Yes, this whole conversation occurred via text messaging. Yes, it is the best conversation on the Christian faith I've ever had.
Zelda: What if it really does all boil down to biology? Sometimes I think my sister got the religious gene and I got the atheist gene... but I want the religious gene, so I settled for agnostic theism instead.
Me: "I believe Lord... help my unbelief." Desire is a form of faith. Even the desire for faith itself. And of course biology plays a role. We were created with biological bodies after all.
Zelda: I agree with that. But that still doesn't mean I believe in Jesus... What makes a person a Christian? What makes someone a Christian, per se?
Me: Jesus' belief in you. :)
Zelda: So if Jesus believes in everyone, are we all Christians? Is a Muslim extremist a Christian?
Me: Hmmm... well, what makes you a Christian is baptism, sermons, receiving faith as a gift, from outside ourselves. Which is why you should come to church more... ;)
Zelda: I try... sometimes. I really struggle with the social aspect of it. I don't have social anxiety but being social is exhausting to me--I'm an extreme introvert. And weekends are when I rest and try to pull myself together for the coming week. I do like church, and am there in spirit quite a bit.
Me: I do understand. You are not alone in your need to be alone.
Zelda: It's an odd thing sometimes... I go to church online a lot--I love your ministry that way. I wasn't trying to be a smarts with the Muslim extremist question. But I did think it was funny... but also serious question at the same time. There's an interesting book Anatomy of Violence that is about the neurobiology behind the criminal mind. It asks a lot of great questions about the roles of biology and personal responsibility.
What if I did believe but was never baptized? Christian or no?
Me: What if you are asking the wrong question?
Zelda: There are no wrong questions.
Me: Yes, there are. For example: "Why are you such an asshole?" :) What I mean though is this... What if trying to define what makes you a Christian is coming at the topic from a less optimal direction.
Zelda: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHHA!!!! I have to get to work. I've been at the DMV all morning. I will chew on that and get back to you. This is awesome... :)
Just got off work, so I'm just now getting back to this:
I'm not necessary trying to define Christianity only for myself but also as a whole. It seems to me like a Christian--as a definition--would have to be someone who has at least some belief in, relationship with, or allegiance to, Jesus/the Christ. If Jesus/Christ is not a part of it, it doesn't seem much like "Christianity" to me Does that make sense?
To me, honesty is incredibly important. Trying to say/pretend one is a Christian when there is no real belief in Jesus seems deceitful to me. However, I may be wrong, but I think most people equate Christianity with some semblance (or internal belief) of being a follower of Christ--now, what that 'follower of Christ' looks like can vary widely (from Fred Phelps to Pope Benedict to Barak Obama to ...)... but all of them claim to be Christians/Christ followers. So, then is the Lutheran belief of faith as a gift baffles the shit out of me from a former/recovering-Baptist perspective. I understand Lutherans believe that it's faith and not works, but you either stand for something/believe in Jesus or you don't. And if it's Jesus believing in us, then we are all automatically Christians (this rings vaguely of Rob Bell... pun intended.)
God/Creator makes sense to me. Science and reason make sense to me.
Jesus? Not a clue.
Just because I have faith in a greater power doesn't mean I'm a Christian. It could just mean I'm a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
By the way, I'm not trying to be difficult or confrontational--that is never my intention--so please don't take it that way. These are just truly the things that roll around my mind in the quiet evenings... And sometimes I take them out and bounce them against the walls and see if they change.
I sometimes wonder, as I gaze out those beautiful windows I sit close to at church, if all of this isn't just something humans constructed to appease our fear of death. The cremains we now have out there in the garden only added to that line of thought... My mother and grandmother follow a religion of guilt that is tempered with a fear of death, served with a side of claiming to be followers of Jesus. And sometimes I wonder if that's really all they have... and what is that, exactly?
Me: Here is what I think. There are two separate questions. One is, "Am I a Christian?" Meaning, "Am I saved?"
Zelda: I can't wait to hear this... I was hoping you'd say something [note this entire correspondence takes place over the course of three days]
Me: The other question is, "Am I a Christian?" Meaning, "Do I follow Jesus?" When you asked what makes the minimum for a Christian I thought you meant for salvation. Then my answer is the thing about Jesus believing in you.
But if it is about following Jesus then I have a different answer. Then you either are or you aren't... That's Kierkegaardian I think... The Muslim extremist can be saved but may not be following Jesus.
Zelda: Let me make sure I understand: You're saying salvation equates to Jesus believing in us... so does that mean everyone is "saved"? Even the Muslim extremist? But secondly you're saying that doesn't mean everyone is following Jesus...
Me: I am kind of like a universalist, but not exactly. So yea I'd say you have summarized my position well.
Zelda: Okay. I'm in the realm of universalist as well. Very much so...
To be honest, I've watched and listened to you closely for a long time. By the standards of many so-called Christians I have met, they'd say you aren't a Christian... and I've thought that for a very long time. I don't mean that in a bad way, it's just a neutral observation I've made coming from a fundamentalist/legalistic point of view.
Me: Because of my morals?
Zelda: No, because of the way you think. I've stayed at GSLC because of the way you lead seems Universalist... and yes, even though I'm not frequently there, I consider myself at GSLC.
Me: I'm not surprised they don't think I'm Christian. What's funny, though, is I actually think I'm more orthodox than they are.
Zelda: Well, the robes definitely suit you. :) You're very much into orthodoxy. Did you know you are the first pastor who hasn't condemned me to hell, put me down, belittled or basically called me a heathen or trouble maker for what I said earlier? My intention has never been to stir the pot. My intention has always been seeking Truth, the Divine and asking lots of questions. The previous have all been offended or intimidated when neither has ever been my intent. Thank you... even though you did call me an asshole this morning... ;)
So is Jesus a requirement for salvation? But it's his belief in us that is the requirement, not our belief in him?
Me: Yes. We are saved by the faith OF Christ. His faith in us.
Zelda: Okay. That is interesting, but makes sense. I struggled with the 'help me with my unbelief thing' for years. Never worked for me... I still don't believe.
However, I see now more what the Lutheran position on faith from God is. I just thought he was holding out on me and making me wait around for some reason. I was hoping I wouldn't die in the interim. I will save these texts to refer back to and think on.
I'm saved, you're saved, my atheist friends is saved, the Muslim extremist is saved... but then the next--but very separate thing--is whether we are following: Clint is trying to follow. I'm spinning in circles. My atheist friend is just standing there. The Muslim extremist is running the other way... but can't outrun the grace of God. Is that what you meant?
Actually, my atheist friend is also running the other way, but not with weapons.
All of this makes more sense (well, as much as Christianity can)--and put the pieces together in a more complete way than I have ever heard.
What you are talking about makes the true 'freedom in Christ' that Paul talks about actually make sense. Previously, that always seemed to wildly contradict what other professing Christians today say with their rules, petty splitting of hairs, and condemnation.
It is also a different Jesus. I don't think I've met that one... but that one seems to line up more with the God I hope to meet.