to find ways to help my co-workers, and so on. Those kinds of heretical things.

          • Ric Shewell

            Okay, I can square up some confusion. Basically, everyone here is trying to find a good working definition for Christian. I just brought up something that has historical value that I hadn’t seen in this post yet: participation with a community.

            Even though I would put participation with a community as paramount to being a Christian, I recognize that I am in the minority. Recognizing that, for the sake of clarity, language and conversation, we should use the definitions that are most widely used, and that would be the mental assent to certain articles of faith. That is what most people are asking when they ask you, “Are you a Christian?” In that case, you are not.

            It looks like you are reading way too much into what I say is included in “Christian.” I’m not saying you’re going to hell or anything like that. I’m just saying you don’t agree to specific faith statements (the most common interpretation of “Christian”).

            I don’t know what you think of my “limited understanding of relationship.” When did I ever say that this community should only include a few, or people like me? The only requirement into the community is agreement to be a part. Now, that doesn’t limit who I can be in relationship with. Of course I have friendships and good friendships with people who are not in the community of faith that I participate in. How exactly does emphasis on my local community of common believers stop me from loving my enemies, or being a friend to my other? You are inferring a lot about me.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Ric, you seemed to at least be implying that mental assent to the so-called articles of faith and participation in a “church” are necessary in order to use the word Christian. I’m saying that I, for one, am trying to redefine how the word can (or even should) be used – to get beyond “what goes on in your head” to actively living in the Way of the Christ, and expanding what might be called “the Christian community” beyond the limited walls of “the church” to all of humanity. So, you may think “that’s not Christian” or “you’re not a Christian” – but, for one, completely disagree.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Something that happened over and over when I was still an evangelical was me trying to get the word “church” back to its original meanings. There is literally zero biblical support for church meaning “building” or “place.” None. But, in our culture, we use the word in that way all the time. Eventually, I gave up. It was futile to try to redefine that word. At this point, I don’t like the word.

            But I have a lot more hope for the word Christian. Not necessarily “getting back to its original meaning,” but, rather, redefining it in such a way that makes more sense both of the trajectory of the Way of the Christ, and our current cultural situation.

          • Ric Shewell

            Okay, I’m not trying to piss anyone off, but it looks like this is getting a little charged. Maybe we can give each other the benefit of the doubt? Sorry if “In that case, no, Rob, you are not a Christian,” was hurtful or antagonizing. I don’t think anyone here is ignorant or dumb, and I also don’t feel like I need to prove myself by listing my education and experience. That said, we obviously disagree, and I feel like I have a few things to clear up, and I have some questions for you, Rob.

            1. I would like to define Christian based on participation in a community. I think there’s a lot of good reasons for this. You would like to define Christian based on the “way of Christ,” I assume you mean love and the Sermon on the Mount. Unfortunately, for both of us, we don’t get to make that call. We participate in a culture and language that mostly agrees that Christian is based on believing a certain way. When we use, “Christian,” that’s what is usually understood. You could call yourself “Christian,” like a lot of people here have said, but if you define it for yourself a different way than most of your culture, then you will consistently add confusion (which is not always bad), and you will be consistently misunderstood.

            Example, I could start calling myself African-American. According to my definition, all civilization started in Africa, my ancestors are therefore African, and I’m an American. I’m African-American. Two problems rise up. 1) I don’t fit what most people call African-American, so I would confuse some and be told “no” by the rest. 2) My definition has no regard for the cultural identity, beliefs, and statements of the people that already belong to the set “African-American.” When I decide “for me” the definition of a word or set of people, I don’t decide for only me. What I call “African-American” probably has the most impact on the people already in that set, and I can’t go and change the definition without their input.

            2. I use “Christian Community” and “Church” synonymously. When you say “expand… the Christian Community beyond… the Church,” that doesn’t make sense to me. But now I think this points to a deeper issue: Can you be a Christian and not a part of the Church? Can you say, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t belong to the body of people that make up what is called ‘The Church’?”

            You want to expand the Christian Community to include everyone. But you know there’s some problems with that. What about the people that don’t want to be called Christians or be a part of the Christian Community? We force the name on them? Also, if anyone is a Christian, then there’s no need for the word, “Christian,” it would have no meaning. When we define a word, we immediately mean “some are and some aren’t.”

            3. I apologize if this you wrote this elsewhere, just direct me, but what do you mean by the “Way of Christ?” Do you mean just “Love your neighbor”? That’s not necessarily unique to Jesus. Do you mean sacrificial politics (ie John Howard Yoder)? Do mean walking around and preaching about the kingdom of God? Generally speaking, it doesn’t seem sufficient for the word “Christian” simply a person that is trying to living in the most loving way possible. Necessary, but not sufficient.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Thanks, Ric, I appreciate your input. I used to live in a very similar world to you, but now most of what you’ve written here sounds like gibberish to me.

