Coming to a Critique
Stumbling over and over again, it was not long ago that the perplexing situation of miscommunication seemed to be arising constantly in regards to personal interactions that one average millennial Christian may find themselves in on a regular basis; the topics of music, artistry, branding, business, websites, and so-called ‘‘Christian” media were facing some type of definitional attack. The issue at hand was not necessarily some type of court decision where either the defendant or plaintiff was guilty or lying and it was up to a chosen jury and judge to decide by some means of recollection who was right or wrong; this was much more difficult. The problem that quickly arose came when trying to define what should truly be titled or described as Christian. Who gets to decide anyway? Is it anything made by a Christian? Does it have to be edifying? Maybe it just has to meet some Biblical criteria, but does it have to have the Gospel in it? Before unleashing all of these despairing questions, there comes a need to understand and define a few major grounds for which one can even start to clarify the means for a coherent and cohesive solution concerning the use of the term ”Christian” as an adjective.
A New Means
After seemingly infinite hours of thumb-twiddling, re-defining, researching, arguing and facing the temptation to quit altogether, it hit. The means by which we go about comprehending a commonly-used, yet widely-criticized term, is to understand its origin, and then become aware of the meaning it carries or is intended to carry. That was it. It was not a trick; it was just going to take a lot of work, fighting comfortable presuppositions and current word-uses, and most of all, desire. Before long – which happened to be just less than one year – there was no solution or guideline for better using the term ”Christian” as an adjective, but there was a great discovery as to an identifiable and compound contention for which to stand by. My personal endeavor in trying to rescue ”Christian” for the sake of sanity, communication, and comfort was gone, but there came a new stance; the term ”Christian” as an adjective attributes little to nothing about the origin, content, or quality of that which it attempts to describe. Amen.
Following the Rabbit Trail
The first circulation of the term found within Christianity, primarily in its earliest of three Biblical appearances, is in Acts 11:26 where Luke writes, “In Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” This does not mean that it was the first usage of the word, but must have been in early circulation due to the belated use in reference to the disciples. It is widely written that the title was not given by Christians for Christians, but those actually outside of Christianity. One example is King Herod Agrippa II’s poised line to Paul in Acts 26:28 .Many misconceptions of the word’s origin have been used to distort personal meaning and faulty ideologies, with everything from pursuing to be a “reflection of Jesus” to “little Christ,” and history shows no direct root or understanding of these current uses. The structure and etymology of ”Christian’’ has somehow escaped the understanding of many of those who even claim the title itself and continue on using whatever bits of information they desire from favorite blogs, sermons, and conversations along the way.
Found the Rabbit, but Not So Sure It’s A Rabbit After All
The transition of use of ‘‘Christian” from a noun to an adjective is where the question of meaning began. At first, this may not seem to be such a detrimental idea; just as something that comes from wood is ”wooden” so it may be thought that deeming something ”Christian” because it came from a Christian is equally acceptable. This is Wrong. The major issue can be found in the dissimilarity in each of the words’ definitions. Because wood is not living, not able to change or fail its ideal in the same way that a Christian whom is living can, it falls short of a Christian’s ability to change, and also his having to change. Wood’s strict limitations do not allow it to defy its ideal use in the same way a Christian can defy the ideal properties that he is to uphold.
Though the period of the transition is not strictly pinpointed, or even necessary, at some point in history the word became a descriptor in language. For example, Christians were no longer following their own tribal practices but doing something that was ”Christian”; this may stem back to as far as Constantine and the rise of Christendom and Christianity’s religious popularity in the early 4th century, seeing that the arts and mainlined use of Biblically themed productions were growing exponentially due to lack of Roman persecution. (Further Reading) Dates and timeline aside, the conversion from noun to both noun and adjective has opened up the diversity of the word’s meaning and context; this monumental transition creates the passage of indecisive definitions, constant alteration, and mainly, ambiguity. The definition once used to describe living and changing people is now being attributed to inanimate objects, styles, and habits; it is practically asking for a loss of understanding. (For more about the loss of identity in the word”Christian” for believers, read this article.) For example, if ”Christian” is now used to describe music in language, what is it actually characterizing about the music? The answer may be possible to come by through personal means and past usage, but it will most likely have to adapt to the next product it describes, such as a store, book, band, church congregation, or moral values. The next question that one comes to is, “How is the term ”Christian” actually being used if it is not describing an agreeable or understandable definition of that which the adjective is being designated?”
