Monday, February 12, 2007

What kind of Christian am I?

After church one Sunday, I was talking to a first-time visitor who was a retired pastor, and right away he asked me what kind of church were we. I knew what he meant--among Christian churches, were did we stand on various issues and with whom did we affiliate, but I thought I'd have a little fun. "A Christian church," I answered. His face had a look of "du-h-h-h", so he came at it from a different angle, and he asked what we believed. "Oh," I answered, "we should love God and love others." At this point he was getting a little frustrated, so I stopped harassing this poor visitor and went and got my pastor so that he could properly situate us in the constellation of American Christianity.

I suppose that we're all driven to categorize each other while at the same time resisting categorization ourselves. While I was taking a walk yesterday, I wondered how I would label myself as a Christian. While the most accurate answer would be that I'm not a particularly good Christian, for I regularly miss the mark in both what I do and don't do. Nonetheless, a more analytical answer might go like this.

I was raised in the Catholic church, from which I learned to love social justice and the liturgy of the mass. In high school, I had a born-again experience in an evangelical youth group (Campus Life), and I was drawn by the idea of Jesus as a person and the evangelical sense of mission. After five college years in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, I moved to Southern California to be involved in a charismatic church, The Vineyard. There I became fascinated with the Kingdom as something happening now, not just a long time ago. Off to graduate school for marriage and a charming little Episcopal church. Here in Connecticut I have been hanging out in non-denominational community churches while regularly going to noon mass.

So there you have it: I'm your basic Catholic-liturgical-charismatic evangelical.


sarah said...

Here's mine: I was raised in a Lutheran church where I learned to love social justice and the liturgy of the Lutheran Book of Worship. Then I went to college where, after taking a couple of sociology classes, decided that I didn't think I believed in God. Then I went to an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship conference (last ditch effort to see if God was real or not - guess he took me up on the challenge) where I had a conversion experience. I majored in sociology anyway and got married in my ol' Lutheran church. Served on IV staff for 5 years, during which time I attended a Reformed Church of America church. After moving (and deciding to become a social worker instead of a minister), I attended a Methodist church followed by (and currently) an Evangelical Covenant church. So, I guess you could say I'm a run of the mill Lutheran-Evangelical-Calvinist-Wesleyan-

Ben Dubow said...

I grew up in a conservative Jewish family deeply appreciate the Jewish roots of Christianity, etc... studied taoism in high school... became an evangelical Christian... minstered on staff at a Jesuit Catholic parish (under the direction of a Charismatic Catholic Priest!)... pastored a Congregational church... then associate at a non-denominational... now pastoring a post-denominational, evangelical, emerging-but-not-emergent, ancient-future, purpose-driven, seeker-friendly, church.

I am deeply thankful and have been formed by all of those experiences.

So I guess I'm a Jewish-Taoist-Born Again-Evangelical-Catholic-Almost Charismatic-Congregationalist-Emerging-

This is why I simply say: Follower of Christ. It's also why at St. Paul's we call ourselves "post-denominational"--the labels seems to mean less and less all the time.

Great post Brad!

Brad Wright said...

Interesting background Sarah... I wonder if a lot of Christians in America, especially evangelicals, have similarly mixed religious backgrounds. Just as many Americans have mixed ethnic/cultural backgrounds, so too with religion?

BTW, I almost went on IV staff after college myself.

Brad Wright said...

Okay, you win Ben. What a story! I agree that the categories are becoming less meaningful over time. My mom grew up as a Catholic in a protestant town, and she got a lot of grief over it. Now... it would be much hard to imagine. Heck, we have pastors who are Jewish-Taoist-Born Again-Evangelical-Catholic-Almost Charismatic-Congregationalist-Emerging-

sarah said...

I don't know about the meaning of labels - I'm not quite ready to assume they aren't as meaningful anymore. At least, when I drop the "E-bomb" in certain non-Christian circles the effect is quite palpable. In general, my experience is that those outside the Church mostly have no idea (or no care) as to the meaning of denominational distinctions, but mention Evangelical and you've got a conversation.

It could be that there is a decrease generationally in concern for labels, for example, my mother is happy that I'm a Christian but I'm quite sure she would prefer that I be Lutheran whereas for me the denominational label is less important. Also, my Lutheran identification was more important to me prior to my conversion experience but subsequently not so. I wonder if conversion experiences lessen individuals' attachments to particular denominational labels? I suppose it could go either way - convert in a particular denominational setting and therefore have a strong attachment or convert and simply see it as "all about Jesus" regardless of the name on the church door?

I've been lurking for a while Brad, but when I saw IV in your history I just had to say what's up to an IV brother!

Brad Wright said...

I know what you mean about the "e-bomb"; in fact, I thought for awhile before using it in a post. I have no problem with the term, and, in understanding it, I appreciate it.

Still, it certainly has a stigma in academia.... More than once I've heard people who otherwise argue strongly for diversity and multiculturalism tee off on Evangelicals.

So perhaps different labels are becoming important over time?

gary said...

I think one could pretty well classify different types of christians by which parts of the bible they take literally. You could definitely distinguish catholics, conservative evangelicals, charismatics, and snake handlers in that way.

The same would apply to different levels of orthodoxy in judaism - a lot boils down to what parts of scripture are taken literally.

Brad Wright said...

I think you're right that it's not just an issue of some take the Bible seriously and others do not, rather it's which parts.

Interesting point, and it makes me wonder which parts I don't take seriously. (Thankfully my wife doesn't read the blog... she'd have lots of suggestions).

Knumb said...

This is my half of a typical conversation with evangelicals:


"Uh, thank you, I have already asked Him into my heart as my lord and savior."

I'm not even trying to be funny on this one. That's happened at least a dozen times.

Brad Wright said...

Ugh... a sad but all too believable conversation.

In college I was in a prayer meeting when someone prayed that the pope become a Christian.

Jaime said...

Well, today I typed "what kind of christian am I" into a yahoo search and here I am. I have found this blog almost a year after this post. I made this search because I am looking for a church and I realized that I didn't know what kind of christian I am or how to pick a church. After reading this I am feeling better about it.

Brad Wright said...

I'm glad that you found it helpful, Jaime.

Best of luck in finding a good church. It makes such a difference!

Anonymous said...

I didn't think that a person could have both calvinistic and wesleyan belifs at once.
But then, maybe it was predestined to be that way (gigles)