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Why I Don't Use the Word "Christian"

In America, we live in a time when our stock as "Christians" is trading at an all-time low.  We just don't have a generally positive image in the eyes of most non-believers.  Gabe Lyons wrote an entire book about this.  Here are some of the reasons I don't use the word "Christian." 

1. It has a generally bad vibe.  When I lived in the Middle East in the late 1980s, I learned very quickly that  "Christian" did not communicate in a way that was likely to make people warm up to me very quickly.  The word was weighted down with a lot of historic baggage. Now in America I find myself in a similar situation.

2. For many, it has come to represent a person who is against something rather than for something.  While there are many things I am for and many things I'm against, I'm smart enough to know that I will never have a chance to be winsome if I am only known as the guy who is opposed to x, y or z.

3. As an adjective, it makes for funky theology.   Many things have been marketed to the faith-based community by putting a stamp on it.  The stamp is usually includes "Christian" or "Jesus."  By simply attaching a label, does that make a video game Christian? Or a song? Or a film?

4. It is more productive to talk about the kingdom.  Jesus spoke about it a lot.  It is a big idea that invites people into our community so they can taste and see something good.  When it comes to referring to my faith-perspective, I usually identify myself as a follower of Jesus (or something along those lines).

5. We should be thinking about the whole world and not just those who are already in the family.  "Christian vs. non-Christian" tends to create an "us vs. them" mind-set. When we think in terms of the kingdom we can think in terms of how to connect in such a way that as many people as possible can experience the light and truth of Christ.


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Comment by Clyde Taber on July 17, 2014 at 9:34pm

Thanks for the insights Video!

Comment by Video Centre on July 17, 2014 at 9:05am

 I am outside seemed to be a Christian and inside I am a Jesus follower. I am very happy to say in Hindu nation “I am a Christian” it is my code to know my people who are they? If I say to anti-Christians they will against me, if I said to carnal Christian He will repent. However, the names both are same Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ.

For example; I am an Apostle but people all are calling me Pastor or Father. Again question coming to me, Are you belongs to Pentecostal or Roman Catholic? I said simply “I am a Christian”

My name is Christian name in the Old Testament EBENEZER. If I said to my name to any one he will simply identify He is a Christian. I am not fear to say “ I am a Christian.”

We are sinned against God because someone in the world against, his name is “Christian” or “Jesus follower” We are Christian “Don’t forget the title” Christian”

Comment by Clyde Taber on June 23, 2014 at 6:43pm

Jeremy, ok. Very compelling.  Good word.  Thank you Isack.

Comment by Jeremy Feser on June 20, 2014 at 8:28am

I'm optimistic. In my experience, every time the gospel comes in somewhere, the term "Christian" is associated with the worst of the worst. Among the Maasai, if you were a Christian, you were treated as total garbage at the beginning. The name was taken as an offence. But, the job of the Christian is to "live such good lives among the heathens that they may glorify your father." Today, in many areas, the term Christian is taken to mean "one who won't steal from you, who won't cheat you, who stands by their word". I am sure that the term Christian brings us problems. And I was just speaking yesterday with a Maasai man who told me that this is a problem that "doctors and banks" can't solve. When asked what it does take, he said that it takes "enduring their bad reports" and proving that it is a good thing to be a Christian. Just food for thought from a warrior named Isack.

Comment by Clyde Taber on June 19, 2014 at 7:43pm

Wow! Insightful remarks! Thank you Jeremy, Brian, Scott, and Matthew. Is it possible to reclaim the term "Christian?" I don't know.  I want to be identified as a follower of Jesus because I want him to get the credit for anything that reflects his nature. I am just not sure that the word "Christian" is redeemable in the near future.  And I really do like the idea of the "kingdom." It is an extremely common concept throughout the pages of the New Testament.

Comment by Jeremy Feser on June 13, 2014 at 3:33am

Clyde, I get what you're saying, but I have a couple of objections.

1. The good or bad vibe of it seems to me like it's not a valid reason to use or not use the core term that relates to our identity... and has for 2000 years. To drop the term "Christian" because it's not popular sounds like... well... exactly what we're not supposed to do.

