I don’t know what to call myself anymore other than as a Christ follower. Having been “born again” into the fundamental Evangelical tradition in 1978, my wife and I have been following Christ. It’s been an up-and-down journey but mostly we’ve been deepening our faith in God through the grace of Christ.
My first faith crisis came when I started working for an inter-denominational Christian relief organization in 2001. I got to know Christians who were Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and other branches of the Christian faith. Up to that point, I had been taught to sneer at for the “impure” or “erroneous” doctrines of the non-Evangelical churches. These coworkers, however, opened my eyes to see that different doctrinal perspectives didn’t make them any less “Christian” than we Evangelicals were.
The first thing I struggled with was the atonement theories. I didn’t know there were different explanations as to why Jesus had to die to effect reconciliation with God other than the Penal Substitution (PS) atonement theory that the Evangelicals teach as “gospel”. Until then, I didn’t even know the term “atonement theory” existed. To make a long story short, I found there were at least a dozen other ways to understand the atonement of Christ other than the PS theory! However, in at least one Evangelical publication, all other theories were labeled under the heading “Other Erroneous Atonement Theories.”
That started a journey to explore other doctrines that I once held as inerrant and exclusive, i.e. we (the Evangelicals) are right and all doctrines different from — especially those that disagree with — ours are heresies. Even reading about them, much less agreeing with them, would lead us down the slippery slope of heresy and backsliding.
For a while, that fear held me back, but my curiosity kept me exploring other doctrines and interpretations of the Bible (Wow! Is there another interpretation other than what is explained in the NIV Study Bible?). That caused me to start questioning many other issues such as justice, punishment versus discipline from God, the meaning of Hebrews 9:27 (Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment) that I had used to scare others to receive Christ, and a whole bunch of other other doctrines cherished by Evangelicals.
For example, do you know that the words similar to “penalty” and “punishment” occur more than twice as frequently in the NIV as in the NKJV? The latter translates the same Hebrew or Greek word into into terms such as “discipline”, “offering”, or “chasten”. The p-words imply a judge who has to impose punishment for wrong doing in retribution, while the other non-p-words imply more a parent correcting a child’s behavior (Hebrews 12:4–11).
There are other examples of how different translations affect the way we view God as a judge or as a parent. Another quick example is using “forgiveness” instead of “remission” based on the same Greek word. Forgiveness requires first a grudge but remission is more about healing or alleviation of a burden. The former implies the action of a judge but the latter implies healing (as in cancer being in remission) or lifting of a burden.
I won’t go any further because of the need for brevity here. It suffices to say that these discoveries had caused me to go to seminary to get more deeply into Bible study and eventually wrote a book called “Seeing God Differently”. I’m not writing this to promote my book; therefore, I’m not providing a link here. The point is that I dived into the cherished Evangelical doctrines and came out liberated from my myopic spiritual “upbringing”.
I was tempted to call my book “The Confession of a Devangelical” but deemed it too controversial. But 2019 is six years since I published my book and I wished I had use that title, especially in view how the label “Evangelical” has been associated with anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigration cruelty, and pro-Trump, among other ills that I would consider unChristlike.
Anyway, after trying other denominations and mainline churches for a decade, my wife and I have had a tough time finding like-minded churches that teach the supremacy and centrality of Christ and the Bible, the need to be a Bible student (or at least a regular reader), the necessity of closet and intercessory prayer, a desire to share our faith, and fellowship that spurs one anther to love and good deeds.
We find ourselves drawn to the religious practices of Evangelicals but not the judgmental and myopic doctrines. We had tried to stay with Evangelical churches. We tried. And tried. And tried. But ultimately, we’re driven away by the elitist and exclusive teachings in the name of doctrinal purity and obedience (to certain interpretations of the Bible).
A number of “coincidences” had recently led us to a United Church with a “liberated” Evangelical pastor. It’s a rare combination but we know the Lord has led us to it. We’re now hard at work with the pastor to bring more emphasis on prayer, Bible study, and the centrality of Christ into the congregation. Funny thing is, we find ourselves having to explain to our Evangelical friends that this United Church is not like “the other United Churches”.
Sure, we’re Christians. But this term has been used to designate more a culture than faith in Christ, such as labeling the USA a “Christian nation”.
So, what do we call ourselves now, other than as Christ followers?
This is my first contribution to Medium. I hope it resonates with some Christians.