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Defining “Christian” in our discussion about culture

Before we start to learn how Christians interact with the world around them we have to start by defining the term, “Christian.”

The fact is this word can be used, even by people who call themselves by the title, as a pejorative; it can be a very decisive title. There are many ways “Christian” is used. Some use this word to describe someone that is a moral person- “Christians don’t act that way.” Others use this adjective to describe someone that believes the same thing they do about God and the Bible- “Christians don’t believe that about the Bible.” Still others might use this word to describe the people they think are going to heaven- “Is he a Christian, or an unbeliever?”

I don’t want to discuss whether or not these definitions are correct. I just want to be clear that when we use the word “Christian” for our purposes as we discuss Christ and Culture we are referring to anyone who calls themselves by that title. For our purposes- to survey the many ways people apply their faith to the culture in which they live- we are not trying to determine who is right and heaven-bound or who is incorrect and doomed to hell. Some of the possible ways Christians interact with Culture will be offensive to you. You might think that a “real” Christian would never act in “that” way. Some of the people we will discuss you might not want to call “Christians.” The honest truth is that the Theologian who originally came up with these categories to describe different types of Christians admitted that he is probably not considered “Christian” by many people- and I count myself among them. You may even be right and they might be wrong. But this is beyond the purpose of this particular discussion.

This brings out what might be the most important part of this topic. Our point is to learn how we interact with the world around us, so we can live more consistently but we will do this by looking at how other Christians do the same. As we explore this topic we will fall into the temptation to compare ourselves to others. Upon comparing ourselves we will find it easy to write-off people with whom we disagree. If you spend your time taking this easy-route you will not learn as much as you could if you were to try to get into their shoes. The fact is, they think they are right and are following the Christian path and might think you are the one who is wrong. Rather than just oversimplify people’s position that you are uncomfortable with, try and put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself if there is anything you can learn from how they read the Scriptures. Perhaps they can challenge a preconception that you never knew you had. You will never know if you just write off people who make you feel uncomfortable.

The second temptation is to justify us at other’s expenses. We do this when we use others to make ourselves look better. This is part of what we are doing when we don’t take the time to try and understand someone who might disagree with us. We will be tempted to inflate ourselves at another’s expense- usually another who has no ability to respond. When we do this we are building a false sense of righteousness that is built on how we compare to others rather than on the righteousness of Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel. You see, when we think of ourselves as better than another for any reason, we are making ourselves righteous. The Gospel tells us that the only reason we are acceptable to God is because of Christ’s righteousness, and not anything that we can contribute to it. When we attempt to be righteous in any way other than Christ, we have turned our back on him. As a result we will only become self-consumed and selfish, rather than loving, which is what he is calling us to be.

Loving the world around us is the whole point. No Christian, no matter where they come from or what church they attend, would disagree that we are to love our neighbors. The basic question this discussion asks is how we are to love the people in our culture. We can only begin to do this when we stop trying to build our own self-righteousness by justifying ourselves at other’s expense.

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