What’s in a Word? (I’m a Bible Believing Christian)

Lately I have noticed a problem with words particularly within Christianity. People don’t seem to understand the nuances of multifaceted words.  For instance the words Evangelical and Catholic. I have noticed people criticising things because “I thought that was Catholic”. But what do they mean by this? Do they mean they think what is happening is from the Roman Catholic church, is it because it related to Catholic thought, is it part of Catholic ritual, or, perhaps they mean that it is part of Catholic spirituality. You can find two different people who call themselves Catholic, and hold fervently to that view who mean very different things by it and so to simply say that something is Catholic as a criticism cannot make sense, the nuance isn’t there to explain what the person means.

The word Evangelical is similar, people use it to mean many different things. And I have noticed that this, or, “I’m a Bible believing Christian” is added to arguments as if to add gravity to a point of view and secondly as if to suggest that any one who does not agree with that statement therefore isn’t a Bible believing Christian or is not evangelical. Like people who define themselves as Catholic you will find a wide variety of views within Evangelicals, it is not a word that allows you to make automatic assumptions about a group of people based on this description.

I have said for a long time that I do not hold the views that I hold in spite of the Bible (as some would suggest) but because of it. My understanding of it is just different. Some people’s understanding of taking the Bible seriously is to take the English translation of their choice literally. My understanding of taking the Bible seriously is to understand who is saying what and to whom, the cultural context that they are speaking within, the language that they are using and the nuanced meanings of the idioms, my version of taking the Bible seriously is one of study and then of application.

I had thought of using the terms “differently orthodox” or “differently Evangelical”.  But ultimately I am a Bible believing Christian and, as such, can claim the title Evangelical.

I may just start prefixing any arguments that I make with “as a Bible believing Christian” or as “an Evangelical”, or perhaps I will just let my arguments stand or fall on their own rather then trying to support it with such titles. And please realise that when you see words such a Catholic or Evangelical that you cannot automatically assume to know what that group is like or what they believe, there is probably more deviation within these groups then there is between them.

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2 responses to “What’s in a Word? (I’m a Bible Believing Christian)”

  1. Ben Griffter says :

    Interesting stuff James.

    Evangelical is a seriously slippery word. It can mean anything from someone who believes that Scripture needs no interpretation and ‘just says what it says’ to those who see it as having multiple ‘good’ interpretations as part of human beings inherent plurality as meaning makers… and everything in between. My BA dissertation is looking at philosophical hermeneutics for (broadly) evangelical, i.e. Bible believing, Christians. It is an absolute minefield but very interesting.

    Catholic is another slippery word. As an Anglican I belong to ‘one holy catholic and apostolic church’. This is because ‘catholic’, in this sense, indicates that Jesus is the saviour of all. Catholic here means ‘whole’ or ‘all encompassing’ as in church is for everyone. The Roman Catholic church, however, would say that it is the one true church… a church for everyone as long as it is their version of it. This is why it has become, in many ways, another theologically ambiguous word.

    Therefore, I would say that I am a catholic evangelical Christian, although I would probably want to add a bunch of other words to clarify that. I quite like orthodox, although that also has several connotations, I sometimes refer to myself as ‘open’ evangelical. However, whatever categories you give people they will always have a different view of what Christianity means in their head as that is the nature of it.

    • James says :

      I would also say that I am a catholic, evangelical Christian. But I then I think I would also say post-catholic and post-evangelical. I am progressive and yet lying down roots in tradition. Interested in the monastic and the emergent. There are so many words that I feel the need to add to help to try and clarify what I mean and yet I feel I could write a dissertation on it and people would still not understand exactly what I mean. I now point out on Facebook that I may not mean what the person reading it means by the words that I use to describe my faith. It seems to be the only way around it. And yet in many ways it doesn’t, or shouldn’t, really matter anyway.

      Your dissertation does sound interesting!

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