I’m a pacifist feminist who doesn’t believe the Bible is inerrant. Does that disqualify me from being a Christian?
For a long time I assumed it did. I spent most of my early religious life running around with fundamentalists. God created the world in 6 days… Noah sailed an ark… yadda yadda yadda. It was the only way of “doing Christianity” I was aware of. Oh, I’d heard about these other so-called “Christians” out there who twisted scripture to suit their needs. But, I didn’t belong with those guys. I had something called Intellectual Honesty (cue trumpet fanfare).
I didn’t believe that every Bible story was historically and/or scientifically accurate. I obviously wasn’t a real Christian. So, where did that leave me? My main Christian litmus test rested in Genesis, not the gospel accounts… which is pretty strange since I was questioning the whole CHRISTian thing, not the whole “am I an ancient Israelite” thing. Anyway, I didn’t want to force myself to believe in things like Young Earth Creationism. So, I went around being all nominally agnostic-ish. I did that for over a decade.
The whole thing always got under my skin, though. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God so much as I didn’t believe in the Bible. At least, I didn’t believe in a specific way of interpreting the Bible. But, when you’ve been taught that this is the only possible way of interpreting the Bible without running into all sorts of theological pitfalls, you tend to take an “all or nothing” approach to the Bible. It’s faith built on a house of cards (or, uh, sand).
Credit: David Hayward
After more than ten years worth of reading pro and anti Christian arguments, re-reading large chunks of the Bible, and several exposures to non-fundamentalist Christians who gasp weren’t outraged at my evolution accepting ways (some of them were even “traditionalist” non-fundamentalist Christians — I swear such a thing exists), I took another look at this whole Christianity thing.
I’m not going to get into why I believe what I believe here (other posts for other days). I want to focus on whether or not my beliefs are actually Christian beliefs or not.
First, I have to define “Christian”. That’s a little easier said than done. Some Christian crowds have a very narrow definition (i.e. Just us, not you). So, I’m going to ignore those guys for now because they’re in the minority (and since when does the minority view get to define terms for everyone else?)
How do I define Christianity?
The broadest definition would be someone who adheres to the historical Christian creeds. I’m most familiar with the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds, but the Nicene creed is a little longer, so I’ll stick with that.
The Nicene Creed
I believe in one God,the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.
He suffered and was buried.
And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe in one holy universal and apostolic Church I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Uh, yeah. I totally agree with all of that. How do I get around the whole “maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible” thing? It’s really not hard. Nothing in the creed says he made the Earth in 6 days. Nothing in the creed says “evolution totally didn’t happen”.
Score: 0 points – While I’m not above giving myself points for meeting my own definition, I’ll let this one pass.
* I used the “universal” version instead of “catholic” to avoid confusion with the Roman Catholic church.
Does an atheist philosopher think I’m a Christian?
In The Case Against Christianity, Michael Martin looks to the ecumenical creeds. These include the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. He considers these to be the fundamental statements of Christian belief. Anyone who believes in a theistic God, Jesus lived during the time of Pilate, Jesus is God, a person is saved through faith in Jesus, and sees Jesus as the model of ethical behavior they are at least (what he refers to as) a “Basic” Christian.
Building upon that definition, he defines an “Orthodox” Christian as someone who holds to “Basic” Christian beliefs as well as a belief in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the second coming.
Score: 1 point – Well, hot damn. The atheist says I’m not just a Christian; I’m an orthodox Christian. (I think I should get an extra point for chilling with the orthodox Christians, but whatever, we’ll stick with 1).
Does Merriam-Webster think I’m a Christian?
Score: 1 point – Well, that was an easy one. (Probably just all those liberals who run the dictionary website watering down the gospel, as those pesky liberals are known to do…)
Do the Roman Catholics think I’m a Christian?
According to Catholic Answers, “validly baptized Protestants are regarded as true Christian brothers and sisters who are in imperfect relationship with the Church.” Basically, a valid baptism is Trinitarian and the person who is getting baptized as well as the person who is doing the baptizing need to have the “proper intention” (no accidental baptisms, please).
Don’t trust Catholic Answers? This is the part where I raise my first and shout, “To the Vatican!” like I’m going to hop in a jet or something equally cool, but I really just quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter.”322 Those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” (838)
Score: 1 point – I was baptized at 16 by a pastor in the Trinitarian formula. It wasn’t an accident (though he did hold me under water for a suspiciously long time). I’ve got the Catholics on my side. (Anyone intimidated by that? No? Dang.)
Do other Christians think I’m a Christian?
While many denominations would disagree with me on various doctrinal points, most would affirm me as a Christian (since I believe in Jesus and try to follow him and all). The only people who have questioned my Christianity have been fundamentalists…(and several atheists). The main reason fundamentalists have said I’m not a Christian is because I don’t believe in what they call inerrancy. I don’t believe that everything in the Bible is necessarily historically and/or scientifically accurate. (No, that doesn’t trip up my belief in Jesus.)
Anecdotally, I know Christians from many different denominations who accept me as a Christian. But, I could just be making stuff up (since that’s what all so-called “Christians” do to justify their lifestyle choices, amiright?) Instead, I went to the Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey to get some estimates and took a look at the “literal interpretation of scripture” question. That’s the one that always gets me called “not a Christian, ummmm, I’m gonna tell God on you!”
59% of Evangelicals believe scripture is the “Word of God, literally true word for word”.
It’s possible that 59% of Evangelicals (around 22% of the total Christians surveyed) would say I’m not a Christian. Mainline Protestants and Catholics made up 62% of the survey population and most of them would likely say that I’m a Christian (a Christian they disagree with about a lot of things, but still a Christian). Why would I define my Christianity by whether or not a minority would accept me as a fellow Christian?
Score: 0.62 points – A point for each percentage of American Christians who probably don’t want to run me out of town (at least not for Bible-related reasons).
Does the Bible think I’m a Christian?
Ohhhh, risky going to the book I claim isn’t inerrant, eh?
What exactly were the requirements for a Christian convert in the New Testament?
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’
I notice that Jesus never said, “Take up your cross and the doctrine of inerrancy and follow me”.
Repent. Get baptized. BOOM! Christian.
Score: 1,000 – Because Bible. (Stick that in your Sola Scriptura and smoke it.)
What about that whole feminist pacifist thing?
There are whole denominations full of pacifist Christians. Mennonites exist. I’m pretty sure nobody will kick me out of the Christian club for being a pacifist. (Though, if they do start kicking me, I can’t kick back.)
As far as the feminist question goes, I can’t imagine coming out of reading the gospels with the idea that women shouldn’t have equal rights and opportunities. If I just blew your mind (I’m sad if that’s true), go read Jesus Feminist.
Score: 2 points – One for the pacifists and one for the feminists.
So, am I a Christian?
Total Score: 1,005.62
I say I’m a Christian.
The historical creeds say I’m a Christian.
An atheist says I’m an orthodox Christian.
The Roman Catholics say I’m a Christian.
The majority of other Christians say I’m a Christian.
The Bible says I’m a Christian.
I take the Bible so seriously (though not always literally) and follow the teachings of Jesus so strictly that I’m a pacifist feminist. (Who’s “picking and choosing” again?)
Yeah. I’m a real Christian.