            Unfortunately, for both of us, we don’t get to make that call. We participate in a culture and language that mostly agrees that Christian is based on believing a certain way. When we use, “Christian,” that’s what is usually understood. You could call yourself “Christian,” like a lot of people here have said, but if you define it for yourself a different way than most of your culture, then you will consistently add confusion (which is not always bad), and you will be consistently misunderstood.

            This is why I said earlier that in a short conversation, or on a survey or something, I will probably say or check “none” rather than “Christian.” Because, according to the most common use of the word, I know that I don’t fit the definition. But, over a beer, I am much more likely to admit my affinity for Christianity. And, hopefully, other people interacting with me will see my commitment to the Way of the Christ in my everyday life.

            Can you be a Christian and not a part of the Church? Can you say, “I’m a Christian, but I don’t belong to the body of people that make up what is called ‘The Church’?”

            According to Roman Catholicism (and, if I understand it correctly, the Greek Orthodox church too), I do belong to the Church because I’ve been baptized.

            And, I do “belong” to quite a few people, that I try to spend my life with on as regular a basis as possible – probably more so than I ever did within a community that specifically defined itself as a “church.”

            what do you mean by the “Way of Christ?”

            This.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          Love is the ultimate standard of identity with Jesus. Not theology. Not christology (which is really mythology). Not philosophy. Not any institution. Not any church. Not any creed. Not any document of faith or belief, or intellectual assent to such.

          Love.

          And so when Rob wrote, “I also try to embody the trajectory of Jesus’ life (the way of love),” he described the focus of his vision. And I recognized it as being the same vision of Jesus. Love. Grace-filled, inclusive, Oneness-creating Love.

          And so by that, I accept Rob as a brother. As such I also accept him as Christian, if that is the label he were to choose. And I will not deconstruct the character of his faith by engaging in empty, loveless intellectualism.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Thanks for this.

  • Rohmeo

    Rob, I feel like your obsession with Christianity while calling yourself an atheist/agnostic may be an indication that its more than just the way of Christ culture that makes you who you are. I’m sure u won’t agree but it sounds more like spiritual warfare going on with you more than reasoning or non-belief season in your life. From what ive read of yours i feel like your experiences have shaped where you are at more than you coming to some realizations of truth for yourself. I may be wrong but have you left the door open that this could be a possibility?

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I’m not sure exactly what you mean, but I definitely don’t like the word “obsession.”

  • toddh

    I say you are whatever you say you are, and no one can tell you otherwise. That’s the upside to living in a pluralist society.

    My wife, on the other hand, is much more relational. She would stress the idea of relationship. Do you have a relationship with Jesus? Then you are a Christian. Do you trust Jesus? Love Jesus? Pray to Jesus? Things like that.

    It kinda drives me crazy, but I wouldn’t want to convince her of anything else. I suppose it’s a better answer than having to adhere to some set of beliefs, though it definitely misses the community aspect of Christianity.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      I’m sure your wife and I would get along, but if she asked me these questions:

      Do you have a relationship with Jesus? Do you trust Jesus? Love Jesus? Pray to Jesus?

      I would have to say no. And, I think that most Christians – if they were honest – would say no, too.

  • KRS

    Rob what a thought provoking question. I know people who consider themselves agnostic, cultural Jews, but I had never thought of it applied to Christians.

    Naomi, thank you for asking the questions I was thinking. I couldn’t finish reading them quickly enough to write.

    Ric, isn’t faith an individual experience of the heart and mind? As a woman there are some communities that would require I relinquish too much for the community, teaching, preaching, studying. Isn’t possible that sometimes there are some people who are too marginalized to submit to the collective wisdom of the Christian community?

    Also, how responsible am I for the sins of my brothers and sisters? Where is grace for the transformation process?

    Thanks for the ideas. I have been thinking on community a lot lately and would love your thoughts.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Isn’t possible that sometimes there are some people who are too marginalized to submit to the collective wisdom of the Christian community?

      YES! THIS!

      What if, in solidarity with the marginalized, many of us who have chosen to not participate in the institution are doing a very Christ-like thing…?

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        Yes! And Amen!

        Solidarity with the marginalized is one of the faces of love.

        It helps to be part of an authentically loving fellowship so that love can increase in greater measure. But sadly, authenticity is largely lacking in far, far too many groups/churches/communities these days. Even those that “do good” seem often to do so out of theological impulse, through which they just want to show themselves off as “really Christian” and thereby try to create new “believers.” (This is not to knock the social good that so many churches truly engage in. I am referring to those churches whose “good-doing” is part of their evangelizing program, rather than an end unto itself.)

