What’s A Christian Outlier?
As you may have noticed, the title of this webpage has changed again. Just a few days ago it was “Outside the Camp,” and a few days before that it was “Me and My Thoughts.” Obviously, something has prompted me to change the title and even my own unofficial description as a Christian living in a time of variety and variations. This post will explain that. It will also, hopefully, explain what a Christian Outlier is and what makes it different from other expressions of Christian faith.
First, the title. I backed off from “Outside the Camp” simply because it was redundant: the phrase is taken from Heb 13.13, which appears directly below the title. It seemed banal and insipid. You know what I mean: vapid. [For those of you who need to read more – and better – books, those words can serve as your vocabulary list for the day.]
But on top of that, being outside the camp would make me an outsider to the Christian faith – which I am not. (For years I somewhat sarcastically and derisively told people I was a free agent when they would ask me where I attended church. It would get a bemused smile but didn’t communicate a whole lot.) Besides, I’m definitely not outside the faith, although I am definitely outside the church.
Over the past month or so I had taken to referring to myself as a “Done.” This came as a result of reading Church Refugees . . . Why People Are DONE With Church But Not Their Faith by Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. As sociologists, they called such people DONES and looked for reasons why such a significant number of people have walked away from church. Not just any people but people who had been very active, held church offices, and sought to minister through the church. That sounded like me so I decided to be a DONE.
In spite of the term DONES also being banal, insipid, and vapid (see above), I began to visit websites that were produced by these so-called DONES. I read articles and commented on a few but eventually sensed that something was missing: the term or appellation “Christian” was used prolifically but the name of Jesus was pretty much absent (it may be in there somewhere but I didn’t see it). The people at the sites called themselves Christian – for the most part – but some talked of having “lost their faith.” Almost everybody else said they wanted to know God through community:
[T]hey emphasized community from a distinctly religious perspective, explaining that they understand Christianity through interactions with others and a commitment to share life fully and honestly with a group of people. Community was fundamental to their understanding of God. They understood community as a manifestation and extension of their understanding of the divine . . .
Again, the dechurched value relationships and community above everything. These are the primary ways they encounter God and understand their own spirituality, develop a deeper understanding of their own faith, and put their beliefs into action. In short, they see their human relationships as an extension of their relationship with the divine. Their relationships are sacred to them—not because they replace God, but because it is in relationships that they find God. – Church Refugees
That struck me as being too much or too little of something. The book describes one person’s experience as “an example of how our understanding of God is informed by our experiences. When our experiences change, our understandings change. Sociologists call this a phenomenological approach to understanding the world.” But is that the same thing as understanding God? I don’t think so.
So I was no longer a DONE. That put me back to where I was: a Christian in search of description. Finally, the word “outlier” caught my eye – I’m pretty sure it was in a book I was reading about Tolkien – and I looked it up. According to dictionary.com, an outlier is:
That sounds a lot like me – except, maybe, for the cow thing – but especially the last part: quarried, removed, left unused. The Savior dug me out of the pit in which He found me – not a miry pit but a stone pit – and removed me from it. But the church . . . well, things haven’t worked out as I had hoped or imagined. The responsibility for being “left unused” by the church is shared: it was them and it was me. I haven’t been left unused by God by a long shot, at least if my clients are to be believed. But most of what I’ve accomplished as a Christian has been outside the camp of organized religion.
Since becoming a Christian a little over 40 years ago, I’ve been in pursuit of God. Sometimes I’ve had more passion and energy than at other times and sometimes it may have appeared that progress had stalled or even been lost, but the overall direction has been and continues to be toward Christ. Seeking and knowing God are at the core of Christian discipleship and sanctification, the goal of each being conformation into the image of Jesus Christ. But the organized church has not been much of a factor in my journey.
Even though “Christian Outlier” is a group of exactly one member (at this point), I know there are a lot of others out there. We’re serious about our faith and committed to living it out in love but we don’t seem to fit into the typical Evangelical church categories and subcategories of “tolerated believers of variant views.”
Which makes me a Christian Outlier. One of a kind, just like all the rest.