Christianity for the Rest of Us

Christianity for the Rest of Us

Who Are You Christians Anyway?

Over the weekend, I spoke to a large group of mainline churchgoers who posed their conference theme as a question: “Who Are You Christians Anyway?” 

The question is a good one–and it is a question that people
ask me all the time, especially when I travel.  Although the
United States remains the country with the largest number of Christians in the
world, even here Christianity is experiencing a decline in demographics.  The absolute number of Christians rose
from 1990 to 2008 as the overall population increased, but the actual
percentage of Christians dropped from 86.2% to 76%.  Many people feel increasingly anxious about identifying
themselves as Christians, some obviously rejecting Christianity toward other
spiritual alternatives, while others reach toward different terms to identify
themselves such as “Jesus-follower.” 


Younger Americans feel greater ambivalence toward the word
“Christian” than do older adults. 
In 2005, the Barna group polled 16-29 year olds asking the question,
“What do you think of when you hear the word ‘Christian’?”  91% of young adults outside the church
replied, “anti-homosexual;” 87% responded “judgmental;” 85% said
“hypocritical;” 72% reported that Christians were out of touch with reality;
and 68% pegged Christians as “boring.” 

Put simply, the word “Christian” has very high negatives right
now–especially with the generations that represent America’s religious


When many of us were children, the question of Christian identity
was moot.  Pretty much everybody
was a Christian (except for a few Jewish friends) and we shared the assumption
that “Christian” equaled “American.” 
If someone had pressed us further, we might have said that a Christian
believed in Jesus as God’s son, or was a baptized person, or who was saved by
grace.  Typically, our responses
involved the family tradition we had inherited or what we believed about
God.  Now, however, answers about
family identity and, increasingly, even about one’s beliefs about God are
eroding in meaning and power. 


At the conference, I answered the question by saying that Christians
are not people who inherit something or believe in something.  Rather, Christians are people who do something:  They walk the Jesus way by practicing the love God and love
of neighbor.  Christians
participate in a way of life that reflects God’s dream of justice, beauty, and
love for all creation.  We aren’t
trying to convince anyone to believe in what we believe; we are trying to live authentically
as Jesus would have us live in today’s world.  Christians don’t believe in Jesus; Christians experience the reality of Jesus in their lives. This is a rather different definition than that which many
of us knew from generations past–but it also may be the understanding of faith
that commends itself to a skeptical culture.  That is, of course, if we manage to practice what we

Who are you Christians anyway???

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One of those believers

posted June 14, 2010 at 11:58 am

“Christians don’t believe in Jesus; Christians experience the reality of Jesus in their lives.”
I think I get your point here, but you’re going to get a lot of angry responses. Merely claiming to believe in Jesus without allowing it to affect your life doesn’t make you a Christian. I’m hoping that’s basically your point. Maybe not exactly, but basically. (?)
You know how people like to take a single phrase out of context and jump all over it, so I’m surprised that you expressed it that way. If you expect that “Christians don’t believe in Jesus” remark to be taken literally, then you really have no business making such a generalized remark about what Christians believe–just what SOME Christians believe. If you do not expect it to be taken literally, then it seems a rather poor choice of words.
I can see the validity of making a statement in such as way as to shock people into paying attention, but even conceding that point, I found your choice of words confrontational and somewhat ungracious to all the “believers.”

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Mary Clay

posted June 14, 2010 at 1:12 pm

“Christians are not people who inherit something or believe in something. Rather, Christians are people who do something.” I like the positive section of this statement (“…who do something”),rather than the “not” parts. Those pronouncements are confusing and confrontational. Then there is the statement…”Christians experience the reality of Jesus in their lives.”. What does that mean really? Do only Christians experience the reality of Jesus? I can’t imagine that is true.
There is not enough clarity here and it can lead to dysfunction. The most interesting part was the study quoted at the start of the blog. It is because of these negative connotations with “Christianity” that we find this need to defend ourselves and explain ourselves. That’s not a bad thing, it makes us think. The simple statement that we are trying to live as Jesus would have us live in today’s world is the heart of the answer. It needs explored much more. That is what we are all about!

