The Definition of Christian
At some point along the journey from traditional to progressive faith the question of whether beliefs or values matter most, must be faced. No matter what political or cultural biases Christians may have, they have traditionally agreed that it is their belief and trust in Jesus, the unique Son of God, as their Saviour and Lord that defines them as Christian. For almost two thousand years this belief system has been the bedrock of Christian faith. For progressives, this is no longer so.
Confusion reigns both within the Christian community and society in general about the core definition of being a Christian. Consider the statements so often heard, “That’s not very Christian”, or “She lived a good Christian life.” Over and over again such assessments are made with no regard to belief in Jesus as saving us from eternal divine punishment.
Instead, these statements reflect a view about a person’s values, behaviour, lifestyle choices and relationships. When loved ones are eulogised at their funeral, with the words, “They lived a good Christian life”, it is backed up with evidence of their kindness, generosity, honesty and trustworthiness. In other words, both inside and outside of the church, to be a “good Christian” is assumed to mean living by “good” values.
What Makes a ‘Good’ Christian?
So which is it? Beliefs or values? Faith in Jesus as a Saviour from divine punishment for sin, or a character shaped by generosity, honesty, and kindness?
Many Christians I know assume that these two naturally go together. While it is true that our beliefs influence our values (a topic for another time perhaps), it is quite possible to hold passionately to orthodox beliefs about Jesus without being committed to values of goodness, love, truth or justice.
We might assume that belief in the forgiveness of God should lead us to forgive one another. Yet forgiveness has not been a guiding conviction in the judgemental stance of the church for most of its history.