I had a job interview a couple of days ago. As the potential job involved a Christian website, I was asked about my theology during the interview. Based on my academic background and my church affiliation, the interviewer asked if I was Baptist, which I affirmed. However, after the discussion, the question kept popping into my mind. I have a theology degree from a Baptist seminary. I am a member of a Baptist church. All things would lead one to consider me a Baptist. But am I?
I don’t think I’m ready to answer that question. I don’t know how. The truth is, while I’ve been associated with the Baptist tradition my entire life (as the saying goes, “I was Baptist before I was Christian”), I have been greatly influenced by the broad spectrum of the Christianity. Not only that, but I have long sought to find myself around the central beliefs of the Christian faith–what Thomas Oden called “Classic Christianity” or what C.S. Lewis referred to as “Mere Christianity”–rather than majoring on the minors of each denomination. Theological nuances are essential, of course, but great power comes from Christian unity around the long-held essentials made much of by the early creeds.
There is much in my belief system that I owe to my Baptist forebearers. The priesthood of each believer, the freedom of the individual conscience, and the separation of church and state are all things I hold dear. From the early English Baptists, I can identify my “pneumatic presence” view of the Lord’s Supper. From the European Anabaptist tradition, I inherit my passion for nonviolence and for recognizing kingdom citizenship within the modern world. Amongst my heroes are classic Baptists such as Charles Spurgeon and current leaders like Russell Moore.
I have many friends within Anglicanism, from which (among other things) I have gained an appreciation for gospel-centered liturgy. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer captures the message of Scripture in each of its liturgies with an intensity and beauty rarely rivaled by that of other Christian traditions. Its practice of the Daily Office (prayer times throughout the day), adapted from the Benedictine tradition in Roman Catholicism, has long been part of my spiritual exercise. And, of course, Anglicanism has given me a weighty portion of my favorite Christian authors, especially from modern times, such as C.S. Lewis, J.I. Packer, N.T. Wright, John Stott, Scot McKnight, Alister McGrath, Michael F. Bird, and many others.
Then there are the two great Christian traditions of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. I am far too removed from them on certain key issues to contemplate a conversion. Still, I would not have a theology of the arts, a central part of my life, without these traditions. The Protestant tradition has, tragically, often neglected or condemned this creative gift God has given to humanity. And, as I have said before, the Catholic tradition is the stream from which scheduled daily prayers (the hours, as they refer to them) originally flows. Many spiritual writers, from Thomas á Kempis and John of the Cross to 20th Century writers such as Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, and Henri Nouwen have come from this tradition and have also uniquely shaped my journey.
I’m a Christian. My degree comes from a Baptist school. My membership is in a Baptist congregation. I identify with certain Baptist distinctions. But I am a Christian. The broad river of Christianity has shaped my life, and so many of its tributaries have provided essential elements to my walk with Christ.
(Cover Image: Giotto di Bondone, The Baptism of Christ, 1304)