Friday, November 7, 2014

My Christianity is ... Unrecognizable

Image source.

So had this weird experience today.

I was hanging out with my boyfriend and some of his relatives, people I don’t really know at all. And we were talking about a lot of things (all of this is in Chinese, by the way) and we talked about religion. So, I’m a Christian, and one other girl there was a Christian, and my boyfriend (not a Christian) started talking about how there are a lot of different denominations and different beliefs within Christianity. So far so good.

Then the other girl was talking about what Christianity is. How the biggest difference between Christianity and other religions is that Christians believe we can’t earn God’s love. We’re all sinners, and God loves us, and we need him to help us, and only then can we really learn to love others. And it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship, and I’m really glad this was all in Chinese because if I had to listen to all those Christianese clichés in English, I just might have died of boredom.

(They’re not clichés for her though. I get that. Also she grew up in the US, if you’re wondering why it sounds uncannily similar to American evangelical Christianity.)

And then I said yeah, actually different Christians would emphasize different parts, like is the important thing about going to heaven, or about loving others, etc. Like, what exactly is the goal of being a Christian. So she asked me what I think the goal is. I said, you know, the world has a lot of problems, a lot of bad things that happen, and in the future God will make the world better, the way it should be. So now we should try to help God make the world better. Help people, love people, etc.

Yeah. That’s all I said. Somehow I didn’t mention that God loves everyone. Oops. What was up with that?

But I thought, you know, it’s okay if I didn’t explain it very well. For the “unsaved” who were listening, my goal isn’t to change their minds, like when I used to “share the gospel.” If I didn’t say it well, if people don’t believe me, whatever. God still loves them. God will still come and bring resurrection to the whole world, and that’s good news. It’s still good news for them even if they don’t believe.

No worries.

But... I started to wonder what my boyfriend’s cousin (who had just given the “good Christian” perspective that I used to believe) would think. My version of “the gospel” probably sounded so weak. Just making the world better?

That’s not Christianity.

Or rather, anyone who adheres to the “good Christian” view I used to hold would very confidently say, “That’s not Christianity.”

But it is, man, it is. I believe God will make the world better because God already raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign that someday, the whole world will experience resurrection, and there will be no more crying or pain, and there will be justice, and I mean JUSTICE like real JUSTICE, not the “everyone goes to hell” perversion of justice that you were taught in Sunday school.

You guys. God loves you. And death does not win in the end. And that’s good news. If you don’t believe it, that’s fine with me. God still loves you. And the loving thing for me to do is respect other people’s beliefs. So no worries.

But I can’t help but think that my version of Christianity is unrecognizable. Most Christians would say that’s not what Christianity is, right? And... meeting my boyfriend’s cousin and finding out she’s a Christian too, on the one hand it’s great because I don’t have many Christian friends in China, but on the other hand, is she going to judge me and decide I’m “not a real Christian”?

What if we’re both Christians but we have nothing in common?

I really have changed to a different religion. Though it’s Christianity, to many people it’s unrecognizable as such. And I wonder, if I tell people I’m a Christian, do I have to add some explanation “but actually not the kind of Christian that you would think when you hear someone say they’re a Christian,” like I should warn people that I’m fake so that they won’t accidentally assume we have so much in common.

Like the random old woman at church, whom I had known for about one minute when she started telling me (in Chinese) about how her daughter-in-law’s not a Christian, and she’s all worried about her, etc. All right, I guess it’s not okay to let this person know my boyfriend’s not a Christian.

I don’t know if I can find a church that will accept me. I don’t know if I can find other Christians who can accept me. I’ve found them online, in the land of blogs, but will I ever meet any in the real world?

Here’s an even bigger question: Will I ever meet them in China?


  1. Yes, we're out there. From what I've read on your blog, it sounds like my Christianity is a lot like yours. And yes, I've found other people in real life who share that. I can't tell you about China, but in the places I've lived (California, Washington, and Kansas), I've been able to find others who are passionate about their faith and yet don't speak in Christian cliches. Your summary of the Gospel as participation in God's redeeming work is beautiful! And honestly, not that radical in the scheme of Christian teachings that have been accepted as orthodox.

    It's definitely a smaller community though. There are plenty of places where evangelical Christianity is the big, culturally dominant thing that Everybody Does, and I don't know of any equivalent for a more progressive sort of Christianity. But there are pockets, congregations, whole denominations even. One thing I'm struggling with is that there are very few young, single people in those churches. It would be so great to find a partner who shares my views, but I'm starting to resign myself to the possibility that it might not happen.

    Your blog is great- let me know if you ever want to talk about stuff more!

  2. "I don’t know if I can find a church that will accept me. I don’t know if I can find other Christians who can accept me. I’ve found them online, in the land of blogs, but will I ever meet any in the real world?"

    Yep...I can SO relate to this.

  3. It was this post that brought me to the realization that Christianity is truly something different:

    " My gods don’t want kowtowing... they certainly don’t want to be told how unworthy I am. In fact, if I came before them with that last message they’d probably tell me to go away and come back when I was worthy. "

    I wonder now if that's part of why I left. It doesn't suit my personality. I want the challenge. I don't want to be granted salvation. I am strong. I want to prove that I am worthy. I will redeem myself, thank you very much.

