Human beings are finite, limited creatures. This is a good thing, because this is the way God created us. Currently, humans are marred by sin, but even after God perfects and glorifies us, we will always be finite, limited human beings. Yet some people chafe at being limited. They want to be independent; free to be, think, and act completely on their own terms. They don’t want anyone else defining who they are. They don’t want to be confined by the limits of someone else’s definition. They don’t want to be labeled.
Labels are limiting, because labels define something. If one direction is labeled “North,” then walking in the opposite direction cannot be considered heading North.
Some people eschew labels because they don’t want to be defined as being an evangelical, a fundamentalist, a conservative, a liberal, a Calvinist, an Arminian, a charismatic, an egalitarian, or even a Christian in some cases. They assert their independence and autonomy by refusing to identify with a particular “camp.” They might use “un-labels” like post-evangelical, post-conservative, and post-liberal to reinforce their independence.
Rather than doing away with labels, we would do better to embrace the clarity that a label can bring. Labels aren’t perfect, because labels can only summarize; a single label can’t communicate the variety that may be encompassed within that label. Labels can be misunderstood and misappropriated, so a label by itself is often inadequate, but a label can still serve to improve clarity. When something is labeled, you know something about what it is and what it isn’t.
To allow yourself to be accurately labeled requires two things: understanding yourself and understanding the meaning of the label. It is easier to avoid labels, but there is great benefit to the personal reflection and research that is required to determine which labels apply to you. First you have to understand what a label means. Am I a supralapsarian or an infralapsarian? Before I can decide if I am one, the other, or neither, I first have to understand what they each mean. Secondly, I have to decide what I believe. Once I understand the meaning of a label, I am confronted with a decision; do I believe this or not? This challenges me to think and clarify what I believe to be true. It’s not enough to just say, “I believe in Jesus” or “I believe the Bible.” If I’m serious about being a disciple of Jesus, I need to understand what things are true about Jesus and what things aren’t; I need to understand what teaching is consistent with the Word of God and what teaching isn’t.
As for me, I am a human, not an animal.
I am an adult, not a child.
I am male, not female.
I am a heterosexual, not a homosexual.
I am married, not single.
I am a monogamist, not a polygamist.
I am a monotheist, not a polytheist.
I am a Christian, not an atheist, deist, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, secular humanist, or adherent of any other religion.
I am a trinitarian, not a unitarian, modalist, Arian, etc.
I am a protestant, not a Roman Catholic.
I am an Evangelical, not a mainliner.
I am a conservative, not a progressive, liberal, or moderate.
I am a complementarian, not an egalitarian.
I am a credobaptist, not a paedobaptist.
I am a creationist, not an evolutionist.
I am an Augustinian, not a Pelegian (or semi-pelagian).
I am a Calvinist, not an Arminian.
I am a monergist, not a synergist.
I am a compatibilist, not a libertarian.
I am a Republican, not a Democrat.
I am a capitalist, not a socialist or communist.
I am an American, not a citizen of any other country.
I am an introvert, not an extrovert.
I am supportive, not dominant.
I am a thinker, not a feeler.
I am a realist, not an idealist.
I am an optimist, not a pessimist.
I am a Cardinal’s fan, not a Cub’s fan.
Some of these labels I hold to more strongly than others. Some may even change over time. There are labels I may drop, and labels I may pick up as I learn more about them.
What about you? What labels help define your beliefs and the type of person you are? What labels have you heard that you are unsure about whether they might fit you or not?