Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Defining Christians and Republicans (part one)

Defining itself isn't a popular activity today. It violates the very soul of postmodernism to find centers and edges, and set boundaries; to say "Here's what A is, and here are the borders at which we move from A to non-A." We don't like being so specific. Hence Emerg***, which defines itself as being anti-definitional.

Often it's sheer intellectual cowardice. I noticed and parodied this in seminary, back in the early 80s. Students sprinkled their questions and statements with the wiggle-phrase in a sense. That was your Get Out Of Specificity card. "So... in a sense, isn't Bultmann affirming inspiration?"

Challenged, a student could always retort, "Yeah, but I said in a sense!"

Use that phrase broadly enough, and it's hard to argue that anything is really wrong. Use it broadly enough, and, in a sense, the Eiffel Tower is in Mammoth Lakes, California — because, after all, isn't it one planet?

So now we come to political parties. The mantra for the GOP for decades has been Big Tent. That's shorthand for, "We don't care what you believe or fight for, as long as you call yourself a Republican." So, you can be pro-infanticide or pro-life, pro-big-government or pro-small-government, pro-tax-hikes or pro-tax-cuts, pro-"gay"-"marriage" or anti-. In other words, you can be Duncan Hunter, or you can be Olympia Snowe. Just be a Republican. It's a Big Tent. RINO still starts with an "R."

Well, arch-conservative that I am, I have to grant that there is a point to this. How do you define "Republican," specifically? By the party platform? In that case, the GOP would be larger than current "third"-parties, but not by much. So GOP voters have to decide which values are core values to them in the interests of which they'll accept less-than-perfect.

For instance, candidate Bush had for him that he was pretty solidly pro-life, and (we were told) could beat Algore. But he had that lame and slanderous "compassionate conservatism," which we suspected (rightly) was a code-phrase for bi-i-i-i-ig government. W did turn out to be a good pro-life president, but lost the White House for the GOP due in part to his overspending.

So we can argue whether W was a "good" Republican... but it'd be hard to define him as not a Republican. Because — what are the borders? What is the objective definition? What is the authority?

These are all legitimate questions... in politics. Arnold Schwarzeneggar can say he's a Republican, and so can John Kyl; Tom McClintock, and John Warner. All you have to do is say you're one, register as one, and you are one. Who can challenge the claim? For good or ill, that's the way it is.

So now here's the problem: people have come to speak of claiming to be a Christian in the same terms. If someone says he's a Christian, well then, he is. Who can challenge his claim? In fact, it's bad to challenge that particular claim.

How does this topic compare to politics? Are there no boundaries to "Christianity"? Is it impossible to define Christian faith, to say "Here, here and here are where you leave Christianity and go into something else"? Is there no authoritative source that defines being a Christian?

Of course there is an authoritative source for defining Christian faith: the Bible. And that book does lay down a number of lines, borders, boundaries. They're both conceptual and practical.

But I want to pause for a moment and just reflect on the resistance you get to the very endeavor. It's thought outrageous to try to "define" what it is to be a Christian. Because next thing you know, you're going to actually have to say that some popular person who claims to be a Christian, isn't really a Christian.

But why is that in principle so unthinkable? If I claim to be a casaba melon, you may feel bad for me for saying it, but you won't feel bad for pointing out that I'm really not. Similarly if I claim to be a brick, a Communist, a quahog, or one of the Beatles. I'm just not. I can say I am, but saying doesn't make it so.

Heck, I can teach a parakeet to say "I'm a Christian." But he won't be one, for all that.

All sorts of things in life have borders, edges, termini. Why not being a Christian?

It is, after all, a voluntary association. Nobody has to be a Christian. And particularly, if you don't yourself subscribe to the distinctives of being a Christian, why would you want to say you were one? Before my conversion, I certainly didn't want to be mistaken for a Jesus Freak. Why would I? I despised what they believed, and was happy to distance myself from them.

Lord willing we'll start there, next time, and then move into some definition.

32 comments:

chrish said...

You maybe can't tell from where you sit, but I'm wringing my hands in anticipation. Sort of like the villain in the old Batman show while he waited for whatever nutty contraption he'd made to off the Dynamic Duo.

Except, well, I'm not waiting with evil glee. I'm looking forward to this topic no less, though.

NoLongerBlind said...

Slightly off topic here, but...

In witnessing to someone who is "religious", but possibly self-deceived, I've asked them "if someone were to ask you, 'how do I become a Christian?', what would you say?"
This approach isn't meant to be confrontational; it is a good tool to discern someone's spiritual condition.