      • Craig

        Isn’t possible that sometimes there are some people who are too marginalized to [contribute] to the collective wisdom of the Christian community?

        I initially read KRS as suggesting that that marginalized have things to offer the church, but are hindered from doing so through their marginalization by the church. That’s a tantalizing turn. What keeps the marginalized marginalized is often the church’s idea that they, the marginalized, are the sub-Christian, and have only to learn and receive from what the church has to offer. But perhaps this idea is only bankrupting the church while estranging people. That idea, at any rate, resonates with me.

    • Ric Shewell

      KRS, great questions!

      I do believe faith is a personal matter of the heart and mind, it must be! Christianity, however, is a religion, a community-agreeing on the interpretation of all our individual experiences. Some of our experiences match up well with others in the community, others do not. If we want to continue to participate in the community, we have to deal with our individual experiences that do not match the community, by either changing the community’s mind about experiences or by reinterpreting our own experiences. For example, if I had a vision from God that Jesus never existed, I would either have to convince the community that this is a valid experience for Christians, or I would have to somehow say that this experience was flawed and incorrect. If I didn’t want to be part of the church or Christianity, I could have whatever experiences I wanted and not have to explain anything to anyone. Which is fine, just wouldn’t be Christian.

      Great point about the marginalized. Not all communities are equal. If one could lay down their rights and stay in a community in order to bring about transformation, I think that’s good (like Erasmus and the Catholics). But if one couldn’t do that, or if the community lost their potential for growth and transformation, then its good for a person to seek a new community for the reformation of the whole Church (Luther and the Protestants). But that’s a tough decision. I know the ordination of homosexuals is on the minds of most people in the UMC. The entire western jurisdiction has been encouraged by a bishop to disobey the Discipline on this issue, in defense of LGBTQ member seeking ordination. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the UMC, but I do know that there are a lot of LGBTQ that are not leaving the church yet, and I’m thankful for them so much, but I don’t know how long they’ll hold out before they join the Episcopals or Lutherans.

      Responsibility for other members. Where’s the grace? The grace is that I have people who will vouch for me even when I fail. When I mess up, my brothers and sisters will tell me I’m forgiven and will not let me go through the consequences by myself, and if possible, they will take on consequences for me. This is bearing each other’s burdens. I’ve seen this happen in a lot of different ways.

      There are other more obvious ways that we share the consequences of the sins of others in the Church. When the Roman Catholic Church goes through its sex scandals, when the youth pastor in your town gets caught with a teen, when Ted Haggard gets caught, when Pat Robertson opens his mouth, the entire church is affected and carries the consequences. I pray that we have the grace to restore, but we cannot ignore it when our brothers and sisters fail, they are a part of us, and we have responsibility to restore and preach forgiveness.

      I don’t know if that was entirely helpful, I hope so.

    • Curtis

      “Isn’t possible that sometimes there are some people who are too marginalized to submit to the collective wisdom of the Christian community?”

      Throughout history, even the most marginalized of people have found strength and hope through their own Christian community or sub-community, or by participating in the community of the larger Christian church through reading and meditation on scripture and other religious texts. Participating in Christian community can take place even when fully isolated from the community in their immediate proximity.

      The “collective wisdom of the Christian community” is much larger than just the Christian folks on your block. The Christian community stretches all history from the beginning of time, and is made up of all people through history who have receiving God’s grace through his son, Jesus. One can participate in this community in more ways than face-to-face encounters, and I can’t think of any marginalized group in history that did not have access to the Christian church, in some form, when they needed it.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Wow:

        I can’t think of any marginalized group in history that did not have access to the Christian church, in some form, when they needed it.

        Seriously?

        • Curtis

          The church takes many forms.

  • janewilk

    I found this part of Naomi’s comment thought-provoking, and I’m not sure why you did not respond to it:

    If Christians were persecuted, e.g. were imprisoned or executed for claiming that Jesus is Lord, would you still call yourself a Christian? How much is living in the way of Christ worth to you? Would you be content to live like Christ without labeling it as such? (How many of us would deny Christ if given the choice between denial and death?)

    I come down on the side of those who agree that you can absolutely call yourself a Christian if that’s what you’d like to do (though after reading the first 100 comments and *then* reading that you don’t really care so much about this issue one way or the other made me feel a little played). Would Jesus have drawn a line in the sand and told you, Nope, you’re definitely out? I’m thinking there might have been a parable given, some healing if you needed it, a little wine. I don’t think you need the creedal crap to follow Jesus.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Sorry, Jane…seriously trying to keep up.

