What is a potential Christian?

The Heart of ChristianityA couple of years ago I wrote a bio that said I was a “practicing Buddhist and a potential Christian.” Partially, I made it up to be funny. With that said, I have a great deal of respect of my Christian roots and honor the Christian faith. Most of my values, thinking patterns, social action, pacifism are rooted in my Mennonite background and there is no way I would be the person I am today without this. As an adult, I have ceased attending all church because I have not really found a church to practice in – part of the reason I may have drifted towards a Buddhist community – though I continue to look and explore Christian community.

As I study and learn more, I have found myself turning to the more radical end of the Christian community. Though evangelical, the Sojourners community has offered much in the area of justice and peace. More recently, I was happy to discover a magazine founded by a Mennonite and an Anabaptist called Geez. Where were these people when I was floundering back in college? I have also found some inspiration from the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries project here in Southern California. A few years back I remember reading The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. Wonderful book and very inspirational. And more recently, I have delved into some of the sermons by Pat Moore, an Episcopal priest (and close family member). I believe protecting the environment, serving the poor, and living non-violently as core values taught by Jesus.

All this means to me is that I believe that I live a Christian life based on the values and teachings of Jesus Christ. I also believe in Jesus Christ as a great teacher and model for living and I would consider myself a disciple of his. If there were a church to practice in that could live with this ambiguity of belief, I would probably participate. I guess that I fear calling myself a Christian – and some of my Christian friends choose to call themselves Anabaptists – due to all the associated baggage and misunderstanding to what that means. So much damage, hatred, misunderstanding, and fear have been done, and continues to be done, in the name of Christianity that it can be very depressing. Therefore, it has been easier to say “potential Christian” and then engage people (you) in conversation about what that means. The irony of it all is that it is because of my Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, that I have been able to open my heart and mind to my Christianity. Ten years ago this would not have been the case.

  • Trust me, you aren’t alone. I am also a fan of Marcus Borg and would love to find a church that was not so steeped in traditional orthodoxy, but I haven’t had much success. I’ve looked at the website of “The Center for Progressive Christianity” for potential churches to try out, but even a lot of churches that are affiliated still seem too orthodox for my tastes. Also like you, I can’t bring myself to calling myself a Christian.

    I get the impression that there are churches out there that do really allow ambiguity of belief to flourish, but I think they are hard to find.

  • Trust me, you aren’t alone. I am also a fan of Marcus Borg and would love to find a church that was not so steeped in traditional orthodoxy, but I haven’t had much success. I’ve looked at the website of “The Center for Progressive Christianity” for potential churches to try out, but even a lot of churches that are affiliated still seem too orthodox for my tastes. Also like you, I can’t bring myself to calling myself a Christian.

    I get the impression that there are churches out there that do really allow ambiguity of belief to flourish, but I think they are hard to find.

  • I’ve had several conversations along these lines lately. One of my Unitarian Universalist friends suggested that anyone who grew up in a western setting (with western parents) is essentially Christian. He argued that it wasn’t about religious belief, but instead about the value system that is inherent in a Judeo-Christian culture. He also thought that even if raised in an atheist setting in a Judeo-Christian culture, there is a shared cultural story which leads to a fundamentally specific, Christian, worldview. I’m not totally sure I’m with him on the entire argument, but it’s an interesting one. One I’m still thinking about much later (as I do my own reading of Thich Nhat Hanh, et al). Interesting post! Thanks!

  • I’ve had several conversations along these lines lately. One of my Unitarian Universalist friends suggested that anyone who grew up in a western setting (with western parents) is essentially Christian. He argued that it wasn’t about religious belief, but instead about the value system that is inherent in a Judeo-Christian culture. He also thought that even if raised in an atheist setting in a Judeo-Christian culture, there is a shared cultural story which leads to a fundamentally specific, Christian, worldview. I’m not totally sure I’m with him on the entire argument, but it’s an interesting one. One I’m still thinking about much later (as I do my own reading of Thich Nhat Hanh, et al). Interesting post! Thanks!

  • Thank you to Mystical Seeker and Lauren for posting. I had not considered the world view of growing up in the West as influencing a cultural value system, but it certainly does make sense.

    Another friend of mine wrote back via email and suggested The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. My friend wrote “an interesting read to see how he is living his life as a practicing Christian…not a complacent wannabe.”

    Readings by Dorothy Day could also be fruitful.

  • Thank you to Mystical Seeker and Lauren for posting. I had not considered the world view of growing up in the West as influencing a cultural value system, but it certainly does make sense.

    Another friend of mine wrote back via email and suggested The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne. My friend wrote “an interesting read to see how he is living his life as a practicing Christian…not a complacent wannabe.”

    Readings by Dorothy Day could also be fruitful.

  • Jim

    I, too, am reluctant to call myself a Christian, remembering that “By their fruits shall ye know them.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  • Jim

    I, too, am reluctant to call myself a Christian, remembering that “By their fruits shall ye know them.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

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  • Eric

    Have you looked at Orthodox Christianity? http://www.antiochian.org for example? You may be surprised what you find!

  • Eric

    Have you looked at Orthodox Christianity? http://www.antiochian.org for example? You may be surprised what you find!