can I call myself a Christian?


In the communities I grew up in, it was rare for someone to refer to themselves as a “Christian.” We were Bible-believers, Jesus-followers, disciples, believers, sisters and brothers, but not Christian. That word had far too loose a meaning– after all, Catholics could call themselves “Christians.” It was a term that, to us, was wrapped up in organized religion— which we were not, because we were Independent and didn’t belong to a church hierarchy like those dirty no-good Southern Baptists.

For me, I never really chose a label to describe myself, but when pressed about my beliefs would refer to myself as Baptist, all while joking that “you don’t go to the grocery store to buy the label on a can of green beans– you just want the beans, and the label helps you find them.”

When I started moving around in larger faith communities, I ran into the term evangelical, and for a long time it puzzled me. I had no idea what it meant, aside from the generic “typical American Christian” definition I could glean from context. As I’ve done more moving and reading, I’ve found that while evangelical encompasses a huge camp of people, denominations, and movements, people who identify as “evangelical” are those who believe in a certain list of things. That list changes depending on who you’re talking to, but there’s usually somewhere in the ballpark of 5-10 things on it. In my personal experience, that list includes the following:

  • Penal substitutionary Atonement
  • Salvation by faith that occurs at a specific moment
  • Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Protestant Canonical Bible (trending toward biblical literalism)
  • Original Sin that is Inherited by and Imputed to all people in a Fallen World
  • Belief in unending conscious torment (literal Hell) to which the unsaved are damned
  • God relates to us in the masculine– God is Father, not Mother
  • Emphasis on the spiritual over the physical, the Soul over the Flesh
  • Faith and practice are matters of the individual, not the communal

It didn’t take me too much longer after I’d compiled this list to realize that I didn’t agree with much on it, and I realized that I basically went straight from being a fundamentalist Baptist to being progressive/liberal, and I didn’t really stop in Evangelical Land on the way there (although there was a four-year detour to agnostic theism). Granted, not every single last person who identifies as evangelical is going to agree with this list– but I think this list is typical of evangelicalism in America, at least. However, last week, it became glaringly obvious that to a lot of people living in Evangelical Land, another item needs to be added to this list:

  • Bigotry and Homophobia

And that was the kicker that made a lot of us throw up our hands in defeat. I’d already decided months before that I couldn’t identify as evangelical, but now I’m facing another question: can I even identify as Christian any more?

I still affirm the Nicene Creed (of 325) . . . but that’s about it. As I was writing out the list above, I tried to focus on doctrines that seemed more particular to American evangelicalism, but I kept including items that are traditional orthodox beliefs– and not just Protestant ones, but Catholic and Eastern ones, too. I still believe in God, in Jesus, in his death and Resurrection . . . and that’s really about it.

I embrace beliefs and philosophies that have been condemned by the Church Universal as heresies for centuries. I’m exploring inclusivism, open theism, Pelagianism, liberation theology– and asking questions like Is God immutable? Is Jesus Divine? How much can I trust the Canon, if I can even trust it at all? Do I believe that salvation is a grace-filled, works-based process? Is there an afterlife? Can I explore other religions as revelations of the Divine?

I’m pretty sure a lot of those questions land me in the “New Age Pagan-Heretic” camp to a lot of people. To the fundamentalists I grew up with, I’m pretty sure they’d revoke my “Christian” card in a hurry. So the question I have to ask myself is . . . do I let them? I can’t fully affirm many of the basic tenets of Christianity since my questions about them are still so huge– and is that what makes a Christian, practically? If I don’t fit well under the “big tent” that is Protestantism, Catholicism, or Eastern Orthodoxy, is it useful to still identify as a Christian, or should I adopt another moniker, like “spiritual”? Would that be more beneficial in communicating who I am and what I believe?

Or, do I decide for myself what “Christian” means? Am I a Christian because I believe, with all my heart, in the teachings of the Christ as found in the Gospels– no matter how historically reliable they may or may not be? Am I still a Christian because, like Peter, all I feel can be summed up in you have the words of life, where else can I go? Am I a Christian because my soul longs for the beauty and mystery of the Sacraments? Because I find rest and comfort and peace in a Mother-Father God who became Immanuel?

I’m not sure. There’s a line between words have meaning because they have culturally agreed-upon definitions and I can call myself whatever the hell I want because– well just, because. There’s also another way of asking the question: do I want to be associated with the culturally-agreed upon definition when that definition involves so much hate? Or, do I reclaim “Christian” in order to demonstrate what Jesus taught– that they shall know us by our love?




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  • I think you can call yourself whatever you want, but that probably isn’t a helpful answer. The church can thank my evangelical background if they’re looking for a reason I went straight to atheism. When you’re taught something like “it’s our way or no way” then once my umbilical cord was severed there was no fallback position. How many other people spent time in a camp/retreat/church class that delineated why the major denominations and world religions were wrong?

    That you found that middle ground, becoming more liberal but still firmly holding on to your identity as a Christian – I find that impressive, even if I didn’t follow that route myself.

    • Bri

      “When you’re taught something like “it’s our way or no way” then once my umbilical cord was severed there was no fallback position.” This was my experience as well. I didn’t go straight to atheism, but once I began seriously doubting inerrancy, hell, and the idea that God has the right to do whatever he wants, I was sure it would be a total contradiction if I were to stop believing in those things and still call myself a Christian. What would the label even mean, if even I could apply it to myself?