The term ”Christian’’ has ultimately grown to hold the capacity of describing an endless amount of objects and even ideas referred to in society. The Oxford American Dictionary defines ‘’Christian’’ as a noun, “a person who has received Christian baptism or is a believer in Jesus Christ and his teachings.”(Oxford Online) This is quite specific, but the content that it represents as an adjective is virtually infinite; the adjectival use of ‘‘Christian’’ describes anything that is “of, relating to, or professing Christianity or its teachings” (Oxford Online).
The vast amount of applications of which the adjective form can be applied is downright alarming; though often used with positive associations, the mere acceptance for the term to describe anything even related to Christianity opens the door to anything associated with Christianity. To be completely clear, if one is to use ”Christian” to describe anything with Christianity, it must include everything from the gushy and comforting to the appalling and uncomfortable; if ”Christian” is allowed to describe such things as mercy, honor, honesty, then it must also be attributed to that which Christians also hold such as ruthlessness, dishonor, and dishonesty, for those are also related to Christians. More specifically, if one is to hold to the definition that ”Christian” can be defined as any action or item produced by a Christian, then there exists such articles as ”Christian” fornication, ”Christian” idols, ”Christian” lies, and ultimately ”Christian” sin; this idea is self-defeating, because it defines everything at the same time that it describes practically nothing.
Part of the Scare
Does giving something that does not have life or the ability to use and obtain power in itself sound familiar Biblically? The issue of the claiming some inanimate object as being ”Christian” is frightening when thinking about man’s relation to idolatry in the Old and New Testament; Tyler Wigg Stevenson writes;
Though the Romans thought they were wise, they were actually fools, because they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like humans, animals, birds, and reptiles. The problem, of course, wasn’t what the idol looked like, but the face that it wasn’t God, and yet they worshipped it. They acted as if the idol had the power to give them their place in the world– even though it was powerless to do anything. (Stevenson 49)(See also Romans 1:18-25)
This is exactly what is happening, the ascription of life, evangelism quality, and godly-importance to an object. These practices are not a Christian ideal and the object does not embody an ideal, but rather a medium to which one can try and express an ideal, such as faith or Scripture.
The Only Exception to the Rule
There happens to be one exception to the rule when it comes to abandoning ‘‘Christian” as an adjective; that hope happens to be found in a rule of “redundancy”. The exception would be something similar to calling someone a “Christian artist”; in this case, the artist is being described as ‘‘Christian” and opposes many of the major concerns in the ideal of abstaining from such bland usage, but if “Christian artist” is defined as being a “Christian who is an artist” there may be some appeasement. Ideally when someone is referring to a Christian who is an artist they can do just that, versus labeling them ”Christian”, but as long as there is no intention of attempting to make a statement about the origin, content, or quality of the artist’ work, let it be. The issue at hand is vagueness that slips not only in content, but also into quality.
“You Get What You Pay For”
The use of the term ”Christian” to represent something about the quality of such things as albums, books, institutions, companies, clothing, and other producers/productions will ultimately lead one into either a false understanding or a false confidence. The first question that comes to mind is this, “if a Christian is a person who is a follower of Christ, then how can a t-shirt be ‘Christian’?” It may seem juvenile at first, but the concept brings to surface many other questions revolving around the idea of why the term is actually used when describing inanimate objects, practices, or even corporations.
After studying, analyzing, and collecting data, it becomes clear that titling a product or an act of producing as ”Christian” is a misconstrued form of subconscious bait-and-switch; the companies, as well as other producers, are using a term that holds value to its demographic in order to sell identity, trust, and a false sense of quality, because “if you go by the name of Christian and do not want to be ”Christian” by using this product, try to find a secular, lacking, or risky version of the same product, if possible.” In Christian Kitsch and The Trivialization of God, Jared Bridges unveils a little more about the process of Christians purchasing so-called ”Christian” products directly impacting their feeling of belonging and association with the “group”.(Bridges 7) The issue at hand is that the medium or product is being measured in regards to spiritual qualifications and no matter how hard one tries, they cannot make a shirt carry out the Great Commission; the Holy Spirit can use man to spread the Gospel and maybe the shirt is the ice-breaker, but it is not obeying Christ, nor is it disobeying, but simply stands as the medium of the Gospel-carrier who displays it on their chest with the ability to either implement or ignore the full commission given to them by Christ.
