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What’s in a name?

October 27, 2008
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A few weeks ago I posted about the problems we have with labels. They can be useful—let’s face it, they do simplify things a lot, and we’d be cactus without them—but they do oversimplify things a little. On that post I published the result of a questionnaire which attempted to rate me according to different labels we use to describe Christians today.

I said that the questionnaire seemed to sum me up pretty well. Looking back, I’m still pretty impressed.

Even so, I didn’t score more than 86% on any of them. In other words, I don’t fall fully into any category. My top score was ‘Emergent/post-modern.’ I do like Brian McLaren and Tony Jones, and a lot of the blogs I read are written by people who identify as ’emergent.’ Still, I find it odd that it is possible to label oneself as ’emergent’—one of the features of post-modernism is a suspicion of labels and any attempt to categorise people into these sorts of groups!

The next highest score was for ‘evangelical.’ This term has some negative connotations, but in terms of theology and practice, it seems to fit. A similar thing could be said for the next item on the list, ‘Wesleyan/holiness.’

Whilst all of these labels sort of apply, none of them really sum me up! When anyone uses one of these words to describe me, I cringe. Not because I find it offensive, but because I’m aware of how much I’m not whatever I just got called.

How, then, do I describe myself? Like many others, I could call myself, ‘just a Christian.’ That’s pretty good, but even that term has meanings I’m not sure about. In my context it seems to be synonymous with either ‘evangelical’ or ‘Roman Catholic.’ Some take the term to mean I’ve been baptised, whilst others would (justifiably) view me with hatred.

I could call myself a disciple of Christ. That’s pretty good, but it comes over (to me) as a little sanctimonious. Jesus says a lot about disciples in the Scripture, and whilst the term may be quite applicable it could sound like a claim to be living the sort of life Jesus expects. Do I truly love my neighbour as myself? Am I really prepared to take up my cross in order to follow Christ? True discipleship moves toward these things, but the epithet would appear to be a claim to have reached the destination.

There is one name I am comfortable with. Albert Orsborn, a former Gerneral of the Salvation Army, wrote about it in one of his hymns (Number 59 in the Salvation Army Songbook):

Thy name is joined with mine
By every human tie,
And my new name is thine,
A child of God am I;
And never more alone, since thou
Art on the road beside me now.

Bearing the name ‘Christ’ is a high calling. But it’s not a name that comes with a burden—it comes with the strength of the one who bestows it upon us.

Lord, mould me for your name’s sake!

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