      Oddly enough, during the time that I was a non-religious agnostic theist, I desperately wanted to find religion again. But by the time I realized it’s possible to be a Christian who doesn’t believe in any of the things I passionately disagree with (hell, inerrancy, homophobia, purity culture, patriarchy, etc.), I had already lost my theism and found contentment without religion or spirituality.

      At this point, I feel like I *could* go back to church, worship some heretical idea of God, and call myself a Christian again, if I wanted to, but I have no idea what the point would be. The only reason I would want to would be so that I could work to change the church from within. It makes me glad to know there are people like Samantha who are doing just that.

  • Clearly and beautifully written. I have struggled with this as well, and I’ve decided that “Christian” means “follower of Christ,” pure and simple. I suspect that at the last, a lot of people who think they are Christian because they believe a list of a lot of things will be hearing, “Get away from me, I never knew you.”

  • I think before you can decide what to call yourself, you first have to decide why it matters what you call yourself. I know that’s kind of a faux-zen cop out answer, but I think it’s the truth.

    Personally, my definition for Christian is “Affirms the 325 Nicene Creed”. You’d fit that, but that’s just my definition. Everyone else’s is going to be a bit different, and understanding why yours is different from mine or anyone else’s is a big part of determining which metaphorical bucket you’re going to fit into.

  • Patrick

    I sometimes wonder something like the exact opposite. That is since I no longer believe in much, if anything of my Catholic upbringing do I have the right to NOT call myself Catholic?

    Whatever else I am, and like Whitman “I contradict myself” because I “contain multitudes,” My identity and thoughts are irrevocably shaped by Catholicism.

    Catholics teach that Baptism and Confirmation make “indelible marks” on the soul. And while I no longer believe that in a “this is ontologically true” sense, it’s a meaningful metaphor. How much must I layer on top of those marks before I can define myself not in opposition or compliance with them, but actually seperate from them.

    • Your comment reminded me of Roger Ebert:
      “I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself a atheist however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable.”

      Other people’s ambiguity doesn’t bother me, but I find I can’t do it…

  • It’s comforting to read someone else’s thoughts that is still in the middle of the journey. I am so, so, so with you on much of this, and agree with the comment by expreacherskid that when there are zero options given other than “our way or burn in hell forever,” that’s a pretty fast ticket to atheism. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, it was helpful to read.

  • Samantha,

    I know what you are talking about! I find myself in the same dilemma. I no longer know what label to use. I grew up as you did – IFB, but I can no longer hold to those views. They seem antiquated, and cultish to me now. The more I step away, the more I see the bigotry, hatred and “us vs. them” type thinking. Each step clarifies that moving away is the right thing. The downside is however, realizing that all I thought and understood (and believed) may be wrong altogether. Drawing away brings me closer to… undecided.

    My husband left faith all together almost two years ago, and now claims the label of atheist. I really don’t see myself going that direction, but neither did he.

    I too still hold to the belief of a loving God, Jesus’s death and resurrection (until proven otherwise) and Christ’s teaching. For now, I think I fit better in an Emergent church, but it is still relatively new to me. I read a lot. I pray sometimes.

    What I find most difficult is deciding where or if I “fit” if anywhere. I talk to some of my friends that I have know “forever” and who still believe in the doctrines of salvation, hell, original sin, etc., and I am beginning to see that these conversations get on my nerves. Narrow mindedness is becoming more apparent to me these days. As I change and move away, my relationships are also moving and shifting. It is freeing and sad at the same time. I trust you understand what I am saying.

    Thanks for a great post! So glad you do what you do. People like me need people like you – so we know we are not going crazy!


  • karenh1234567890

    I think that you are as much of a Christian as anyone else in the world. Recently, I have developed a problem with the terms “Christian” and “the Church”. The terms have been co-opted and politicized by the fundagelicals. It is time that those of us who are from the other branches of Christianity take the terms back to mean the generalized definition of Christianity, where all denominations and nondenominational groups are under the big tent.

    Consider the term Christian, it seems to me that it has been so misused that it losing any validity because the fundagelicals have turned it into a political hammer they use to pretend that all people who consider themselves Christians believe exactly like they do, in order to pretend that the group of people who agree with them is a lot bigger than it actually is for political proposes. I grew up in the Episcopal church. What I was taught is very far removed from the stuff the fundagelicals were taught. So the fist thing one should ask is “Which church?”

    When I hear the term “the Church”, I automatically think “The Roman Catholic church”, mostly from reading a lot about European history, where it is generally used in that context. So now, whenever the term is used, Again, the first thing that anyone should do is ask, “Which church?”

  • Morgan Guyton

    You’re a Christian if you’re a disciple of Jesus. The litmus tests of ideology are the means by which those who don’t want to be disciples try to make the case that they’re still Christian.

  • These are good questions, Sam. I suppose a lot of people are asking them of themselves this week. For my part, I gave up on identifying as evangelical perhaps a year ago (around the same time I started exploring and developing a theology that’s comfortable with affirming science and being universally inclusive to people), and the effects of that change have been minor in my own life; it comes to the fore on those rare occasions when I run into old friends from college who are still evangelical (most often right when I’m in the middle of discussing with my wife something that the evangelical church does that annoys me), but otherwise there’s been very little social tension in sloughing off that label.

