Monday, 24 November 2008

Nailing your colours to the mast...

I have been following, and participating in some interesting discussions regarding the titles and identities we put on ourselves and others as Christians.

PamBG discussed the issue relating to Methodism.

The recent chuntering between the Warnock bloggers highlights this point, with posts such as this one by Dave Warnock. Phil Whittall responded to the challenge of who he is willing to "work with" here, in a post which basically mirrors my own position pretty closely.

In my blog headlines on the right hand side I refer to myself as a:
  • Big E Evangelical
  • Small c conservative
  • Big C Charismatic
  • Small r reformed
  • 2 and 2 half points Calvinist (!)
  • and a Shrewsbury Town fan, hence I am Blue, with a hint of amber
I thought it may be worth having a look at why I have chosen those "labels" for me. Pam's post really spoke to me, because I wonder if I sometimes label myself more to explain what I am "not" than what I "am". None of the following explanations are meant to be detailed definitions or defences for the positions I hold to. This is just me with my heart on my sleeve.

Big E Evangelical

I would see my personal membership of the Evangelical Alliance as a key factor in how I define myself as a Christian. The EA statement of faith is the main statement of faith for my Church. The term "Christian" means so many things, let's be honest, 71.8% of all people ticked it on the census. Calling myself an "evangelical christian" puts me in the 1% or so of the population who identify themselves as that and helps show a difference from the 70%. I don't belong to a political party, but I do actively belong to the EA.

I do take the point that maybe I do refer to myself as evangelical sometimes because it shows I am not "liberal" in my theology. Maybe the term "evangelical" for me is a watershed point - hence Phil Whittall talking about the EA basis of faith being his base line. I don't feel like it is a sectarian notion. I don't talk down non evangelicals. I do work with non-evangelicals, some times in majorly public ways, but I definitely see many things differently.

Small c conservative

I love Mark Driscoll's statement about being theologically conservative and culturally liberal. I think I am culturally liberal. I think American evangelicalism, conservative evangelicalism etc would disapprove of me. I preached yesterday wearing jeans. When I say culturally, I don't mean morally, as I would be morally conservative. My views on scripture, inerrancy, creation, abortion, homosexuality etc would put me firmly in the conservative camp, but I don't necessarily find that fills me with joy all the time!

"Conservative" evangelicalism has many negative connotations for me, as the main criticisms I have received in my life, and the probably the most pain inflicted by fellow Christians, has been criticism of me being charismatic, from conservative evangelicals in my student days. I am a conservative evangelical by believing many of the same things, not by a desire to be identified with every other conservative evangelical, if that makes any sense, hence only a small c.

Big C Charismatic

I believe the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today. I believe in a genuine experience of baptism in the Holy Spirit. I speak in tongues. I prophecy. I interpret tongues. I believe God heals today. I have words of knowledge. I believe these are powerful gifts to be used reverently for the mission of Jesus in His Church. Yes, I know that spiritual gifts and the fruits of the spirit are so much wider than this, and every christian has the Holy Spirit as a deposit and a seal on their hearts. I don't consider myself higher or better on account of these things, I just look to scripture, look to God, and see what happens.

I would not consider myself to be an American caricature of charismatic.

Scripture comes first. If push came to shove I would choose the bible every time. If anything is said or done that contradicts scripture then I reject it. I am deeply uncomfortable with wacky stuff in the Christian media. I don't believe the devil lives under my bed. I don't see angels at the bus stop and I don't think any blessing from God can be bought with a MasterCard payment.

But I do see the demonstration of the work of the Holy Spirit as an important aspect of worship, fellowship and my own individual walk with God. That makes me charismatic, because I am not cessationalist. Again - it defines what I am not as well as what I am. I work with cessationalists all the time and have some great friends who disagree with me on this point.

Small r reformed

I would identify myself broadly speaking with what has become known as "reformed" theology. I would see the reformation as a pivotal part of the heritage of my understanding of many issues and different aspects of my ecclesiology. I would enjoy the works of many "reformed" authors. I am considering a course at Spurgeon's college.

I guess I use the term because it helps to define me within evangelicalism. But it only has a small "r", and conservative only gets a small "c" because I don't choose to identify myself directly with every aspect of reformed theology or with every other person who holds them. I don't see it as something I need to aspire to. I don't see it as a package I need to hold on to. But I do believe what I believe and find myself towards the centre of evangelicalism but leaning to the reformed side, as you will see from the next point.

2 and 2 half points Calvinist (!)

This is going to take several posts to explain fully, but here is the short version.

If it is a choice between God's election or man's freewill I choose God's election.

But I don't think things can be systematised in quite the way others can and I would say I was an evangelical with Calvinist tendencies, at this point.

I don't like defensive theology. I think it takes us down into cul-de-sacs of thought. I suspect sometimes people believe every aspect of TULIP because that proves Arminianism must be wrong. It works the other way too. I don't buy that way of approaching it. I don't like it when the logical extension of a truth becomes a truth in itself. I can live with some level of inconsistency. I see God's election and man's free will as train tracks which co-exist next to each other and occasionally cross.

It is more about God's will than man's will. My salvation is secure. I have been chosen before the creation of the world. I identify myself with Calvinism the without needing to be force fed the whole package, if that makes sense, and I am still on a journey of understanding.

newfrontiers (I am adding this as it seems relevant)

Our Church is part of newfrontiers. Our Church has planted two churches in the last 5 years which are part of newfrontiers. Our Church is central in a local region of newfrontiers in Shropshire, Staffordshire and into Mid Wales. Martin Charlesworth who leads the eldership team of my church serves in an apostolic role with those churches, while Terry Hotchkiss, another fellow elder has responsibility to develop evangelism across the region. Both those are an attempt to mirror the pattern found in Ephesians 4.

But I would not regularly identify myself as being a "newfrontiers" pastor. I serve on the eldership team of our Church. We are part of newfrontiers.

Being us, and being friends with who we are friends with makes us part of newfrontiers.

It is entirely relational.

We aren't a newfrontiers church and therefore we believe a,b,c etc.

We believed a,b,c and therefore have chosen to build strategic partnerships with other churches and affiliate ourselves with similar churches within newfrontiers. The definition came locally - the affiliation comes nationally.

Don't misunderstand this. The one of the greatest blessings in the life of this church has been coming to know people within newfrontiers, accessing the training, conferences, resources etc and being part of something much bigger than ourselves while also being given a renewed local vision for our area.


This has been an interesting process. I want to define myself by what I am, not by trying to distance myself from what I am not.

I want to define myself so people know what they are getting - not to burn bridges with other people.

I am on a journey and I am learning. My understanding is being shaped. Above all this I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus. These are specific elements of how I express that and what I believe it means for me, not a sectarian way of excluding others. In fact, I sometimes find more fellowship with people on different sides of the various fences to me!

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