Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Christian": Another Meaningless Word

Suppose that there is someone whom you do not know and who tells you that he or she is “a Christian.” At first, you should make no assumptions about what they believe or how they conduct themselves in life. For the word “Christian” no longer means anything.

The word “Christian” does not tell you that that person is a social conservative. I can think of a rather large number of such individuals who either cuss like sailors, fornicate, support homosexuality, or are just plain liberal.

The word “Christian” does not tell you that that person is a trinitarian. Oneness Pentecostals somehow get the word “Christian” applied to them for sociological and pragmatic purposes, presumably in addition to their using the term for themselves. Likewise, modalism and mere semi-trinitarianism is so widespread among the mainstream rank and file of Christendom today that, again, not all so-called Christians can be assumed to be trinitarians.

The word “Christian” apparently also does not tell you that that person is even monotheistic. If Mormonism amounts to a cryptic form of polytheism, and if Mormons are also called Christians, then “Christians” are now polytheistic in addition to being monotheistic.

The problems continue from there. A lot of so-called Christians think they are smart when they reject biblical inerrantism, when they start blithely throwing out the word “allegorical” to explain certain textual problems without knowing what that word really means, when they adopt views which are outright Pelagian if not merely semi-Pelagian, and so on.

Yet the entire set of problems is, finally, rounded out by that which causes Christianity’s critics to charge “No True Scotsman fallacy!” if it is claimed that Christians never murdered anyone via Crusades, Inquisition, witch trials, or Klan racial violence. Many so-called Christians have a rather specific set of properties that they have in mind when they use the word “Christian” to denote someone, properties which include particular beliefs, dispositions, or actions. On the other hand, sociologists and the average Joe are more likely to look at how one person shows up for church services every week or says “I’m a Christian,” and therefore deem that person worthy of the lablel “Christian.” What this means is that not everyone is on the same page or speaking the same language: Not all Christians are in fact Christians after all.

Voilà tout.


Denise said...

Your article, unfortunately, is true in many cases. However, Christians are simply people, striving to be like Christ. Shouldn't they be forgiven when they fall short? Who do we know who has succeeded, other than Christ himself?

D.B. said...

I think Kwame makes a good point as well. Though I am not sure it is a matter of forgiveness.

I think it perhaps has more to do with digging deeper into what someone means when they say they are a "Christian".

There was a time in history, it could be argued, where being a Christian meant you believed certain things and lived a certain way. We've lost that and it is disturbing.

Anonymous said...

It was certainly interesting for me to read the blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to this matter. I definitely want to read more on that blog soon.

Kwame E. said...

Thank you for your comments.

Meanwhile, you hit the nail on the head, Derrick, about the matter of forgiveness. In this case I don't write from a perspective of righteous indignation when I speak of the failings of self-described Christians: there's nothing for me to either forgive or hold against anyone.

Rather, my point is exactly as stated before: the word "Christian" is practically meaningless today. If you meet some stranger at a bus stop or some place one day and they say to you, "I'm a Christian," one can no longer assume much of anything from such a statement. They may or may not go to church, or hold to trinitarianism, or hold to modalism, or hold to Arianism, or hold certain ethical standards, or even believe in Jesus Christ.

The funny thing is this: Even today in this age where Christianity and the Bible are vilified by various forces, interest groups, and proponents of "progressive" theology, people still want to operate under the banner of "Christianity."