To Be A Christian
June 26, 2009 — 7:05

Author: Matthew Mullins  Category: Christian Theology Religious Belief  Comments: 38

With the annual Episteme conference going on I had the opportunity to have a couple of fellow travelers over for dinner. The conversation ranged over a number of philosophical topics, but one question stuck with me this morning. We’d never come to a satisfactory answer to the question, “What is it to be a Christian?” Of course, being philosophers, we were inquiring as to the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a Christian.
I think there may be at least two ways in which one could answer the question of what it is to be a Christian. The first is to tell some kind of causal/historical story about how a present individual’s belief and practice relates to a certain 1st century sect. One has to be careful about how one tells this story so that certain contemporary groups don’t come out Christian, e.g. Islam has a historical relationship to Jesus Christ, but you wouldn’t want to say it was Christian. (Not that I’d mind if it turned out that all Muslims were Christian, but my Muslim friends seem to find such things irritating.) The second way that one might try to account for what it means to be a Christian is to tell some story about the relationship between a certain set of beliefs and practices and the person Jesus Christ. I take it that the first meaning is something like what one would expect from a sociologist of religion, while the second is what you might expect the individual to say of herself. Perhaps there are more ways to give an account of ‘Christian’ and I’d be interested in hearing those in the comments section.
I’m sure some of the readers and contributors here have thought about this question a bit more than the three of us last night. If you’d like to make a stab at an analysis, I’d love to read it in the comments. Here are some desiderata we came up with for giving an analysis of being a Christian:

  • It shouldn’t be the case that Jesus Christ be in the set of things Christian.
  • It shouldn’t be the case that God be in the set of things Christian.
  • It shouldn’t be the case that evil demons be in the set of things Christian.
  • It shouldn’t be the case that one have eternal salvation and not be a Christian.

I’ll be at the conference all day, but I’ll try to check in to approve comments throughout the day.

Comments:
  • Eric Hagedorn

    The fourth desideratum (that being Christian is necessary for salvation) is (or might be) in tension with the thought that Muslims et al. are not Christians. If universalism is true, or even if, say, C.S. Lewis is correct that God can grant salvation to those who unknowingly follow him, then there are Muslims who are Christians according to the fourth condition.

    June 26, 2009 — 9:10
  • robert allen

    I take it that for one to worship Jesus Christ is for one’s religious beliefs and practices to be those of the early Christians and vice versa. Thus, I reject the dichotomy in the question. There is no separating our Lord from His church, which He intended to be one, as He and the Father are one. The Eucharist especially unites us not only with all other followers of the Christ, but also our Lord Himself. Christ’s Church is “apostolic”: a Christian’s faith is based upon- caused by, historically connected with- the lives of those initially chosen by Him to spread the Good News. Those lives were transformed by the Eucharist, which they risked to celebrate. One is a Christian today to the extent to which conforms to their example, that is, obeys the Lord’s injunction at the Last Supper- “Do this in remembrance of me.”
    As for our Muslim brothers, they are Christian heretics, as Hilaire Belloc makes abundantly clear.

    June 26, 2009 — 9:57
  • Anonymous

    I think you also need to make a distinction b/t asking the the question “What makes a person a Christian?” and “What makes a belief system Christian?” Doing this allows that some Muslims/Buddhists/Hindus/etc. may in fact be Christians — what C. S. Lewis called anonymous Christians — and, yet, it would not allow the Islamic belief system to be Christian, i.e., Islam =/ Christianity.

    June 26, 2009 — 10:31
  • Adrian Woods

    Beliefs such as:
    (1) Jesus was the Son of God
    or
    (2) Jesus was resurrected from the grave
    In short, beliefs about the historical truth of Christianity, are good to have but do not necessarily make one a Christian.
    A Christian is someone who, as Paul says in Philippians, has the Mind of Christ. What the orthodox call theosis – Conforming to the Image of Christ. No less intentional states, I think. It is the particularity of the practices (Acquisition of Virtues, Baptism, Eucharist, Feeding the Poor, Scripture Meditation, Prayer, etc) which form the particularity of intentional states.
    Or is it that certain intentional states bring about particular dispositions. Because what I think I’m wanting to say is that a Christian just is:
    Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-Control. But for some reason those strike me as dispositions stemming out of intentional states.

    June 26, 2009 — 11:28
  • Robert Gressis

    In response to Eric Hagedorn, I think it’s important to distinguish between people as they are on earth and as they are in heaven. It may be the case that, even if universalism is true, it’s true because everyone converts to Christianity in the afterlife. In that case, some Muslims are saved, but only because they are sort of people on earth who will become Christians in heaven.

    June 26, 2009 — 11:29
  • I do think it’s important to ask what role the idea of the “anonymous Christian” plays in #4, as, if it’s taken just-as-written, it seems to assume a Christian exclusivism that isn’t necessarily the norm either in the Christian theological or philosophical.