      If Christians were persecuted, e.g. were imprisoned or executed for claiming that Jesus is Lord, would you still call yourself a Christian? How much is living in the way of Christ worth to you? Would you be content to live like Christ without labeling it as such? (How many of us would deny Christ if given the choice between denial and death?)

      I think to simply verbally claim that “Jesus is Lord” is pretty meaningless. But, to live as if the Way of the Christ is the best way to live (without all the “creedal crap”), in my understanding, does not require making any verbal confession of anything.

      This is why I posted the link to my blog about “the treason of Christian martyrdom.” For example, if a mother was given a choice to either verbally “deny Christ” or go on living to care for her children, I think it would be profoundly anti-Christian to abandon her children.

      You don’t really care so much about this issue one way or the other made me feel a little played

      I’m sorry I caused you to feel played. By me saying that I don’t care, I don’t mean I don’t value this conversation. What I mean is that I’m not on the brink of despair, worried if I’ll ever get “the answer” to the question.

  • Jono

    I’m loving the conversation here- I don’t have any answers and I don’t know much theology- but hope you don’t mind if I chip in my 2 cents.

    I often feel challenged by how exclusive Jesus comes across sometimes in the gospels. There are several passages where Jesus’s standard is too high for seemingly well intentioned people who wanted to follow him (i.e. the rich young ruler, the guy that had to go and bury his father etc.) and lots of his parables are very much about some people being ‘in’ and some people being ‘out’.

    In every case (correct me if I’m wrong) it was people’s actions that excluded them from being followers not their beliefs.

    If I were you Rob I’d ask myself “Have I given up anything in order to be more loving”, “have I forgiven people who hurt me?”, “am I becoming more patient and gentle?”, “how do I act towards my enemies” etc. etc.- ie. not questions about what you believe but questions about how you live.

    I know it’s not exactly what you were asking but for me anyway there’s a difference between having a Christian belief system (which it sounds like you don’t have) and living a somewhat Christ-like lifestyle (which it sounds like you’re trying to do).

    • Curtis

      There are billions of people who live a Christ-like lifestyle on Earth, but who do not identify themselves as Christian. I imagine that is probably by God’s design, but I’m sure people would debate that point.

      What would be the point of lumping all of these Christ-like people together as “Christian”? By doing so, doesn’t “Christian” essentially lose all of its meaning, and become simply a synonym for “good person”? Isn’t there more to the meaning of “Christian” than “good person”?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Maybe.

        • Curtis

          I would question the motivation of taking a name “Christian”, a name that has had a clear definition for over a thousand of years, a definition that is currently held and agreed to by nearly 2 billion current adherents, and re-define that name into mere meaninglessness. What is the point?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Again, I don’t think your statements are accurate. Do you really think that all 2 billion “adherents” of Christianity agree on what Christianity is, who’s “in,” what a Christian should think/believe, etc.?

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            Curtis, you wrote: “Christian”, a name that has had a clear definition for over a thousand of years.

            Actually, from the very beginning “Christian” never had a clear definition. There were many different Christian groups in the first and second centuries, such as the Ebionites (early Jewish Christians), Gnostics, Paulists, Coptics, and so on. And even after Constantinian Christianity won the day in the 4th century, Arianism (which rejected Jesus as being God) endured for another two centuries (and was revived in the 1800′s).

            And even after Constantine, there were battles over Christian identity, the most notable being the contention between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, which came to a head in the “Great Schism” of 1054 which split the two traditions. They remain split to this day.

            Then, of course, came the Reformation in the 1500′s. And the rest is, as they say, history.

            So no, there has never really been any one clear and singularly accepted definition of Christianity. Ever.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Yeah, what he said.

          • Curtis

            I didn’t say “one clear definition”, I said “a clear definition”.

            We can turn this into a debate about the nuances of the Nicene Creed, and the numerous variations and disagreements over that creed that began at its writing continue to this day. We can have that discussion if you want to.

            But how many people need to be in general agreement to make a definition legitimate, and over how long a length of time? Give me any numbers.

            Then look into the number of people who are in general agreement about the gist of the Nicene Creed, and the thousands of years that its general framework of belief has been in place. And then explain to me how that general agreement is wrong, and the definition is illegitimate and should be discarded by all who believe it to be true.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Curtis, I think you are falsely equating “orthodox Christianity” with “Christianity.” These are not the same thing. Evangelicals tend to fall into a more ridiculous error, equating “evangelical Christianity,” “orthodox Christianity,” and “Christianity” in general. Three separate things. You are free to believe that I am not a Christian, but I think you are wrong. And, I am not alone in this. So, it seems that you might be guilty of unnecessarily excluding a shitload of people.

