Once a friend of mine, an associate pastor of a local congregation, asked me to dress and act as a homeless man and walk into the church in the middle of my friend’s sermon. This was to be both an experiment, to see how the church would treat me, and an object lesson. I did as my friend asked, but I will never do anything like that again! No, I wasn’t treated badly. I made sure that I was plenty dirty and my clothes were smelly. I acted disoriented, perhaps intoxicated. The usher seated me in the back row. After a while, I motioned to the usher that I would like to be seated closer to the front, and I was. I think I fooled people, until at last, my friend concluded his sermon by having me stand while he told who I really was and what he had asked me to do. As I said, I was not mistreated. But I felt totally out of place. A homeless man who could never feel at home in that place.
Do you feel out of place in church? Not because you are dirty and smelly but because you just feel different? Perhaps this feeling goes beyond the organized church. Maybe you just feel out of place around people who say they are Christians. Because you fear that your theology is too moderate, or liberal to suit them. Not that your theology is bad. You are just made so aware that what you believe is not as “pure” as what the church would like you to believe. You see gospel tracts, and the message just doesn’t make sense to you. You hear a preacher or Bible study teacher talk about Adam and Eve and you don’t believe that Adam and Eve were real persons. You believe in evolution and a universe that is billions of years old, but you perceive that according to your pastor and other pillars of the church, you are not supposed to believe in evolution. You might call First Church your home church. But you really feel homeless. Is this you?
I have some good news for you. There are many Christians like you. The problem is, many of them are hiding and silent. Perhaps you have found a church with more open-minded attitudes. Your views are shared by many of its members, and perhaps by the pastor. But outside of your congregation, in informal groups and social media, your views are scoffed at by some well-meaning Christians. At the same time, you see things posted on social media that accuse Christians and organized Christianity as being judgmental, rigid, even hateful. You know that this doesn’t describe you. But you are afraid that is how people will see you if they know you are a Christian. Have you felt this way before?
I believe this describes my own experience. I belong to a congregation where I feel at home. But I recently belonged to a Bible study group made up of myself and two other men who were members of different congregations, different denominations. One of them challenged my views several times, saying they were “from Satan.” I finally said I would have to withdraw from the group, because such attitudes were not helpful to me. This person did not make me doubt my faith or my theological beliefs, but he did upset me. He essentially told me I was spiritually homeless, and for a while, he made me feel that way. While I am over this incident, I am constantly battling this kind of closed-mindedness on social media, including people who don’t like Christians because they think all of us are the same, and they don’t like what they think we are. And I find Christian bookstores that refuse to carry any books that take a theologically moderate point of view, and some of the books on their shelves label views like mine “false teaching.” It is sad that there are such people who incite division within the Body.
At one time I felt homeless. Kind of like an Auburn alumnus living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or a University of Michigan alumnus living in Columbus, Ohio. Like nobody’s going to kick me out of town, but most of my neighbors want me to switch my allegiance, or at least declare my allegiance as being either “conservative” or “liberal.” But as I have grown spiritually, I have become convinced that I am not the person who has the homeless problem. My home is in the Kingdom of God. The problem lies within people who do not yet understand the amazing diversity and breadth of this Kingdom, who believe that others need to change what they believe so that all Christians will believe the same things.
I talked with a cousin, an ordained minister, about my interest in writing a book or blog to help non-fundamentalists find a home in Christianity. He remarked that he thought that most Christians are non-fundamentalists. That is probably true. However, he agreed with me that usually the most vocal, most published, most publicized Christians are fundamentalist and have very conservative political views. And the biggest bullies within the church are the fundamentalists.
Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem with fundamentalists. I have a problem with those who think their view is the only legitimate one. I am writing this not to change the way you believe but to let you know that you do not need to be homeless, and to suggest ways you can find your place in the Body of Christ. But before I continue, I must recognize that while the title of this blog post says that it is not only about me but about you, most of the experiences that I am sharing are my own. You might not be anything like me. While you may feel that you do not fit into many churches and Christian circles, you might not want to. Perhaps you wish to take a different road than the one I have taken, the one that I am trying in this writing to help you navigate. You might choose the road that leads you away from Christianity altogether. If so, this writing may not be for you. Or, you might choose a road leading to an identity of Progressive Christian or Non-fundamentalist Christian but not a part of an organized Christian church. Read on. I think it is fair to state that my bias is based on my identity as a non-fundamentalist Christian who wishes to affiliate with organized church bodies that are relatively inclusive. In this case, this blog may or may not be helpful to you. I encourage you to read on but stop reading if it becomes evident that it is not helping you.
There is a number of books nowadays, thank God, that are apologetic oriented and were written to help you clarify what you believe. I want to go a little further. I want to help you find your place in the Body of Christ. If not within the organized church, within the Body outside. Indeed, you have a very special place and a very important calling. God wants to use you to reach and minister to people who might not be able to relate to believers who are very fundamentalist. And God wants you to have an intimate relationship with Him and be very excited about it!
Now, I think it is time to tell you a little more about myself. Of two ways you can label me, if that’s what makes you more comfortable with knowing me.
First, I am an evangelical. That doesn’t mean I’m a fundamentalist or that I believe the Bible contains no human errors. It doesn’t mean I’m conservative. It doesn’t mean I’m Republican. Evangelical is related to the word Evangel, which means “Gospel.” An evangelical is one who believes in the Gospel. In other words, an evangelical believes that while the sin of humans would keep them from an intimate relationship with God, God desires this relationship so much that He came to us as a man, suffered, and made it possible to experience unconditional love and forgiveness of our sin. This man, Jesus, was resurrected from the dead and thus on our behalf triumphed over death. Picture all this concretely or mystically and abstractly, I don’t care. These truths are recorded in the Bible, and the message of the Bible is the Word of God.
Note, however, that I said “the message of the Bible.” Not “the words of the Bible.” What is this message? I would sum it up this way. God created humankind to have fellowship with Him, but it is in our nature to want to go it alone. And when we do, we are alone in a cruel universe. But God nevertheless pursues us for as long and as far as He is able. He loves us that much. In fact, He loves us so much that He came to be one of us and experienced the ultimate kind of suffering as a consequence. But in doing so, He gave us an open invitation to live an eternal, intimate life with Him, if we will just believe what He has done for us. And this eternal life is not something we can gain for ourselves. It is only because God wants that kind of relationship with us and has made it possible for us. That is what I see as the message of the Bible, the message that comes through in the words that were written.
This brings me to the second thing I will tell you about myself. I do not believe that the Bible is inerrant. It contains human error and contradictions, although these are minor in relation to the truth of its powerful message. Non-inerrancy does not mean that my faith is weak. It is a choice I have made, like being a Methodist or a Baptist is a choice. I simply am convinced that the Bible is not inerrant. A word that might describe me is “Non-fundamentalist.” I don’t really like the word, because it implies that those Christians who do believe the Bible is inerrant are fundamentalists, and the term “fundamentalist” has become pejorative. Many Christians who believe in inerrancy of Scripture would not describe themselves as fundamentalist. But historically, the term is most often traced back to the “Five Fundamentals,” which were adopted in 1910 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. The first of these fundamentals was inerrancy of Scripture, and the others followed from it. Out of this grew what became known as the Fundamentalist Movement, a conservative reaction against liberal theology. Therefore, I am a non-fundamentalist. And if you are as well, I am writing this for you.
In my next blog post I hope to explain why non-inerrancy is a reasonable point of view, and how my faith has evolved to the point that I take the Bible as authoritative, despite its human errors, and why I love the Gospel of Christ.