    June 26, 2009 — 12:03
  • Carl Ehrett

    If you try to make hay out of the causal/historical connection to the founders of Christianity, I think you’d want to leave it open as to who that is. (E.g., the causal/historical chain only extends as far back as the 2nd century, to a sect that made up stories about earlier Christians.)
    The term is used so vaguely that unless you want to start off by cordoning off a more specific meaning of the term, then I think an analysis of the general term “Christian” will have to be something as bland and uninformative as “One who is devoted (in some sense) to following (in some sense) Jesus Christ, and who self-identifies as Christian, and whose beliefs enjoy the right kind of causal/historical relationship to X” (where I have no idea what to fill in for X). To get anything more fine-grained, you’d have to specify a precisification (no particular precisifications present themselves to me as especially salient and interesting).
    I’d be amenable to throwing out the self-identification clause, I guess; maybe the prima facie pull I feel toward it can be included in the “devotion” clause.

    June 26, 2009 — 12:36
  • Chris Menzel

    A niggling point I know but: Why not simply say “is a Christian” rather than “is in the set of things Christian” (as you do in the fourth condition)?

    June 26, 2009 — 13:58
  • Matthew Mullins

    The fourth condition isn’t that being a Christian is necessary for salvation, but that salvation should be sufficient for being a Christian. (At least in some minimal sense) For all I know being a Christian is compossible with being Muslim, though I doubt it. Ditto Rob.

    June 26, 2009 — 14:06
  • Matthew Mullins

    I’m dubious that being a Christian can come down to some set of dispositions to act in a certain way. We can well imagine a Buddhist with no thoughts about Christianity or Christ, who nonetheless, is disposed to manifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. In fact, that describes a number of the Buddhists that I know.

    June 26, 2009 — 14:15
  • Matthew Mullins

    I take it there is some set of individuals who fall under the concept Christian. I just want to be clear that some things shouldn’t be included in the set. Plus, set membership played a part in the original conversation.

    June 26, 2009 — 14:18
  • Matthew Mullins

    I think I’m less interested in the causal/historical route, though I’m happy to be open about how that story works itself out.
    While the conditions for being a Christian may turn out to be bland, I don’t know that they’d be uninformative. I think the account is going to get interesting when it comes into filling in your parenthetical (in some sense)’s. I can imagine an individual who has the reference for Christ correct, the correct causal chain, but has a lot of false beliefs about Christ. So he takes himself to be devoted to Christ, but being full of false beliefs, acts on his devotion in ways that we wouldn’t consider to be consistent with being a Christian. So I think the analysis you tender is on the right track, but filling in the details is difficult. Perhaps we won’t be successful in the long run, we seldom are, but the attempt can be illuminating.

    June 26, 2009 — 14:28
  • Carl Ehrett

    here’s an attempt at both filling out those conditions and incorporating some of the diversity in different groups’ usage of “Christian”. To be Christian is to (i) have the beliefs necessary for one to be spiritually saved through Christ, and (ii) be devoted to acting on those beliefs so as to be spiritually saved through Christ.
    This would accommodate wildly different extensions for “Christian”, depending on what beliefs one thinks (i) refers to — I take this to be a good thing. For example, if hardcore pentacostal beliefs turn out to be the right one, then methodists (or whoever) turn out not to be Christians. I think that’s right (although I of course do not believe the antecedent of that conditional). This analysis also preserves at least your first three desiderata; Christ and God are not saved through Christ. Demons lack devotion, if not knowledge.

    June 26, 2009 — 15:05
  • Trent Dougherty

    I blogged about this a bit ago and suggested the following criterion:
    NCD No definition of what it is to be a Christian which appeals only to cognitive states of the subject will be adequate.
    Also mention that there shouldn’t be any success criterion and end up endorsing something like
    ICD A Christian is one who is committed to following Christ’s teachings.
    This would put Jesus in the set of Christians I think, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
    The discussion is here:
    http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2006/01/how-should-we-d.html#more
    PS
    One niggling point: the term “anonymous Christian” is Karl Rahner’s not Lewis’s, but it does aptly describe the case Lewis mentions in MC.

    June 26, 2009 — 15:09
  • How about this simple definition: x is a Christian if and only if x has received the grace of baptism.
    If so, then an atheist who has earlier received the grace of baptism is a Christian. I think that’s correct: she is, defectively, a Christian. This is seen by the fact that to return to the practice of Christianity, she needs to repentantly approach the Church seeking Reconciliation rather than seeking Baptism. Moreover, we see this in the canonical practice of the Church. If the baptised now-atheist, for instance, validly marries another person while being an atheist, the Pauline privilege does not (as far as I know) apply to that marriage should she revert and desire to return to Christian practice.
    I think you will find two kinds of definition. The first is a definition of being a Christian in a bare sense, such as my sacramental suggestion. The second will be a definition of being fully Christian, which definition will entail, for instance, not being guilty of any unrepented-of sin.

