Defining Christianity

Defining Christianity April 9, 2015

Christianity is the religious praxis of becoming Christ-like

The quote comes from Richard Beck’s post “On (Not) Being Religious.” What do you think of this definition of Christianity? I have had many discussions about the definition of Christianity. What do you think of this one?

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  • melayton

    It certainly should be part of being Christian, but at this point in history I’d say Christianity is a certain intellectual and cultural tradition, perhaps a family of them, but certainly not all paths to becoming Christlike. It’s possible to read the Bible and be convicted you need to become more like Christ, but to come from a part of the world where “Christian” has a long history of imperialism or just intellectual opposition to the tradition you work within. That’s the whole point of Jews for Jesus, which is a bit of a farce in Jewish circles for various reasons but still shows the basic point: you should be able to become Christ-loving (and Christ-like-living) without becoming “Christian.”

    I’d also say there’s a difference between normative and descriptive definitions. As a description of what Christianity should be, this makes sense. As a description of what Christianity is in fact? Not so much, sadly.

    • Yes, thanks for making that point. That is how I understood it – as a description of what Christianity should be, and not as a description of what all forms of Christianity are.

  • John Thomas

    Totally agree with the idea. Why can’t a Christian be defined as who lives just as Jesus did during his earthly life? Why can’t a Christian be defined as someone who implements the teachings of Jesus in Sermon on Mount in their own lives? There are lot of mystical understandings that can be made out of parables and events in the gospels which understood well can be internalized and used as a way of transforming one’s life and leading a peaceful and satisfied life in midst of all stress one feel in the world. That might be what Jesus means when he says about receiving the peace that nothing in the world can give you. Even if the entire Bible is made up of stories with theological and moral motifs, I still think that Bible is useful document for edification and transformation in one person’s life. That is true salvation in my mind. I find the mystical understanding of the stories in gospels as explained by someone like Richard Rohr more spiritually satisfying than literal reading of these texts as some historical events.

  • aricclark

    Yes. And as this is an aspirational definition, an ideal, it’s important to try to move Christians to this place, since for most people who identify as Christian, the definition of Christianity is something like “a set of beliefs and rituals”.

  • Michael Wilson

    I was pondering this earlier. I was trying to figure out what would be the minimal requirement to be Christian and came to the conclusion that a Christian thinks Jesus was the Christ. But this definition takes Christian identity from opinion to action. Jesus was Christ because he did what he did. When someone follows the path Jesus did they become one with Christ, Jesus and every other fellow traveler. Perhaps technically Christians are identified by the confession the there is a Christ and his name was Jesus, spiritual and personally one could say many Christians don’t believe Jesus was a Christ.

    While this might seem like modern thinking forced on ancient beliefs, I wonder if Jesus’s conception of messiah was like that of Daniel’s one like a Son of Man, which is not a individual, but an apocalyptic metaphor for the community of the righteous. Christianity is not just about who is the true eternal king of the Jews, but but realizing, we the community are the savior and eternal sovereign. We need not think that Jesus was the wisest man, most important man. We just need to act as he did and we are part of Christ.

  • Ian

    Doesn’t this merely beg the question of what is Christ-like.

    Note it doesn’t say “Jesus-like, to the extent that we can recover the character of Jesus the second-temple jewish itinerant rabbi”. But refers to the being anointed by God, the actions, priorities and concerns of whom are the core debates of Christianity.

    Is this not, basically what each warring tribe already believes?

    I suspect progressives read this and assume it means “Christ the loving, inclusive, pacifist”, and conservatives read “Christ the righteous, the sinless, the judge”

    Does it get us any further?

    • Michael Wilson

      Good point Ian. First, I don’t think in the long run the difference of perspective between progressives and conservatives matters. Both revere Jesus of Nazareth, which means the person portrayed in the various gospels. People may focus on various aspects but their is an underling unified character that his fans will collect around. Hence even during the violence of the middle ages the Christian world struggled with questions of violence. Jesus’ pacifism can’t be separated out of Christianity.

      Regarding what is Christ-like, we are asking what is God like. The Christ is the anointed king of God’s people and his human manifestation. Jesus had an opinion on what it meant to be God like and Christians are those that agree.