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.