Thursday, August 26, 2010

Can you follow Jesus without becoming a Christian?

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a seminar geared toward helping Muslims become Christ-followers. One of the interesting points of conversation revolved around the perception of many Muslims that "Christianity" is typified by all sorts of ungodliness seen everyday in America. After all, America is a "Christian" nation, and when you consider all the greed, perversion, and even basic intolerance of others we exhibit, it's no real surprise that many Muslims worldwide would not want to become that sort of "Christian."

The speakers went on to contend that the importance of evangelism is to lead people to Jesus, without necessarily forcing them to accept our culture in order to follow Him.  Muslims need not be confused, they said, by us telling them we want them to be "Christians," because they don't want to become ungodly, greedy, perverse, etc.  Of course they wouldn't.  So if that is the image that comes up in their minds at the mention of "Christian," we were told, then avoid that term for the sake of the Gospel. Teach them, help them to be come followers of Jesus, the Messiah - and don't worry about the label.  I hope this line of thinking makes sense, because it got me thinking.  What about here in America?  Do WE have to be "Christian" to follow Jesus?

In college, I was the guy in the dorm that hosted Bible-studies, didn't party with the wild crowd, but was friends with most of the folks on my hall.  Still, I was challenged somewhat regularly by others who "didn't believe in God."  I learned early on to say, "Tell me what kind of god you don't believe in, because I probably don't believe in that god, either."  Much of the time, some conversation would follow, and it turns out that the "god" these students were rejecting wasn't the God of the Bible.  They had been given caricatures of God that weren't accurate.  They didn't believe in a god that hated them for not being perfect.  They didn't believe in a god that lets child-abusers get away with it, or a god that was as real and important as the Easter Bunny.  They didn't believe in a god that didn't care about them.  And you know what?  Neither do I.  These students knew intuitively that the god they had been told about wasn't real.  That He, if He exists, must be grander, more real, more just, more loving, more powerful than anything so far presented to them.  C.S. Lewis reminds us over and over that Aslan "is not a tame lion."  But some versions of "Christianity" would have us believe just that.  Beloved, it's not true.

I know young adults today that have been in and around church for years, but they seem to have no interest in becoming Christians.  I'm beginning to wonder if that's NOT because their "heart is hard," or "they aren't interested in spiritual things," or "they like their sin too much," but because we, as good-intentioned Christ-followers, have mixed some cultural dross into the pure, simple Gospel.  Perhaps we have communicated, without meaning to, that to follow Jesus somehow means you have to talk like us, dress like us, and perhaps take on a few other habits that may not truly have anything to do with Biblical Christianity.  We don't mean to.  We want to be unencumbered by impurities mixed in to our faith.  But are we?

Without meaning to, have we somehow communicated to these young adults that to follow Jesus means to also be made in OUR image?  And if we have, can we admit that's not the Gospel, and accept Christ-followers that don't necessarily look like us as our true brothers and sisters in the faith?  Because, I can tell you, I don't want to conform to the "Christianity" implied by the character of this "Christian" nation.  Because it really isn't.


  1. How interesting that we have a better idea of what is involved in practicing Islam (daily prayer, Ramadan, Mecca pilgrimage, etc.) than Muslims have of what is involved in practicing Christianity.

    Do we know what a Christian is supposed to do? How should a Christian live in this corrupt world? How much of this MUST we do to really be Christian? Do we have to do any of it? Is that the basic problem here?

  2. Thank you Brook for this
    deeply insightful, honest, and fair-minded first blog entry. Thank you for asking very important questions of yourself and all of us. Your questions and attitudes seem to me to be at the very heart of what it is to follow Jesus. You described perfectly the present shipwreck of institutional Christianity. Well done, please write more. (Dr. Mom's neighbor.)

  3. Dr. Mom, I think my next post may give some perspective on what we do, but only in a tangential sense. I think that there is a lot we must do, but it's summed up in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40).

    It may be easier to try and figure out what's NOT essential! For instance, do we have to teach international Christians they have to sit in rows when they worship? (No) Or wear a WWJD bracelet? Or put a fish outline on the back of their car? (No and No)

    Perhaps this can't be reduced to a formula or a checklist. Perhaps it is an inclination of the heart. And a relationship, like any other, that can't be strictly defined. I like to think so. :)

    Dr. Mom's Neighbor: Thank you! We have a youth program that is reaching out to kids that no other churches seem to be comfortable reaching out to. They have tattoos, piercings, long hair, and a taste for screamo hard-metal music. And as we are hoping to love on them and introduce them to Jesus, it's a very real and pertinent question to ask, "Just what IS essential?" They don't look like the typical church-goer. At all. But several are beginning that relationship, and we can't expect them to be comfortable with having to go about it like a middle class suburban family. So this is a very real question for us. May He give us wisdom on what NOT to do!

  4. Good article, Brook. Many of us confuse "Christian" with "American", not necessarily nationality but culture. We often confuse the two. To be a "Christian" does not mean you accept the American culture. As I launch out into world missions, I must remind myself of that on a consistent basis.