As to dogmatically stating whether some third-party individual, like, say, -- just as an example, mind you -- a newly-elected, but not-yet-inaugurated government official, truly is or isn't a "genuine believer", the degree to which your assessment is received or disputed would probably (in a sense) be determined by the wisdom and 'eyesight' of your hearers/readers.

Unfortunately, here in the U.S., there is no "stigma" attached to 'professing Christ' like there is in, for example, Sudan or parts of India. So, we're left with a field FULL of tares, with some 'randomly' (Sovereignly) scattered patches of wheat....

It truly is an exciting time in HIStory to be alive!

JackW said...

Very true and another parallel is I'm GOP because my family is and I am Christian because I was born into a Christian family.

You can be born in a garage, but that doesn't make you a car.

A wee bit off topic ... sorry, but I feel better. ;{)

neur0n said...

Yes. and Yes.
And so we have John McCain defined as a Republican, and Barack Obama as a "Christian." [yet this: belief.net interview]

DJP said...

NLB, except for the part about how exciting a time it is, I totally agree.

I do have a funny/sad story about your question. In my first senior pastorate, I was trying to talk with an older man who was a regular attender, and trying to get some clue as to where he was spiritually. I was getting nowhere.

So I did that tactful question you suggested: "If someone wanted to know how to become a Christian, what would you tell him?"

His answer?

"I'd tell him to talk to the pastor."

Sigh

NoLongerBlind said...

Mister Dan---just to clarify....

Exciting, in the sense of seeing all that God is going to do as He continues "giving our nation over" ala Romans 1:24-32, which (in a sense) would seem to have commensed in the 60's sexual 'revolution'....

Exciting, in that we might see the purification of the church in the near-term through persecution....
(not that I'm masochistic, mind you =:^{ )

Habakkuk is a great book for our times. (Although, I hope God doesn't send a Chaldean-like invasion upon us!)

Nevertheless, in spite of all the evil and spiritual desolation that surrounds us, "Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds' feet, and makes me walk on my high places."
(Habak. 3:18-19)

Maranatha

DJP said...

Me, I just keep thinking of the reputed Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

NoLongerBlind said...

Interesting would seem to, in a sense, be a more apt description...

DJP said...

LOL, well, yes, in a sense, it surely is!

RT said...

I prefer the Irish blessing: "May no new thing arise." There's true conservatism for you.

I, like Chris, am waiting with antici - pation for your next post. I would be tempted to describe it as "wading into a swamp of controversy" were it not for my faith in the virtual irrefutability of your logic.

The comparison to party affiliation is apt. These days I'm working out my Republicanism with fear and trembling.

Wascally Wepublican said...

I really appreciate this post. It comes at the perfect time for me. I was at our local CMA (Christian Motorcycle Association) meeting the other night. When we got to the prayer time one of the members who happens to be a pastor of a local Methodist church requested prayer for “The One” and went on to say that sense “The One” claimed to be a Christian that basically settled the mater and we had to except it as so. Needless to say I’m standing there squeezing my wife’s fingers off biting my tongue to prevent it from moving. I have had this tongue biting experience several times in numerous situations. Maybe you could give some advice on when a person should say something or other alternatives. I hate living in the fear of that dreaded verse “judge not lest you be judged”.

Love Ya even thought some times you go over this country boys head but that’s good to otherwise I wouldn’t be learning anything.

DJP said...

W{2}, hopefully the next will help you some.

And truly, if anything is ever unclear, ask.

Barbara said...

Nolongerblind, I get what you're saying and I totally agree. Glad to know I'm not the only one who's completely nuts! :)

Gilbert said...

Great start, Dan! I can't wait to see the rest of this series (but I'll have to). It is becoming harder and harder to engage anyone by starting a conversation with defining something, whether spiritual or not, these days. I mean, if you're going to introduce someone to a new sport, you start with "here are the rules". But then, the devil likes to obfuscate everything he can, so this should come as no surprise to us. Still, I hate it...

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

DJP: "Because next thing you know, you're going to actually have to say that some popular person who claims to be a Christian, isn't really a Christian.

But why is that in principle so unthinkable?
"

I shall attempt to formulate a hypothesis for a partial, but major explanation to your question. It's because we now live in a "Christian Correctness" environment which has unfortunately adopted wholesale the "Political Correctness" movement, and so it's now deemed wrong for pastors to make a discerning judgement and explicitly identify someone as being an "-In-Name-Only" Christian.

Thus the shepherds who are tasked to protect the flock have been culturally neutered (oftentimes by the flock themselves, sadly), and as a result, they are often too spineless and cowardly to identify the sheep-in-name-only wolf, much less to confront and cast out the wolf.

Very sad.

