Defining Christian

Defining Christian

Adrian Warnock recently wrote a post on defining what is a Christian. I commented on that post, and largely had no problem with it. I’m looking forward to Adrian’s definition of an evangelical. Now Dave Warnock (no relation that I know of) has written a post critical of Adrian’s effort. Since I usually agree with Dave as opposed to Adrian (I’m a regular reader of both blogs), I paid close attention to Dave’s thoughts.

I may be wrong, but I originally read Adrian’s post from the point of view of making a personal decision. For example, when I say that I’m looking for a Christian church in my neighborhood, what do I mean? Does that include Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, Oneness Pentecostals? If I’m referring someone to a church for fellowship, what exactly do I mean? That personal definition is, for me, not the same as a theological definition, nor is it equivalent to saying who is saved or not (which I leave entirely to God), nor is it saying which congregation contains the better people. It’s a definition of common ground for the purpose of fellowship as a community of faith. For that, when I look for a church to join, it would be limited to those who can say the Apostles’ Creed without crossing their fingers. I know that sounds rather flip, and my theologian friends won’t like it that much, but it’s a pretty accurate description of what goes on in my mind.

I want to emphasize that I do not regard this as a condemnation of all those churches that might not fit the definition. I’m not going to join them, but that’s my decision based on the nature of my faith. I can handle lots of variation within that broader context.

In dialogue, I use a broader definition, one that also doesn’t precisely match the theological definitions Dave quotes. I simply accept as Christian everyone who claims the name “Christian.” I might not be able to handle the theology of their church community as a member, but I accept that it is not my place to decide what they are. They have to accept or reject the labels. That’s a completely different context from the first. I will (and have) explain those two viewpoints in such a dialogue, as well.

I may have misconstrued Adrian’s intent. I intended to answer the question of just what it meant to me to label myself Christian. That’s the first context. That’s how I answered the question. So having worked it through a couple of paragraphs, I’m sticking with my original response.

The third sense, a definition of Christian used in theology (a necessary effort, for example, when doing theology, is obviously a necessary activity if one is to discuss theology. But that is where I point out that I’m not a theologian in the professional sense of the word.

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