It's OK to Call Yourself a Christian

Why Marcus Mumford’s take on the “Christian” label doesn’t hold up.

It seems to be a growing trend—people who claim to love Jesus but don’t want to call themselves Christians. The latest to stake a claim for not staking a claim is Marcus Mumford, the front man of the wildly popular Mumford & Sons, whose Christian-themed lyrics have been a source of fascination to believers and nonbelievers alike.

In Rolling Stone’s upcoming cover story, Mumford demurred when asked if he considered himself a Christian, as a teaser on the magazine’s website revealed. "I don't really like that word. It comes with so much baggage,” he said, in terms that many fans will relate to. “So, no, I wouldn't call myself a Christian.”

In our “have it your way” spiritual marketplace, religious community that is rigorous, reasonable and real is still the most nutritious item on the menu.

Mumford, the son of the U.K. founders of the evangelical Vineyard movement is hardly the first church kid to question or reject the faith tradition he was raised in. In fact, the words he uses to describe himself in Rolling Stone will resonate with the fast growing group within Millennial culture—the “nones.” As the Pew Research Center reported last year, 32 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds listed “none” as their religious affiliation.

Mumford’s remarks certainly aren’t a rarity, but they may disappoint the multitude of Christian fans who have seen in Mumford & Sons an intelligent and artistic articulation of their faith.

After all, Marcus Mumford’s faith as evidenced through his music is much like many of ours: his spiritual journey is a "work in progress," he's never doubted the existence of God, but he asks nonetheless not to be associated with any religion. “I've kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity," he told Rolling Stone.

A cursory glance at Christians in the headlines will tell you why. Why do the looniest Christians get quoted after every natural disaster? Why does the pistol-packing pastor who wants to burn the Koran get all the airtime?

I know what it feels like to want to distance myself from hateful statements made in the name of my faith. If this is all that Christianity is, I don’t want to be associated with it either. But of course, that is not all that Christianity is. And unless some sane people claim the label, the extremist fringes will have the last word.

A few years ago, I grew tired of people claiming to be “spiritual—but not religious,” because I do not believe this is enough. In a culture of narcissism, religious community matters. In our “have it your way” spiritual marketplace, religious community that is rigorous, reasonable and real is still the most nutritious item on the menu.

No one group of people can carry the blame for all the worst that pervades society. I am not apologizing for a church I am not a member of.

Yet often when I say this, as a minister myself, it is received with howls of complaint from people who want to do the God thing solo.

Their argument goes something like this: I like the idea of Jesus but I can’t stand the Church. Therefore, I want to identify directly with the primary source, Jesus, rather than with the annoyingly fallible human beings who have tried to follow Him but failed.

They describe to me a personal privatized journey free of the sins of the historical Church but with a direct hook-up to the guy who got it all started. What all of this implies, however, is that the person who loves Jesus privately is somehow better at it than those who try to do it with other people.

As Mumford went on to explain about such people who call themselves “Christian,” “I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don't really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who He was. Like, you ask a Muslim and they'll say, 'Jesus was awesome'—they're not Christians, but they still love Jesus.”

So, let’s recap. Jesus is awesome. Muslims are awesome for thinking that Jesus is awesome. But Christians? Not so awesome.

When people tell me they can’t stand Christianity, they are usually describing a Church that bears very little resemblance to the open-minded church I serve. They describe judgmental hypocrites who hate people of other faiths and are only after your money. They attribute all the world’s problems to the Church, from sexism to sexual abuse to warfare.

In very few arenas would we tolerate a similar discussion about another group of people. And yet open-minded people listen to such meandering musings with a sympathetic ear, as if they are hearing something wise, brave or original. When in reality, they are hearing something uninformed and insulting.

No one group of people can carry the blame for all the worst that pervades society. We call that stereotyping. I am not apologizing for a church I am not a member of.

Unfortunately, when it comes to all those horrors, the one common denominator is not organized religion, but a more frightening answer: people. It is the presence and participation of human beings. If we could just kick all the people out, we might actually be able to do this Christian community thing.

In a culture of narcissism, the easiest way to follow Jesus is from a distance on a solo stroll to the beat of the same drummer you have listened to your whole life: your own personal preferences and already held beliefs. From a distance, you are safe from the assault of community.

People will explain to me that without the Church, they are traveling light, without all that Christian baggage. But what exactly is this baggage? It’s people—who might actually be some of the best road companions there are.

