After 50 years it’s time to stop calling myself a Christian. I’ve been wrestling with Christianity from the very beginning; literally for as long as I can remember. The notion that God created me a flawed being and wanted to destroy me for being the way He created me kept me awake many nights. The idea that in order to save me, God had to murder Jesus bothered me. I felt bad for poor Jesus. The idea that God still didn’t really like me, He just couldn’t see my sins since they were covered over in Jesus’ blood made me feel dirty and unlovable. I would envision myself standing before the throne of God, Him sitting way up high looking down on me and here I am dripping in the blood of Jesus as He reluctantly grants me entry into His Kingdom. The idea that we are saved by “faith” alone boggled my mind. Why is faith, especially faith in the impossible to believe otherwise, so darned important? It never really added up for me.
I’ve always believed in God. I still do. I’ve always loved Jesus. I still do. I just don’t believe in the religion of Paul any more. I even still like Paul. Paul wrote a lot of good stuff. He tried to take the teachings of Jesus, which were meant to be radical and blow the lid off of religion, and stuff them in the trappings of Judaism. He did a pretty good job, but as the Master said: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins” Paul, went against Jesus’ own words when he tried to take the teachings of Jesus and put them into the wineskins of Judaism. Jesus didn’t come to revamp Judaism or to start Christianity. He came to free us from all of that. Paul’s efforts helped preserve the teachings of Jesus. For that we should thank Paul. However, for me, as I’ve been outgrowing the Sunday school teachings of my youth, I’ve been trying to put the new wine I’ve been producing into the old wineskins of modern Christianity and the bags keep bursting.
I need to thank Marcus Borg, Daniel Helminiak, Thomas Talbott and many others for helping me to make the transition from Christianity to spirituality a relatively smooth one. I had many crises of faith along the way. I can recall many steps along the way when my mind was blown. When I gave up on the idea of a young Earth and a 6 day creation. I remember the moment sitting on my deck in Lexington, KY about 25 years ago. I remember when I gave up on the idea of penal substitutionary atonement (the idea that God needed blood and took Jesus’ blood instead of ours). Giving up on those things freed me from so many mental gymnastics. However, holding onto the label Christian kept me doing all kinds of others. I studied so many theories of atonement trying to figure out which one made sense. Well, no more. There was no need for atonement, except our own because we felt distant from God. God never moved away from us.
As I told Ty about my revelation, a couple of days ago she asked me why labels are important anyway. I know a lot of people reject labels, but labels are useful and necessary. Labels should never define us. Labels shouldn’t tell us who we should be. But, labels are useful for describing us. When I say “Christian” you think a lot of things and I end up explaining that 60-90% of them don’t apply to the type of Christian I am talking about. I hate the phrases “I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus” and “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship.” They’ve been played out to the point of being trite. I don’t know what I’ll call myself or how I’ll describe myself. We’ll see. But, I can’t keep up the futile effort of putting new wine into old wineskins.