The Problem with Labels | Sojourners

The Problem with Labels

Natalia Sheinkin/
Natalia Sheinkin/

Christianity is full of labels.

Does caring about the environment make me a Liberal Christian?

Does opposing to the death penalty make me a Leftist Christian?

Does believing that women can preach make me a Christian Feminist?

Does believing in anti-violence make me a Christian Pacifist?

Does taking an anti-war stance make me an Anabaptist Christian?

Does believing in church discipline and accountability make me a Christian Fundamentalist?

Does believing in Spiritual Gifts make me a Charismatic Christian?

Does liking Rob Bell make me a Universalist Christian?

Does following Donald Miller make me an Emergent Christian?

Does respecting Greg Boyd make me an Open Theist Christian?

Does attending John Piper’s Desiring God Conferences make me a Calvinist Christian?

Does reading Mark Driscoll make me an Complementarian* Christian?

Does believing in free will make me an Arminian Christian?

Does questioning some church traditions make me a Progressive Christian?

Does upholding some long-held customs make me a Traditional Christian?

Does being pro-life make me a Conservative Christian?

Does attending a mainstream church in America mean I’m an Evangelical Christian?

Does following the cultural trends mean I’m a Millennial Christian?

Does theological uncertainty mean I’m a Postmodern Christian?

Does podcasting church services mean I’m a Modern Christian?

Finding a spiritual identity can be hard within a culture that is constantly full of shifting morals and values.

It’s easy to classify people, communities, institutions, organizations, and ideas into systems and label them accordingly. But Christianity and the people who embody it are extremely complex.

We can judge based on our likes and dislikes, but opinions are constantly changing, being influenced by new information, experiences, and relationships, and are almost never static — so associating others as unchanging and immovable spiritual entities is a huge mistake.

I can identify with many of the listed qualifiers above within any given day — within any given hour.

Context impacts our theology and beliefs. But we’re often guilty of nit-picking someone’s particular theology based on an exact time and place, associating their beliefs with that concise moment, and then holistically applying it to every other aspect of their life.

But faith and spirituality is never that simple. This is why respectful dialogue, patience, forgiveness, humility, and grace are so important. Because even if we disagree with others on an issue, there’s so much more that we’re missing — that we’re not seeing.

This is probably why God is so adamant that we don’t judge others. We’re extremely limited in our vision. Contrarily, God does passionately command us to love others — so much so that God would like us to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves!

The love of God can sometimes seem absurd and irrational — much like the very people receiving it.

In the end, it’s hard to define ourselves (and others) with immovable and permanent labels, and the wisest thing we can do is simply try our best to emulate the life of Jesus — unfortunately, it’s easier said than done.

Stephen Mattson blogs at He's contributed for Relevant Magazine,, and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at the University of Northwestern – St. PaulMinn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Illustration: Natalia Sheinkin/

*An earlier version of this piece mistakenly used the term Egalitarian.