Wikipedia is a handy resource, but it has its limitations. Take, for instance, its description of Christianity as being “a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament.” Close, but no cigar.
I realize not everyone will agree, but I have to take issue with the definition for two reasons. 1) Though it’s a cliché, it’s a fact that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship. 2) Christianity is not based on the life of Jesus; rather, it’s Jesus’s life being manifested in another person (Galatians 2:20).
Rather than being adherents to a theology, Christians are individuals who have been supernaturally and eternally transformed by the same power that raised Jesus from the grave. (Notice that Paul’s explanation of this in Ephesians 1:19 – 2:6 speaks in past tense: not that we will be raised from the dead, but that we have been).
We’re talking some weird stuff here; no wonder the unbelieving the world doesn’t get it. What’s sad is that many Christians don’t get it either. And it doesn’t help when titles on the Christian bookshelf support the misconceptions.
I recently read a book billed as Christian and recommended by a friend. I found it well written and professionally produced. It mentioned God, yes, and it quoted a couple of Bible verses, interpreting them with contextual integrity, as far as it went. But you don’t have to be a Christ-follower to believe in God or to agree with those Bible passages. I read that book from the dedication to the discussion questions and every word in between, and found nothing that had anything to do with the unique nature of Christianity. How, then, is it classified as a Christian novel?
Yes, I know; technically, Christian novel is an impossible term because a novel is inanimate and cannot be a Christian. But even using the phrase as it’s generally understood, I don’t see how the book qualifies. In my opinion (and no, my opinion doesn’t mean much), that sort of novel should be called inspirational, not Christian.
There’s nothing the matter with inspirational stories, and I’m certainly not the type who says Christians should only read Christian literature; quite the opposite. I just think we need to be a little more careful about how we portray Christianity.
The best way to get God’s definition of a term is to see how it’s defined the first time it appears in the Scriptures. (Some Bible students call this the “Law of First Mention.”) Not surprisingly, a great number of these words are first found in Genesis, the book of beginnings. But because “Christian” is a thoroughly New Testament concept, its first mention is in the first thoroughly New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 11:26).
“What about the gospels?” you may ask. “They’re in the New Testament before Acts, you know.” True; but when speaking of dispensations, the New Testament age began at Calvary, not Bethlehem. This is because, according to long-standing secular legal practices as well as Hebrews 9:15-16, a testament doesn’t go into effect until after the death of the testator. If this intrigues you, go ahead and read all of Hebrews 9—better yet, chapters 8 through 10. It’s worth your time, because understanding this simple concept helps us keep our bearings as we study the Bible.
But back to those folks in Antioch who were first called Christians. I’ve been told, though this isn’t mentioned in the passage, that it was a term of derision meaning “little Christ,” but these early Christ-followers liked it and used it themselves. I won’t take that anecdote to the bank, but it’s interesting.
But who were these people? For them, Christianity wasn’t a nice thing; it wasn’t something they did because their parents did. It wasn’t socially acceptable. It wasn’t something they could do casually. At that time, to be associated with the name of Christ was to put your life on the line. There have always been pretenders, of course. But the description we read of these early Christ-followers is of a people willing to give up everything—family, career, reputation, possessions—to obey His calling.
Nowadays, though, “Christian” is used to describe a whole variety of people and philosophies and behaviors and objects that weren’t originally included under the designation.
Like “Christian” fiction.
Don’t get me wrong; a story doesn’t need to be about Jesus for me to enjoy it. In fact, I love to read things written from different viewpoints, as it gives me a better understanding of other people, religions, cultures, and philosophies—and sometimes, it helps me understand my own faith better. No, my complaint isn’t that everything isn’t Christian; my problem is with labeling.
Suppose a person who doesn’t know what Christianity is all about chooses a book from the Christian shelf, thinking it might help him understand it better. Let’s say he reads about people who, in the midst of some interesting adventures, learn about doing good. Or forgiving those who have wronged them. Or having faith. That’s nice, but where’s the “Christ” part? Where’s the God-powered transference of the soul out of the devil’s kingdom to sit in heavenly places with our Savior? The reader may enjoy the book, even find it uplifting; but he’s no closer to understanding the gospel of salvation than he was before.
Genre designations are more for the purpose of bookselling than for any other purpose. Writers need to know where to focus their marketing efforts, and readers need to know where to look for the sort of thing they like. Okay, so toward that end, how about employing a system that’s a little more accurate?
If a Christian reader likes romance (though I’ve never been able to figure out why anyone would) but prefers to avoid the steamy stuff, she’d have no difficulty finding something suitable if the Romance category were subdivided into something like Squeaky-Clean, Titillating, and Torrid. Mystery and Suspense might have designations like Detective, Sexy, International Intrigue, and perhaps Gory. Speculative fiction could branch out into Scientific, Light Sci-Fi, Paranormal, High Fantasy, etc. Tweak the subfolders all you like, but I think this makes more sense than calling something Christian that has little to do with Christ.
It doesn’t take much review-reading on Amazon to find there’s a segment of the reading populace that objects to anything “religious.” Funny, though, how they like to review Christian fiction, which they lambast as being too Christian. These tortured souls, so delighted to spread their pain to others, would be able to get their nasty fix even with these proposed labeling changes. Taking note of a book’s publisher is a good starting place, and reading the blurb should confirm where the story fits into the scheme of things. Under this labeling method, anyone who enjoys writing a scathing review would have no trouble finding books to attack.
Maybe I’m wrong about all this. The current system, especially with the gazillion tags and designations on Amazon, might be the most workable way after all. But it bothers me to read something that’s filed under the Christian heading but fails to portray the vital essence and uniqueness of Christianity.