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posted June 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm

Here are a few folks saying who they are as Christians…
Social Justice Christian
The Beatitudes Society
The Phoenix Affirmations

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Rev. Ruth Shaver

posted June 14, 2010 at 2:50 pm

I think Diana’s statement, “Christians don’t believe in Jesus; Christians experience the reality of Jesus in their lives,” comes as close as any other affirmation of authentic Christianity as opposed to claimed Christianity. As someone who has experienced the reality of Jesus in my life, I don’t believe in Jesus. I KNOW Jesus. I believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. I believe that I have been saved by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I KNOW Jesus as a reality in my life.
I preached on Proverbs 3 yesterday with the title, “Do. Or Do Not. There is No Try.” That, of course, is a quote from the wise Jedi master Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back”. Knowing Jesus in that way gives me the courage to DO. Sometimes, I fail, but I learn and DO again. But I cannot DO if I only try most of the time. Trying sets us up for failure and is generally the attitude of those who don’t have perseverance. DOING sets us up for success.
I would also say that knowing is the difference between religion and faith. The current generation’s dislike of Christianity in general is, at least to my mind, because what has been so prominent in culture over the last 20 years is the Christian religion rather than the Christian faith. Religion seeks conformity and control – Scriptural infallibility and literalism, imposition of beliefs upon others, etc. – and cannot abide any other way of encountering God that fall outside of the defined boundaries. Faith seeks freedom and life for all to experience God on their own terms and in their own ways – and then allows for communal experiences and collaboration to build a better world piece by piece.

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William Field

posted June 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Having heard Diana give that presentation she’s now commenting on, I can say that what she meant, and what she’s saying now, is that Christians are those who act out the faith, not simply proclaim a belief.
Jesus taught us to welcome the outcast, give nurture to the oppressed, and widen the circle of welcome. Christians are those who do that.
“They shall know that we are Christian by our love”

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Gary Manning

posted June 14, 2010 at 4:17 pm

We’re currently wrestling (in a good way, I think) with various versions of this question in the parish I serve.
We are getting clearer that to serve the world in Christ’s name isn’t the same as having a committee structure and a spiffy newsletter or website. We also know that we are a parish in a particular context, which, while not absolving us of the responsibility of reaching beyond our walls and striving for “justice, freedom and peace”, does call us to engage the very real needs and concerns of the people around us…even when those people may not appear to “need” what we have to offer.
We’re beginning to understand that all of this “Jesus-following” will probably not result in unprecedented Sunday attendance or balanced budgets (any more than having a “correct doctrine” of this or that will). But it’s very exciting for me to see and hear church folks get excited about a real faith for the real world, instead of simply pining away for the imagined “golden era” of mainline Protestant churches of the 1950’s-60’s.

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Deacon John M. Bresnahan

posted June 14, 2010 at 7:40 pm

Basing one’s analysis of what the future will hold based on what young people believe today before they have truly experienced life and before they have a full sense of their mortality is an exercise in futility.
Thinking people do change–sometimes drastically as they grow in age and wisdom.
One of the most brilliant history professors I had in college (she had 2 or 3 doctorates) used to say “Liberal before age 30–soft heart; liberal after age 30–soft head.
She was referring to politics, but the age change in attitudes and beliefs can be applied to religion also.
I am 67 years old now and a huge percentage of people I know well who are my age quietly admit how much their opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and politics has grown far more “conservative” or traditional overall with age.
History professor Dr. Edna McGlynn–you were right.

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posted June 15, 2010 at 1:25 am

jesus never said make a religion out of me.. the romans did to control people and gain control power of the world.. today jesus is a business selling a product making self claimed preachers rich… churches tell their followers your not good enough for god you need to come to my church and follow my rules and give me your money and if you question my authority i will kick u out of my church.. but you wont be getting a refund… jesus never said make a religion out of me and call yourself christians.. christians dont follow the teachings of jesus .. have nothing to do with the world… christians are very involved in the world especially in politics… all because thier faith is weak and there is money for the preachers to make entertaining his followers… love your enemy let him kill you cause you will only go to heaven… not the christians they start waving the american flag shouting out america is the best and god wants us to kill whoever our government says is our enemy…no christians dont follow anything jesus said….. religion is the middle man created by thieves… you dont need religion to talk to god just talk to him…

