Brian McLaren fielded a question from a writer who came from a Christian background but was uncomfortable identifying as a Christian. In response, McLaren offered his reasons for bearing the name “Christian.”
1. To distance myself from my fellow human beings in the Christian religion doesn’t seem like a Christ-like thing to do. Jesus drew near to all in solidarity, including those of his own religious heritage from whom he differed in many ways, so I should do so too.
2. I choose to identify as a Christian as a way of expressing solidarity with others, whatever their religion. In other words, I open my heart to all people as a Christian, not apart from Christianity, and not in spite of being a Christian. I would hope that my Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, and other neighbors could do the same. If one has to leave a religion to express solidarity with others, that’s sad and not good for anyone, so I hope to practice a better way.
3. Christianity is my heritage, and I don’t want to deny or cover that up. I think of what the Dalai Lama told a Muslim friend of mine who told him he wanted to become a Buddhist. “Why?” the Buddhist teacher asked. “Because Buddhism is the religion of compassion,” my friend answered. “Don’t become a Buddhist,” the Dalai Lama said. “The world needs more Muslims who practice compassion, so be what you are in a more compassionate way.”
His response got me thinking about the place of baptism in our identity. To be baptized is to be claimed by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and to be named by God. So, for me the reason you use the word “Christian” to describe yourself is because you were baptized.
Someone reading that last paragraph might wonder whether I’m arguing that there is a such thing as a non-baptized Christian. Provisionally, I would say that being a Christian does entail being baptized, but I’m not trying to pick an argument on that point. The Bible sets down no naming convention or rules of use for the name. I simply offer my answer to the question of why a person should use the name, especially if they feel some alienation from Christians and Christianity as they exist in the flesh.
“Were you baptized?’
“Well, then, whatever you call yourself, you belong to Christ.”