being a Christian

It’s dangerous for me to consume social media in the morning.  Sometimes it turns into blogging… and there goes the day.

This morning, Greg Boyd (a theologian who has written many books I admire) tweeted that he no longer self-identifies as “a Christian,” saying, “The meaning of a word is the significance it evokes. The current meaning of ‘Christian’ in America is no longer something I identify with.”  This was connected with a CNN opinion article which discussed the many ways in which famous “Christian” leaders have claimed that certain horrific tragedies are God’s specific judgments on specific sins.

I, too, have huge problems with this all too common practice.  Calling people to turn to God is one thing.  Claiming that Hurricane Katrina or the Aurora shooting were specifically ordained by God as judgments is dangerous spiritual territory to tread at best and insane cruelty at worst.

But does that make me want to distance myself to the point of rejecting the name “Christian?”

Whenever I see a greedy televangelist, a self-righteous politician, or just some regular Christian I don’t agree with on everything… do I run around screaming, “That’s not me!  That’s not me! I’m not in that camp!”?  Or do I say, “well… let’s look at who Jesus really is”?

My husband and I have had this discussion a few times. He tends to agree with Dr. Boyd that “the meaning of the word is the significance it evokes,” while I usually prefer to use words more or less “literally.”  When I hear someone say “bitch” I think, “you just called that person a female dog.”  When I hear someone say “Christian,” I interpret that to mean, “someone who claims to be a Christ-follower.”  That’s not to say that my experiences or the context of use doesn’t change the meaning of certain words for me. I wouldn’t want to be end up as a literalist in the vein of Amelia Bedelia, bless her.

Many words are ambiguous, so what do we do when our name has been “hijacked”?

When some other Carolyn Jensen becomes a mass murderer or an annoying pop celebrity, should I change my name?  Will that really change the perception of anyone who truly knows me?

If a group of 4000 people today start calling themselves “Jesus-followers” (as I often do) instead of “Christians,” does that change the reality of who they are?  You define the meaning of your name for those who know you.  Beyond that, does it matter?

I don’t care what “we” call ourselves, honestly.  Shall I be a Jesus follower, disciple of the Way, lover of God and man, or Christian? I’m ok with all of the above. “Christian” is just a name that the town of Antioch derisively termed those who didn’t acknowledge the Roman emperor. Those outcast rebels. It was never intended as a respectable title. The Apostle Peter liked it. It stuck. Big deal.

Jesus just called his followers disciples–a common term. He had a lot to say about what being a disciple means.  And yeah, sometimes we really mess it up.

My dad once told me that true evidence of Jesus’ humility is that he willingly traded names and reputations with us.  God looks at those he has redeemed and sees the name “Jesus.”  The world looks at Jesus and sees the name “Carolyn” (or any Christian’s name).

Um. Whoa. That makes me want to fall on my face.

In the light of such unrestrained grace, it is not our job to make Jesus look cool or to coerce the world obey him. It’s really not even our job to separate ourselves vociferously from our fellow “Christians” who are “out of line” with our ideals. It’s our job to follow Jesus.  Jesus… “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Strength. Humility. Sacrifice. Love.

I want to know that God. Whatever you want to call me is fine.

I’d love to hear more thoughts!  Have you really been turned off of the title “Christian” because of a specific person or situation? Do you avoid people who call themselves “Christians”? How much does a word association matter when you’re deciding whether a person’s ideas are worth your time?

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2 Comments

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  1. Great observations. Without a doubt, anyone can call themselves anything; even if they are not an accurate example of such. Subsequently, there are characteristice which have been swept into the “Christian” tent that are contrary to the characteristics of one who truly follows Jesus. For us, the real discernment lies in the fruit. A person who loves Jesus will bear fruit that gives evidence of this relationship.

    I’m wondering if Greg Boyd pastors a church in Minneapolis. He may be the one whom I heard an encouraging report about years ago. It involved a decision to step away from the myriad of sideshow issues (politics and whatnot) and focus primarily on presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many became angry and left the church, however, many heard of this shift and joined the church. The end result was a body of saints who were less interested in the issues of temporal significance and more interested in those things which carry over into eternity. It may have been Greg Boyd or it may have been someone else. it was several years ago, but the report has continued to remain with me.

    Thanks for a post that provides one with much to think about. Blessings in Jesus name.

  2. I have gone round with this myself. However in time I decided that my claim to be a Christian is grounded in my own life and my own faith. Anyone who sees me and thinks that they can group me in with various wackjobs can only do so by willfully ignoring everything I am and do. And that’s on them. Instead, I hope to have a witness and faith that is strong enough to blow away any notion that hateful or lying or greedy or power-hungry people represent Christianity. Obviously, I can only hope to do that by leaning harder and harder into Christ. But I do hope that when people encounter me they walk away saying to themselves, “oh – so that’s what a Christian actually looks like.”
    “Continue to live such upright lives among the gentiles that, when they slander you as evildoers, they may see your good works and glorify God when he visits them.” 1 Peter 2:12

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