    As for the term ‘Christian,’ I’ve clung to that identity with a fury (at least in my own mind). My experience with evangelicals (including what I used to believe myself) has been that anyone who doesn’t hold to The List of Doctrine is, at best, a backslider, and, at worst, an apostate or heretic. If they aren’t willing to change their beliefs back to match The List, then that Christian label needs to be revoked damn quick. That attitude makes me so angry (again, probably because I used to agree with it) that I refuse to let the label go. I’m with Morgan in regards to the definition of a Christian: a disciple of Jesus. I’m not going to go any farther in delineating what that means, because I think things get exclusive as soon as you start defining what a disciple of Jesus looks like. I think there are better and worse ways to follow Jesus, but after so many years being ready to think, “Not a real Christian” I’m done with kicking people out of that identity if they want to share it with me. Of course, the converse of being willing to share the label is that I’ve become pretty adamant in clarifying what system of beliefs a particular Christian subscribes to and not letting others tell me I can’t be a Christian.

  • Out of all the “So what do I call myself now?” articles that have been going around lately, this is the one that resonates with me the most. I do still claim the label “Christian,” but as a subcategory of Unitarian Universalism. I could also accurately be described as an agnostic theist. I don’t *know* that God exists in the same way that I know the Phoenician civilization existed, but part of me insists on believing in the supernatural, so I accept the fact that I need to believe it exists whether or not it actually does. Having then accepted faith as a basic premise, I approach it with critical thinking like anything else.

  • You captured where a lot of us are beautifully. From a Quaker/Celtic I’m working on it and I let you know when I figure it out. In Acts the early church was described at the Way. Acts 19:9. I like it. It suggests I’m on a journey. Not that I’ve arrived.

  • For me, being a Christian simply means committing to be shaped by the story of Jesus. A lot of people seem to think it is about propositions and doctrines, but I have seen those used to exclude and condemn more than anything. I find myself asking the same questions you do and I really like the way you put it: “Am I a Christian because I believe, with all my heart, in the teachings of the Christ as found in the Gospels– no matter how historically reliable they may or may not be? Am I still a Christian because, like Peter, all I feel can be summed up in you have the words of life, where else can I go?” To me, that is almost the definition of what it means to be Christian.

  • Alice

    Good post. I was also confused about the meaning of “evangelical” for a long time. I thought it meant people who were more liberal than fundamentalists, but still conservative. But it seems like the words are almost synonyms. I could be wrong.

    I don’t know what to call myself either. I want to be more specific than just “Christian” especially living in the Bible belt. “Progressive Christian” fits, but it sounds more snobbish than I’d like. And like a lot of people, I don’t fit neatly into any theological box.

  • I’m so tired of trying to find a label that fits my constantly shifting perspectives that I just tell people to watch me live or have a conversation and see where they think I’m standing today according to their boxes.

    When it comes to relationships, I consider Jesus to be my mentor and adviser. I trust him more than anybody else, and I want to be like him. That’s the extent of my fixed theology right now.

  • As an outsider, I think the Nicene Creed is enough.

    My wife, a witch, tells a relevant story from her college days. In the 1980s she was an undergraduate in a Roman Catholic college and, in one class, the students were going around the room talking about their religions. And every student said something like, “I’m a ____, but I don’t believe in ___.” You’ve stopped saying “but…,” that’s all.

    I believe that it is time for major reforms in all the major world religions, and you are part of a nascent reform movement. May the blessings of your god go with you.

  • Angela

    It really bothers me when people try to dictate what labels other people can or cannot apply to themselves. Growing up Mormon I certainly considered myself a Christian, as does every single Mormon I know. Yet Mormons are constantly told that they are NOT Christians for reasons I’ve yet to understand. Yeah, I get that Mormons have some pretty odd-ball beliefs and I certainly have my issues with Mormonism but I also feel that they have just as much right to call themselves Christian as any other church. After all, they are The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints. Christ is central to the religion and actually I feel that upwards of 95% of their doctrine is in line with mainstream protestant beliefs (it’s just that the other 5% is completely bizarre).

    • Oh glob, I could have used this for reference on a Mormons-aren’t-Real-Christians bitchfest I inadvertently started just last week. Though they probably think they’re pretty inclusive because they consider Catholics as passing the litmus test.

    • Huh. I had a conversation with a Mormon the other week where I noted that my criteria for “Christianity” was being able to affirm the 325 Nicene Creed (which is as simple as it gets: God create everything, Jesus is the son of God and died for our sins). He told me at that point that he couldn’t affirm that and neither would any other Mormon, but I’m honestly not sure that I believe him. Given that creed ( would that be something you’d say that most Mormons would affirm?

      • Angela

        Yes, Mormons believe that although the creed is not specifically included in official Mormon doctrine. I’m wondering if he was confusing the Nicene Creed with the Athanasian Creed which deals with the nature of the trinity because Mormons DO believe that The Father, Son and Holy Ghost are three separate entities which unite to form a single Godhead rather than three aspects of a single entity.

        The other thing that tends to trip people up about Mormonism is the doctrine of eternal progression. Mormons believe that those in the top level of Heaven can continue to be perfected through the atonement until they actually become perfect like God. At that point they can leave the nest so to speak and go off and create their own universe. Because of this some speculate that God himself started out like man in some other universe and that there may potentially be alternate universes created by other gods. However, that’s mostly speculation. There’s very little official doctrine one way or the other. To me, acknowledging God as the creator of the universe and everything in it would be in alignment with the Nicene Creed, but for some that’s a sticking point.

