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.


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.


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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.


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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.


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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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Josh Pritchard


Josh Pritchard commented…

"I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree together, to end your divisions, and to be united by the same mind and purpose. For members of Chloe’s household have made it clear to me, my brothers and sisters, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each of you is saying, “I am with Paul,” or “I am with Apollos,” or “I am with Cephas,” or “I am with Christ.” Is Christ divided?"

I think it's instructive the Paul included a rebuke to people who claim that they follow Christ in the context of comparison to other lines of leadership. I don't like watching people proudly throw off the encumbrances of the local church in favor of the freedom of "Christ Alone." In actuality that kind of thinking can be just as divisive as anything else. People really need to examine their motives. Following Christ isn't some magic phrase capable of white-washing an individual's attempt to avoid a messy local church situation they're tired of. If you're called to love your neighbor, that includes the Christians in your life you can't stand and wish you never had to be around.


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Chris Jamison


Chris Jamison commented…

After a time away from the church, my plan was to leave Christianity and become a Buddhist. Mostly because my sense of the Church was similar to Marcus Mumford's, in that the Church is filled with wisdom and a deep and impactful message to love life and others as God loves us.

However there is a disconnect between the Church Christ imagined and tried to begin and the Church that exists today. Also, in mainstream culture, Christians are viewed as being unwelcoming, at sometimes intellectually dishonest, and judgmental of lifestyles and expressions of sexuality that are not condoned by the Bible and battling people to accept that sometimes Christians have faults of their faith.

But after doing some more reading, specifically the book "Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers", I decided to return to Christianity as my source of faith. In the book, the author, Thich Nhat Hanh, mentions his experiences of listening to men and women who change religions or lose touch with the source of spirituality of their youth who are unable to find contentment or the relationship with their new religion which they once had with their previous source of faith.

Changing religions wouldn't have given the opportunity to accept the truth about wanting to leave the Church deals more with a desire to escape my angst about the Church and the decayed state of the relationship between myself and God.

Once I accepted that the angst felt towards God and my issues with the Church could be a place to begin to add a sense of authenticity to my own relationship with God and the Church and perhaps involve myself with a ministry, such as attending to men and women who are homeless or people whom are working to connect to God while wrestling with doubts.


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