Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Here's something I've been thinking on for a little.  What does it mean to be a Christian?  I've done an excellent job at naming things that I strongly dislike about Christianity and, therefore, Christians as well. Christianity doesn't necessarily imply Christians, but do you have Christianity without them?  

The term 'Christian' carries both positive and negative connotations.  If I were to tell someone that I am a Christian, it will bring up an image in that person's mind (whether positive, negative or indifferent) about what they think of Christians/Christianity.  That person has little choice but to ascribe those thoughts and feelings to me.  

So is there anything that is completely objective about being a Christian?  

To kind of define the word itself, I take the term to mean that a 'christian' is someone who associates or identifies him/herself with Christ.  Identifies as in to find an identity in Christ. Much like an American lives in America, makes America his/her home, has a citizenship, supports American ideals, and is surrounded by other Americans, a Christian identifies with Christ in this way.  (S)He lives in Christ, boasts a citizenship, supports Christ-like ideals, is surrounded by other Christians, etc...

Can it really be that simple?  What if it were?  What if everything I did was based simply on this definition?  

The image of Christians has become so perverted that it takes some thought to really figure out what, exactly, it means to label oneself as such.  Once you strip away connotations (which may not be entirely possible), you're left with a definition that, I think, begs you to do something with.  If I indeed am those things, then what? I can't ignore it.  I am compelled to move, if only even to simply try to figure out what the definition means in a practical way.



T. M. Gagnon said...

Hey, now I have my blog feeds working again.

I think you are right when you say it's impossible to strip away whatever connotations come with the words "Christian" or "Christianity," and I think it's important in relation to your question.

I think there are actually two parts to the question. The first is, what does it mean for someone else to be a Christian? In other words, what is the perception of Christians and Christianity by those who do not consider themselves Christians?

The second part of the questions is, what does it mean for me to be a Christian? And I think that gets a little more complicated, because you're already asking the first question and in some cases the answer you give to it changes the answer you give to the second question.

For example, if you feel that non-Christians view Christians as pushy (and you think that is a negative thing), your version of Christianity might be one in which "Christians" are not so pushy.

The problem, I think, is that as a Christian, both questions as I've posed them involved a presupposition of what someone else thinks. And while I think sensitivity concerning this issue is important, there is always a danger of presupposing too much to the point of assuming you know what someone else thinks and what their experiences have been to bring them to that place.

So, I think that the second questions, sans the first, is more significant to someone who would already consider themselves a Christian. How one answers that becomes highly formative. Obviously, we've all got hang-ups and it's not always easy to sort out what we think a Christian ought to be like, and our own perceptions of other Christians have an effect on who we think we ourselves our as Christians.

I think my answer is that a Christian is something like the simple one you suggested. A Christian images Christ, which sounds simple, but I don't think it is. I think that image adapts to what is needed at the time. And that means the challenge for anyone who considers themselves a Christian who is trying to define what a Christian is is actually the challenge of identifying one's current context and responding in charity.

SJ Austin said...

That's a good response; I especially like the simple-but-not-really definition, "a Christian images Christ." Which then requires you to address the many issues of what that actually means: again, quoting TMG, "the challenge of identifying one's current context and responding in charity."

For example, you have to consider whether imaging Christ means treating people according to the Hebrew religious/legal system of the first century, or if it means interpreting the principles he used to do so in the context of 21st century America/planet Earth. And if you wish to abandon the first option, it raises important questions about the role and authority of the Bible. It's a fascinating problem.