        Honestly I can see why other people would find those beliefs to be bizarre and blasphemous, but I still feel that Mormons should have the right to identify as Christians if they want to. It’s not like it makes any other church somehow less Christian.

  • Several years ago, after consideration of what exactly I can be sure that I believe, I decided (like you) that the 325 creed was as far as I was willing to go. Anything else, and I feel that I am risking violating either my intellect or my conscience. Usually, my conscience, and I don’t believe that God calls us to do that.

    With the exception of the few years spent in Bill Gothard’s organization, I would say I was raised mainstream Evangelical. I really feel like things have changed since I was a kid, though. I don’t remember the widespread adherence to fundamentalism, or the never-ending anger and hatred that seems to come from pulpits everywhere these days.

    Sometimes, about all I can really do is play the Creed in my head. Usually, I hear John Michael Talbot’s version, for whatever that is worth.

  • PJB

    I think you have defined Christian perfectly.

    If the journey of your life is spent in the company of Christ, you are Christian. All the rest is window dressing. Lots of people are getting some things right. More people are getting a lot of things wrong. There’s more than enough incomprehensible reality to go around.

    The gospels, and the creeds, and Immanuel. That’s about the sum-total of what’s supposed to be solid. Every theologian-proper seems to get there in the end.

    (The rest of it is supposed to be a great glorious messy game. A long-running thought experiment encouraging us to play games of, “What if?” — I’m sure of it. Kinda.)

  • It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the questions coming at you at once. I think it’s wise, in your position, to start with the most basic fact you can affirm as true — and build up from there. It’s easy to approach this all too subjectively — about me and what I believe — but ultimately, if we are intellectually honest with ourselves, the key must be what is true. What is the source and foundation of truth in your life? Why do you believe some things are true and reject other things? With regard to Christianity — what is the source of truth there? If you believe in the truth of the Gospels, what are the implications of that? What does that mean for the rest of Scripture, and for the Church?

    I won’t tell you the answers I found, unless you want them. But I absolutely don’t believe in subjective truth. If we believe that the Gospels are true, then that has very real and definite implications for who Jesus was (who he said he was), and that has very real implications for the Church and for us as believers. Believing that Jesus is who he said he was, the Son of the God of Israel, doesn’t leave any place for syncretism. He taught love — but that’s not all he taught.

    I wish you the best and will say a prayer for you. May God’s peace be with you.

    • Before you can believe Jesus was “Who he said he was”, you have to also believe whether or not the Gospels are all completely accurate. If they got some of his words right and some wrong…or if the stories mutated and changed as they were repeated orally before they were written down…then how can you really figure out what Jesus said about himself? For me personally, the big differences between Jesus in the synoptics and Jesus in John are quite significant.

      • A very strong case can be made for the writing of the Synoptics within forty years of Jesus’s earthly ministry. The differences and seeming inconsistencies between them actually bolster the case for their historicity rather than defeat it: they show that while the Synopics may have shared at least one common source, they also worked from other, independent materials which confirm each other in substance and vary only in detail. In the intervening time between Jesus and the writing of the Synoptics, Paul’s testimony to the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15) rejects any notion that the supernatural elements of the Gospels were fanciful later inventions. In the Gospel of John — is anything regarding Jesus’s person or his claims really different, or does it merely reflect a later and more developed theological understanding?

        • In the Gospel of John — is anything regarding Jesus’s person or his claims really different, or does it merely reflect a later and more developed theological understanding?

          I’m currently reading Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman and . . . it depends, but I think one could make an argument that the Jesus of the Synoptics and the Jesus of John are so different they’re barely recognizable. The Jesus of the Synoptics is clearly an apocalyptic prophet who didn’t make any clear claim to be God, and the Jesus who appears in John is … not, and orients his entire ministry on claiming to be God. There’s also huge and drastic differences in the Crucifixion.

          I don’t know what I think about all of that, but what Ehrman is claiming would certainly upend a lot of what I previously believed about the Gospels if he’s right.

          • I think one could make an argument that the Jesus of the Synoptics and the Jesus of John are so different they’re barely recognizable.

            Very yes! As you say…Jesus makes radically different claims about himself in John and in the Synoptics. Furthermore, he makes very different claims on how a person can be saved. When Jesus is asked how to be righteous, or how to get to heaven, in the Synoptics it’s always some variation on “Follow the commandments.” He says to feed the poor, care for the needy, love your neighbor as yourself. In John, though, he gives a different answer. He says the most important thing is to believe in him, and be born again. If believing in Jesus is so important, why didn’t Jesus say so in any of the Synoptics.

            Joseph, I would agree that John represents a later and different theological understanding. That is why, I believe, John had Jesus say different things–to support a different point. John was writing about a different theology with a different Jesus.

            If you’d like another, radically different view, I would strongly recommend you check out this lecture by Richard Carrier. He presents a point that Jesus was a mythical figure, not a real person; and Paul believed in him as a mythical figure. That would explain why Paul says Jesus appeared to the apostles, and to other witnesses in Jerusalem, “and also to me”. In Acts we see Jesus appear to Paul in a vision, with a powerful voice and a blazing light. Maybe he means that Jesus appeared in visions to the apostles also.