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Doug Sloan

posted June 15, 2010 at 8:37 am

What is not the Good News:
* Committing acts of war, violence, brutality, coercion, or intimidation in the name of faith or religion or scripture or Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or Allah or God.
* Viewing a faithful life as being in a war or combat operation or viewing the faithful life as requiring a warrior mentality or viewing faith as a weapon or a shield.
* Claiming a faith as a national or cultural identity or as an act of patriotism or civic duty.
* Having to celebrate, observe, or respect religious holidays with either fundamentalist or populist specified behavior.
* Claiming a literal or singular or absolute or authoritative interpretation of scripture.
* Responding to theological differences with threats of death or violence or committing murder or physical assault or verbal abuse or using demeaning labels or ostracism or shunning.
* Standing on a city street corner or in the middle of a college campus and shouting at people about the errors of their sinful lives.
* Practicing exclusion or an “us/them” and “here/there” world view.
* Advocating a patriarchal, matriarchal, racial, ethnic, caste-based, tribal/family-based, or political/citizenship/empire-based social order as the will of God.
* Requiring belief in a torturous execution as an atoning sacrifice.
* Preaching salvation as a requirement or claiming salvation as an achievement.
* Preaching fear of eternal damnation and preaching that eternal damnation can be avoided only by conversion, the acceptance of a rigid pre-ordained belief system, or membership in a particular faith or sect or denomination or congregation.
* Viewing the ascension to free will or the acquisition of free will as a sinful act that eternally separates from God all people for all generations (instead of a story of success for both the people and God).
* Requiring belief in the convoluted theology of a divine trinity.
* Having to view Buddha or Jesus or Mohammed or any person as divine.
* Requiring belief in ascensions, post-death appearances, virgin births, divine interventions, or any such miracle.
* No matter how reassuring it is made to sound, proclaiming that a disaster or a death or an injury or a harmful loss is the will of God is not the Good News.
To have a loving intimate relationship with God; to serve others by practicing generosity and hospitality; to seek justice, mercy, healing, reconciliation, rehabilitation, inclusion, and participation; and then to live non-violently without vengeance and with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers – that is the radical and the defiant message and the transformational spirit of the universal and timeless Good News.
Whatever we do –
Whatever we are –
Wherever we are –
– can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

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John Deckenback

posted June 15, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Diana, given your emphasis on new technology…I cannot think of a better way/place to say THANK YOU for your time with us last weekend. After you left I heard many comments about your “bell curve”…and the history of pay telephones…
Thank you for helping to make it a great weekend for us!
John Deckenback
Conference Minister

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posted June 15, 2010 at 4:14 pm

john deckenback… so are you a ceo in you jesus corporation??? when does worrying about your status in the money making structure man has created, interfere with learning how to let go with the world, learning to love eachother and learning to love god.. what is a conference minister cac ucc ???sounds like a way to make money telling people they are not good enough to talk to god ,that they have to follow your corporations rules which main purpose is to get as much money as you can from anyone and anything just like any other corporation except your is tax free… just like the catholic corporation that has trillions of dollars invested in the world… you christians are very evil people!!!!

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Nixon is Lord

posted June 15, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Doug, you could join the editorial staff of “The Nation” or “Mother Jones” and not have to bother getting up early on Sundays to sing stupid songs; if that’s all religion is, a political program, why bother with religion?
Your view of “faith” is as much the product of one side of the political spectrum as that of the Fundiegelicals.
“Jesus as Che Guevara”? I don’t think so.
The UCC? The world’s fastest shrinking church? Unlikely.

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posted June 15, 2010 at 9:52 pm

these people of the ucc and all churches of the world know the bottom line is money.. they will and are now being punished by god … god belongs to everyone … christians dont follow the teachings of jesus … the closer you get to god the easier it is to let go of the world.. children of god involved in politics shows thier faith is weak… let go of the world and the power it offers you, by using god to gain control of people and money… you are walking with lucifer…

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Robert J

posted June 16, 2010 at 2:52 pm

It is so sad that people have to bash each others religion. Everyone will have the chance to choose Jesus as their Savior at least once in their life and it will be the biggest decision they’ll ever make. I know some of you will say what about the people in the Jungles and so on and so forth. Well, I will leave that for God to decide that, only he knows their hearts. Anyway no one will ever be perfect, and they as like everyone else in this world as we know is going to die. It was planned that way from the beginning and once you have made that choice it will change the way God views you not anyone else. It’s a personal choice just like anything and everything else we “Choose” to do. But like my header states whether you believe it or not, every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is and has alwayss been the Son of God and Savior to those who choose to except this by Faith and Faith alone. Those who choose not to is your choice, that’s ok, but everyone will have to face that decision once you leave this world and enter into the next, which is Life after Death. It’s real,sometimes unfathomable and no one knows personally exactly what it’s going to be for sure, but by simple Faith in Jesus and accepting what he did for you and me, when he died on that cross.This will someday be the most Glorious day of anyone’s life as one would know it. No Tear will be shed and worshipping the King of Kings will no doubt be the best thing ever for ever and ever. So, read the word of God the living Bible whole heartedly. Don’t look at man or woman on this earth to decide your future, read it for yourselves and everything will either make an impact or won’t and then you can decide whether that’s for you or not. Because if you are counting on any one religion to be perfect or man or woman to be perfect or a church to be perfect, the next time you enter it it won’t be perfect. That is why we need a Saviour. :-) Hope to see all of you there. OR not? It’s your choice and only God knows who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Not your preacher, not your neighbor not even your wife, only between you and Him.

