One of my favorite gospel preachers, from my earliest recollection, was the itinerant revivalist Vance Havner. I read a great deal of his material in my early years and heard him speak in person on a number of occasions. One day I even had lunch with him in Chicago. He was, to say the least, quite a unique character. He always had a humorous turn of phrase to put a point on something very serious and his quips thus became memorable.
You can discover a wealth of Havner’s written work, and an entire audio library of sermons, by a simple Google search under his name.
One quip I will never forget was this one. "Some Christians are like porcupines. They have so many fine points you can’t get near them." So true. And if you don’t laugh at that line you are very likely the kind of person Havner had in mind by saying it.
I posses a fine book with the title: The Vance Havner Notebook (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989). It is a collection of various Havner comments and excerpts from sermons. I have purged my library this summer and got rid of some Havner books but I kept this one because it was the cream off the top of his material.
One entry (No. 76) asks: "Who Is a Christian?" The text follows, "And the disciples were called Christians first at Antioch" (Acts 11:26).
We have become so taken up with the things that accompany the Christian experience, the secondary matters, that the Christian himself can hardly be identified nowadays. The traveler has been lost in the baggage. One thinks of the housewife who answered the doorbell to be greeted by a stranger who abruptly asked, "Do you know Jesus Christ?" She was sos taken aback that she could think of no answer and closed the door in his face. When she told her husband of it, he suggested, "But why didn’t you tell him that you are president of the missionary society and teacher of the ladies’ Bible class and active in all church work?" "But he didn’t ask me about that," she replied; "he asked me ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?‘ So, in the midst of the things we do and belong to, it is well to open the door on ourselves once in a while and ask abruptly, "What about you? For all your religious zeal and church work do you know Jesus Christ (italics are Havner’s own)?"
I think this is the question: Do you know Jesus Christ? Not, "Have you prayed a prayer to accept Jesus into your heart?" And the question is not, "Are you a church member?" Or, "Do you know the Bible?" Or, "Did you get training in theology?" It is not even about the sacraments or holding to the correct creedal understanding of salvation. The question is: Do you know Jesus Christ?
When I am sometimes asked, "Why do you associate yourself with so many Christians outside the parameters of your own confessional beliefs?" an am reminded of this question. The question I asked myself is the same one I work from in dealing with others: Do you know Jesus Christ? I am convinced a lot of people "know" him in many places some conservatives would never go. And I am also convinced that many conservatives, just as many liberals, do not "know" Jesus Christ. This is why the labels mean less and less to me, at least in terms of who I can relate to as a Christian.