Sadell Bradley wants the bar set higher for becoming a Christian

Enlisting in Christianity

Sadell Bradley
Category: Insiders & Outsiders

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ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE: Sadell is a licensed minister, dynamic teacher, and worship leader, who ministers locally in Cincinnati, nationally and internationally. In 2012 she and her husband will be planting a church called New City Cincinnati.

I’m generally not a fan of narrowly defining what makes someone a Christian insider or outsider. I don’t think it’s our job to determine who is in and out. Perhaps more importantly, having specific criteria seemingly ignores aspects of faith that change over time or look differently from person to person. That said, I sometimes wish there would be a definitive set of criteria; perhaps an online questionnaire that would determine if you’re officially in or out. There have been several occasions when another person has questioned my “salvation”. Wouldn’t it be great if I could have pulled out my credentials and said “nope, it’s official.” If I didn’t make the questionnaire’s cut, it would at least be freeing to have definitive evidence. That way I could either embrace a new label, or change the things that got me negative marks, if that’s what I wanted. I’m curious to hear your thoughts…


What in your mind qualifies who is and isn’t a Christian? Would you prefer more universal requirements? If so, what would those qualifications entail?


12 Responses to “Enlisting in Christianity”

  1. Benjamin Ady says:

    I spent a lot of time thinking about these questions during the couple year period I spent in the process of deconverting. In fact at one point the fact that I really had no idea what being a Christian even meant was a large contributing factor to me being mostly unwilling to call myself one.

    Now I think I would find it more interesting to know about why individuals with whom I interact who do consider themselves Christians do so. That’s a more interesting conversation to me that is an attempt to more generally define Christians. Although if someone does want to more generally define them, knowing why they want that is also very interesting.

    • Craig says:

      I would think that most who spend a lot of time “defending” Christianity would say that beliefs define Christians. But with such a big discrepancy in what makes someone in/out, what I believe has very little to do with me still calling myself a Christian. Honestly, the main reasons I’ve kept the label have to do with business and relationships. Since I work with a lot of faith-based organizations, I’m afraid I might loose some business if I stopped calling myself a Christian. Same is true with my friendships. However, times are changing and I’m starting to think that keeping the label is causing more harm than good. It’s a topic I have to creatively navigate in new friendships…how do I communicate my interest in spirituality without being grouped in with what most Outsiders think of when they think of Christian? I’ve become pretty good at navigating those conversations, but I find myself also having to do a mirrored navigation with new Christians I meet. I’ve also been learning lately how little I can control what others think of me. I’ve spent much of my life being a people pleaser, trying to say what they want me to say while being true to myself…it’s exhausting! It’s time for me to stop that. Perhaps I’ll drop the Christian label at the same time? I do like Nick Fiedler’s label, Hopeful Skeptic.

      • Benjamin Ady says:

        I’m so excited for you that you’re choosing to stop believing you can control what other people think about you. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOT! How relaxing. If you do decide to drop the Christian label, may I gently put in a sales pitch for a new label–Pastafarian! =). You rock Craig, with or without any label. I’m so excited for all the delightful chances people are going to have to hear what you really think in the moment. Such chances are so invaluable.

  2. Randy Siever says:

    First, let me say how much I love Sadell and Sherman Bradley. They work with people in the inner city and actually DO stuff Jesus would be doing if he lived where they live. And they are a delight to be with…anywhere.

    Secondly, in response to this piece: I think the military analogy could be helpful (Paul used it now and then), but mostly for those already “in” the family (which is how Paul used it exclusively). It is interesting to note that the original followers of Jesus didn’t seem to have ANY idea of what it would mean to follow him when they were first invited to do so. It was a series of teachings and experiences along the way that unfolded what that meant, and they didn’t seem to totally get it until after Pentecost (and I would argue that they STILL didn’t quite get it…the church struggled with what it meant to be a “christian” since the beginning and we’re still arguing over it today). The fact that we have over 33,000 different Christian denominations in the world indicates that we still struggle today with this question of who is in and who is out.

    I am all in favor of calling people to a higher view of what it means to live as a follower (disciple) of Jesus. But it’s really more like getting married than joining the army, in my opinion. NOBODY knows what marriage will be like when they first say “I do”. They have all kinds of romantic notions, and most of those are ruined by the end of year one. But they will discover the beauty and complexity and wonder of two becoming one flesh if they just keep showing up for one another and are willing to grow and yeild to one another (and Christ, who makes such a mystical union even possible).

    I think it’s a miracle that any of us can follow Jesus. It’s a testament to the power and grace and mercy He extends to anyone who will drop their nets and follow him. If we can just let people see who Jesus really is (both in the scriptures and by living out his ways authentically, like Sadell and Sherman do), people will be drawn to Him in ways they cannot explain.

  3. John F says:

    Hello, I like the way you think. Recently, as a response to the massacre committed in Norway by a man professing to be a Christian, but was described in the media not as a Christian terrorist, but as a right wing terrorist, i wrote a blog on the question “What is a fundamentalist?” – I would urge you to take a look at that – and in it I try and isolate and state exactly what are core Christian beliefs, the non-negotiables, so to speak, that mean that if you believe these or you are not a Christian. Well – to be honest, notwithstanding my Bible College training, I struggled to find an all encompassing statement. And i did have an anonymous commenter telling me that the four points I outlined were not in his or her opinion the fundamentals.

    Incidentally, I could not get any sound out of the video clip and so my comment is based on the text of this page.

    • Benjamin Ady says:


      ack! sorry you couldn’t get the sound working.