          • Curtis

            “you might be guilty of unnecessarily excluding a shitload of people.”

            To what harm?

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            This becomes a really weird back and forth.

            “I’m a Christian.”

            “No, you’re not.”

            “Yes, I am.”

            “No, you’re not.”

            “Why?”

            “Because _____”

            “…I’m a Christian.”

          • Curtis

            Definition, (by definition), causes exclusion.

            Exclusion is not harmful or bad. It is the natural consequence of defining things. If the goal is to not exclude anyone, then we are not really looking for a definition.

            I have stated a definition for Christianity: the Nicene Creed.

            All I’m hearing when I give that definitions are variations on “That one doesn’t count”.

            Are we looking for a definition or not? If we are squeamish about excluding others, then I don’t think a definition is what we are looking for.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I’m willing to accept that words can – and do – have multiple definitions.

            And, redefining something is not inherently bad.

            I am seeking to expand the currently accepted cultural definition of Christianity.

            I’m not sure I would say “everyone is a Christian in the same way,” but rather certain people choose to label themselves in that way AND that everyone has the potential to AND does – to some extent – live in the Way of the Christ. From the simple to the profound.

            But, yes, some people will and should be excluded. Some examples of this obvious, but I think that most aren’t.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            Curtis;
            It’s not the number of people who agree that matters, it’s who’s enforcing it. Just like we agree the speed limit is 70, but it is not always strictly enforced. Do you really think churches are checking every Sunday if all their members truly believe in the virgin birth? But you already are trying to slide out of that with this “gist of” thing which makes it no longer “a clear definition”. Christianity can’t even sort out what the Sermon on the Mount really means, let alone come up with “a clear definition”.

          • Curtis

            I don’t expect true belief, whatever that is. Just some level of agreement with. That is not sliding out of anything. Different things mean different things to different people.

            To say I assent to a statement is one thing. To say there must be one, clear, universal understanding of a statement before that statement can be valid is something completely different.

            All that is required of a person to be “Christian” is some level of agreement with the Nicene Creed. What they do with the creed as a result of that general agreement is up to them. The Nicene Creed is the defining creed of the Christian church. It is the definition of the faith. It has nothing to do with salvation, behavior, status in the eyes of god, none of that. It is a statement of some basic ideas. Take it or leave it, but don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t exist or is not the defining statement for the vast majority of Christians in the world.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        No, “Christian” does not lose all of its meaning just because there are people all over the world whose way of life mirrors the Jesus Way. They may not embrace “Christian” as their label, but whatever label they choose from the tradition familiar to their culture, we can liken it to different styles of artistry that expresses the same ideal and vision.

        Faith equality is only a threat to those who still think that Christianity is superior to all other faiths, that it is the “only way” and the hallmark of “true” religion.

        • Curtis

          If all good people are equally “Christian”, then what does “Christian” mean? That was the original question. Saying that everyone is Christian does not answer the question.

          Defining one group of people as distinct from another group does not imply inequality or superiority. My defining myself as German does not imply that I am superior to others, or that others are less equal as humans in any way.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            But, if you had good reasons to call yourself German, and you made a decision to do so, who am I to say you’re not allowed to? Of course, if you had zero German blood, it would be weird to call yourself German. Then, we could discuss why you feel the need to.

            I have a lot of Christian blood in me.

      • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        C.S. Lewis covers this in his introduction to Mere Christianity. He saw “Christian” starting to lose its meaning back in the 50’s. He compared it to the word “gentleman”, which used to hold a particular social status and require a pedigree. Eventually it came to be associated with the qualities of a “good” person. Now we use “gentleman” to describe someone who meets certain standards. Personally, I prefer this system. Lewis goes on to try reclaim the word, but I would prefer we discuss what “good” means and if “Christian” happens to coincide, fine. In 160 comments, there have been many statements of “Christ-like” with little explanation of what that means.

        I do have a blog on this, just search of “Lewis”.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          From my perspective, “Christ-like” is a way to communicate the overall trajectory (beyond the particulars) of the Way of the Christ, i.e. the Way of Love. Not love as sentiment or emotion, but serving, giving, sacrificing, etc. But, also, not at the expense of oneself. True love, in my understanding, elevates the self and others to their proper places as fellow humans, worthy of dignity and respect.

      • Jono

        Curtis wrote: “Isn’t there more to the meaning of “Christian” than “good person”?”

        Yes- I would say in follow-up to my post that when you stop assessing your ‘Christianity’ by your beliefs and start assessing it by your actions you can either come away feeling self-satisfied or feeling pretty bad about yourself.