2. True. It means lots of things. Abandoning it won't help. The "world" isn't stupid. They know that "Jesus-follower" and "Christian" mean the same thing. We are in the business of redemption. Let's redeem our identity too. There will always be people giving our identity a bad name... there were in the time of Jesus, and certainly in the time of Paul.

3. I totally agree. Christian should only apply to people. Not to anything else. Ever.

4. I agree.

5. "The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." We are a community. We are an "us". We're supposed to be a single body, a bride. We're supposed to be in unity like the triune God (that's what Jesus prayed in the garden). Dropping "Christian" is like dropping our last name because people have bad connotations.... We ought to be involved in our communities, but we also ought to be different. And we ought to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Christ-followers aka Christians is a meaningful label... and one I think we ought to wear with pride. If we are a family, then what is our common identity? It's "Christian" and it has been for nearly 2000 years.

All of that aside, I agree very much that the term "Christian" has been co-opted for so many other purposes. I agree that we are often identified more by what some loudmouths say than by our faith. I agree that this causes problems that we have to face. I just don't agree that dropping the Christian name is a) productive (it's see-through), and b) the right response (it's our name).

I am a Christian.

Comment by Matthew -MK- Kilburn on June 12, 2014 at 3:25pm

The bottom line is that only a person can be "Christ-like". I listened to a wonderful series from Andy Stanley on the topic entitled "Christian". -

Comment by Scott Freeman on June 12, 2014 at 2:20pm

Good thoughts, Clyde,

I think your point about focusing on the kingdom nails it. I can't find biblical justification to say that Jesus came to start a new religion called "Christianity." But clearly He established the kingdom of God and an amazing New Covenant!

Probably what reveals the problem to me most pointedly is when I think of Jewish people in relation to Jesus. Does a Jewish person need to "become a Christian" in order to see eternal life? In other words, can a Jewish person retain their identity as a Jew and still be a lover and follower of Jesus? (Like, um...the apostle Paul.) Of course they can and should. A Jewish person must be born of the Spirit, like anyone else, but the phrase "become a Christian" has the ring of "joining a religion." For me the point is to communicate more clearly.

Comment by Bryan Gough on June 12, 2014 at 12:34pm

I'm currently listening to "Mere Christianity" on my hour-long commute to work, and home again. This morning Lewis emphasized how unrealistic a dichotomy is the "Us vs. Them" classification. When assessing Christian vs. non-Christian demographics, it presumes the representatives are fully actualized members of one tribe or the other. 

But, as Lewis pointed out, there is never anyone that is fully either. There are a great many people that would call themselves "Christian" that are slowly becoming less and less Christian. And, there are likewise a great many people that would not call themselves Christians in the slightest, that are slowly becoming more and more like Christ. It is easy to distinguish the distinct differences in behavior of Cats vs. Dogs because neither is ever slowly becoming the other.

So, it has to be evaluated on the personal level. And here's the rub: do we want to be the representative by which the term "Christian" will be evaluated and given meaning? I agree with you, Clyde, that the name has baggage and can put up walls before you ever have a chance to change someone's mind... On the flip side, how are we to reclaim the title? Is it worth reclaiming? Should we reclaim it? 

I liken it to the traveling backpacker's patch: the Canadian flag. They aren't so much saying, "Hey, I'm a Canadian, eh!" as they are saying, "I am not one of those obnoxious American tourists." Of course, they act very much the same as any Americans I've ever met traveling. But, as an American, ought I to put an American flag patch on my bags and then conduct myself in a way that undermines the predisposition of others... 

Similarly, I've always had a hard time saying, "I am an artist." For one, I do not make my living from my art. I don't HAVE to make art. I am not obsessive about the craft. I do not pay attention to the field or the industry or art history as much as I think others think an Artist OUGHT to...but, I have skill. I have talent. I enjoy drawing, illustrating and animating short stories... but it's never my top priority.

Labels are hard. They are both fitting and misleading.

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