Thursday, November 29, 2007

Classical Christian

I've been telling my fellow intern Jay Bennett for months now that I no longer embrace the label "evangelical". This isn't because I'm not an evangelical in some sense. It's because the term, which frankly has no claim on me, has become quite meaningless in our culture, particularly in our western culture. Any phrase that the general public associated with Jerry Falwell isn't a phrase I'm anxious to embrace. I could make a bunch of noise about not abdicating the ownership of the phrase. But why? This label has never enjoyed any sort of solidarity of meaning in either a global or a historical sense. Even within the confines of the 20 century its meaning changed from decade to decade and culture to culture.

So I am now choosing to identify myself as a classical Christian. This has several advantages. First, applying the term "classical" to anything places you in the default position of legitimate claim to heritage and sound pedigree (ok...that was a bit tongue-in-cheek). Second, this is not a phrase that the press or the public has latched onto and adulterated. This leaves me in the enviable position of being free to define it however I please. As such, I define it as the faith that has been passed down from the apostles through Augustine, Calvin and Edwards among others. It embraces the creeds. Isn't afraid to be confessional. Expresses itself through ordered worship that is biblical, deeply historical, and sacramental. Confesses Christ at the center of all things (not a technical definition of inerrancy that is of little use in pastoral soul care). Confesses that Scripture is the authoritative Word of God written. Places an appropriate biblical emphasis on community and its place in salvation, from justification to sanctification to glorification. Will not overlook sin in its members, but is not legalistic in its pastoral approach. Believes that God will be faithful to his church through their quiet and humble obedience, not the latest church fad. Encourages its pastors to be shepherds, not CEOs. Believes its pastors should be theologically and biblically trained and tested and determined to protect the sheep from unsound doctrine before being given the keys to the fold.

These are a few of the things I mean when I say I am a classical Christian. I look back through history and I see such Christians represented in every age. When the person next to me on my next airline ride asks me about my faith, I'll say I am a classical Christian. I worship in the PCA, but I am not schismatic. I belong to the body of Christ, which is expressed with great creativity throughout His Kingdom and throughout this age. My heritage doesn't end with Luther. Nor is it confined in recent years to a few politically active preachers. The Christianity portrayed by the press is a mess and I don't recognize it at all. Therefore, I won't use the label they have given it: evangelical. Instead, I'll simply respond, "I'm a classical Christian." Then instead of spending the next ten minutes apologizing for something I'm not, I can spend that time explaining what I am and how I got to be that way. I'm looking forward to that next conversation!


Jared Nelson said...

Why not just "Reformed" or "Reformed Christian" or, my favorite eyebrow raiser: "Reformed Catholic"? The final title guantees an interesting conversation. "Classical" to me is associated with pagan Greece or Rome.

I think the problem with "evangelical" was making an adjective a noun. You can be an evangelical Anglican, Presbyterian or Baptist, but not an evangelical with no corresponding noun, just as you can be a tall man, but not a tall.

Mike said...

The problem is that now that it is in your blog, someone will come along and read it, start using the title and next thing you know BOOM! there are Classical Christian Churches popping up, politicians are catering to Classical Christians, people who share none of your beliefs are calling themselves Classical Christians, and then the term has no meaning.

Just giving you a heads up


Matthew Bradley said...

lol...thanks Mike. I'm ok with the Reformed Catholic as well, so I can always fall back on that.