Both shepherd and flock live in fear of the pervasive presence of the judgmental anti-judgmentalists.

Rachael Starke said...

I just got back from giving my testimony at our womens' study, which I tentatively titled "How I Became a Christian At 18 But Didn't Understand the Gospel Until I Was 30." So, I'm really looking forward to reading more.

Not to jump the gun, but your summary statement about believing all of what Jesus said has been my go-to, helpful "short" version since I first read it here. Considering how I initially think this morning's talk went, probably shoulda stuck with that and just spent the rest of the time praying. :)

Dave said...

DJP sez: And particularly, if you don't yourself subscribe to the distinctives of being a Christian, why would you want to say you were one?

This is a question I have asked numerous times. If you despise most things or everything Christ said, why do you want to be identified as His? There has to be some perceived benefit that I'm missing.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Here's a bold statement:

"As Republicans sort out the reasons for their defeat, they likely will overlook or dismiss the gorilla in the pulpit.

Three little letters, great big problem: G-O-D.

I'm bathing in holy water as I type.

To be more specific, the evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn't soon cometh.

Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia, one would hear precisely that.

The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it."

Excerpted From: Giving Up On God.

In other words, she's saying bugger off Daniel J. Phillips and put a lid on it.

;-)

Carol Jean said...

DJP said,"Heck, I can teach a parakeet to say "I'm a Christian." But he won't be one, for all that."

First, I'd have to take issue with that. I don't think you could teach a parakeet to say that. A parrot yes, parakeet, highly unlikely. FWIW, I've been trying to teach my African Gray Parrot John 3:16. The lady I got him from was fond of "Get off there!" and "Beat it!"

DJP said, "All sorts of things in life have borders, edges, termini. Why not being a Christian?"

Because Universalism is very chic these days, even for Christians. We're all supposed to drink that Kool Aid in order to be good global citizens.

I moderate a very large e-mail list for homeschoolers - not a strictly Christian list. There are some very vocal self-proclaimed pagans who have a hooey when anyone speaks in Christianese, even in passing. These women must watch Bill Mauer 20 hours a day! One of them this week posted a link to Karen Armstrong's TED Talk about her "Charter for Compassion. The premise is that all three Abrahamic religions follow the Golden Rule and we should put aside our differences and make world peace. Basically, A Common Word with the Jews added in. The woman who posted it added the note that it was for anyone who was "TRULY interested in religion." Implying, of course, that anyone who didn't like the contents (which took pot shots at fudamentalist Christians), must not be truly religious and must surely not be compassionate. Someone off list (someone who considers herself to be a Christian and....a pagan) wants to know what a Christian could possibly object to in a talk about compassion and world peace. What indeed.

DJP said...

I maintain my stand — on parakeets.

We had a number of them in my youth. I taught them to say, very clearly, not only "Pretty bird" but "Good grief, Charlie Brown!"

"I'm a Christian" would have been a cake-walk for ol' Peanuts. (And, hearing him say it, I'd've groaned less than when some others mouth the words.)

Carol Jean said...

@DJP: Very impressive with the keets! Apparently the ones I've known have all been dolts! I stand corrected! My parrot says 60+ things but the funniest is coughing up phlegm - he came from a 70 year old : )

JTW said...

Post-modernism has really done a number on us. It permeates society and it does not seem to matter whether or not a person has attended college.

The very notion that anything can be defined with "borders and boundaries" is a foreign concept.

Truth itself does not have borders and boundaries and we all can have our own version of it.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

Can't wait for the next installment, because you're right, right, right. This idea that a person's faithfulness to true, Biblical Christianity can't be measured is absurd.

I remember when I was a kid and Christians engaged in all kinds of debauchery would say that " but God knows my heart". I didn't understand the lunacy of that statement then but now I'd say: "Yes, He certainly does!"

Ms Fancy said...

here it is....laid out in the shortest i can get it.

i have just found your blog and so far have loved everything i have read. it seems to be at the core of my thoughts.

that said, i am excited and SCARED for this series! I gave my life to Christ 7 years ago and have since become a diluted christian. when first falling in love, i couldn't get enough. i was on fire, passionate and unstoppable. life happened, scenes changed and i lost any true discipleship i had a single girl.

it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to walk this walk without SOMEONE alongside you who holds as strong of convictions as you. all of these fence christians make it extremely difficult for a new believer to maintain there strength in their willingness to follow what's True.

i am not BLAMING anyone but myself for the state i am in but i am encouraging those of you who are strong in their faith and willing to be bold in their accusations to find someone younger than they and disciple them. it seems it is a command that is severely lacking being executed in the Church today.

