Q & R: A 13-year-old suffering from CRIS*

*conflicted religious identity syndrome
Here’s the Q:

My name is nnnn and I am 13 years old. We met if you recall, [on your book tour] several months ago. I just finished “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddah, and Mohhamed Cross the road”. I thought it was fantastic, and I found it super relatable. In fact I didn’t do anything productive at school for 2 days because my nose was stuck in your book. Wow, It’s probably my favorite book of yours and my second favorite overall…
I myself am suffering Christian Identity Crisis. I belong to a group of Christians called FCA (fellowship of Christian Athletes) it is a strong evangelical organization, however I feel so good to be a part of a community of faith outside of church. I have found in recent weeks that the topic seems to drift on how I it is the duty of members to “spread the message”. I feel that these kids have a hostile view on our Islamic and Jewish brothers and sisters. When in conversation I simply say, I don’t see it that way, and move on.
But is that being weak and benign? I am losing my Identity as a Christian, I feel. I am not strong and hostile at all. Does belonging to an organization make me strong and hostile? I also don’t want to not saying something, or just say that ” As long as we have God in our hearts” because then I lose what I believe in. I believe in peace, love, friendship.I have a very close Muslim friend and I truly enjoy sharing multi faith conversations with her, In fact I feel more comfortable talking to someone of a different faith, than evangelical Christians. My point is that I really appreciate having a book that deals with some of these issues. While I support the core values of FCA I think that I will ultimately leave it. I struggle with this I have made many friends. However I believe in the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus is not hate it is love. When you mentioned your friendship with the mosque leader shortly after the 9/11 attacks I cried. That is what true Christianity is like. I hope in 20 years it will ultimately be the reality of all.
Thank you so very much for the gift of this book. I understand if you can not reply, however know that your book changed my life. I truly mean it. Words cannot express my gratitude for the literature that you write. Thank You,

Here’s the R:
Thanks so much for your note. I think it’s my favorite question of 2012. If you’re asking important questions like this at 13, I can imagine you’ll be changing the world at 23!
Bottom line: I hope you can stay in FCA – both for your sake (because it is important and good to have fellowship) and for the benefit of the group – because you obviously have a lot of leadership gifts and a lot to offer the group.
The key will be how much freedom you will have to define concepts of “spread the message” and “evangelism.”
I checked FCA’s website and doctrinal statement. It’s pretty typical for a conservative Evangelical organization. It includes this:

We believe in the deity of Christ (John 1:1), in His virgin birth (Matthew 1:18, 25), in His sinless life (Hebrews 4:15), in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood (Hebrews 9:15-22), in His bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), in His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Acts 1:9-11) and in His personal return in power and glory (Hebrews 9:27-28).
We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful men (women), regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. (John 3:16; John 5:24; Titus 3:3-7)
…We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost, they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. (Matthew 25:31-46; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Since you’ve read the book, you know that I wouldn’t summarize my key beliefs like this, but I would do all I could to be a productive member of the group if they allowed me to, differing graciously when necessary. In other words, I would want to be strong and benevolent toward FCA too!
If asked, I would understand explain that I agree with the verses they quote in parentheses, but don’t necessarily agree with what they use those verses to say. I would explain that words like “vicarious and atoning sacrifice,” salvation, condemnation, regeneration, saved, and lost all have a history and are based on assumptions that deserve to be scrutinized. If the leaders were to say that those questions can’t be asked in their group and they’d rather I leave if I need to raise those questions, then I’d move on but seek to maintain my friendships with members. I would hope, though, that FCA would be glad to have a bright young Christian like you on their team who takes your faith seriously and wants to think, grapple, and engage.
I actually think you could be one of the most effective members of FCA at “spreading the message” without hostility and without all the questionable assumptions of their doctrinal statement. Of course – when I say “spreading the message,” I don’t mean “convert to Christianity or you’re going to hell!” I mean what you said:

…I believe in the message of Jesus. The message of Jesus is not hate it is love. When you mentioned your friendship with the mosque leader shortly after the 9/11 attacks I cried. That is what true Christianity is like. I hope in 20 years it will ultimately be the reality of all.

If that understanding of the message of Jesus does become a reality for more people, it will be because people like you and me spread the message. Spreading good news is the truest kind of evangelism. So … you can try, by your example and by your words, to spread that message to everyone. You can model being a strong-benevolent Christian whose faith is even more deeply rooted in the biblical message than the FCA doctrinal statement. As Paul said to Timothy, in your “speech, behavior, love, faith and purity,” you can be an example to the believers in FCA, and an example of what a new kind of Christian is to people outside FCA.
You’re in my prayers today – and I hope we’ll get to meet again in person before too long. Thanks again for writing!