Response to ‘Pastor, am I a Christian?’
By the Rev. Thad Bennett
In his article “Am I a Christian, Pastor Timothy Keller?” New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof, wondered:
What does it mean to be a Christian in the 21st century? Can one be a Christian and yet doubt the virgin birth or the Resurrection? I put these questions to the Rev. Timothy Keller, an evangelical Christian pastor and best-selling author who is among the most prominent evangelical thinkers today.
The following is a letter written to the Times by Thad Bennett, an Episcopal priest in Vermont.
How I wish you had asked me that question!
When I was a high school freshman at an Episcopal School in 1967 I asked about the virgin birth, saying something like “That makes no sense.” I’d not grown up in any religious tradition, so the question seemed reasonable to me. After the class gasped, the priest said, “Well, Mr. Bennett, maybe we should wonder what would make someone write a story like that.” From then on, I was off on an adventure to understand God, God’s stories and me.
Early in my freshman year at Dartmouth College I went to a student-led Christian Fellowship meeting at Rollins Chapel, a beautiful Romanesque building filled with the aura of generations of student God-seekers. As the leaders explained about the Fellowship, I asked about whether or not I had to believe in the virgin birth in order to be a Christian and attend their meetings. The clear response was, “Yes.” I left, never to return, and became a religion (and to be honest, rowing) major.
Forty-four years later I am a retired Episcopal priest, living in Vermont, having served congregations large and small, rich and poor for 37 years in Hartford, CT; Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA and Wilmington, VT as well as serving on the staff of two, amazing Episcopal Bishops. Had you asked me the question about “Is the virgin birth an essential belief” in order to be a Christian, I would have said: “The Christian faith is all about God’s love project*. Let’s start with ‘God loves you’ and then discover that all the Christian stories – including the virgin birth – are about saying ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ to God in response. So, about the virgin birth,…..”
Well, you did not ask me so I’ll stop there. I’m just sad because it seems that sometimes evangelical Christians do more to harm God’s love project than to help it!
The Rev. Thaddeus A. Bennett
* See “Faith Rules: An Episcopal Manual” by Ian S. Markham with Samantha R. E. Gottlich, Morehouse Publishing, New York, 2016.