I’m not THAT Kind of Christian

catholic one true church

This post is primarily about Protestant Christianity — and yes, Baptists and Campbellites are Protestants. I will leave it to Catholic and Orthodox Christians to duke it out over which sect is the rock upon which Jesus built his church. (Matthew 16:18)

Over the past decade, I have learned many things I didn’t know before about the monolith we call Christianity. Generally, most people believe that Christianity is one religion with a plethora of expressions. However, I have learned that there are numerous Christianities and Jesuses, with every sect, church, clergyperson, and congregant believing that their flavor of Christianity and their vision of Jesus is the right one. While it seems that Christianity is a big tent, a closer look reveals countless pup tents within, and never-ending arguing, fussing, and fighting over which pup tent is the One True Tent®. The Bible says of Christianity: one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, but the internecine wars continually fought by Christians show that the faithful can’t even agree on the basics. Of course, the way the various parties settle the disputes is by saying that every brand but theirs is false Christianity. Long-time readers will likely remember this or that Christian objecting to my caricature of Christianity by saying, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Usually, they go on to accuse me of all sorts of ulterior motives such as I hate God/Christianity or got hurt in some way back in my Christian days, and I am now trying to settle the score. When I ask them to give evidence for their beliefs and practices being Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, most often they present a honey wagon (manure spreader for you city slickers) full of Bible verses, HIS-story lessons, doctrinal treatises, quotes from authors, and personal anecdotes. In doing so, all they do is prove, at least to me, that Christianity is a quagmire of conflicting, contradictory beliefs and practices. Yet, it is we unbelievers who are to blame for our lack of recognizing and understanding the ONE TRUE FAITH®! If we would just ignore all the competing Christianities and Jesuses and accept their Christianity and Jesus as the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, we too could have our sins forgiven, and be guaranteed a home in their God’s Heaven after we die.

As I wander in and out of big tent Christianity, I have noticed that there are three general banners under which the various sects/pastors/congregants pitch their tents: Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal. Ask the tent-dwellers to define these banners — well, good luck with that. As with everything in Christianity, definitions abound. This post is my attempt to define these three groups, knowing that the moment I do, offended self-righteous Christians are going to vehemently object and say, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Of course, I am deaf to such objections, so here we go.

Evangelical

Generally, Evangelicals believe the Protestant Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God; God is a triune being; and Jesus is the virgin-born son of God who came to earth, lived a sinless life, died on a Roman cross, resurrected from the dead three days later, ascended back to Heaven, and is seated at the right hand of his Father, awaiting the day when he will return to earth to judge the living and the dead, and make a new Heaven and Earth. (And yes, I am aware of the differences between Calvinists, Arminians, Oneness Pentecostals, Charismatics, Holiness sects, et al.)

Generally, Evangelicals believe all humans are born sinners and in need of redemption; that salvation and the forgiveness of sins comes through Jesus Christ alone; that all other religions are false; that non-Christians go to Hell (the Lake of Fire) when they die, and Christians to Heaven (God’s Eternal Kingdom).  (Again, I am aware of the disputes among Evangelicals about what constitutes salvation and whether human instrumentality plays any part.)

I have long argued that Evangelicals are inherently Fundamentalist. (Please see Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) Christians who are on the far left end of the Evangelical spectrum object to the Fundamentalist label, but what they really need to do is admit that they are no longer theologically Evangelical; that their beliefs and practices fall under the Progressive or Liberal Christian banner.

Progressive

Generally, Progressive Christians and Evangelicals have similar core beliefs. Progressives tend to reject creationism, choosing instead to embrace theistic evolution. Progressives also tend to ridicule Evangelicals as anti-intellectual Bible thumpers. Ironically, many Progressives are former Evangelicals, or as the joke goes, Evangelicals who can read. Progressives also tend to be more liberal politically and socially, though I recently ran into a few so-called Progressives on Twitter who are ardent supporters of Donald Trump.

I have found many Progressives to be every bit as insufferable as Evangelical zealots. While they distance themselves from the social Fundamentalism of Evangelicals, theologically their beliefs are, in the main, every bit as Fundamentalist. It is not hard to prove my contention. Just ask a self-labeled Progressive if all religions lead to Heaven and if atheists will go to Heaven when they die. Honest Progressives will answer NO to both questions. Unfortunately, many Progressives genuinely want to be viewed as friendly people, so they will refuse to answer the questions, saying, “Only God knows for sure.”

Liberal

Generally, Liberal Christians have a reductionist view of the Bible, rejecting many (most) of the beliefs Evangelicals and Progressives hold dear. (Please see Is Liberal Christianity the Answer for Disaffected Evangelicals?)  Evangelicals believe that Liberal Christians are outside of the One True Faith®, as do many Progressives. In their minds, Liberals have given away too much to be still considered Christians. Liberals tend to promote works-based salvation and or preach what is commonly called the social gospel. Liberals focus on people and the present instead of personal salvation and the future.

Under these three banners, you will find countless sub-categories of Christians, proving that there is no such thing as singular Christianity. What would help is if all the Christian sects of the world would get together and come up with a biology-like system of identification for Christianity: kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. That would put an end, then, to followers of Jesus saying to me, I’M NOT THAT KIND OF CHRISTIAN! Every Christian could have a religion identity card of sorts they could show when questioned about their faith. Oh wait, that wouldn’t work, would it? Christianity is a relationship, not a religion! Or so countless Christians say, thus proving yet again that whatever Christianity might have been died over 1,900 years ago, and lies buried in the same grave as a dead Jewish man named Jesus.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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11 Comments

  1. Becky Wiren

    I was musing on my former denomination reading this, SDAs. Seventh-day Adventists believe the Bible is “thought-inspired.” This means they can pick apart small flaws in the text while believing the thoughts behind them are 100% inspired. But they sound close to Evangelical. Now, my Adventist friends seem to have a split similar to the Catholic Church: very liberal and very conservative. Liberals voted for Clinton and conservative voted for Trump. (I am speaking politically). It would be interesting to me to see how they lined up vis a vis Trump.