          • “Radically different”? How so? In both the Synopics and in John, Jesus makes definite claims to divinity and equality with God. Both show him dying and resurrected from the dead. Even in Matthew, who emphasizes the role of works, the role of faith in crucial in following Jesus (Matthew 9). And John, likewise, does state the necessity of works and obedience (John 15). One only finds “radical differences” by a myopic (and Protestant) view.

            Academic historians nearly universally agree that Jesus was an historical figure.

          • I disagree that he makes “definite claims to divinity and equality with God”– at least, the “definite” part. He makes a lot of allusions we’ve come to interpret as claims of divinity.

          • Patrick Ley

            The Jesus of the Synoptics is almost certainly claiming to be the Messiah, but it is only Christianity as it later developed that sees the Messiah as God.

            We may also want to note that the earliest known mansucripts of Mark (the oldest Gospel and one which secular scholars believe could not have been written before 70 CE due to the reference to the destruction of the Second Temple.) end with an empty tomb. An empty tomb is certainly compatible with accounts of the Ressurrection, but doesn’t necessarily mean that was the way it was originally understood.

          • The Gospel according to Mark is the earliest Gospel, but not the earliest New Testament writing. All of the authentic Pauline letters predate Mark’s writing. 1 Thessalonians was written around 50-55 CE, for example, and even this early, the notion of Jesus as Lord and God is already present, though without the Trinitarian formulations that were worked out later. And in that letter, Paul explicitly refers to the resurrection of Christ–he spends a good deal of time on it.

            How the early Christians understood Jesus as God was something that took a while to figure out, but the earliest creed, which Paul reflects on, is “Jesus is Lord”. And there was never any question in the Christian community from the very beginning that Christ had risen from the dead.

            All of this predates the Gospels by sometimes a decade or more.

          • I have a question about that, though, now– it seems like at least some of the Apostles believed that Jesus became “Lord” after the Resurrection, that he was simply an “anointed one” before that, in the same way that King David was an anointed one.

          • That may be so. The disciples don’t seem to understand what Jesus is talking about most of the time–they’re kinda dense. It isn’t until the upper room experience and then, especially, Pentecost, that they seem to truly understand what they witnessed.

  • Erin

    This post is incredibly well timed.
    I sing with a community choir, and we are currently practicing a concert of hymns and spirituals. Last night we were singing “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.” I found myself incredibly uncomfortable because I don’t want that. I love Jesus with every molecule in my being, but I don’t want any part of being a “Christian,” at least not in the the modern iteration of the concept. Being a Christian — and a conservative — has been part of my identity for so long that I don’t know how to function without that part of myself. I am also struggling with what that means for my relationships with my family and community, who would be horrified if I said I wasn’t a Christian, and would not even try to understand. It’s no fun at all. I will pray you find your way to answers.

  • swimr1

    Great post. It’s really disorienting when your entire life’s paradigm is shattered. Like a few others here, my die-hard, born-again evangelical experience eventually made me so miserable that I very seriously questioned all the foundations of my faith. When I realized there was no “baby in the bathwater” to begin with, I couldn’t figure out where to land with any intellectual integrity. I’d believe in a god or a christianity if I had reason beyond just wanting to believe. I’d need some truth there somewhere. I envy those that are satisfied with believing for belief’s sake. It’s really disorienting when your entire life’s paradigm is shattered. I

  • swimr1

    lol – sorry – a little repetitive there in my editing… ;-(

  • The Creeds were written to be the basic foundations of the faith, so I would generally consider them to be the “test” if one is Christian.

    I think I’ve asked this before, but why do you only hold the 325 creed, and not the 381 creed that the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and majority of Protestants (ie, the vast, vast majority of Christians) hold?

    • Because the Constantinople version adds many doctrines that I find extraneous and unnecessary. My faith doesn’t hinge on Jesus being born of a virgin.

  • Honestly, I can’t really call myself a Christian. Part of that is because of the reputation they have been getting lately. But the main reason is that I don’t think that it is my decision whether I should be called a Christian or not. The word dates back to the early church when the disciples were called Christians or “little Christs” by the people at Antioch. I guess it was similar to the term “Jesus freak” that was popular a while ago in that it was used as an insult, but the receivers took it as a compliment. Bottom line, I consider that calling myself a Christian would be both inaccurate and arrogant because I don’t live up to the true definition.

  • Thanks for this. I’m right there with you–I’d been struggling with these questions already, and the World Vision thing last week made me seriously wonder about identifying as Christian. It’s tough to find the right balance between identifying in ways that are meaningful to you as an individual, and acknowledging the real-world implications of what those labels mean to other people.

  • I have not identified myself as a ‘Christian’ for several years. One reason is that it is understood by most fundamentalists and evangelicals as meaning a person who has gone through the ritual of being ‘saved’ and is now on their way to heaven instead of hell.

    I prefer to call myself a believer or a follower of Jesus.

  • Divizna

    Do you mean you’re doubting your being christian because you’re not hateful, bigot and xenophobic? Well, that sure sounds like nonsense to me. Isn’t the core of Jesus’ teaching supposed to be “love thy neighbour” (and last time I checked, the condition “unless your neighbour is gay or liberal” was still missing)? Where has “judge not, lest you be judged” gone? I know that most big churches weave elaborate sophistics about why they should actually do just the opposite, but really… those are the ones who ought to remove the beam out of their eye and stop throwing stones for they are not without guilt.

