When I was a teenager the “What would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) bracelets were all the rage. If you went to youth group you were pretty much required to wear one. These were meant to encourage us to always ask the WWJD question, and to do what Jesus would do in that situation. What music would Jesus listen to? What TV shows or movies would Jesus watch? Who would Jesus choose to be friends with? etc.
It’s a great question to ask, WWJD? But that type of question can easily encourage us to think about “Christian” as an adjective rather than a noun. There was a Buzzfeed video (which I wrote about here) last week which was titled, “I’m Christian, But I’m Not….” One of my biggest frustrations with the video is how it reflects this thinking that Christian is an adjective more than it is a noun.
Noun vs. Adjective
When “Christian” becomes an adjective our faith becomes a description rather than an identity. We do things the Christian way. We listen to Christian music. We watch Christian movies. We become Christian businessmen. We attend Christian schools.
“Christian” is more than an adjective, it’s a noun. It’s who we are. It’s an identity. It’s a way of saying, “I am Christ’s. I belong to God. I am a son or daughter of God. I have given myself so fully to Christ that he has given me a new identity.” Because of our identity as a Christian (noun), we do things a certain way (adjective).
I’m Irish. That’s my ethnicity. The hair that hasn’t fallen out of the top of my head is brown, but my beard is red. I have a big nose and a very Irish-looking chin. I get sunburns easily and my face turns red embarrasingly easy. Irish is a good adjective to describe me.
But I’m not Irish. I’ve never been to Ireland. I don’t know what it’s like to live there, and it hasn’t shaped my identity in any way that influences how I view the world or make decisions. I do not understand the world through Irish eyes. I am not an Irishman. If I went to Ireland they would immediately know that I am NOT one of them. I don’t walk like them, dress like them, talk like them, think like them. I’ve lived in Massachussetts my entire life. I’m a New Englander more than I am Irish.
Being Christian Without Being a Christian
The gospel does not make you Christian, it makes you a Christian. The gospel gives you a new heart, a new identity, a new family. You see… I can do things the Christian way (adjective) all I want without actually being a Christian (noun). But if I am a Christian (noun) and my identity is built on my identity in Christ, then the things I do will reflect Christ.
For the sake of argument, an atheist could make a Christian movie if they understand Christian theology and ethics. Any nonChristian who understands “Christian culture” can create Christian things. But they are not a Christian, nor would they claim to be.
So what about you? In what ways are you tempted to think about “Christian” as adjective instead of the noun? Where do you see this happening in your life or in the world around you? I’d love to hear your observations in the comments below.