i have been praying fervently for 5 years that someone would walk alongside me who has "been there" and can give me a "this is how this is played out in real life scenarios." i have even gone so far as to ask someone i felt led to as to be that person.....apparently my leadings were wrong because she denied my request.

not to mention my peers who are unwilling to call me out when i have erred in my ways. what accountability is there if no one is willing to be bold about their faith and put it above "peace making"

i am confused as to how to live the life i so desire to live without having the community to lift me up in my journey. i KNOW it can be done but thus far it has proven to be a challenge that i have yet to conquer.

all rebukes accepted.

humbly struggling.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Ms Fancy,

No rebukes from this corner. Only genuine appreciation for your self-awareness and humility of where you are in your faith-walk as a struggling disciple of Christ.

If I may ask, are you a regularly-attending member of a church? Or perhaps I should ask, what city do you live in? Perhaps the online community here can suggest a good church that you can worship Him in and also be discipled.

Much Love and Warmth in Christ.

Ms Fancy said...

OH BOY.....here we go. if you want it, i will give it.....

i am involved faithfully in my church. i attend regularly, tithe (though it has come to only that 10% since I have become diluted), serve in the church and have daily (most of the time) "quiet times" with the Lord. the disciplines are there for the most part but they are producing NO fruit and zero intimacy as i have experienced before.

we attend sunday school regularly and fellowship regularly with those involved in that class.

i have now attended 2 churches....one when i was single and then one now that i am married (we moved)(we also have 2 small children). i feel like the Pastor "tells it like it is" for the most part and preaches scripture but I have yet to find a member of the congregation who is as "in your face" as he. it seems that they ALL have this syndrome Dan speaks of.

While I love my husband to death, unfortunately he is a HARD CORE fence Christian which I attribute to growing up with his spiritually confused, hypocritical father. This will not change unless the Lord decides to work a miracle. Even when he says he is "ready to get on track", his "on track" is far different than mine. This leads to lots of problems, one of which has been how to love and honor my husband while love and honoring my God first. It has come to the analogy of trying to pull someone up onto a chair verses pulling them down from the chair.....which is easier? I have been pulled off that chair.

all that to say that even if you suggested a wonderful, God fearing church, I am not sure my husband would be willing to move church homes.....though it is certainly something i can pray about and trust God to move in him if it be His will.

we live in the North Fort Worth area. living in the Bible belt so close to 2 seminaries, i have met plenty of people who have attended seminary and they are just as bad as the rest of the Christian world about this syndrome EXCEPT that they are more dangerous because they are armed with a title that seems to give them more authority. can you hear my frustration?

if you know of somewhere i might find true discipleship and a congregation made up mostly of Bible FOLLOWING christians, i would LOVE to hear it. thanks so much!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear Ms. Fancy,

I offer the following suggestions, humbly and tentatively:

(1) I think you've been faithful in your church home! Would it be possible to approach your pastor and share with him your struggles? That seems like a good place to start (in addition to Bible reading and prayer) for pastoral guidance.

(2) Here's something that I think you'd benefit from: True Woman Manifesto.

(3) I can't say whether you should go church shopping or not. That would be inappropriate. You should approach your pastor first.

However, if that doesn't work out, then how far is Denton from where you are?

Here's a church that you might consider visiting: Denton Bible Church.

I've heard pastor Tommy Nelson preach on the radio, and he's very grounded in Scripture.

(4) Lastly, here's what another online friend wrote (that may have some applicability to your home situation):

"My husband was a nominal Christian for 21 years of our marriage. He always attended church with me, but it seemed that everything went in one ear and out the other. There was no fruit evidencing a transformed heart. A tree is known by it’s fruit. James speaks of a faith without works, which is dead. It is possible to believe the right things, in your head, but not have a relationship with God at all. It is possible that you have even had some sort of “conversion experience”….such as going forward at an alter call, or having “asked Jesus into your heart” as a child. It is possible that you could do such a thing and yet not have come to a point of true repentance and saving faith…. a true conversion. It is possible to be a self-deceived, false convert.

My husband went forward at an evangelistic concert four years before we got married. Our marriage was hard. We were never on the same wavelength. I began to doubt over the years that he was truly in Christ. There was no evidence to suggest that he was. It’s not that he committed gross immoral sins as most would classify, but he never exhibited the fruit of the Spirit in his life. He was typically angry, lacked peace, joyless, lacked self control in the way he treated me, was unloving etc. He rarely read God’s word. He didn’t desire it. He wasn’t interested in building relationships with other believers. He just sat through church every Sunday, hearing the word preached well, but lived like a hypocrite– especially at home.

