Friday, March 23, 2012

Christian: adjective and noun

First, thank you, Jarm and Marcia, for your thoughtful comments on my "Tensions in Education" diatribe. I intend to respond later and hopefully work into a dialogue about how we ought to "do" education.

But before that, I feel the need for a parenthetical blog. This is about our glorious and effervescent language, English. I love it. I love words. I love the feeling we get when they come together and we say what we mean. I mourn the passing of parts of definitions because our culture infiltrates and changes (horror of horrors) what a word means. I also delight in new words begin coined and increasing understanding.

Right now, though, I'm thinking of the quirk of English which jumps parts of speech. Words begin as nouns and become verbs, or vice versa, sometimes they degenerate or ameliorate into adjectives. Here my pet peeve has been "impact" which began as the shock of a truck slamming into something hard and gradually morphed into into process of it slamming, whereby it impacted the wall instead of having an impact on the wall. I have begun to accept this errant verb because it's not a hill I wish to die on. (Though chances are you will hear me talk about having an impact on rather than impacting.) I draw the line at the adjective, however. I don't believe in impactful trucks or books or weekends. Sorry.

But that is all neither here nor there. You know, a rambling introduction to warm you to the word in the title: CHRISTIAN.

In Acts 11:26 we read that marvelous verse which records the occasion on which a word entered the language. "And they were first called Christians in Antioch." I still remember the lesson or sermon in which I learned this amazing fact. And the speaker's translation was "little Christs." Being worthy to carry that weighty of a name has always been a burden to me.

But we have left "little Christs" behind and label ourselves Christians and pretty soon we start messing with the language. We figure if we come from America, we're Americans or from India we're Indians. Those are not little Americas or little Indias. The adjective really means "of". It works, it's valid.

I question the validity, though, of calling something "Christian" as a descriptor, unless you are talking about Christ's own words. So many things have willy-nilly been labelled Christian which have so little to do with being "of Christ" and have more to do with being of people who label themselves Christians as a cultural identity and not as a spiritual journey. Let's just name a few so we can see how rampant--and bizarre--it is to use Christian as an adjective:
Christian music, Christian lyrics, Christian school, Christian education, Christian country, Christian culture, Christian band, Christian retreat, Christian book, Christian bookstore, Christian mission . . .

Do we begin to see how strange it is to label things as such? We are so used to it, it seems normal. But what if I talked about Christian food, or a Christian diet, or Christian cars, or houses, or resorts, or airlines? Those are not normal. Those are value-free in this sense. But we have burdened some items (making them more "legitimate" perhaps) by calling them Christian.

I call this False Advertising.

Okay, my argument is that people can be little Christs. Things cannot. But we have another subset of "Christian as adjective" items who are people:
Christian rock star, Christian actor, Christian doctor, Christian mechanic, Christian teacher, Christian lawyer, Christian used car salesman, Christian fill-in-the-blank. This people are Christians, it is not a descriptor, it is them. Let us call each a rock star who is a Christian, a teacher who is a Christian, and so on, to avoid the slippery slope of turning a Noun into a catch-all and meaningless adjective.

Why am I even up on this soap box, you might be wondering? What is the big deal about parts of speech? Well, speech is how we communicate and doing it well will improve our chances of actually saying something and someone understanding. Besides, as little Christs, we desire to communicate Truth, which truthfully, cannot be done in a sloppy, generalized way.

I'm going somewhere with this. All this mulling came from thinking about what makes a Christian education? And as I hinted in the previous blog, we have used the adjective to tell us that Christian university education ends up being more about the rules the students are to follow than about the education they receive. The emphasis is on the curfew, dress code, media regulations, drinking, smoking, dancing, and other subcultural expectations served up by the administration to the parents who wish them. Sadly, surprisingly little emphasis is on mentoring the students into being responsible for their decisions and actions, and helping them learn to walk like "little Christs" which looks more like "do justice, love mercy, walk humbly . . ." than rules which promote the inevitable attitude of Pharisees.

I will speak to Marcia's good comment next blog. But will end with a response to Jarm who said, "A Christian education is one which promotes a Christian worldview." That is a good answer, except that I prefer not to use Christian as an adjective because in the end, the person who is doing the educating will use his own worldview and call it Christian and then we still don't know what it is. I like the worldview idea, though. Maybe a Christian education is one that promotes the worldview of Christ. Which obligates us to try and see the world through His eyes. Suddenly words like grace and redemption and mercy and love start flooding in. Concepts like "inasmuch" and "70 x 7" and "foxes have holes" start defining "of Christ." Or at least being part of the definition.

So, I leave it with you. Do we abandon Christian as a label, and try to live the Noun of it? I will make the attempt.

1 comment:

Jarm Del Boccio said...

I continue to marvel at your gift of writing and communicating...and your love of the English language.. No wonder Isabel chose 'the study of words' for her major at Uni!
Yes, I think we need to be careful what and how we use the label 'Christian'. More times than not, it hurts our testimony, and the reputation we give Christ because of it.
Thanks for responding to my comment, Karen. I meant to say 'a Biblical Worldview' instead of 'Christian Worldview', since the latter term can be muddied and used in too general a manner.
Looking forward to your next post. By the way, I am involved in an A to Z blogging challenge for the month of post a day focusing on a letter of the alphabet, beginning with 'A'. April 1st, I blog about the use of the word, 'awesome'. I'd love to have your input on that day!