    The SDA church leaders were very unhappy with Ben Carson. Previous to Carson becoming a right wing politician, he was well respected generally. But a pastor friend told me he seemed to have difficulties understanding metaphors and more complicated, nuanced discussion. He also wanted to talk politics from the pulpit, and the Adventist church is strongly in favor of the separation of church and state. (I sometimes wonder if all the people who don’t get sarcasm, metaphors, and nuance have mostly ended up on the side of God Uber Alles.)

    Reply
  2. ObstacleChick

    Things were a lot simpler before the Protestant Reformation when the Catholics held full control over orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and dissenters would be forced back into line or executed.

    I didn’t know there was a difference between progressive and liberal Christians – I thought they were the same thing. I thought the divisions were fundamentalist evangelicals, Catholics, and progressive/liberals. Interesting.

    Reply
    1. Karen the rock whisperer

      Long before that, though, the Catholics had split east and west, Orthodox and Roman. I’ve also been reading about theological differences in the early church expressed by powerful bishops in Alexandria, Syria, and Rome along with other places in the Roman Empire. I don’t think there was ever a time when all the Christians on the planet even publicly shared the same orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and people have always been clever at keeping their mouths shut when their ideas might get them into serious trouble.

      Reply
  3. Brunetto Latini

    I don’t agree with your identification of evangelicals as fundamentalists. I grew up Southern Baptist. We went to movies. Boys and girls went swimming together. We watched “Dallas” and “Dynasty” on TV. Dating didn’t involve chaperones. At my Southern Baptist high school, we laughed at the cheerleaders from the Independent Baptist school with skirts over their knees.

    After college, one of the 2 women I ever dated in my life was a student at Bob Jones University. She had attended that Independent Baptist high school we ridiculed. I learned about evils I had never heard of or had never considered evil, such as “mixed bathing” and Amy Grant. The differences between evangelicals and fundamentalists were plainly on display in our brief relationship.

    Reply
  4. maryg

    raised extreme evangelical. currently at liberal Christian on the spectrum but seem to be on the way out. I really enjoy your writings and feel you are very helpful to me and many others. even if I stay at liberal Christian, I would not tell anyone else they had to believe. in fact I tell my kids that if anyone says they have to believe or do anything to avoid hell or eternal damnation, that’s the first clue to belief is false or they are being manipulated.

    Reply
  5. ObstacleChick

    Brunetto, Southern Baptist Churches shifted in a more conservative direction in the 80s and 90s, and some shifted more quickly and further fundamentalist than others. I left Southern Baptist churches in 1994, and by the late 1980s the rural one my family attended adopted complementarianism, inerrancy/literalism of scriptures, was thoroughly anti-evolution, and while youth group members still could wear jeans on Wednesday nights they were encouraged to stay away from rock music, movies, and many TV shows. The urban SBC I attended in college did not shift so far right. One of my friends from childhood attends a church that is still part of SBC but jettisoned a lot of those beliefs in favor of a social gospel (but she says if they are ever found out they will be expelled from SBC). Some Southern Baptist churches are more fundamentalist than others.

    Reply
  6. Karen the rock whisperer

    I am the daughter of a devout Catholic mother and a father who was at least outwardly nonreligious, himself raised Lutheran. I attended Catholic schools through grade 12. Growing up, I soon realized that the Catholicism of my teachers didn’t match that of my mother. Eventually I realized that my Catholicism didn’t quite match that of anyone I knew. We all had things we believed that weren’t necessarily in line with Church doctrine.

    Then I began attending a nondenominational Christian church with my new husband, and gradually learning that he and I could read the same Bible passage and interpret it differently. Oh, and NOBODY in the church agreed on many things, though ideas not approved by the pastor were spoken sotto voce. Eventually I figured out that not did everyone have their own relationship with Christ, everyone had their own Christ.

    As an atheist, speaking with other atheists, I realize that while none of us believe in gods, many of us have special gods to not believe in. So it goes.

    Reply
  7. Brian Vanderlip

    Over the years it becomes clearer to me that Christianity itself, not a particular version of it, is flawed and the design itself harms self and others. Christianity has attempted to co-opt love. The man Jesus became Superhero and people began to attribute the very definition of love to Jesus, to suggest and then insist that Jesus was ultimate love. This hogwash very soon attached itself to offering plates of one kind or another. Love is of course not born in magical Jesus but in evolutionary necessity. You can wear all the robes you like and fantasize till the cows come home about magical superheroes but then you will have to get into the garden and pick something and make supper. Or wait on ‘Jesus’ to deliver it.

    Reply
  8. wesleysstubbssandel

    ” If we would just ignore all the competing Christianities and Jesuses and accept their Christianity and Jesus as the one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, we too could have our sins forgiven, and be guaranteed a home in their God’s Heaven after we die.”

    I call that The Church of What Can Jesus Do For Me.

    Ol’ Jesus would be rolling over in his grave – if he had one.

    Reply
  9. Devin

    It’s a small stream, I suppose, but you could add mystical Christianity to the list. It has pedigree, going back to at least the 5th century, is more open ended than conservative Christianity, while still, unlike Liberal and Progressive permutations, being an actual religion. I think it also fits well with a more philosophical and existential imperialist (pragmatist?) approach to spirituality. In flavour, it’s probably closer to Eastern philosophies than anything else.

    So, there. 🙂

    Reply
  10. Devin

    Sorry, I made a mistake in the above post by lumping progs and liberals together.

    Reply

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