Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Christian" Doesn't Always Mean the Same Thing

One of the complaints with the Manhattan Declaration was that the use of the term "Christian" to refer indiscriminately to evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox groups compromised the gospel. Some argued that since these groups do not share the same gospel, using the term to apply to each group implies an indifference to gospel clarity.

It may be argued (as I have) that signing the MD was naïve, imprudent, unhelpful, and at best meaningless. It may also be argued that this usage of "Christian" creates a troublesome ambiguity. But this assertion, on the basis of its use of "Christian," that it actually compromises the gospel is simply unsustainable. "Christian" doesn't always mean the same thing. And it's not just me saying that. It's Kevin Bauder writing here:
[T]he term Christian is used in more than one sense. In the strict and proper sense, it applies only to those who affirm all the fundamentals of the Faith, including the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and justification through faith alone. In this sense, the Roman church of today is not a Christian church and most medieval Catholics were probably not Christian either. In a less technical sense, however, the word Christian can be used to distinguish those who affirm Trinitarian orthodoxy from infidels, pagans, and cultists. In that sense Catholicism can be called Christian, and that is the sense in which the Middle Ages were influenced by Christian categories.


Anonymous said...

You're not suggesting, are you, that those who argued that the gospel was compromised by the MD made their whole case on the use of that one word, Christian?


Dan said...

Every word has more than one meaning. The word *Christian* is completely normal in that respect. It's a standard function of language that hearers or readers assign the proper nuance to word by examining the context in which it's used. Any of the concerns I've seen about the wisdom of the MD have made it very clear that the problem is not so much the use of the word as the context in which it was used.

Ben said...

Dan, please know that I'm not criticizing you for not having encountered the sort of argument I'm addressing. No doubt your reading is more discriminate than mine. But it took me all of five minutes to find three examples of what I'm talking about. One of them was actually quite recent. I believe DMD referred to it obliquely in one of his own posts. I'll follow his lead and not link to it.

DMD, I am suggesting that some people have based their argument on that simple inaccurate assumption. Perhaps others have based their case partly on that inaccurate assumption (I can't recall off the top of my head), and to whatever degree they have, their credibility and argument is weakened.

That's not to suggest that the ambiguity created by the historic or sociological usage of the term isn't harmful. But it's a different sort of discussion—about prudence and judgment, not indifference and ecumenism.

brian said...

Based on Bauder's definition, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who gladly defend Glenn Beck in his "Christian" pursuits would themselves not qualify as Christians, since they can't muster enough theological integrity to defend the Trinity from the pagans and cultists.

So in this case, Christians could not be called "Christians"--and maybe they shouldn't be.

d4v34x said...

Glenn Beck let slip on Friday he's not concerned about Christianity at all. He's only concerned that you follow "one G/god." If you do that your politics will be right.

Mike G said...

In a day of so much religious confusion, if evangelicals who have an opportunity to clarify what a true Biblical Christian is, by not signing the MD, who will stand up and say what the difference is. Of course it's shortsighted, not wise, etc., to sign something like that--why are we here? What light can we be to the world if the fundamental differences are NOT highlighted.