I meanwhile have developed a love for sharing the Gospel. It was one way that I could be used by God which didn’t require scheduled time commitments which my husband might object to. Increasingly it began to bother me that I was sharing the Gospel with others, while having serious doubts about the salvation of my own husband.

I began to pray that God would help me to know, one way or the other, whether my husband was in Him or not. I figured that if I knew, I would have a better sense about what to do. God answered this prayer of mine in a very specific way. He showed me how it irritated my husband when I spent time sharing the Gospel with someone… how disdainful he would become. My husband also expressed his irritation with my great interest in reading Christian books, and listening to Christian radio preachers. He didn’t like who I had become. He let me know how fanatical he thought I was. It was like God caused him to burst out with all of his true thoughts that day… all of the things he had never quite dared express. I knew that God had shown me what I had asked of Him.

I then began to pray that God would give me the wisdom to know what to do about it….. what I should maybe say to my husband. One morning we had gone out to breakfast, and I felt as if God said: “Now.”

So, I figured I better respond to that nudge. It turned out to be the perfect time and place. I told my husband that I had been doubting, for quite a long time, that he was truly a child of God. This definitely caught his attention. He was surprised and asked why. It was a conversation not without rough spots, but that’s why it was good that we were waiting for our food. We had to stay there together. When we left, I felt satisfied that I had said what I needed to say, and that he had heard me.

In the days to follow it was evident that my husband was giving much thought to what I had said….. and talking with God intently about it. About a month later, right after Christmas, I turned on the radio and there was a pastor talking about false conversion. My husband was in the room, and was glued, because he had been thinking much about this possibility. We tuned in the next day as well.

That night my husband told me that he felt very convicted. I believe that he was truly experiencing the conviction of God’s Spirit. He told me that he just wanted to have peace….. the peace he never had. In the days to follow he asked me questions, and we had some of the most meaningful discussions we had ever had. It was finally to come to a head this past summer, about the time of our 21st anniversary. Our pastor preached from Matt. 7:24-28

My husband told me, a week after that sermon, that he had something to tell me. That he finally had peace. He was finally ready to give himself completely to Jesus. I was so bathed in peace myself at that moment…. it was like I was slowly absorbing what he had said. He told me that he wanted to talk with our pastor, which he did do a week later. Before he went to meet with him, I asked him: “I am thinking that this is the time of your true conversion….. is that what you are thinking?” He answered affirmatively.

Since that time, he has had a great desire to read and study God’s word! He has made a daily habit of this, and doesn’t like to miss it. He still wrestles with some of his former habits, but he is convicted, and desires to part from his old ways."

Hope that God has used me (and the technology of the internet) to serve you as a fellow pilgrim.

Peace and Blessings.

Ms Fancy said...

Truth Unites... and Divides

Thanks for your input. I will seriously consider talking with my Pastor. That is quite out of my comfort zone as I feel that I am "tattling" or something of the sorts but I know that it is something I should feel okay about doing and am not opposed to getting out of my comfort zone.

I think going to a Mega church my first go round put a stigma on Pastors for me....like they are "special" and don't want to converse with the lowly lay people of the congregation.....just one of the MANY problems with that church.

Anyhow....thanks for the link....I do enjoy Nancy Leigh Demoss' teaching but was not familiar with this.

thanks also for the bit from your friend....it is always encouraging to hear stories of the sort.

Denton is about an hour away so, too far for us now, but I did attend that church (alongside the Mega church) in my single days (when you had the time and ability to do anything and drive anywhere) and it was by far one of the most Bible based, in your face, no bones about it churches I have ever attended. I enjoyed it immensely and felt that it did help me in my walk....I just wish there was something comparable within a doable distance from us.

anyway, thanks again for your suggestions/guidance.

Wascally Wepublican said...

Did I say something wrong? My post didn't go thru.

DJP said...

No clue, never saw it. Blogger weirdness. Please try again.

Wascally Wepublican said...

I'll try again in the morning getting late out here on the "right" coast(LOL) and we have a bible study tonight. I have what I sent at work and I have to go in anyway.

Wascally Wepublican said...

Ms Fancy

I have no answers for you. I can just encourage you to stay in the word, pray, read things that challenge you such as this blog and pyro, examine yourself by the word, remember God is faithful.

I don't know if you have heard of Trisha Ramos but she is very close to your area check out her web site. I think it would be encouraging to you. Her husband has started a church in your area you can check it out on her web site, but as far as changing churches that’s not something I would say, I would not know. Don't be thrown by the fact that they meet in a "Church of Christ" building that's just where they meet they are just using there building. There church “Sovereign Joy Community Church” is solid doctrinally.
www.fishwithtrish.com