02/27/2012 03:08 pm ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

The Heresy of Religion

What does the President of Iran, the leaders of Hamas and the Bin Laden family have in common? They love to speak about Jesus! I know this personally.

I grew up in a tradition of Christianity loosely defined as "evangelical," generally defined as someone who believes the Bible is true, God has revealed himself most fully through Jesus Christ and the world needs to know and believe in Him for salvation. My more specific brand would be called "Charismatic." Charismatics would add a healthy dose of the Holy Spirit and expressive worship. With some tweaks, I'd still identify with these communities and beliefs.

But here's the issue: maybe my religious identity gets in the way of people seeing Jesus. One way I describe what I do for a living is this: I travel the world looking for someone, anyone, who doesn't like Jesus.

So far ... I've failed.

When I went to Yemen at the wise old age of 20, I quickly realized that every single person I met was Muslim. They didn't become Muslim, they just were Muslim. If I go to the mountains just east of Beirut, everyone is Druze. They didn't convert, they just are. Most of the world is this way. Not so much in America, but even here if I go to a small town in West Texas the chances are high I'm going to find lots of Baptists.

I grew up in Nebraska, then moved to Colorado, and I never met a Muslim or a Jew or a Hindu until I traveled overseas. I don't think I even knew a person of another color until I was 16. We were all white and "Christian." (And, of course, Cornhusker fans.)

Back to the Muslim leaders who I said "love to speak about Jesus." Does that surprise you? It's true. I've never met a Muslim (or Hindu or Buddhist either) who doesn't love discussing Jesus of Nazareth. That's one of the reasons I would never call myself a "Christian" but rather prefer the term, and identity, of "a follower of Jesus."


It's simple. A Christian sounds like someone who has converted to the religion called Christianity. But Jesus wasn't a Christian and he didn't start a religion.

OK, I can hear the angry rustling of keyboards owned by Christians ready to attack even as I write this. Here's the #1 response I get when I say what I just said: "Carl, you're being ridiculous. A Christian isn't an adherent to the religion of Christianity. A TRUE Christian is someone who follows Jesus."

Ah ha. Gotcha.

And that's exactly why I prefer simply saying, "I'm following Jesus."

Christianity isn't attractive from the outside. Jesus is.

The problem with the term and identity of simply "being Christian" is this: Which kind of "Christian" are you? Is it a Crusader from the 11th century? A Puritan who burned "witches" at the stake? The KKK leader who also pastors a church in Arkansas? Is it Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas? Or Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia? "No, no no," you say. "Of course it's not those people. I'm a real Christian." So, maybe like Jerry Falwell? Pat Robertson? George W. Bush? "You're getting closer," you say.

So maybe what you really mean is that a "real Christian" is someone who believes like you? But what about all the other 2.2 billion people who call themselves Christian? The Mormons call themselves Christian. So do Jehovah Witnesses. Orthodox. Chaldean. Assyrian. Coptic. Catholic, and about 15,000 versions of Protestant. Are they, or are they not Christians?

And what about a Muslim or a Jew who would say they love Jesus and maybe even want to follow Him but don't want to convert to Christianity? They're not "Christians" but they are doing what Jesus asked the first disciples to do. Jesus clear and consistent request was for people to "follow him." To "come and see." To be "with him." To turn away from whatever they were doing or believing, and follow him. Of course, to "follow" someone requires a lot of trust. You might call it "faith." They revealed their faith in Jesus, by dropping their nets and following the dusty path of this Jewish teacher.

And he never asked them to become Christians. He didn't start a new religion. He seemed allergic to religious traditions that the Jewish elite attempted to impose on him. He continuously broke their commandments, offending their minds to reveal their hearts. And their religious hearts were quite full. Of ... themselves.

Jesus provided people a way. A path for a journey. Not a religion to be in or out of. Conversion to Christianity? I call it heresy! Following Jesus? An inviting and exciting path for people of all backgrounds!