- Jeff Gentry
A dear friend who we’re proud to support in Christian ministry and whom I in no way intent to personally critique in this post included the following quote in his last email update:
“Believers read the Bible, unbelievers read Christians.” -Preacher at Large Christian Church
Upon first reading I loved this quote so much that I almost tweeted it. As a Christian I have been deeply shaped by the Judeo-Christian scriptures and desperately long to incarnate the beauty, truth, and goodness of the God I encounter there in the midst of an often broken world.
But that word “unbelievers” gave me pause. I’ve heard people who do not follow Christ characterized by this word a million times by Christians, preachers, and theologians. However, until now I haven’t thought about how presumptuous and arrogant the word unbeliever actually sounds.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who could correctly be characterized as an “unbeliever.” I’ve met many who believe in things I do not – such as their ability to channel angels for prophetic purposes, that the Palestinians are an “invented” people group, that human rationality utterly devastates and demythologizes the Christianity, or I’m destined to inherit a tidy planet in the 9th nebula of the Ing Galaxy – but that does not mean that they are unbelievers.
This might be too obvious to type, but other people are not defined by my beliefs. I am. The community that I’m blessed to be a part of is.
Moreover, although many people I love and am privileged to serve beside do not share my core belief in the Trinity, they do believe in the possibility of justice, the transformative power of generosity, capacity of words to provoke, evoke, and invoke,* the unquestionable National League superiority of the St. Louis Cardinals, and so many other things.
These folks are not unbelievers, they are my friends, they are my family, they are those who share parts of my mission, they are my teachers, they are lovers, they are loved.
Would I like for everyone I love to be transformed by the beauty, truth, and goodness of God and share my hope in a Christ who ultimately will make all things new? Of course I would. But I will not disregard their beliefs because they do not completely align with mine and I will not compel them to respond to a call they might choose to ignore.
I read scripture and I long to be shaped by it (except for the genocidal parts and other provisions we can discuss in detail later). I hope that when my friends who don’t believe in Jesus read me, they don’t find that I’ve defined them in opposition to my life or am anything less than grateful for the opportunities we share to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly – with or without God – beside one another.
So that’s my visceral response to the word “unbeliever.” Curious to hear yours.
* To crib the lovely and amazing Courtney Bell.
Jeff Gentry is Christian, father, pastor, and provocateur who lives in Beverly, Massachusetts. During the week Jeff serves as the Community Relations Director for Triangle, an organization that provides infinite possibilities for people with disabilities. Jeff also serves on the U.S. Board of Directors for Kupenda, a Christian organization that provides educational access, advocacy, and access to medical care for youth with disabilities in western Kenya. In recent years Jeff has served as a homechurch pastor and an associate pastor at The Gathering in Salem. He currently worships with his family at Christ Church of Hamilton Wenham and serves as a facilitator for the Greater Boston Emergent Cohort. A fourth generation St. Louis Cardinals fan, Jeff lives in fear that his children will root for the Boston Red Sox. Jeff and a couple of conspirators infrequently blog at The Inconsistent Adopted. You can follow him on twitter @jeffgentry13.