Labels – useful or not

The early followers of Jesus were given the name that has stuck to us ever since. They were called ‘Christians’. Not a term we tend to use in Spain as with all labels they communicate what is understood by the hearer. Of course coming up with alternatives is not always easy.

Most of the readers of this blog I guess have grown up with the label ‘evangelical’. A number of years ago I read a very informative article, a lecture given to the American Theological Society in 1995 by Robert Johnson entitled ‘Orthodoxy and Heresy: a Problem for Modern Evangelicalism’. (My words) in the old days defining heresy was easy. Affirm the inerrancy (or at least plenary inspiration) of the 66 books and that only those who have prayed the sinner’s prayer are / will be saved. He describes that approach as a ‘bounded-set’ approach. If one has a set of beliefs within the boundaries one is orthodox; step outside and one is a heretic. He then shows how there had been a shift – and the lecture is almost a quarter of a century ago so the shift has continued – from a ‘bounded-set’ approach to a ‘centred-set’ approach.

With the centred-set approach there are two key questions. One related to the Scriptures and one related to ‘salvation’. The questions are:

  • By what authority do you believe what you believe and teach what you teach?
  • How is someone reconciled to God?

The answer to the first is on the basis of the authority of Scripture and the second through the atoning death of Jesus. Many, many different versions of the Christian faith can answer those two questions in the affirmative. A ‘hard-line’ fundamentalist can certainly answer it, as can a person affirming same-sex committed relationships as being approved of by God.

Hence the difficulty. Difficulty in defining who is in and who is out! Maybe though the challenge is bigger than the difficulty. The challenge is to be defined more by who we are than what we believe. The early followers of Jesus were just that – followers of Jesus. The label was terminology to focused more on their behaviour than their beliefs.

Following Jesus is very personal. I have to interpret what that means for me – in the light of being faithful to the narrative of Scripture. I am certainly not on the fundamentalist end of the faith… I am centred in with the two affirmative answers I outlined above. Having put a stake in at that point, how long is the cord attached to the stake? A lot longer than would have restricted me to stay within the old-bounded set approach of yester-year. I’ll try and explore how long my cord is over the next few posts.

One thought on “Labels – useful or not

  1. Hi Martin, looking forward to the next few posts after that. A rather strange image of a bungee rope came to mind. I guess we stretch in search of new and helpful and come back to see how/if it fits to the stake. Need to be prepared to do some jumping though. Cheers

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