  • You have sparked a brilliant conversation. I love Dokimazete’s emphasis on being shaped by Christ’s story, rather than signing off on an ever-shifting list of “eternally true” exclusive propositions. What a very modernist approach to God!

    At the same time, your heart posture is beautifully evident. Asking “heretical” questions is radically different from abandoning faith, especially when God is the one we are addressing our questions to. May He answer and affirm you just as He did His first disciples.

  • Don’t sell yourself short. I self identify as an evangelical Christian, but I’m a Pelagianist, inclusivist who rejects Penal Substitution (honestly I think most evangelicals are Pelagianists deep down: at my church we were never really theologically comfortable with the term “Original Sin.” It felt a little too Calvinist/Catholic I guess.)

    Though your point about putting emphasis on the spiritual over physical just struck me as off. It was evangelicals like Randy Alcorn who taught me that God loved the physical just as much as the spiritual, and evangelicals like Richard Stearns who taught me that God cared just as much about saving people’s lives as saving their souls.

    Try not to worry about whether you’re a Christian or not simply because you reject some old theological doctrines. That’s what being a Protestant is all about!

  • Carol

    To me the “line” is whether you believe in a God (even if you characterize him/her/it very differently than fundamentalists do), Jesus, and probably the story of Jesus’ sacrifice. I stopped identifying as Christian when I crossed that line, but I would still consider Samantha a Christian if she chooses to identify herself that way.

  • Jacquie S.

    Someone recently wrote”I am not a Christian, I am an aspiring follower of Jesus Christ”.

  • ReverendRef

    my questions about them are still so huge

    So you have huge questions about God, Jesus and everything. At the end of Matthew, Jesus told his followers to “go and make disciples …” It’s important to remember that disciples are followers and students. Students have questions and should be permitted to ask questions.

    Borrowing from St. Paul’s analogy, when we were infants we were fed exactly what our parents dictated, but when we grew up we were given the choice of what to eat and we are able to eat foods with more substance and texture.

    Christianity works the same way: as new Christians, or as children, we digest what we are given. As we grow, we should be able to question and make choices and deal with issues that offer more substance and texture.

    Discipleship should offer the chance to explore. Discipleship should offer, and encourage, a place to ask questions. Because, in my opinion, if we can’t ask questions we are no longer disciples — we are minions.

    • My experience with Christianity was that you are ONLY allowed to ask questions if you assume you already know the answer. Or that the answer is impossible to know.

      And not necessarily because of the Church power structure not letting you ask questions–although that’s part of it. Also because in your own mind, you have to maintain a certain basic level of belief in order to still be a Christian. I never felt free to think, What if Jesus was wrong about this? or What if God was wrong about this? or What if there is no god at all?, even if that was the answer that seemed most obvious based on observation. There always has to be some other reason, some hidden meaning, or maybe the only acceptable answer was “We don’t know.”

      I don’t want to be a Christian. I want to be someone who follows the truth no matter where it leads.

      • swimr1


  • I’ve been raised an atheist, I have never known religion,and I found spirituality and something I call faith by taking everything I found useful from all kinds of books and rituals all over the world, and making it my own. I have found many words and names and stories, in philosophy, in science, in myths, in psychology and in literature, but everything they do is to show a tiny piece, a way of looking at something I know to be much greater. I use these words to make my way, but I am not sure I believe any of these. There is just one un-nameable certainty, and that is where my strength and everything I am comes from.

    I don’t know if you can, of if you should call yourself a Christian. But it’s people like you who make words and names like God, Jesus, and the Bible sound beautiful in the ears of people like me.

  • I’m wandering through a time of uncertainty right now in my own faith. It feels like the tides, in and out. I’m Lutheran, so I’ve never considered myself an evangelical, even though I sort of wandered away from the liturgical tradition for a few years. The years visiting some of the more evangelical churches sent me straight back to the Lutheran church, which is far from perfect, but whose imperfections I deal with more easily. I suppose I’d be considered a bit of a heretic if I talked about some of the things I’m pondering lately (inclusivism, for one), so I only talk about those with people who I know will be able to accept that this is something that I’m working through. I have this deep gut feeling that something is very wrong in the North American church, and I do seem to see it more in evangelical circles. I keep going back to that verses about the trees that bear good fruit vs. those that bear bad. I’m still a Christian, because Christ transcends it all. Everything I’m confused by. All the anger and hate in the Church. All the ways we fail at following Jesus. I know God is greater than that, and that most of our rules are just that. Our rules. Not God’s.

  • Thank you for this insightful post. Your journey is beautiful and I love hearing more about it. If nothing else, no one can say you do not take your faith seriously as you explore all these old ideas.

    Like you I was always taught the Bible is all, 100% right all the time, no exceptions; when I realize that some things are wrong, it feels like I have to reject the whole thing. You’re exploring the same questions as me.

    What has surprised me is, once I was willing to say, “Certain parts of the Bible are not good, and must be supplanted by other parts of the Bible; but I know Jesus’ words are true.” Well, when you read Jesus’ words in that light, suddenly you’re able to question Jesus as well. Jesus said a person who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. That’s what Jesus said, not what Paul said or what somebody later writing about Jesus said. Doesn’t that minimize true wrongdoing into a larger fuzzy category of “sexual sin”? You were just talking about how the Purity Culture doesn’t understand consent, because they think we are all sex monsters inside who would have sex with anything if the Holy Spirit didn’t restrain us. If you think ‘having a fleeting sexual thought’ is the same thing as ‘having sex’, why wouldn’t you reach that purity conclusion? And what about rape; is thinking about rape just as bad as actually carrying out rape?