  4. Hi there! I really appreciate your blog, it's pretty cool. Your version of Christianity (as you call it) isn't weird at all, but I have some concerns. The fact of the matter is that the bible does teach hell. Jesus taught that those that aren't with Him are against Him. He taught there is no way to God except through Him, and to get to God through Him one must be faithful in believing that Jesus is the son of God, that He died on the cross, and through faith they will be born again of Spirit. And as spiritually reborn people, believers are empowered to live righteous before God.
    Jesus taught, as did His followers, that resurrection for those who do not follow Jesus will end in eternal judgment, and death. In Scripture this is called the second death, and is bad news.
    But, you probably won't agree, and that's fine. It's not my job to convince you, but I do feel it is important to share the truth of what the bible teaches.

    I have some questions:
    Why try and make the world better? Ultimately no one will succeed until Jesus comes and restores all things, bringing the New Jerusalem, you know, the new heaven and new earth and all. It's futile, right?
    What is the benefit of believing in Jesus over not believing?
    Why do you go to Church?
    What does Justice mean? Doesn't justice mean adequate reparations made from violators of other's rights to the violated? Doesn't that mean judgment for the transgressors?
    What does the Bible really mean when it describes hell, and eternal judgment?
    Why have good doctrine (or bad doctrine. or doctrine at all), why share the gospel, why disciple, why strive for holiness?

    I am honestly asking these questions, and truly hope to get some answers. I'd be very interested to see your viewpoint on these things.

  5. Thanks for the encouragement. :) I really hope I can meet some Christians like that in real life.

  6. Yes, exactly. The foundation has to be Jesus. From there, different people (and different cultures) emphasize different parts.

  7. I hope both of us can find Christians who accept us. :)

  8. About hell- the bible mentions hell and punishment, but it's not clear what it means by that. Different Christians have different interpretations. For a lot of Christians in America, our ideas about hell come more from pop culture than from the bible.

    Personally, I believe the most important thing about God is "God is love." The version of hell I was taught was "everyone who does not believe in the correct version of God will be eternally tortured" [which is not explicitly stated anywhere in the bible] and I cannot reconcile that with God being loving. So I don't believe in hell (or rather, that particular version of hell).

    (Actually, in Matthew 25, where Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats, it's the "sheep"- the ones who help others- who go to heaven, even though they may or may not have believed in Jesus.)

    About making the world better- My strongest disagreement with your comment was where you said "It's futile, right?" I believe that Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God to the earth. When we pray, we say "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." The point of being a Christian is not to just be spiritual and love God in one's own personal life and then go to heaven, it's about partnering with Jesus to advance the kingdom of God on earth. (And by "the kingdom of God" I don't mean trying to take over the world through power and control- I mean trying to make the world a place with love, justice, peace, etc. The way God intended it.)

    Because God is love, and God so loved the world, and Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. So God would want us to create a world where people are loved.

  9. I was referring to the "sheep" in Matthew 25, in the parable of the sheep and the goats. In the parable, the sheep were the ones to whom Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, etc." They were helping others, and living out Jesus' command to "love your neighbor as yourself." But they answered Jesus "when did we see you hungry and give you something to eat?" etc- so they didn't even know they were serving Jesus. Actions are what matters, not having the correct information about God.

    I agree with the part about removing the evil from this world. But I don't think people are included in the category of evil things not of God. Everyone is created in the image of God and loved by God. Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Most of the evil in the world is not caused by the actions of individual people, but by larger systems built into society. (Large-scale problems like racism and the gap between rich and poor.) I think American Christianity focuses too much on individual sin and individual avoidance of sin, but is blind to how we unknowingly contribute to these large, oppressive systems.

    And about hell- I don't have a clear belief about how God will do punishments/rewards in the next life, but I believe it will definitely be a good thing. God will bring down the powerful and lift up the weak (Luke 1:51-53). And I'm basing my ideas on the belief that God is love.

    I used to have an understanding of hell and "justice" as "justice means that since everyone has sinned, everyone deserves eternal torture in hell." On one hand, I believed this was what God had to do because of "justice," and God was right to send everyone not covered by Jesus to hell. On the other hand, I totally didn't want anyone to go to hell so I was always praying for my non-Christian friends and doing everything I could to tell them about Jesus. Now I realize that it doesn't make any sense to believe that it's right and just that people go to hell, and yet spend all my energy and worry trying to not let it happen.

    Justice is not "everyone goes to hell." Justice is a good thing.

    (And also, thanks for commenting in a polite and friendly way. Sometimes I get angry people who just want to fight.)

  10. You sound like a Lutheran.

  11. Jesus taught that those that aren't with Him are against Him.

    He did? When? Sounds to me like you have it backward:

    "...for whoever is not against us is for us." Mark 9:40

    “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” Luke 9:50

    I think you may have Jesus mixed up with George W. Bush, who said, "You are either with us or against us," in November 2001
    thus leading me to wonder if he was the Antichrist.

  12. I don't know about China, but in my experience your type of Christians can be found in the United States. Check out my church--and the Presbyterians up the block have a similar understanding of love and justice, as do many others in Pittsburgh. I think all major cities, and smaller towns in many regions, have churches like this. I grew up in a medium-sized town in Oklahoma where the kind of Christianity you think is typical certainly was dominant, but even there the Episcopal church is focused on inclusive love and making the world a better place.