Certainly, Marcus Mumford got one thing right—the Church is something you enter at your own risk.

Because you might actually bump into humanity there. You might hit up against something you disagree with. You might have to listen to music you don’t like. You might get asked to share your stuff. You might learn from a tradition far older than you, and realize how small you are standing before such a legacy. You might even be asked to worship something other than yourself.


Alessandro McHiggins


Alessandro McHiggins commented…

Wouldn't it be interesting to see what the Bible has to say about the issues raised here?

Joseph Craig Steel


Joseph Craig Steel replied to Alessandro McHiggins's comment

That's easy... Not once did any of the writers of new testament scripture use the term to greet fellow believers.

A.J. Van Loo


A.J. Van Loo commented…

I really didn't like the writers view. He did just what he was claiming to not like...lump everyone who doesn't agree with something into this one type of person (narcissist) and tell them their opinion is bogus because the church he goes to is not like what others have been to. Close minded. All he's doing is shifting the blame. I don't go to church because I have been to close to 50 churches in my life (all Christian) and it's the people I don't like. The churches that appear to be fun and hip are in my experience full of fake types of people. Money, Gossip, Cliques, Judgmental, are just a few things I found most common. People are flawed and I get that, but it still doesn't justify the actions of adults acting like children in high school. The author claims he is a pastor and maybe from his birds eye view he doesn't see what it's actually like in his church. SOME (most) pastors I've seen actually operate the church as a corporate entity which is really frustrating. Instead of dealing with the drama and tithing into a place of worship, I will have my own relationship with God without all of the drama clouding my vision. I will tithe to the poor directly instead of funding the churches purchase of a Foosball table. I realize I am also targeting one type of church, but to be honest most share these common traits in some form or another.

Matthew 6:6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

justin bang


justin bang replied to A.J. Van Loo's comment

first of all, i'd like to apologize for your past experiences with your church. but i do, however, encourage you to keep searching for a good church out there.

if you read 1 corinthians 12:12-26, it talks about the body of Christ (the church). though paul was addressing the Corinthians in his letter, i think that his message is very applicable to us today because God is calling us to join the community of Christ-followers and not just stay alone in our faith.

the church is also the bride of christ. Ephesians 5:25-32 talks about how husbands should love their wives in the same way that Christ loved HIS bride, which is the church. sure, Matthew 6:6 tells us to talk to the Lord in private, but this is something that all Christians should already be doing. and i believe that this passage is not talking about staying away from the Church, but rather on how we should be praying to God. they are two different topics (church and prayer). you can be attending a church but when you pray, you should try to seek solitude and keep this scripture in mind. this was something that Jesus did.

there are many other passages that speak about the importance of a church and i hope that you would try to explore more churches out there that will help you in your walk with God. i do agree with you, for there are many churches out there that are run like business (and that is wrong) and some churches are just not solid and have bad leadership, etc. but please keep searching! i will be praying for you.

here are some other passages:

Joseph Craig Steel


Joseph Craig Steel replied to justin bang's comment

The fact is, what is referred to as "church" in Christianity is not the body of Christ.

What you've attempted to do in your article is hijack the term.

Philip Hannam


Philip Hannam commented…

I can save folk a whole lot of life energy and consternation if you are capable of paradox. God is Spirit--a Breath.

Religion seeks to place this in reason, a social structure, and ritual. This is not the life of God.

AND, the life of God does NOT become "real" in the "humans-in-space-time-Earthly" reality without it taking on trappings.

The trappings are not God. And God is Not in this world without trappings.

The creation is not the Creator. The Creator is distinct from the creation. But the Creator is not Creator without creating.

Faith or works.

God or humanity.

Creation or creator.

Wine or wineskins.

Eternal life or This Earthen Vessel

Love God or love neighbor.

Marcus Mumford is not the first person on the planet to bump into this problem.

Disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration wanted to do what?? Capture the transcendent experience into a form.

Every time we toss out forms (because we think we have made a new discovery that the form of God is not God)--we create new ones.

The moment I reject a religious construct--and reflect on what I have done--I start applying human language to my action. Language is but a form--a rough attempt to capture God within a symbol of our creation.

A fundamental characteristic of those who wish to give spiritual leadership ought be to arrive at a contentment and clarity about this paradox.

Those who think they have arrived at some high point of integrity by tossing out forms are mistaken. They are as focused on the forms as idolaters--and they are most prone to creating new idolatries (because they view their choices as revolutionary and superior). They become what they oppose.