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posted June 16, 2010 at 3:47 pm

what jesus said in the bible is in your heart when you are born… so if you live in a jungle and never heard of jesus you know whats right and whats wrong… everything else in the bible was written by man…. to gain power over people and money… man makes religion.. god is truth and belongs to everyone… jesus was trying to tell the jews that they didnt have to follow the jewish religion to talk to god… he said just talk to him… just talk to him… when the romans created the christian religion they made up the part that you have to believe in thier religion to get to heaven …… jesus died on the cross to show you that when someone wants to kill you ..just let them .. there is nothing here in this world that you need.. learn to love eachother like one loves his family… learn to love god… religion is the middle man created by thieves… just talk to god

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posted June 16, 2010 at 11:57 pm

I think asking “Who are you Christians, anyway” is about as pointless as asking “What are people like?” Christians are as varied as people are varied, and there is no one kind of “Christian.”
I have become increasingly uncomfortable, lately, with all the pressures of Christianity to adopt a doctrine, accept a creed, embrace a theology, etc. There is NO Christian doctrine, creed or theology which is made to order for me. My relationship with God is unique, defined only by Him (or Her)and me.
The way in which I interact with other Christians, with non-Christians, with the Earth and with my finances (among other things) is not only unique, but evolving.
There are too many expectations of what a Christian is “supposed” to be. I think Jesus would have said to me… “Just be yourself, Nathan, but be filled with MY Spirit.”

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posted June 21, 2010 at 11:26 am

i heard a man say bring your bibles and your imagination in reference to learning a certain scripture. define “christianity ” , to be chrsit like ” simple as that !!
unless someone has a relationship with God , born of his spirit filled with his spirit , they’ll be confused , angered , frustrated, unforgiving , hateful ,opinionated, judgemental etc.
all these things are ? you answer that yourself !!
i wittness to hundreds have the same responses as i hear on here , only because a secular mentality when it comes to chrsitiaanity is negativity !! why because they live in “darkness ” and if the light of christ is in you it exposes them to God’s spirit.
as we felt the day we repented of our sins , and were born again , we imediately seen a “light ” , at least i did !! overwhelmed me ,i felt a inward cleansing ,emptied out ,persay !!
i seen a newness in perspective to the world and people , The greatest commandment of them all filled my heart and soul !!” love ”
see “perfect love cast out all fear ” , reason secular people don’t understand is fear ? of repentance and condemnation, plan and simple .
you love them inspite of themselves , cause we all know we were once there ourselves as non believers.
all is not perfect in the ” the christianity world ” , reason being , we’re yet in a fleshly body , subject to sin , if we allow “satan to decieve us as he did “adam and eve ” , same principles apply here today. we all fail trust me young , old , leadership as well as elders of the church , error.
there’s non perfect but “GOD ‘ REMEMBER THAT !!then you’ll understand what true chrsitianity is all about !!forgiveness !!mercy and grace , reason “jesus died for us ” not to condemn the world but give it life through his death !! “ONE MAN”S SIN WE ALL DIED , ONE MAN’S DEATH WE ALL NOW LIVE ”
RATHER then listen to the critizism of the secular world , which is sin ridden , and a abomination in the sight of god , remember our pupose bring light unto the world m by spreading God’s word !!
yes we;ll be hated amongs men , lied about , shunned , misunderstood, jailed , layghed at , called boring , even worst was said about !!”CHRIST ”
SISTER AND BROTHERS THE BATTLE HAS BEGUN , NEVER FALTER OR BE DISCOURAGE WHAT MERE MEN SAY!!’greater is he that is in me then he that is in this world ” !!
satan !! lies and hates and bring all false accusations against God’s people !~!
hold up the blood stainned bannar of christ, ready your swords and shields we must fight , for our existance here on earth !!

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posted December 2, 2011 at 12:49 am

Christians follow and believe in Jesus. Remember, whatever you say will stand against you on the judgement day. Christians are not thieves, or cheaters. Those who cheat has fallen out of the true defination of christians. You will know them by their works! If there are those stealing in the name of being christians, then they are not true followers of Christ.

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