Darrell W. Johnson is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Regent College, Vancouver. He came from Glendale Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles, where he was Senior Pastor. This article was originally published in Presbyterian Survey, July/August 1991.
Often I am asked, especially by people contemplating membership in our church, "What are you?" They're not looking for a simple answer such as "Christian" or "Presbyterian." What they're really asking is, "What stripe of Christian are you?"
I don't like labels. Putting things, or people, in categories helps us to order our world, but it also narrows our world because it gives us the illusion of being in control.
But the question "What stripe of Christian are you?" has validity in this day and age of theological diversity, and here is my attempt at an answer.
Am I a "fundamentalist"?
If by a fundamentalist you mean one who is narrow-minded, rigid, judgmental, my answer is "No."
But if by fundamentalist you mean one who seeks to find the fundamental truths of life and take a stand on them, come what may, my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful fundamentalist I can be."
I joyfully affirm the great fundamentals of God as Creator; Jesus of Nazareth as Saviour and Lord, Spirit-conceived, virgin-born, crucified and risen from the dead, alive and reigning, coming again to make all things new; the real presence and power of the Holy Spirit; and the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
Am I a "liberal"?
If by a liberal you mean one who recognizes no final authority in life, one who argues there is no absolute truth, my answer is "No."
But if by liberal you mean one who extends mercy and grace to any who will receive it, one who believes God has a special concern for the marginalized of society, and one therefore who believes that advocacy for the marginalized is an essential dimension of Christian discipleship, one who believes that care of the earth is a gospel issue, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful liberal I can be."
Am I a "conservative"?
If by a conservative you mean one who wants to conserve the status quo at all costs, one who will not recognize that times and people change, my answer is, "No."
But if by conservative you mean one who seeks to conserve centuries-honoured and tried-in-the-crucible basic values, one who believes some things remain constant (like the Lordship of Jesus Christ) in the midst of an ever-changing world, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful conservative I can be."
Am I an "evangelical"?
If by evangelical you mean one who corners people and wants to cram the faith down peoples' throats, my answer is "No."
But if by an evangelical you mean one who has heard the Good News (evangelical is related to the word evangel, which is related to the Greek word meaning good news) and believes that the Good News is the best news anyone can hear, who will do all he or she can to do to share that Good News with the world, who is not ashamed to invite people to receive the Good News, Jesus, as Saviour and Lord, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful evangelical I can be."
Am I "ecumenical"?
If by ecumenical you mean believing that there ought to be one grand, uniform religious institute, embracing all faiths as equally valid and reliable expressions of who the Living One is, providing equal paths to God ("All roads lead to home"), then my answer is "No." I cannot deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. No one said the things Jesus said; no one did the things Jesus did.
But if by ecumenical you mean recognizing that the same Lord can be worshiped in different ways and served in different ways and that no one tradition has a corner on the truth, recognizing that we grow through dialogue with other stripes of Christians and with other faiths, affirming that we have more that binds us than divides us (we have the Lord of Life in common), and wanting to join forces with others to complete the task God has given us, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful ecumenist I can be."
Am I a "charismatic"?
If by charismatic you mean one who believes people must have some special, overwhelming experience, one who believes that the presence of the Holy Spirit is manifested, always, by a select few signs, then my answer is "No."
But if by a charismatic you mean one who believes in and welcomes the presence of the Holy Spirit, one who believes that Christ sends the Spirit to live not only with but in his disciples, one who believes in the charisma, the gifts of grace (charis is the Greek word for grace), and one who affirms and welcomes the empowerment of the Spirit to worship and serve the living Lord, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful and joyful charismatic I can be."
Am I a "radical"?
If by radical you mean one who wants to disturb things just because he or she does not like the status quo, one who is out there on the extremes, then my answer is "No."
But if by a radical you mean one who seeks to go to the root (the radix) of issues, one who will then accept the consequences, even the disruption of the status quo, then my answer is, "I want to be the most faithful radical I can be."
So what am I? I am not yet what I want to be. I want to be a faithful, grace-filled and gracious, grateful and joyful, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Trinitarian servant.
I want all of God for all of life; all of God the Father, all of God the Son, and all of God the Spirit. Whatever that makes me, so be it. I think that is what our Reformed tradition is all about, and that is why I have chosen to be a Presbyterian.