Dear friends, here is someone I want you to meet!
Brian D. Smith recently contacted me to say that my Seek Reality podcast introducing Liberating Jesus had inspired him to “finally let go of the label ‘Christian,’” and to write this post on the blog that he began earlier this year following the transition of his lovely 15-year-old daughter, Shayna. Brian grew up as a fundamentalist Pentecostal. His grandfather was a prominent pastor, so he says that “it’s been a difficult journey of giving up a lot of family tradition.” What he writes here parallels my own journey, although Brian’s escape from Pentecostal Christianity has been an especially harrowing experience. And the loss of his breathtakingly beautiful daughter, pictured below, was more than anyone should have to bear. You can get to know Brian at his blog and at his business. This is the most moving spiritual testimony that I have ever read. Thank you, Brian! Your generosity in sharing these intimate thoughts with us is such a precious gift.
Guest Post by Brian D. Smith
After 50 years it’s time to stop calling myself a Christian. I’m 54 years old and I’ve been wrestling with Christianity from the very beginning; literally for as long as I can remember. The notion that God created me as a flawed being and wanted to destroy me for being the way He created me kept me awake crying in my bed many nights. Why did He hate me so much? The idea that in order to save me, God had to murder Jesus bothered me. I felt bad for poor Jesus. Sorry, you have to die because I’m so bad. The idea that God still didn’t really like me, He just couldn’t see my sins since they were covered over in Jesus’ blood, made me feel dirty and unlovable. I envisioned myself tiny standing before the throne of God, Him sitting way up high looking down on me. Here I am dripping in the blood of Jesus as God reluctantly grants me entry into His Kingdom. The idea that we are saved by “faith” alone boggled my mind. Why is faith, especially faith in the impossible to believe otherwise, so darned important? It wasn’t until many years later that Marcus Borg would explain to me that faith wasn’t believing in the impossible, faith was a deep abiding trust. But, how could I trust a god who was a monster? It never really added up for me.
I’ve always believed in God. I still do. I’ve always loved Jesus. I still do. I just don’t believe in the religion of Paul any more. I even still like Paul. Paul wrote a lot of good stuff. Paul tried to take the teachings of Jesus, which were meant to be radical and blow the lid off of religion, and stuff them in the trappings of Judaism. Paul created Judaism 2.0. He did a pretty good job, but as the Master said: “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” (MK 2:21-22) Paul went against Jesus’s own words when he tried to take the teachings of Jesus and put them into the wineskins of Judaism. Jesus didn’t come to revamp Judaism or to start Christianity. He came to free us from all of that. He came to show us the direct way to the Kingdom, not through religion but through right thinking and right action. Paul’s efforts helped preserve the teachings of Jesus. For that we should thank Paul.
However, for me, as I’ve been outgrowing the Sunday school teachings of my youth, I’ve been trying to put the new wine I’ve been producing into the old wineskins of modern Christianity and the bags keep bursting.
I need to thank Marcus Borg, Daniel Helminiak, Thomas Talbott and many others for helping me to make the transition from Christianity to spirituality a relatively smooth one. I had many crises of faith along the way. And some of them were pretty scary. I can recall many steps along the way when my mind was blown. I remember when I gave up on the idea of a young Earth and a 6-day creation. I remember the very moment sitting on my deck in Lexington, KY about 25 years ago. I recall looking up from the book I was reading about this and seeing the entire universe in a new light and God as being bigger and more powerful that I had ever imagined. Creating the Earth in six days was pretty impressive, but creating the universe over billions of years. That’s a whole different perspective. I remember when I gave up on the idea of penal substitutionary atonement (the idea that God needed blood and took Jesus’ blood instead of ours). Wow, did that give me relief. God wasn’t such a bloodthirsty monster after all. Giving up on those things freed me from so many mental gymnastics. However, holding onto the label Christian kept me doing all kinds of others. I studied so many theories of atonement trying to figure out which one made sense. Well, no more. There was no need for atonement, except our own need because we felt distant from God. God never moved away from us.
As I told my wife about my revelation, a couple of days ago she asked me why labels are important anyway. I know a lot of people reject labels, but labels are useful and necessary. Labels should never define us. Labels shouldn’t tell us who we should be. But, labels are useful for describing us. For years though when I would say “Christian” people would get this image of me and I’d end up explaining that 60-90% of those things they thought didn’t apply to the type of Christian I am. I hate the phrases “I’m not a Christian, I’m a follower of Jesus” and “I don’t have a religion, I have a relationship.” They’ve been played out to the point of being trite. I don’t know what I’ll call myself or how I’ll describe myself. Right now there isn’t a label that fits. We’ll see. But, I can’t keep up the futile effort of putting new wine into old wineskins.