Thursday, January 24, 2013

Why arguments about who is a real Christian bore me

Jeff Lowder accused Mark Driscoll of "mind-reading" when he said that Obama is not a Christian, and Steve Hays replied that we have good reason to deny that he is a Christian given his some of his social views and his sympathy with black liberation theology.

A little biblical exegesis might put this in perspective.

Trouble here is that the word "Christian" appears in the Bible as something that the followers of Christ were called by others. It appears, as best I can recall, twice in the whole Bible. It was actually a dirty name, associated with persecution. Acts 11:46 says "and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." I Peter 4:16 says "However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name."


In other words he's telling the followers of Christ to praise God for bearing a name given to them by persecutors. Later Christians accepted the name. That's one of the reasons why I find endless discussions about who is, and is not a "real" Christian rather boring. I am inclined to think that acceptance of certain central doctrinal tenets of Christianity are more important that social/political issues, because these involve not merely what is right or wrong, but also what the state should do about it. And since the New Testament was written during a time when Christians had no political power, all it says about the state is to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

Now, if you're a Catholic, you have a Church mechanism for determining who is a Catholic, and if you part of a church that has a doctrinal confession, you can decide that some people don't belong in  your church because they publicly deny central elements of your doctrinal confession. Catholics do say they are the one true church, but they don't deny that those outside aren't Christians, while other churches don't even make the claim that they are the one true church.

On the other hand, Richard Dawkins says that Obama is probably really an atheist, since he is such a sensible person. But I think Jeff would have to accuse him of mind-reading as well. (Interesting point of agreement between Driscoll/Hays and Richard Dawkins).




10 comments:

B. Prokop said...

While the term "Christian" can be traced back to the Book of Acts, the first recorded use of the word "Christianity" occurs in the Letter to the Magnesians of St. Ignatius of Antioch (written shortly before AD 108). "Therefore, when we become his [Christ's] disciples, let us learn to live according to Christianity."

Note that Ignatius appears to regard Christianity as a way of living, rather than an acceptance of a creed (which nevertheless comes first, i.e., "when we become his disciples").

steve said...

i) The question of who is or isn’t a Christian is sometimes boring. There are, however, times when that’s germane. For instance, back when aristocrats had too many sons, one way of unloading them was to dump them on the church, via ecclesiastical preferments. That contributed to a worldly episcopate. But even by the lax standards of the day, certain lines were drawn. Louis XV scotched a notoriously profane candidate by declaring “The Archbishop of Paris must at least believe in God.”

Distinguishing Christians from non-Christians is germane to ordination, church membership, seminary professorships, &c.

ii) It’s also relevant if someone is put forward as a Christian representative to define or redefine what Christianity stands for.

iii) Victor commits the word-concept fallacy. The occurrence of the word “Christian” in the NT is irrelevant to the concept. It’s a traditional label with biblical pedigree, and it accentuates the Christocentric nature of Biblical faith and piety. But what designation we use is secondary.

iv) The NT (as well as the OT) regularly links orthodoxy with orthopraxy, as well as linking heresy and idolatry with immorality. So Victor’s attempt to compartmentalize core doctrinal beliefs from personal and social ethics is arbitrary.

v) “On the other hand, Richard Dawkins says that Obama is probably really an atheist, since he is such a sensible person. But I think Jeff would have to accuse him of mind-reading as well. (Interesting point of agreement between Driscoll/Hays and Richard Dawkins).”

To deny Obama’s Christian bona fides doesn’t select for any particular alternative classification. I don’t have to have any opinion about what Obama is to have an opinion about what he is not. He might be a nominal Christian, religious pluralist, closet atheist. Theoretically he could be a Muslim agent, but that’s not high on list.

unkleE said...

Agree 100% Vic. We cannot all agree on a definition of "christian" let alone make accurate judgments about who conforms to our definition.

But even if we accept for the moment whatever definition Mark Driscoll uses, wouldn't it be fairer to say (from his viewpoint) that Obama is a "bad" christian, or "inconsistent" or something like that? Did the apostle Peter stop being a "christian" when he denied he knew Jesus??

steve said...

unkleE said...

"Agree 100% Vic. We cannot all agree on a definition of 'christian' let alone make accurate judgments about who conforms to our definition."


Agree 100% unkleE. We cannot all agree on a definition of "human" let alone make accurate judgments about who conforms to our definition. Just look at competing definitions in evolutionary theory, philosophy of mind, abortion, artificial intelligence, &c.

Therefore, there's no point treating unkleE any different than a moose during hunting season.

B. Prokop said...

"Did the apostle Peter stop being a "Christian" when he denied he knew Jesus?"

Actually, at that point, Peter was still strictly Jewish. There were no Christians at all until after Pentecost.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

On the other hand, Richard Dawkins says that Obama is probably really an atheist, since he is such a sensible person. But I think Jeff would have to accuse him of mind-reading as well.

Yep. I think Dawkins is wrong.

Papalinton said...

Yep, Obama is a sensible christian.
And George Dubbya is a nonsensical christian.
Clearly the term "christian" is as inexplicable and as representative of the mythos from which it was spawned.

B. Prokop said...

It is of no importance to us (personally, at least) to know who is or is not a Christian. It is only important to know what it means to be one... and then to act on that knowledge.

BeingItself said...

"Therefore, there's no point treating unkleE any different than a moose during hunting season."

Wow, what an idiot.

Look at a color wheel. Can you tell exactly where green becomes yellow? No. But can we sensibly speak of green and yellow? Yes.

steve said...

BeingItself said...

"Wow, what an idiot."

It's called a tu quoque argument. You might wish to master the concept before you start calling people idiots; otherwise, you end up looking idiotic.