After Trust Fails
The discomfort that may still linger after challenging past uses of Christianity’s favorite quality-word is expected, but no excuse for abandoning the hope that is found in the light at the end of this tunnel. Though there is not much reconciliation as far as attempting to redeem the term ”Christian” as an adjective, there is an alternative which with a little effort and devotion can be fruitful in communication of the qualities associated within Christianity as a whole. If Christians are creating a target-market of Christians for the sake of business with the name “Christian” slapped on it, what is the world to think of it, other than the fact that the companies and consumers are right in their self-acclamation. Christianity has to take this act of consumerism, false-definition, and even sin onto its name; for many this is uncomfortable, not acceptable, or even insulting, but the fact is that there are Christians making these claims and there are those falsely using the name of Christ and ”Christian” to better themselves. The array of sin that has followed the Church is a part of its history, and sadly, these present misconceptions may easily fall into the memories of those generations from now as well. This is okay because of the redemption of Jesus Christ and the atonement He paid for the world on the cross, but Christianity must learn. The starting place is realization, then comes practice, and then creation. Move swiftly.
Truth Over Title
So what is one to do with all of this? Well, the duty of the Christian is understood in how he identifies himself and is identified as a Christian, so it is crucial to clarify what the responsibility of the believer is at this point. The first objective to clarify is that there should be no intention of trying to redeem the present definition or create a new one in its place, but rather clarify truth; after all, it is the God of truth that Christians believe in. In the book, Prophetically Incorrect, Quentin Schultze sifts through the need for truth over title.
There is a God who knows, who sees through the lies that we hold dear. Second, we assume that God has and will continue to speak to us through wise, God-fearing mediators. Third, we give witness to particular people and other means by which God speaks the truth in our midst; instead of merely listening to God as individuals, we listen as communities of prophetic discourse in which we can hold each other accountable. We affirm prophetic critics’ gifts to identify and speak truth, but we also question them as to whether they are speaking truthfully(Schultze xi)
Ultimately, the quest for truth which Schultze alludes to is not one of presentation, consumption, or something that is distorted by ambiguity, but rather clarified by God the Maker of truth itself. One responsibility of the Christian in the case of expression and communication is to identify, understand, and steward well the use of truth for the sake of the Gospel and essentially God. It is not the duty of Christians to correct the world but to point towards the truth and justice shown to them by God almighty and clarifying that which is not representational of God, though it appears to have some skewed form of His touch upon it. The struggle against misrepresenting Christ must be fought, and the battle of Christian falls into this; the term ”Christian” has Jesus Christ’s name in it for God’s sake!
This piece strives to communicate the relationship between the emotion brought about by wrestling with the use of”Christian” in my own personal past, as well as that shared by those who preceded me in Christianity; the emotion brought about by the topic were present during the thought process and intellectual struggle. The emotion and learning were inseparable in this very personal process.
Emotions and Thoughts Scattered
The introverted “skeletol-man” reaches deep into his own head and past visions only to find shallow death, which was inevitable and being watched over in the same way a vulture sees future death. This procedure is hard for the “dead-feeling” man, so he gives up and lays out on the table feeling dead from confusion, unanswered questions, and disappointment. The problem is that he is not content in his skin and returns once again into his introverted state looking for answers like a strangely comforted addict. He questions the vanity of his pursuit. The man then looks to the deaths and roots of his ancestors, whom he assumes must have wrestled with similar problems, for he is not unique or radical enough to have a new thought; he tells himself “there is nothing new under the sun” as though it comforts him as he looks into the failure of all the his heroes and finds nothing. It is about time to give up again and die, to “rest in peace”, but at this point the introverted look is all he can see. He has no choice but to take on the problem and crawl out of the grave he has set himself in, full of distrust, discomfort, and criticism. It is now time for him to search for life within his dead end hopes, if at all possible. The more the man crawls out of his depression and discomfort the more he doubts and counts on death to turn him back around. It must be time to give up. He grimaces at the deathly feeling of coming into the life of the answer. None of this makes sense to him anymore, but he knows deep in his soul that his concerns are not meaningless. He travels down the same road he has before. It seems to be the same argument, but it feels different. He recounts the cross, the basics, and then adapts to what is around him. It feels useless. He shuts his eyes to die another death and say goodnight to his worthless striving. The very “self-death” it took to start the journey before his introspection furthers itself to new understanding. Same old road, new chapter of death. The movement occurs and he sees order once again.
Bridges, Jared. “Christian Kitsch and the Trivialization of God.” TruePravda. 2003. Web. 05 May 2011. <http://www.jaredbridges.net/>.
Nosotro, Rit. “Comparing What Became of the Christianity of King Ezana and Constantine.” HyperHistory.net. 2010. Web. 05 May 2011. <http://www.hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw06christian-rome-ethiopia.htm>.
Schultze, Quentin J. Prophetically Incorrect: a Christian Introduction to Media Criticism. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2010. Print.
Stevenson, Tyler Wigg. Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age. New York: Seabury, 2007. Print.