        If that feeling bad leads you to know that you need a God who loves and accepts you despite your failings and incompleteness then (by my definition anyway) you’re a Christian.

        • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

          I guess I would want to expand this, and to say that everyone needs to (as Tillich said) “accepted that you are accepted.” That seems to me to be a very Christian idea, though I don’t think you need to be a Christian to believe and experience it.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Is this the Jono that I know?

      • Jono

        Nope

  • KRS

    Rob, a cultural Christian continues to cause me to consider the influence Christianity has upon the world today. Forgive me for inserting a quote that has been resonating with me from Bengt R. Hoffman on his interpretation of Luther. “He (Luther) explained that Christians, who in inner devotion are ‘bonded to God’ and ‘trustingly lean on Christ,’ exert such an essential influence that ‘no city or country would enjoy peace;’ grain would not grow in the field; people would not recover from illness; the world would be unprotected; if it were not for the hidden life of Christians in Christus mysticus, the mystical Christ.” You have expanded my thinking of Christianity’s impact upon culture. Thanks.

  • KRS

    Craig, that is what I meant. When marginaliztion occurs through sins, social status and values, there is a chance that change can happen. However when marginaliztion occurs from race, gender, and sexual identity there is much less opportunity to change enough to fit in. Also these forms of marginalization are often easily identified and making people easy targets. Some things can be changed, some things are too closely tied to who we are, our essence. The rejection in these cases is very difficult because it is our very being. Group dynamics can be essentially unloving at times.

  • KRS

    Ric, thank you for expanding the discussion on community. The bearing of each others burdens is a crucial component connected with forgivenss and restoration. But often communities are excellent at identifying sins without the restoration. And if they do try to follow through, it unfortunately becomes a litany in legalism.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    When I have this kind of conversation with someone, it tends to go in the direction of considering actual people who would be excluded from ones definition of Christian. My most used example is Martin Luther King, Jr. – maybe one of the most prominent heroes of progressive Christianity. But, he was not, in any sense, orthodox. My thinking is, if your definition of Christian excludes MLK, your definition is wrong.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      And, usually when I bring this up (when theory meets reality), this happens.

    • Curtis

      I’m aware that MLK fully explored, questioned, re-thought, and re-framed several aspects of Jesus that are outlined in the Nicene Creed. But did MLK ever outright and fully reject and renounce the Nicene Creed?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        did MLK ever outright and fully reject and renounce the Nicene Creed?

        I don’t know. But, he seemed to be saying almost exactly what I am, that Christianity is not primarily about believing anything, but about living in a certain way in order to make the world a better place for everyone.

        And, by the way, I don’t “outright and fully reject and renounce the Nicene Creed.” I think it’s very important, just like I think the Bible is very important. But, do I believe either are objectively true, or absolutely necessary for anyone to positively affirm it? No.

        • Curtis

          I think almost nothing about faith is objectively true. We are probably more in agreement with each other than not. Maybe we are asking the wrong question? I appreciate the conversation, nonetheless.

          My personal view is that God is about bringing salvation to people, without any prerequisites, without any requirement for specific behavior or beliefs. Everyone is equally a child of God, and God is at work in everyone’s life, whether they claim adherence to a specific religion or not.

          Christianity, for me, is a specific and historic framework to understand this work that God does. It is not the only valid framework, it is one of many. There are many ways to understand and experience God outside of Christianity, without being a Christian.

          That being said, all ways of understanding God are not equal. Jesus gave very simple instructions to discern the truthiness of a prophet: “By their fruit you will recognize them.”

          Looking at its fruit, historically, Christianity seems to be right about as often as it is wrong. There is some pretty rotten fruit that come out of Christianity, but there is often good fruit as well.

          The same is true of every religious framework. Christianity is one of many frameworks. But I don’t see any point in diluting the meaning of “Christian” to the point where it has no meaning at all.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Your claim to know THE definition of Christianity is an objective one.

            I don’t see any point in diluting the meaning of “Christian” to the point where it has no meaning at all.

            Again, I don’t think anyone is trying to absolutely dilute the word until it has no meaning. We’re in the least seeking to expand it to include more people.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Curtis,

            This is maybe not the nicest thing to do. If someone did it to me, I’m sure they would similarly come up with a lot of inconsistencies with what I’ve said. But, a few things you’ve written here are confusing to me…

            “Christian” is a name for a particular framework of understanding human-kinds relationship with God. The central articles of belief for the Christian Church were outlined in 381 AD. Certainly, there was much decent about those beliefs then, and even to this day, but the decision was made.

