Recently I decided that I didn’t want the label of “Christian” any more. I’m still thinking about that, but I’ve focused recently on the idea of being an “Evangelical”. I was tempted to write about this in light of the Oasis/EA debacle, but thought better of it (no one likes angry sweary blog posts, after all).
I’ve had some time to think about it, and I think I’ve realised that I’m probably not an “Evangelical” by ‘their’ standards, but I might be one by God’s standards. I’m not sure.
One thing I do know is that it is hard, if not impossible, to avoid being labelled. It’s also really difficult to avoid wanting to label oneself. I think that the reality should be slightly different – we ought to hold labels lightly, regardless of whether or not that label is of someone else our ourselves. With that disclaimer, some labels:
Above all, I affirm God’s love for all.
I affirm environmental activism.
I affirm gay marriage.
I affirm nonviolent substitution.
I affirm universalism.
I reject war.
I reject state-sanctioned murder.
I reject the idea of an eternal torture or punishment.
I reject the Bible as a perfect book,
but I affirm it as the story of God.
By all accounts, and by EA’s own standards, I would make a pretty bad capital E Evangelical. I couldn’t sign up to their doctrinal statement. But does this matter?
Of course, they would say that it does. But I’m far, far less convinced. I’m not sure I’m just a “liberal” or an “agnostic” or even a “heretic”. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I!
There’s something deeper in all of this, for me, though. The reason I find it hard to affirm some of the ‘doctrines’ of Evangelical Christianity, and the reason I have chosen to affirm some ‘opposites’ are actually rooted in the reality that I don’t know the answer.
If I don’t know the answer, I’m not going to shout about what I think as being the only ‘true’ way. I’m not going to ‘tell my friends about Jesus’ and I’m not going to ‘share the GOS-Pel’ (that’s how you pronounce it in UCCF circles) through countless ‘good conversations’ (where ‘good’ usually means ‘I got to speak the most’).
How can I when I myself am unsure of the exact nature of some of this stuff? never mind gay marriage, I don’t understand the cross, or the afterlife, or anything of that ilk.
What I do understand is that deep within my psyche is the desire to see a better world here and now. I would argue (and indeed have on countless occasions and blog posts) that Jesus’ central mission wasn’t his death, but his life. Jesus came to show us a newer, better way to live. One that only makes sense in light of the cross, sure, but central nonetheless.
The driving force of this better world is love. I don’t oppose same-sex marriage because I’d rather love those people by affirming who they are (rather than telling them their very nature is depraved) than to tell them they are behaving ‘wrongly’. It’s not the same as occasionally wanting to steal, it’s at the very core of who you are. So don’t go equating those sorts of things!
I digress. I affirm such things out of love, and even if I am wrong (I accept this to be possible at all times), I’d rather God knew I tried to love than tried to be right. What does Jesus do? Does he try to be orthodox? No. He tries to love.
My actions define who I am. In the words of Donald Miller, “What I say is not what I believe, what I do is what I believe”. My aim is to honour the God who has shown me love, who has helped me to love him, myself and others – and to share this joyful, better way of life with those around me.
But I can’t do that with the noise and the mess and the crap that Evangelicalism, Catholicism, and… well… every other denomination shouting from the sidelines saying “I’m right”, “No, I’m right” and so on.
Instead I feel compelled to drop the label “Christian” and definitely drop the label “Evangelical” as a particularly toxic brand within that label. I feel compelled to learn to live a life worthy of my own standards before I go attaching myself to anything. People can make their own judgements on what I am or what I am not – that is their problem.
Mother Theresa wasn’t known because she was a Christian. She was known because she loved. I only hope that one day, if and when I come face to face with God, that is true for me also.
Now that would be a life of sharing good news.