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What Do We Mean by Christian? Part 2: Literally a Noun

March 12, 2019
By Brian Fitzgerald, High School Principal

Did you know that one dictionary definition of literally literally means “not literally”? According to this definition, literally is “used in an exaggerated way to emphasize a statement or description that is not literally true or possible.” Literally has been overused to the point of literally meaning its opposite. Have we done something similar to Christian?

In Part 1 of this series, we saw that biblically the word Christian refers to a follower of Jesus. And yet, we do something odd with this word, similar to what we’ve done by making literally literally not literal. We use Christian as a completely different part of speech. We’ve taken a noun and turned it into an adjective, and I wonder what we’ve lost in doing so. Gregory Thornbury, former president of The King’s College, has famously (or infamously) said, “Christian is the greatest of all possible nouns and the lamest of all possible adjectives.” Isn’t that all too often the case?

Think about just some of the things that we describe as Christian: books, movies, shows, songs, video games, art, t-shirts, games … the list goes on. None of those things are Jesus-followers, so what exactly do we mean when we use Christian as an adjective to describe something else? We usually mean that it incorporates or includes something associated (however loosely) with the Bible, even if the association is simply a word, theme, or character. But using - and overusing - Christian primarily as an adjective rather than a noun means losing what’s most meaningful about the word in the first place: our identity as people whose hearts and minds are shaped and transformed by Jesus. Books, movies, shows, songs, video games, art, t-shirts, games … none of those things follow Jesus. People do. And people whose minds and hearts are transformed by Jesus should be the very best writers, musicians, thinkers, carpenters, politicians, students, doctors, homemakers, welders, lawyers, etc., because the renewed mind and heart thrives on truth and is motivated by love. Such a person brings excellence and restoration - not just a fish symbol and a sentence from the Bible - into every area of life because he or she is following the One who makes all things new.

At this point, the critical reader is mentally composing a response to this post, jumping all over Christian education - the adjectival use of the word! Ah, gold star for you, dear reader.

In the third and final part of this series, I will look at Christian education in the context of Grace Christian School and why I believe it’s important to continue asking, “What do we mean by that?” Depending on what we mean by Christian education, it could very well be the lamest of all possible adjectives. Literally.

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