      I also work with awesome little children–little ones on the autism spectrum, and this work has been life changing in a superlative way for me. What has your experience been with little ones?

  4. Dan says:

    The older I get, the less criteria I find to be definitive. In fact, one of the great and frustrating aspects of Christianity is its ambiguity to any formula or cobble-stone path to perfection. It really calls man to live in a state of faith in the un-seen and hope for revelation of the ancient scriptures. Though there are very real concepts in the Bible, it can be translated and interpreted many different ways. The obvious difference with the military is the regimented set of rules, the mostly-encompassing set of expectations. There really aren’t concrete expectations for those professing Christianity. Even among my peers, experiences aren’t the same. Even my wife and I experience Christianity differently. Personally for me, Christianity is defined by an individual relationship, something that does not stay within boundaries.

  5. Glen Shedlock says:

    What defines me as a “Christian?”

    I know who I belong to.

    ‘Nuff said. :)

  6. Al says:

    (I wrote the following before reading any of the comments, so some of my thoughts are very similar to others, but not particularly influenced by them.)
    For the first disciples, following Christ didn’t involve a statement of beliefs, it was being attracted to this guy who they were willing to set aside their own lives and plans for in order to be a part of what he was doing, to be a part of the kingdom he was setting up. I’m sure many of them were unsure or mistaken in what they were getting into. I don’t think they were particularly saying that they were ready to commit to a theology because they wouldn’t have even known one.
    I don’t think it is much different today. At best, we choose to agree with the philosophy and way of life that Jesus calls us to—even though we may each define that differently based on what we have observed and been attracted to.
    In my mind, any narrow, defining determination of who’s in or who’s out has to come back to the basics of Jesus’ message—love (by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another). Specific theology is not the basis I see Jesus using.
    Joining a particular church/denomination/theological persuasion is different in that you ARE signing up for a specific organization’s way of doing things. If you don’t like it, don’t sign up. But in many ways we have (wrongly) combined the two concepts, and made the list of rules a necessary litmus test for membership in Christ’s kingdom. I think the things Sadell puts on her ‘list’ are obviously (to her) core elements of a commitment to be a Christ follower—but not necessarily to someone else. Even as people who share common elements, we have differences of understanding of what may be foundational, what Christ calls us to. (It’s fine to say that OUR definition is based on scripture, but in reality it is just based on our interpretation of scripture, and that really doesn’t prove it is better than anyone else’s.)
    My own take on the need for a ‘definitive set of criteria’ is that if God was as concerned as we are about having the correct doctrines and practices, he would be making sure that we were well aware of what had to be agreed on—and he would be making this clear to ALL of us. Of course, most of us think that we have a more direct line to God’s heart than the ‘other guys’, and thus have the correct doctrines and practices—it’s everyone else who is missing something. But to me that is an arrogant assumption, and incorrect. I think God is less worried about a perfect list of beliefs, and much more worried about basic lifestyle—love, compassion, justice. (But again, that is how I interpret what I understand of the character of God.)

  7. K says:

    I think being a Christian is living out of a certain flow, a certain state of being. That sounds a little strange, but that’s what I think. It’s not about what we do, or our behavior. It’s about who we are. God heals us, renews us, and makes us into an entirely new creation. We are who we are and He is who He is, and now we are melded together as one. That’s what it means.

  8. c benbow says:

    I second Glen’s comment. I struggled with the label “Christian” because I know it can mean almost anything to anyone. I seriously thought about the Hopeful Skeptic label, or the unChristian label, and then decided I didn’t care about labels anymore. I call myself Christian because I follow God as best I can, and believe Jesus is God’s son who lived, died and rose from the dead for us, and to not call myself Christian would feel like I was lying to myself and God. But others may not agree with me, and I’m getting to be strangely okay with that. It’s not like my relationship with God is dependent on others acknowledging it, ya know?

  9. Sadell says:

    Interesting comments everyone and thanks for the encouraging words, Randy! I don’t believe that the ‘insider/outsider’ statement was what I was talking about in the clip, nor was the ‘definition’ of who is or is not a Christian at the time as I recall.

    My definition of Christian is one who confesses and believes in their heart that Jesus Christ is their Savior and Lord and believes in Jesus’ deity, life, ministry and resurrection (Romans 10:9-10). In that ‘Savior’ thought would be both the concept that they are submitting to the process of being saved/healed/rescued from the broken or sinful parts of their former lifestyle and submitted to transform by changing their thinking and behavior toward Christ’s precepts. In the ‘Lordship’ thought would be the idea I am describing in the clip; that their life has been redeemed or purchased by Christ’s blood and is therefore no longer their own. They are now committing to glorify or bring honor to God in their body and spirit (1 Cor 6:19-20) because they now belong to God.

    I agree also with Randy’s analogy about a marriage which is also a descriptor used by Paul (Ephesians 5:21-33), but even in that metaphor is the concept of covenant and lifelong commitment, which in my opinion requires the same type of sold-out decision-making that unfortunately we are not accustomed to (even in marriage) today. Though I do not know what life will bring in the journey of my marriage, nor in my journey of faith, the vows are for better or worse until death. The only other potential out is unfaithfulness of a party, which I have seen in many cases love can supersede.

    My main point in this clip is whatever analogy you want to use, and whatever the level of naiveté of the original 12 Disciples – now we do know that commitment, persecution and trial are a part of the Believer’s call (John 15:20, 2 Tim 3:12) so it would be great for us to tell people that, as well as about the love relationship, the family and kingdom of God, etc. when they’re coming to Christ.

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