My church experience hasn’t revolved much around any one denomination. In high school I was part of a Baptist church, but I didn’t call myself a Baptist. College brought about a mixture of different ministries and churches, but the most predominant one was a non-denominational church that had branched off from Calvary Chapel. After college, I spent almost a year going to church on occasion, but eventually wound up in an EV-Free church (Emmaus Life in Eugene), though, again, I didn’t think of myself as part of the EV-Free denomination. Each of the churches I have been most involved with were simply my church families.
Obviously this is related to Brian’s post from a few days ago as well as the recent concern for the “Evangelical” label, but with a slightly broader discussion of our labels within Christianity (perhaps even “Christian” itself). On my own blog, I have a subtitle that I’ve been thinking about editing to something else. It reads, “Adventures of a Young Jesus Freak” and while I should probably edit out the “Young” part, I’ve been rethinking the whole “Jesus Freak” label altogether. So when it comes to the label of “Evangelical” or “Mainline” or something else entirely, I’m a little bit hesitant in adopting a label because, at least for myself, I’m not sure if a label would serve much of a purpose in describing who I am and how I think or believe.
My school has “Evangelical” in its title, but it is quite different than other self-identified “Evangelical” environments I’ve experienced. Questions are welcomed here – in fact, on a typical day of class, I usually leave with more questions than I had when I arrived. Not to say that all the “Evangelical” environments I experienced had shunned questions, but to say there weren’t many being asked and if there were, I didn’t get the sense that they were diving very deep. So in many ways, I love the “Evangelical” atmosphere at George Fox (also because the student body comprises of many different denominations and branches).
Since I have been in seminary, I have noticed that I feel less inclined to “side” with any particular denomination. Instead, I feel my capacity for perspective has been enlarged through my experiences with classmates and professors. What I mean is, I feel as though I could almost go from church to church without ever feeling unwelcomed. If Christianity is one giant group of people and our denominations are camps, then I imagine myself as one of those who wanders from camp to camp.
Much of my lack of association with denominations and labels has been part of my own spiritual development before I arrived to seminary. Yet I find that my seminary experience has compelled me to be even less interested in those labels. In other words, based off of content from classes as well as interactions with fellow students and professors, I do not see much value in identifying as “Evangelical” or “Baptist” or even as a “Jesus Freak.”
But I would like to hear from your seminary experience. Is your seminary denominationally attached? Do you feel more inclined to associate with that label, “Evangelical” in broader terms, or something else? How do you think that your seminary experience has changed the way you see labels (if it has changed at all)?
Great thoughts, Jeremy. I’ve really struggled a lot with labels over the last few years, as well, before finally settling down (at least for this period in my life) in the Mennonite Church. I was raised a United Methodist, worked in a Wesleyan church, spent some time with the Baptists, Episcopalians, and Quakers, and currently attend a Baptist seminary (the pastor of the Methodist church where I worked as a youth pastor used to call me an “ecumaniac”).
One thing that has really frustrated me over the years is that when I say I attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary, there are all sorts of presuppositions that get tossed around. For most folks, there’s only one kind of Baptist, and those are the Southern Baptists. However, few people know that there is a HUGE range of Baptist types, from Missionary and Primitive Baptists (Primitive Baptists don’t believe in using musical instruments in worship) to American Baptists and the Alliance of Baptists (the Alliance ordains gay and lesbian ministers). What’s even more frustrating is that while “Baptist” is in the title of my seminary, there are probably more non-Baptists that attend than there are Baptists! It is a truly ecumenical institution. So when I tell people that I attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I constantly find myself having to clarify: “No, we’re not those Baptists.”
I have a similar experience to that of Joshua. I was Pentecostal, became non-denominational independent w. a charismatic feel; dabbled around the E/emerging C/church; went to Imago Dei in PDX, which is sort of neo- hippish- evangelical w. a desire to tie into the ancient Church; went to a “Bible” Church w. Lutheran roots; spent over a year with the Mennonites; now we’re frequent attendees at a United Methodist Church. My college education came from Pentecostals; my seminary education from big “E” Evangelicals w. “conservative Baptist” roots; and my current education is done through an Anglican/Baptist institution. So, I’m an ecumenical mess!
Personally, I don’t know that I’d ever be 100% committed to one denomination. I wish I was more of a loyalist, but if the ship is sinking I’m not one to play my instrument on the upper deck. Get me off! But I’m also kind of tired of having to “Church shop” whenever I move from one place to another. It is tiring and time consuming. It would be nice to find a tradition with an internal diversity, so that if we moved to a town with two or three of those Churches we could at least have a starting point for Church shopping other than entering “church” into Google Maps!
This may be why I haven’t ditched “Evangelical” yet, although I’m not quite sure what it means. It seems like it should mean “starting with the Gospel” which keeps the door open to going to a Baptist, Methodist, non-denom, or whatever Church with other doctrinal issues being secondary.
Josh: I get a similar reaction when I tell certain people I’m going to George Fox. More often than not, people are kind and respectful, but every now and then someone gives a response that carries the tone of “Oh, well they’re not really Evangelical,” as if “Evangelical” had a unified meaning throughout all of Christendom. It is a little frustrating, but since I’m not very active on Sundays, I don’t usually hear those responses. I do like that “ecumaniac” title, though 🙂
Brian: I think I’m much the same way in regards to being 100% devoted to one denomination. It’s funny that you use the sinking ship analogy because three years ago I was with that church that split from Calvary Chapel (years ago) until it, as a congregation, closed its doors. In many ways, it felt like a sinking ship, but one that I wanted to stick with until the very end, not because of the label, but because of the collective vision of the pastoral staff and the congregants. Perhaps this is what draws out loyalty – a church’s specific mission rather than any particular label?
Good thoughts. Many people don’t feel the pull of a denomination or heritage anymore, which makes sense given our culture. I’m in a Methodist seminary for my phd work has actually solidified what I perceive to be my Baptist identity. I have been influenced by other traditions, including Roman Catholicism from my family. I still identify as evangelical and am discovering similarities between the best of evangelicalism and the medieval mystics!
@Jeremy: I think there is definitely something to the value of the mission and values of a local Church. When I was in San Francisco I was pretty close to willing to stay with my local group hell or high water and far more willing to invest my time and energy into seeing it thrive than I’ve ever been for a denomination. I like the idea of denominations because I like networks, and being part of a vision that is bigger than my neighborhood, but I also like to focus most of my attention on where I live and who I can impact in my day-to-day life, which is where the local Church seems easier to grow loyal to than denominations.
I’m not sure if this is the appropriate place to ask this, but I am interested in attending George Fox for their M.Div. program, would you be willing to talk a little bit about the culture and theology of GFES, here or by email?
As to your actual question, of course I haven’t attended seminary yet, but as far as what I currently understand of denominations, church history, and ecumenism, I’ve actually become more inclined to associate with the label Evangelical. I would like to explain that further and give a more comprehensive answer, but at 1:30am my brain is giving up.
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