    And Jesus also said not one stroke of a pen would pass away from the law, even though he changed the law quite a bit. He said he wasn’t abolishing the law, but he did abolish a good bit of the law. He contradicted himself. The synoptics record him saying you must follow justice in order to be saved; John records that you must be “born again” and “believe” to be saved. You get to a point where you’re not just picking and choosing Bible verses; you’re also picking and choosing which words of Jesus you agree with. Then you’re not really following Jesus or worshiping Jesus so much as you are inspired by Jesus, or maybe a fan of Jesus. That means you understand what is right and what is true and only agree with Jesus when he matches what is true. For many, the word “Christian” means a blind acceptance of dogma; the idea that we can only know truth as it’s revealed by Jesus.

  • Aram McLean

    A Baptist. A Christian. A Paultian. Call it what you will, it’s all based on a cobbled together book that has no more right to claim itself as absolute truth than, say, The Odyssey. Getting over the Bible completely was the best thing I ever did, though it wasn’t easy. The world expands into something unrecognizable yet incredibly intoxicating in its sheer massive level of new possibilities. Thoughts and emotions spiralled out into understandings that were impossible so long as I held onto Jesus being more than just another dead teacher.
    But hey, that’s just me. I wish you well in your ongoing journey.

  • We were going through the order of service for baptism yesterday, and the priest pointed out that you are asked, Do you believe AND TRUST in God. The trust part, he said was really key, and is really the bedrock of faith. Beliefs change, but hopefully your trust doesn’t, although I think it will of course wax and wane. So, maybe that’s a starting point, do you believe and trust in God as revealed through Christ crucified? (As an interesting sidenote, he said was that we don’t know about the resurrection in a literal blood and bones resurrection, but what we get from the text are disciples coming back with a definitive sense that Jesus was alive and with them, which I think is secretly wonderful).

    For me, the reason I would call myself a Christian is because in a week or so, I will take a public vow to commit myself to Christ, not in the sense that this is the story I will believe in forever, but that this is the story I will wrestle with forever. I lifted that from Lauren Winner, and if you haven’t read Still, go, go read it.

    I think what I’m trying to say is, I don’t think there is a litmus test for who gets to be called Christian and who doesn’t. I don’t think it’s a valuable use of our time, but what I think is super important is figuring out where you personally are in the wrestling. And to be ok with it, because no one’s faith is the same.

    Anyway, I’ve gone on long enough. Much love to you in your journey.

    • One of my favorite professors explained, “We cannot know whether the resurrection historically happened. What we CAN know historically happened, is that the disciples fervently believed with every fiber of their being that it did. And that made all the difference.”

      Whenever I talk to people about faith and belief, I tell them to replace every instance of the word “faith” with “trust” to get a better understanding of what Christian discipleship is all about. Even when the disciples didn’t believe Jesus, or didn’t intellectually assent to some of what he was talking about (at least, until later), they trusted that he wasn’t leading them astray, and that trust was the bedrock of their experience.

    • Cassie I agree with you about trust. I trust in Jesus, but I also trust Jesus. To me they are connected but not quite the same.

    Jesus did not teach “Christianity.” He did not even teach us to be “Christians.” He taught us that we are “…the light of the world.”

    That’s right! Ever hear this one?

    This profound declaration, as told to us by The Son of God, in the Christian Bible, about who we truly are, has been here all along…right in plain sight…but never has seen the “light of day” because it has been kept in “the darkness” of the vanity and hypocrisy of Christianity.

    Take a close look at The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:14:

    “You are the light of the world.”

    The “you” is plural referring to His “disciples” AND the “crowds”.

    Yes…we know that Jesus later said to the crowds: “All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.”…and then told them: “I am the light of the world…” (John 8:2 &12) But why is He also telling us that WE are “the light of world?”

    The realization of what this little overlooked…and usually ignored…detail means, changes your whole perception on who His teaching was (is) really intended for, and what exactly was (is) He actually teaching.

    Now who was He really teaching?

    There is a common misconception, in Christianity, that Jesus was only…only… talking to His disciples here. However, upon a closer look, and connecting a few “dots,” He was actually talking to the “crowds” or “multitudes” which included His disciples. He was not just teaching His disciples exclusively…separate from everyone in the crowds…that they were the only ones entitled, or privileged, to be called “the light of the world.”

    At the beginning of Chapter 5, it says: “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”

    It is here that the misunderstanding occurs. Given this verse by itself, it can be argued that He is only teaching His disciples, and no one else. However, that position doesn’t hold any “holy” water when you look at the closing verse to The Sermon in 7:28: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds…(the crowds)…were amazed at his teaching…”

    This is supported by the fact when you connect it to the previous chapter 4:25: “Large crowds…(crowds)…from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.”

    In the preceding verse 18, Jesus begins to call together His disciples, and then it clearly describes the beginning of His work in teaching and healing “…among the people…” at verse 23.

    This same fact can be seen in Luke 6:17-19 after He gathers His disciples: “He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over…the coastal region…who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases.”

