Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

On Being a Christian (with apologies to Hans Küng)

This is not, strictly speaking, a theology blog like some of those on my links, Faith & Theology, Chrisendom, Euangelion, etc. This blog is intended more as religiously inspired social commentary. It could be considered an exercise in liberation-style political theology, I suppose.

At any rate, conceiving of the blog as having a particular focus, I have tried to avoid topics other than those I consider part of the blog’s purpose–although, I have tried to break monotony with humor, family photos, news about my church, bio sketches of mentors and heroes, and book reviews, especially of books I think important to the Radical Reformation heritage of (Ana)baptists. My feeling has been that if people want to discuss other things, there are plenty of blogs available.

Despite that, however, I find myself needing to prove my bona fides. An annoying twerp I have banned from this site has been telling many, many people that I am not “born again,” and that I try to have Christian discipleship without regeneration and other lies–thus prejudicing potential evangelical readers against me. I resent heavily needing to set the record straight, but ignoring this whisper campaign has not worked.

So, here goes: I was raised in a United Methodist home of a type that would once have been called “evangelical liberal,” but those two words are almost never placed together anymore. The majority of my family is still UMC, but my brother’s family is Pentecostal (Assemblies of God), and there are also Presbyterians, Church of Christ, and Roman Catholics in my extended family. As a teen I went through a period of adolescent rebellion that included skepticism and considering myself an agnostic: Ironically, I ceased to go to church just as my father, following a second-career call to ministry, was ordained a United Methodist deacon and was continuing education toward ordination as an elder. (I know my father was embarrassed, but he wisely gave me space and both he and my mother prayed for me–talking to God about me when it was impossible to talk to me about God as my mother later put it.)

At 18, helped by Black Baptist, Methodist, & Pentacostal friends, I was “born again.” (My debts to African-American Christianity and the Black Church remain HUGE.) I do not like the way this term is used by many in American evangelicalism to refer either to a subjective experience or to some kind of contract with God that makes discipleship optional. That is not the way the phrase functions in the Gospel of John where it is better translated, “born from above.” Nevertheless, though I am tempted when asked about when I was “saved,” to reply in Barthian style, “on Golgotha,” there is a subjective experience that accompanies the objective work of God-in-Christ. And, in my case, that conversion experience was extremely powerful.

However, I had already enlisted in the U.S. army when I experienced saving grace and therefore had no chance to be formed in a Christian community that would mold me in Christian character before I departed for basic training. Fortunately, a high school friend who was opposed to my joining the army challenged me to memorize the Sermon on the Mount during basic training. So, I spent my days learning to be a soldier and my “spare time” memorizing the largest block of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, including the beatitude on peacemakers and the commands to love enemies, etc. It caused much cognitive dissonance.

About a year after enlisting I found myself stationed in Heidelberg, Germany–or West Germany as it was then. Since I was trying (with very mixed results ) to learn German, I stopped going to the chapel on post and started attending the small Baptist church in Heidelberg which, at the time, had both a German service and an English service with the same sermon. I attended both trying to get better at my German. This was at the beginning of the huge European peace movement of the ’80s and the pastor preached often on Christian peacemaking. I remember him quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. often. (Strange that I had to go to Germany to learn to take seriously the words of my own countryman.) I became convinced that Christians must be peacemakers, not warriors. I was baptized and applied for conscientious objector status and a discharge–which, after much grief, was granted. I became a Baptist and a C.O. at the same time–and this was like a second conversion for me.

Enough testimony. Salvation is a large biblical concept that is too often reduced in American evangelical circles to either a one-time event or to “fire insurance.” But there is a past, present, and future to salvation: I have been saved; I am being saved; I shall be saved.

Moreover, in both Old and New Testaments, God’s redeeming work in the world is mainly concerned with creating a people and calling them out to mission: WE are being saved together. It is in THIS sense (and this sense only) that the ancient word is right: extra ecclesiam nulla salus—outside the church is no salvation. By grace, God enables us to participate in God’s redeeming work in the world. Discipleship, following after Jesus, is the very shape of the Christian life–not an option that born again individuals can choose or reject.

The church is both the foretaste and the primary agent of the Kingdom or Rule of God which has broken into history and is coming in fullness at the Eschaton. That Rule of God come into history, not some disembodied existence in “heaven,” is the goal of Christian faith, as Byron has been arguing over at Nothing New Under the Son.

I have touched on far more than can be explained in one post. This entry opens up a huge range of topics–one reason why I have avoided it previously. Yet, that avoidance gave the false impression that I am ashamed of the gospel or of God’s converting work in my life. I hope this sets the record straight.

October 10, 2006 - Posted by | Christianity, faith, testimony


  1. Thanks for this mini-autobiography. I appreciated hearing some more of your story. And thanks for the link.

    Comment by byron | October 10, 2006

  2. Beautiful story. It’s good to hear some testimony every now and again.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | October 10, 2006

  3. thanks for sharing that powerful testimony. you bring up wonderfully the issue of “born againness” that exists in American today. the misconception is very limiting more than helpful.

    Comment by kyle | October 10, 2006

  4. I want to thank you also. If we only discuss technical topics only, it is easy to forget that there is a person on the other end of the internet connection. I always like to know more about people, so my suggestion is for you to include more of who you are.

    Comment by Looney | October 11, 2006

  5. I have spoken of myself before, but usually as part of discussing particular topics. Talking of myself without any other “point,” is difficult since I was raised to consider humility a virtue.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 11, 2006

  6. Michael,

    There was never any doubt in my mind. You have nothing to prove to me. Jesus paid it all and in you, it shows. I will, however, shout “Hallelujah!!” to your “…Christians must be peacemakers…”. How much war could have been avoided if we had been busy about our Father’s business of reconciliation and peace making? We let the arms dealers and the imperialists become the only activists. Does not Isaiah tell us in chapter 58 that we are to ‘spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed’? Is Isaiah’s ‘true fasting’ not the real ‘counter’ to terrorists?

    So many ‘born-again’ Christians these days want to be focused on abortion. We could stop abortions without any laws if we would only recognize the depth of Christ’s new commandment to “Love, as I have loved you” (JN 13:34). Jesus’ love has adopted us into the household of the Father. WE are commmanded to adopt still others into the household of the Father (Mt. 28:19). When we REFUSE to allow any vulnerable persons to be discarded (the elderly, the poor, the outcast, the prisoners, the diseased, the disabled, the maimed, the wounded…) and if we INSIST that they will be ‘adopted’ into our families (literally and figuratively) God promises us that “your light will break forth like the dawn and your healing will quickly appear”. When we are obedient to Christ’s new commandment, in all of it’s depth and challenge, there won’t be any more abortions.

    Your testimony is powerful. But then, Jesus Christ is powerful and he STILL changes lives.

    Thanks, Michael!

    Comment by Tom | October 13, 2006

  7. […] On Being a Christian (with apologies to Hans Küng) […]

    Pingback by Testimony: Index of Autobiographical Posts « Levellers | April 1, 2009

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