Monday, June 27, 2005

Christian as an Adjective

I'm sitting in our meeting place waiting for the bands to start. We've opened our leased facility to the local bands and so now regularly host a concert every couple of months. Tonight it'll be a couple of the regular local bands, and one from Oregon and another from Italy (unless Alex was messing with me). Should be interesting.

So I get to sit here and blog . . . and probably work on some teaching for this week.

Note to all cynics - we've had upwards of a couple hundred high school students here putting on their own concerts several times, and except for the one incident where someone microwaved a t-shirt and discovered the singe/melt factor . . . we've never had any trouble. The organizers even stay afterward and help set up the sanctuary after it's over.

I'm sure that some would want to ask "are they Christian bands?"

I'm not sure how to answer that. I'm not sure what that question means. Does is mean the band members are believers? Does it mean the songs are overtly Christ-centered? Does the band have to have a creedal statement to be Christian?

Sure . . . I know what most people mean by that question, but it is a lousy question. "Christian" is not an adjective that can be used to modify all our nouns. Is that a Christian school? Is that a Christian restaurant? Is that a Christian political party? Is that a Christian nuclear weapon? See how quickly it devolves?

Using "Christian" as an adjective separates the world into two camps. By not bestowing that adjective we implicitly label them as pagan. It seems that in an Ephesians sorts of way Christ is seeking to break down walls of separation - not erect them. We are redeeming, inviting, including, welcoming, and leavening the world. That's hard to do when everything either receives or is denied the "Christian" adjective.

I doubt that these bands are Christian in the overtly we-are-trying-to-communicate-evangelical-messages way. They might even be wary, perhaps hostile to Christianity. I heard two girls talking in the hall as they looked at some of the books we have in our coffee shop area, and one said sarcastically, "let's read the Bible." But maybe the fact that we welcomed those two girls to use our space, and even to express their disdain, will start to undermine their negative attitudes toward believers. Of course I want to tell them that we're different . . . not like institutional bastions of exclusion - but they'll only believe it if they experience a difference. I can't tell them anything.

Still sound checks. It's going to be a long night.


Kevin said...

thank you for your post. I have grown quite weary of the "us vs them mentality" (i.e. "don't buy Kraft products, they support the gay olympics). Jesus did not seem to be so selective in who he was associated with. Perhaps he knew what he was doing. Enjoy the music!

Anthony Parker said...

I agree completely with you letting whoever use your facility -- it belongs to God and he lets all of us, Christian and pagan, use his stuff all the time.

I wonder about abandoning the pagan/Christian dichotomy however. In Ephesians, unity is "in Christ." I take it there has to be an "out of Christ" opposite. Other dichotomies are inconsequential, but this one seems to matter a great deal. But, at least from the "in Christ" side of things, there must be no hostility, but love towards those on the outside. Only by being engaged with those out of Christ can they find their way into Him.

Greg Newton said...


My take on the subject generally is that we ought to think more of "in Christ" as where God does his work, and not a label I wear. The theological emphasis is not where I must be (I must be right to be in and in is where the good stuff is- the typical CofC emphasis), but instead that we recognize all God is doing in Christ freely for everyone to enjoy if only they will.

I'm not to go around claiming to be "in Christ" and pointing out that someone else is "out of Christ". Joy, peace, forgiveness, comfort, unity, and a host of other divine blessings abound "in Christ".

When I turn a relationship into a badge (an adjective, if you will), then, for me, I believe the Good News of announcing what is a free gift offered openly in Jesus Christ to all, becomes the pronouncment that you are outside what I have. I'm in, you're out.

I'd prefer "look what I've found that we were given!" Note the "I've found" together with the "we were given". It is the announcement that all were given outrageous gifts, but some sadly remain unaware. The gospel is that the Kingdom of God here! Repent! Enter! Enjoy! (If repent seems inconsistent with "enjoy" note Rom. 2:4 - a verse I don't remember hearing in CofC).

I agree totally that there are Christians and there are pagans. There are that which participates in the divine life and that which does not. My distaste is with going through the world afixing adjectives saying this is Christian and that is not. I believe such labelling often overlooks the imperfection of that which is labelled Christian, and the prevenient Spirit in that which is not.

David Olivet said...

Thanks for putting into words something that has tugged at my heart for a while. It's so easy to use the Christian label yet lack a relationship with God. He calls us to do everything to His glory - even things seemingly as trivial as brushing your teeth. When we give our lives fully to Him, all that we do is to His glory. Granted, this is much easier said than done, but it tends to simplify everything. No lines and no labels required. Say, that reminds me...did I use my Christian toothbrush this morning?