            “Christian” is a cultural construct created by a certain group of followers of Jesus Christ, who hold to specific set of non-universal, some would argue non-Biblical beliefs about Jesus, summarized in the Nicene Creed of 381 AD… Despite these various definitions of “Christian” that have developed through the years, “Christian” remains a cultural construct of the fourth century, defined by fourth-century creeds.

            History has brought us to the definition of “Christian” that we have. The fourth century creeds are central to that definition.

            I think the definition of “Christian” that we have arrived at through history is unavoidable.

            I belong to a church that believes the First Council of Nicaea and the First Council of Constantinople were the objective boards of authority that decide these things for the Christian Church.

            I would question the motivation of taking a name “Christian”, a name that has had a clear definition for over a thousand of years, a definition that is currently held and agreed to by nearly 2 billion current adherents

            I have stated a definition for Christianity: the Nicene Creed.

            So, it seems that you have equated your objective definition of Christianity, created by an objective board of authority (i.e. some human beings decided in the fourth century)…with a cultural construct?

            That seems like a lot of power for a few people in the fourth century to have over you.

          • Curtis

            Well, part of the problem is we are bouncing around between several different words, all of them spelled “Christian”

            There is “Christian” the adjective, to describe something of a certain cultural heritage.

            There is “Christian” the adjective, which one can use to describe oneself

            There is “Christian” the adjective, to describe a behavior

            There is “Christian” the noun, which is a religion

            The is “Christian” the noun, which is a person who is a follower of Jesus Christ

            There are probably more. I’m as guilty of bouncing around between these different words as anyone else. But the fact we are so loosely moving from one word to the next as we write is I think what is leading to most of the disagreement here.

            This is soon turning from a meaningful discussion to a sort of game. Which is fun and all, but I’m not sure I can keep it up!

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I like the game. I’m glad at least a few people keep playing.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Curtis, I guess part of my problem with your blind acceptance of a definition you claim was fully established in the fourth century is that less than 100 years ago, African Americans and women were not seen as equal persons to white guys like me. Something can actually be wrong for 1600 years.

          • Curtis

            At least those dumb white guys in Nicaea had the wisdom to not distinguish between gender, race, or any other category of people when they spelled out their beliefs. Unlike the U.S. Constitution, or many passages of the Bible, which have to be re-twisted and re-phrased to fit into our 21st concept of equality.

            Certainly you don’t believe that no document created in a culture of bias should ever be trusted. When in human history, including today, has there not be some kind of bias in our culture?

          • Curtis

            “I don’t think anyone is trying to absolutely dilute the word until it has no meaning. We’re in the least seeking to expand it to include more people.”

            For what purpose? What is gained by giving two different sets of beliefs the same name? What do non-creedal believers gain from being able to use the word “Christian” for their beliefs?

            Words have meaning for a purpose. I’m trying to understand what purpose an expanded definition of “Christian” would serve.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            One approach would be for people like me to see how Christianity has been abused and used against a lot of people – a lot – and reject it entirely. Others want to see it change, from being widely accepted as an exclusive (and abusive) club to something different. Again, it could be a futile attempt to move something in a different direction that is so set in stone that it is beyond hope.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            An inverse question would be, Curtis, why are you so bent on defining it in such a narrow way? What are you so afraid of? Why do you feel such a need to defend the word, in essence excluding potentially millions of people who have chosen to self-identify with Jesus the Christ?

          • Curtis

            ” why are you so bent on defining it in such a narrow way? ”

            Because then I know what it means. And have some confidence that other people are in agreement with me on the meaning. No fear. Other the fear that language may eventually become meaningless, and people won’t know what I am saying.

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  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    I guess we could apply similar logic to how progressive people like myself are seeking to affirm that marriage includes gay couples. The word Christian means something different than it originally meant. It has changed, and will continue to change. We should embrace the change, and seek to include as many people as is reasonably possible. But, just like no one is advocating that marriage should include a man and his cat, or that the word marriage can mean “foot,” I am not saying that Christian can or should mean whatever we want it to. As Jack Caputo has brilliantly said, “Relativism is a red herring used by the God-and-apple-piety crowd; it does service for thinking when the discussion gets too complicated.” Likewise, slippery slope arguments are pretty lazy.

    • Curtis

      The word “Marriage”, like “Christian”, has many definitions and uses in our language. To carry this conversation forward, I think we have to be clear what sense of the word “Christian” we are trying to define.

      Regarding the word “Christian” as used in your original question, a label one applies to oneself as a part of their personal identity, then yes, from what you have explained, I think you are a “Christian” in the sense of self-idenity. You certainly have “the right” to call yourself “Christian”. One’s self-identity never requires the permission of others.

