Q & R: Was Peter a Christian?

A reader asks …

I’m sure you get a ton of emails from “people like me”…and I don’t pretend to even know as much as anyone else concerning the things of God. I’ve read a lot of what you have to say concerning 21st Century Christianity and you have raised a lot of valid points on some of the things that are wrong with how Christians are living (or rather not living) out their faith. It’s very easy to sit back and blast away without offering any ideas on how to make things better (as most people do). But at least you put forth some suggestions to improve things.
I suppose my question is…..how did you arrive at the conclusions your solutions are based on?

As you know, I was a pastor for 24 years. As a pastor, I was preaching and teaching from the Bible several times a week. I increasingly felt that what the Bible itself was saying wasn’t sufficiently in synch with what we (meaning people from my background) were saying the Bible said. So my questions and proposals are rooted in the Bible as a whole, and especially in the four Gospels …

I guess it can be boiled to Peter calling for the people to repent of their sins in the book of Acts. How do you interpret that other than a literal turning from sin and putting your faith in Christ? Or I guess the real question is….what did PETER believe that meant?

Of course when Peter says “repent of your sins,” I think he meant “repent of your sins.” And when he calls people to trust and follow Christ, he means … trust and follow Christ. The question is why, and what is the narrative into which these statements come … I think rather than go into a lengthy answer here, I should recommend you read at least the first half of my most recent book – A New Kind of Christianity. You may not agree with it, but at least you’ll have a clear sense of what I see.

Was Peter a “Christian” based on your new Orthodoxy? If Peter was a Christian and it doesn’t jive with what the Emerging movement is saying…can they claim the “Christian” moniker anymore?

First, I have no idea where you’ve gotten your information on “the Emerging movement.” In my experience, folks involved in the emergent/emerging conversation are seeking to say and do what the early disciples – including Peter – said and did, translated of course into our context. When you ask if Peter was a Christian – in one sense, the answer was that first and foremost he was a Jewish disciple of Jesus. He was also known as a Christian. But if you want to ask, “Was Peter a Christian as defined by American fundamentalists today” – or “Was Peter a Christian as defined by Constantine or Theodosius?” or “Was Peter a Christian as defined by the Inquisitors in the Spanish Inquisition?” – then you’re asking something very different.
As Baptist theologian David Gushee recently said, there is, in one sense, no such thing as “Christianity” – there are many competing Christianities. Peter would have been more at home in some of those Christianities, I imagine, than others … as would Jesus.

I really am curious to hear your view on this as I believe it is the very essence of Christianity as the Bible accurately portrays it. Thank you for your time in reading this. If you can’t respond I totally understand as I know you are very busy.

Thanks for your sensitivity to my schedule … I believe you when you say that you have read some of my work, but I think if you read A Generous Orthodoxy, Secret Message of Jesus, Everything Must Change, or A New Kind of Christianity, I think you’ll see that I am no less passionate than you are about living “the essence of Christianity as the Bible accurately portrays it.”
One more thought on the issue you seem especially concerned about – repenting of sin: remember that the churches who often preached most loudly about sin over the last century were focused almost exclusively on “personal” sins, and especially sexual ones – lying, lust, divorce, adultery, fornication, and so on. They were often the last churches to have anything to say against social sins like racism, carelessness towards the poor, or greed that harms the environment. What we need moving forward is an integrated understanding of sin – that sees both personal and social sin as destructive, and that calls people to repent of both. And as I say in Everything Must Change – repent means more than being sorry. It means being different.