Anthony Parker said...

Greg, thanks for your response. Maybe its the different culture that I'm in that makes this less of an issue with me. I do remember feeling nauseated walking into certain "bookstores," in quotes because they sell only a small selection of the hottest selling authors, and the rest is dedicated to the "Christian" marketing machine for household decorations and gifts.

May we never lose sight that it's all about grace, and the One who has given us grace has offered it freely to all, that we are all underserving. Is that what you're getting at?

In your reponse, was beginning to think that you were saying that the gift of grace has not only been offered, but already reaceived by all -- but then you got to that important sequence -- the Kingdom has come (God's initiative comes first), Repent, Enter, Enjoy!

Could we say that conversion (epistrephein) marks a "turning" toward the gift Giver?

Romans 2:4 was one of the favorite verses of Harvey Floyd, my Grace and Greek professor at Lipscomb, who always used it as an example of the conative force -- "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance." I realize that is an interpretation, but probably a pretty good one.

We'll I've probably written more than I should have, but I'm in Accra and have a rare high-speed connection.

Anthony Parker said...

Hey, it's me again. I just read something I thought is relevant here. It's from Salvation to the Ends of the Earth by Köstenberger and O'Brien (IVP, 2001, p. 267). They say,

"The world's rejection of God's people and their mission in Christ's name is not the final word. Believers should not respond in like manner and reject the world. Instead, we are to be firm in our resolve to proclaim the gospel as we bear testimony to Jesus (cf. John 15:18-27), knowing the sovereign Lord draws people to himself."

I liked that emphasis on not rejecting the world.

Greg Newton said...


Thanks for the conversation!

In regards to the "first" of your last two posts:
I do see that grace is not just a "potential" for all, but truly an real gift to all. At this point the question usually is "so are you saying all are saved?"

I would rather stay away from that greatest of all evangelical curiosities/obsessions: "who is saved?" The question keeps everything at a minimalist level spiritually and missed that God wants to do so much more than "save" us.

Paul says that God is the Savior of all men, but especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10). I believe perhaps we rob from the cross some of its work if we say Jesus died so all men would have the opportunity to be saved. I see scripture saying Jesus died a substitutionary death for all men. He is the Savior of all. He does not die for my sins when I ask for forgiveness. He already died for my sins.

The Ephesians heard the gospel of their salvation (Eph. 1:13). It was the announcement of what had already been done. Grace has appeared to all men (Titus 2:11).

The good news is telling people that the price has been paid, not that there is a plan which, if they follow it, will result in salvation. Salvation is complete because God has done it fully in the cross - and now we are telling people that the free gift has been given.

Do people have to receive the gift? - Sure, by faith. They trust God for the gift he offers.

So I do want to keep the order (from a human perspective) that we hear that the reign of God is here, we hear about the cross and how our sins are forgiven in Jesus, and we are to turn - moved by the incredible kindness of God - and trust in that gift.

That is what I am trying to say - not to argue with anyone, but to talk about the radical nature of grace in a fullness that is not the way I grew up (God has provided a plan for salvation which I must complete by following the instructions. The good news was that there is a plan I can follow).

My original post wasn't making this point - but about the labelling of everything as Christian or not, as if it is that simple. You are right - being in Africa there is less of this slapping "Christian" on things like exercise gyms - like our "Lord's Gym" here in Birmingham.

Even so, if I were back in Tanzania, a would be even more disposed to see God in the lives of more people. I never was a missionary who liked the rhetoric of "spiritual warfare" as a dominant metaphor because it is so antagonistic and certainly unproductive if those who are pre-belief hear it. Paul's emphasis is that it is about the unseen forces.

I LOVE the second post and that quote!!!! That is the essence of it! Like I just said, what if we think about "non-believers" as being "pre-belief" - which is a more hopeful posture which sees them not as rejectors but those who have not yet embraced the gift.

I know there are those who absolutely reject. I also see the more I minister that most who struggle with disbelief are not hardened rejectors of God, but often mired in all types of problems and sins, some passed to them from others. The well-noted observation is that the only people Jesus slammed as rejectors of God's way were the religious leaders. He called the most blatant sinners to a new way, but he certainly always had an open, hopeful, "you can enter right here and now" disposition toward everyone else. There was no harshness.

There is a difference between telling people they are outside and telling them they can come in. A logician says that the second implies the first. Nonetheless, there is a difference!