Maturity has to do with distinguishing that the "form of God" is not God. And yet we are to be "formed" into God's shape. We are to be informed. We are to be transformed. We are to be reformed. We are to take form--and not hold onto that form as life/God itself.

Joseph Craig Steel


Joseph Craig Steel replied to Philip Hannam's comment

"Those who think they have arrived at some high point of integrity by tossing out forms are mistaken."

What a general statement.

How about those who don't think they've arrived at anything, but simply experiencing the freedom of having shackles removed.

Nick Becker


Nick Becker commented…

I agree hatred and Christianity should not be in the same sentence. I do not see a problem however with a Pastor who wants to "pack a pistol" under the law, and who wants to burn a Koran. I really don't see the hate in that statement, but more the love. A book that sure, you know has some good peace qualities to it but it is a book filled with sheer deception. A book that tears down Jesus Christ and makes Him a mere man and just another prophet rather than the Son of God whom He Truly is ... the God-Man Jesus Christ. If it was just a man who died for me that day on the cross 2,000 years ago then I can just go with the Muslims and say, "Jesus is awesome," yet completely deny the purpose of His coming. To set me free from sin, to save me from the fiery, fearful pits of hell and to bring me into His eternal kingdom.
I don't think that conservative Christians out there "hate" the Muslim people. No, we hate the things Jesus Christ hates and that is false prophets and lies. God does love everyone equally and there are people who are caught up in a deceiving religion. I will never accept the Koran as some different word of God, when I have all I need in the Holy Bible ... an Integrated Message System from outside of time and space.
Liberalism and Christianity do not match up. Paul, Peter, Jude, and Jesus Himself warned of false prophets who were to come. We can see them by there fruit. When the main prophet of a religion acquires divine revelations that enable him to have 16+ wives, one of them being a pubescent 9 year old girl, a prophet who receives divine revelations to kill innocent people who truthfully stood up in favor of justice ... these are things I hate ... things that are led by demonic forces. You can't tell me that Mohammad was motivated by God if you are a believer in the Bible and a believer in the eternal Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Don't consider the paragraph above as "hatred" because that is not hatred. People need to be able to understand the Truth about where these religions and cults are coming from ... they did not come from God. And in no way am I "hating" on Muslims for making statements like these. Just like there are watered down, liberalized Christians living in today's society like Mumford and sons guy ... there are liberalized, watered-down Muslims living in America. People who do not live by the truth of their main prophet, who killed thousands of people in his quest to spread his false religion. The people in Egypt, the people who took down the two towers, the people who continue to "fight in the name of Allah" are those who follow their faith whole-heartedly. For example there are Christians who may not believe that Noah lived to be 900+ years old, but I believe that whole-heartedly, just like the terrorist Muslims believe in the fullness of their prophet.
So just like the "fundamentalist" Muslims take a stand for believing in their faith 100%, so do I take a stand and believe in Jesus Christ 100%. I wasn't given a Spirit of timidness, but a Spirit to be bold. I may get a lot of trash for making this comment, but so be it because people need to understand the truth of the religion of Islam. It is NOT a religion of peace as much as they want to tell you that it is.
The Bible and Koran are complete opposites, and someone needs to take a stand against false prophets and tell people the Truth of who Jesus Christ truly is ... God incarnate in the flesh and what He came to do for each and every single one of us on the planet earth... give us Eternal life, whether they be gay, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever they may be. Like I said God loves us equally and each person should be given a chance to hear the true gospel ... not some watered down one.

Steve Cornell


Steve Cornell commented…

God’s plan is to use the shared lives of those who have experienced His love as plausibility cases for the truthfulness of the good news of salvation. God has chosen to make a case for or to validate the truth of the gospel through His people.

When this truth sinks in, it should bring us to our knees to ask for grace. "It is our task not just to tell but to live out the story—the model of God’s self-giving love in Christ must be the basis for our self-understanding, our life, and our vocation.”

“If the Biblical story is told truly, it will subvert the alternative stories. But to tell it truly, you have to be living it” (N. T. Wright).

We must learn to “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

When Churches are filled with people who honor and show deference to one another through humble service (foot-washing love) and mutual care, they offer a positive subversion to the deceptive and harmful narratives of life without God.

When we live the gospel by practicing the mind of Christ in community (see: Philippians 2:3-8), we authenticate the message of the gospel.

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