This is one of those conversations that we Christians have to sit down and have a long “in house” discussion about sometime. Obviously I can only outline here the way I think the conversation should possibly go, realizing that for some of you who are not Christians, I must ask you to try to be patient with us. You are more than welcome to sit in on the discussion, because in a very real way our success at getting this straightened out among the faithful will greatly improve our ability to converse with the rest of you in other Faiths.

Where was I? Oh yes, “Christian” is not an adjective, but rather a noun. There is a profound difference. The cause of much confusion in the Church as well as outside is a failure to be more precise. According to the biblical narrative, the word Christian was first applied to some early Disciples of Christ at a place called Antioch-a place which is still very much in operation as a main commercial center in Southern Turkey; I have had the joy of traveling there. So to be precise and accurate in reflecting the essence of Christianity, we should not use it as an adjective, as in a ‘Christian nation’. In reality there isn’t such a thing; nor is there such a thing as a’ Christian politician’, or a ‘Christian magazine’, or a ‘Christian worldview‘. This latter is really getting us into trouble lately. Worldview is a cultural expression from the discipline of Cultural Anthropology. Christians around the world live in many different worldviews. I know what my friends are trying to get at by using that word, but it demonstrates a profound mis-understanding of the Faith of God’s Elect.

The essence of “Christian” is the person who is defined by his or her life relationship to Christ, whom we have come to trust in as revealed through the Scriptures as the God-man. Some traditions within Christendom understand this better than others and I think more nearly approach the original meaning of St.Peter when he spoke of “becoming partakers of the divine nature.”

Well, you can immediately see some of the ramifications. The life of the Christian is not about ideology, or ritual, or externals at all, but it is all about what God has accomplished by sending Christ into the world-The Christ Event, as we say. I don’t want to go any further at this point except to latch on to that word “ideology”. Christianity certainly appears to fit the generic category of religion/ideology and it surely can be studied that way. But my argument is, by doing so we miss the very nature of what a Christian is. If we want to see through the Christian’s own eyes, if we want to listen with the earnest desire to love him or her for what she is “in Christ”, then somehow we must make this vital distinction.

Let me leave you with a very wise observation of someone who understood this very well in the world context historically:

“The greatest challenge and danger that the church had to sustain in the days of the Byzantine Empire was the appearance of ISLAM on the stage of world history. Everybody (now) knows that a considerable part of christian territory in north Africa and the Near East, became Moslem. As far as the Christian Church continued to exist, it did so as a protected minority, forced back into a certain ghetto, but with legal status.

By its gallant resistance Byzantium was during ages the wall of protection for Europe against a Moslem invasion. One must fully take into account this situation in order to have a fair judgment of the fact that the relations of the Christian and Moslem world, in spiritual respect, have been so distressingly sterile.

Islam is by its nature the ideology of a cultural, social, and political system, and met as its opponent a Cristendom, which also behaved, against the nature of the Christian Faith, as the ideology of a cultural, social, and religious system. Meeting each other in any real sense was, therefore impossible.

In the many apologetical and polemical skirmishes from both sides, moreover, communication in any sense was non-existent because the tone was determined by this objective situation and by a doctrinal bias, which had become second nature. The debate could never become a discourse. It remained a sterile mock fight between two monologues. ”
( Taken from “The Communication of the Christian Faith“, by Hendrik Kraemer, 1956, Westminster Press)

note: even Kraemer would have been better served to use the title “The Communication of The Faith of The Christian”

I’m afraid if we Christians in the west do not learn what the real nature of our Faith is, we will not avoid the same thing from happening again in some kind of “Clash of Civilizations”. If you think I’m mistaken about this, there is a link if you look for it on one of my blogs to a world-wide broadcast on CBN by a dear Brother who totally misses not only what Christianity is, but also is in serious error about his assessment of the world Muslim Communities.

2012 UPDATE: Mormons & Christians: Asking the Right Questions