      But the word “Christian” as a religion has a different meaning. Again, from what you have explained, your beliefs are clearly outside the beliefs orthodox Christian church. I think you have admitted as much. So there is really no question in this case. You have stated yourself that you are not a “Christian” in the sense of the traditional Christian church; I don’t think there is any disagreement about that point.

      It is a similar case with with “Marriage”. There are some churches that will marry a gay couple despite the fact that such marriage is not recognized by the state. Does this couple have “the right” to call themselves “Married”? The answer depends on which sense of the word “Married” is being asked about.

      So the answer to your question depends on which sense of the word “Christian” you are asking about.

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        Once again, false equation. Christianity does not equal orthodox Christianity.

        • Curtis

          So you are asking if you are considered, by others, a member of the Christian church? I’m trying to clarify what you are asking. It what sense do you want to be considered “Christian”?

      • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

        For example, there was recently a study done of Christian teenagers. At least 17% of them denied the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus. That is considered a “core belief” in orthodox Christianity. So, are 17% of those who teenagers who claim to be Christians not Christians? I’m sure very similar studies have been done with lots of different groups of people.

        If you really think that, please go find some Christian teenagers and tell them, “At least 17% of you are not actually Christians. I don’t care what you say or how you live – here’s what the objective definition of Christian is.”

        From an evangelical standpoint, I can totally understand why someone would want to draw these clear lines, and say, no, if you deny the resurrection you are not a Christian. But, evangelicals do not get to define Christianity (despite what Al Mohler says).

        • Curtis

          There are many ways to understand and agree with the creeds that do not require belief in literal, physical, molecular resurrection of Jesus.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            I have no idea what you might mean by that. I’ve said that I have a lot of respect for the creeds. I hold them in high regard for what they are. But, I don’t mentally assent to the doctrines contained within them. I’m not sure how you can “agree with” a statement that says “on the third day rose again” without believing that it actually happened. Think it’s important to the tradition, have respect for it, etc. – but “agreement” implies that you “believe” it.

          • Curtis

            I can agree with the story of Moby Dick, even believe believe that the story is completely true, without believing a giant sperm whale or Captain Ahab ever existed, at least not in the physical, molecular sense of existence.

          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis
          • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

            Thus we have arrived at the problem. Based on your usage of the words “agree,” “believe,” and “true,” yes, I actually am an orthodox, creedalist Christian.

            But, this actually gets back to your own problem: in common usage, these words do not mean what you want them to mean.

            When most people use the word “agree” they mean “I consent to that opinion 100%.” To say, “I agree with the story of Moby Dick,” to most people, means that you consent to whatever it says 100%. (This is why very few people say they “agree” with the Bible; because there are obviously many things in the Bible that most people disagree with.)

            When most people use the word “believe” they mean “I accept that something is true.” When most people use the word “true” they mean “objectively verifiable; not false; proven.” To say, “I believe Moby Dick is completely true,” to most people, means that you “accept” that it is 100% factually accurate.

            You are not using those words in those ways. You are confusing people with your redefinitions.

            Welcome to the club.

  • Curtis

    Jon Stewart’s take on Christianity may be instructive. Or may be not. It’s funny, anyway.

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  • Frank McManus

    It sounds like Rob is asking this: “Hey guys, this is me — do you think I’m a member of your club or not?” And then we can get into a debate about what our membership rules are. I think that’s boring and irrelevant.

    But if Rob wants to show up at our club meetings, am I going to tell him to go away? Of course not. Call yourself a Christian, or don’t, it’s up to you. If you want to discuss things like the trinity, or Jesus’s messiahship, or his dual nature, or the rapture, or the Bible, or whatever — I’ll be happy to talk about it. I have my beliefs about those things (which I consider to be more or less orthodox as the Catholic Church understands the term); Rob has his; and I’ll bet we both have come to those beliefs in such a fashion that they are subject to change either in substance or in the way we express them. Great! Let’s talk!

    Relationship is the important thing. I’ve had it up here with people who want to set their belief systems in concrete and then use the resulting slabs to bash people over the head.

    Welcome, Rob. If you see anyone carrying a concrete slab in your direction, just tell ‘em to fuck off.

    • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

      Thank you much cooler Frank.

      I’m just glad I wasn’t born into a Mormon family. :)

      • Frank McManus

        I’m relatively new to this blog and hadn’t realized there was another “Frank” around who has such an interesting reputation (I hadn’t yet waded through all the older comments) … I’m so glad I used my last name!

    • Curtis

      Many, but not all, Christian clubs welcome anyone to participate. Nobody is forcing anything on Rob. Rob is asking an honest question, and an honest question deserves an honest answer.

  • http://whoisrobdavis.wordpress.com Rob Davis

    My hope is that I’m not forced to begin referring to Tony as Bishop Tony Jones…


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