    Notice it says: “…who had come to hear him…” Then, in following chapter of Luke 7:1 it concludes His sermon with: “Then Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening…”

    THE PEOPLE…not just His disciples! And not just to those whom He chose to be His disciples. There is no mention of any response by His disciples when He finished His Sermon either in Matthew or Luke.

    He was teaching EVERYONE in the “crowds” that they are “the light of the world.”

    At this point in His ministry, the crowds…the people…never heard Him proclaim that He was the light of the world that day in that Sermon.

    Now put this in context of the circumstances of that time, culture, and location in history.

    There was no King James English; no King James Bible; no Christian religion; no Christian church; no Christian dogma; no Christian fundamentalism, dominionism, etc…nothing!

    He was not an “anglicized-caucasian-hunk” speaking the “King’s English” or a potpourri of “American-eze.”

    He took on the “tent of human flesh” within the Jewish culture (race/religion) and lived and taught as a Jew, as Jewish Rabbi which means “teacher.” He was not even called…nor did He refer to Himself…as “Jesus Christ.”

    He and all those around Him spoke in their common language of Judea, and the mid east of that time, which was Aramaic.

    He was known only, and called, by His Aramaic name: Eashoa (Yeshua) Msheekhah which translates…or transliterates…into “Jesus Christ.”

    Now for a moment, imagine you and I are part of the “crowds” who followed Him around and gathered to hear Him teach upon The Mount. We would be hearing Him in our native tongue of Aramaic; with no thought of anything called “Christian”. He never even said any word like it that day.

    Now the traditional “foundation” of Christianity is that in order to be “saved” and have “eternal life” you must become a so-called “Christian.” You must become a member of the “club” or “face the consequences of being lost, unloved, and doomed for all eternity.”

    In today’s world, you must choose from some thirty to forty thousand different denominations of Christianity. So which one…which brand, model, style, design, color, size, etc…is the best bang for your “soul-saving” buck?

    Can you imagine being there, in person, hearing Him teaching us without one reference to “Christianity” or being “a Christian”?

    Can you imagine hearing Him tell you that “you are the light of the world” without even being told that you had to “follow” Him? Isn’t it peculiar, that nowhere in either version of The Sermon does He tell us to “follow Him?”

    What He does is tell us what we must DO with “our” light!

    So, imagine now that He just concluded His Sermon, and we are inspired by His teaching; we follow Him around a few more hours along with the crowds, but eventually we have be on our way to another city. However, we both have now committed ourselves to try and practice what He taught, and to understand what He meant by “we are the light of the world.”

    He never told us we had to be a Christian, or even to follow Him, to be “the light of the world.” He just straight-out proclaimed…right at the beginning of His Sermon…that you and I, and everyone around that could hear Him, are “the light of the world.”

    So later, you and I journey to other locations, and eventually go our separate ways while each of us tries to practice and learn the best we can from what we, and everyone, heard Him teach that one day on The Mount.

    QUESTION: time has now gone on since we heard Him in person that day, so are we “saved” or “lost” because we never heard Him tell us that we were something called “Christians?”

    We only believe what He taught us that we are “the light of the world,” to let it shine before others;

    to practice His words to glorify our Father in heaven; to not judge others because we will be also be judged the same way; to forgive others when they wrong us;

    to give in secret so that no one sees us; to pray in secret where no one will see us; to do to others what we would have them do to ourselves, and this He told us sums up the Law and the Prophets;

    to not resist an evil person, but to love our enemies, and in so practicing His words He said we will be children of our Father in heaven and blessed as peacemakers.

    We never heard Him use the words “saved” or “lost.” We never heard Him talk about Himself except when He told us if we, or anyone, hearing His words…practiced…did what He taught…we would all…EVERYONE…be called peacemakers and children of God…our Father…the Most High.

    Now I’m beginning to see the light…to understand what He was saying……who I really am…who we really are…what He meant …what He taught….that day on The Mount.

  • Not only this but in my own experience, I have found my greatest inspiration comes from what other Christians teach about Jesus. Not from the Bible itself, unless I’m cherry-picking verses. I know Christians who preach justice and proclaim the year of the lord’s favor, who say God came down as Jesus to save the oppressed and comfort the poor and we should do the same thing.

    But when I read the bible, I find a lot of focus on sex, on submission, on things I really don’t find that important. I’d go as far as to say my problem with Christianity isn’t just with the church; it’s with the Bible too.

    • The Bible contains a lot of gory, ugly stuff. That’s one of the reasons why it is important to read and interpret it as a community–not to gloss over them or ignore them, but confront them and ask, “What do we do with this? How do we handle it in our own time place?”

      I do hold that the overarching message of the Bible is the one you mentioned. But the Bible reflects not only that truth, but the times, places, peoples, and cultures (plural) in which the books were written. There is no getting around that. Understanding those contexts and letting them inform the words we read is a step in bringing us closer to that truth.

  • Hi Samantha. I’ve dedicated pretty much my whole blog to reclaiming the term instead of having to walk away from what has been hijacked by modern conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, so I say yes you can! 🙂 Let’s stick together in that mission. I don’t think everyone has to agree on everything, in fact, when everyone starts to agree across the board I start to worry…. I personally have settled for now on calling myself a “Progressive Christian” even though I really don’t like either of those words because of their stigma… but they do offer a good signpost to find people with similar experiences and backgrounds.