C.S. Lewis wrote about the “death of words.” In essence, he suggested that, whenever we feel compelled to append a noun with the adjectives true or real, it is safe to say that the noun has lost its meaning, or died. “No, no, we’re true conservatives.” There’s my example.
So what do you do, then? Do you bury the rotting logos and fire up a neologism? “Thou art thyself,” quoth Juliet, “though not a Montague.” To which Romeo replied, “Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptiz’d.” Of course we know that, upon receiving his girlfriend’s ablution, all of Master Love’s problems were solvéd.
Today, we have Christian hip-hop that “kicks it Jesus-style”; Christian denominations that employ clergy who deny every single proposition of the Nicene Creed; and Christian nations whose god is mammon. Some of us find ourselves using terms like nominal Christian and true Christian.
Has the word Christian died? And if so, what’s to be done by those of us who are, er, the People Formerly Known As Christians?
Drop it! That’s what an increasing number of American PFKACs are doing. They are no longer Christians; they are Christ-followers.
Now this appellation has been bouncing around the evangelical world for a few years, from Willow Creek to Saddle-back. Christian carries all of that heavy baggage, whereas Christ-follower is intentional—it intentionally displays intentionality. Call yourself a Christ-follower, and stop those slandering naysayers in their tracks.
Ever see those commercials for Mac-intosh computers, where the cool, wise dude introduces himself, “I’m a Mac,” while the geeky, inept nerdster adds, “and I’m a P.C.”? Well one church has posted its own version on YouTube, in which the hipster is a Christ-follower, while the Christian is the total dweeb.
There are several installments of I’m a Christ-follower, and each follows the conventions of the I’m a Mac commercials. The Christ-follower is unassuming, disheveled, shoots knowing glances at the viewing audience. The Christian is unself-aware, besuited and benecktied, and wrapped up in a world of conventionalism and bumbling ineptitude. He has to wear his “Sunday best”; is heavy laden with theological books, “morality books,” and a giant, leather-clad King James Bible, which he wields like a light saber; and has a surplus of “Christian bumper stickers.” Meanwhile the Christ-follower wears jeans and a sweatshirt; keeps his hands in his pockets; listens to U2; and makes fun of the Christian.
Note the following paradox: The I’m a Christ-follower videos, which end with the words “Christian No More,” are produced by something called Community Christian Church.
Note also that the image of the Christ-follower, as displayed by the aforementioned videos, corresponds to the image of the mega-church suburban Rejecter of Chur-chi-anity that is well-known enough to be an object of parody and ridicule itself among stand-up comics and Hollywood writers.
Is it too soon to say that the word Christ-follower has died? That the nascent neologism is already in need of replacement? What’s a PFKAC-f to do?
There is no doubt that plenty has been done in the name of Christianity that has not been good for advertising. But then again, the Faith once delivered to the saints Itself is not really marketable in the first place. It may come as a shock to some of the Christ-followers out there, but Christian has taken a beating more than once in the past. And yet, the response of Christians has not been to change the packaging. In fact, they didn’t see the name as packaging at all: It was a confession.
Some scholars are quick to point out that the word Christianos (“of Christ”) only appears three times in the Bible. (That’s three more than Christ-follower, for those keeping score.) “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” notes Saint Luke in Acts 11. Before that, and even after that, they were “disciples,” “brethren,” “saints,” and “the faithful.” But Christian quickly became established, so much so that, in Chapter 26, Luke recalls that King Agrippa admitted to Paul, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”
It is Saint Peter’s usage of the word, however, that illustrates its staying power: “if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4). Earlier, Peter had been speaking about the happiness that comes from “partaking in Christ’s sufferings.” But be warned, he added: Not all slander comes as a result of partaking in Christ’s sufferings. Some of it comes from being an idiot. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody.” Or a hipster or a dweeb, we might add.
In his Apology, Justin Martyr writes about the fact that, in the early second century, the name Christian came to be associated with atheism, because Christians refused to burn incense to the Roman gods. Well, obviously, they weren’t really atheists, so should they repudiate the denigratory name?
On the contrary, writes Justin, how could they ever consider it denigratory to be called a Christian? “So far at least as one may judge from the name we are accused of, we are most excellent people.”