    June 26, 2009 — 16:00
  • Matthew Mullins

    I tried finding this last night, but obviously I didn’t put to much work into it. Three years on and I don’t feel much better about the account now then I did then. Everyone I’ve talked to finds it odd that Christ should turn out to be a Christian, though I’m not sure if we spelled out your view in more detail that Christ would turn out to be a Christian. It may be the case that your account captures some broad sense of Christian, if so, it isn’t what I’m after. It seems to me that a good hearted atheist could be committed to following what he takes to be Christ’s teachings, and he and I wouldn’t take him to be a Christian.
    I think Carl’s analysis is close to what I’m looking for, and I like the sniff of epistemicism. There is some fact of the matter as to what it is to be a Christian, though we could be seriously mistaken as to what those things are. This should lend some humility to how we treat those we disagree with, and make us reluctant to say certain individuals aren’t Christians.
    BTW, Fitelson and Christensen are bayes battling as I type!

    June 26, 2009 — 16:13
  • Matthew:
    What does “one ha[s] eternal salvation” mean?
    Two options:
    1. The counterfactual were one to die now (with no other acts of will, no other gifts of grace), one would (at least eventually, if there is a purgatory) go to heaven is true.
    2. One will eventually go to heaven.
    If either of these is sufficient for being a Christian, then Jesus is a Christian. But maybe these can be tweaked.
    If 2 is sufficient for being a Christian, then someone can be an unbaptized, ungraced, wicked and unrepentant pagan (I do not of course mean that all pagans are such) and yet be a Christian. That seems absurd.
    So something like 1 might be the right reading. But I think the counterfactual is problematic, because it is not sufficiently neutral on questions of predestination. Suppose God predestined George for salvation, and subsequently planned out George’s life for him, such as that he would be left to his own devices for 80 years, and then grace would be given to him by virtue of which he’d repent. Then at age 30, while George was an unbaptized atheist busily and sinfully herding the servants of God into the Gulag, the counterfactual might still be true of George, because in counterfactual situations we want to keep as much of what explanatorily prior fixed, and hence we’d want to keep George’s predestination fixed, rather than keeping fixed the fact of his being an unbaptized, sinful atheist.
    So perhaps we should replace 1 by something that folks with weaker views of predestination would take to be ordinarily the ground of truth of 1:
    1*. One’s being in receipt of salvific grace.
    From your point of view (but not necessarily mine–I like the idea of Jesus Christ being a Christian), this is an advantage because although Jesus Christ is in receipt of graces like the salvific graces we get (graces by virtue of which we love God), these graces do not count as salvific graces in his case, since he has no sin to be saved from.

    June 26, 2009 — 16:14
  • Trent:
    “Committed” in your definition is ambiguous between normative, psychological and hybrid understandings. Maybe that’s deliberate.
    For instance, if I make a false promise to pay you back some money that you lent me, I am committed in the normative sense to pay it back, but not in the psychological.
    Likewise, I could internally “commit myself” in a morally non-binding way (i.e., “not under pain of sin”, one might say) to watch Star Trek III tonight. Then I would have psychological commitment but not moral commitment.
    Sometimes the normative and psychological are connected. For instance, a marriage attempt is invalid when the psychological is lacking, so it’s not possible to have the normative meaning without the psychological there.
    The reason I bring this up is this that these distinctions allow for some interesting test cases:
    If we take the normative route, then the atheist who made baptismal promises and later apostasized is committed in the normative sense to following the teachings of Christ.
    On the other hand, if we take the psychological route, we could imagine a baptized individual who is psychologically committed to following all the teachings of Christ except A, where A is a teaching that is only binding under pain of venial sin. It might seem that such a person should count as a Christian, and indeed could be saved. On the other hand, you could respond either that (a) it is a mortal sin not to be at least implicitly psychologically committed to following all the teachings of Christ, or (b) that it is possible to be psychologically committed to do all the Fs while not being committed to doing F17 even though one knows that F17 is an F (after all, if it is possible to believe that all Fs are Gs while believing that F17 is an F and F17 is not a G–as surely is possible–this should be even easier), or (c) both. These would be good answers.
    Perhaps a hybrid is right. I think that the hybrid is what takes place in the case of a “sincere and valid promise”.

    June 26, 2009 — 16:29
  • Trent Dougherty

    Matt (and Carl): Jesus meet’s Carl’s (1) to (2) is the issue. A. His use of “devoted” is in league with the general strategy I expressed, so I’m OK with that. B. The “so as” seems ambiguous between 2a having an occurant intention or 2b being in fact a means to that end. On the 2a reading Jesus is presumably not a Christian (more about that later). On the 2b reading it seems he would be. I’m worried that 2a would rule out legit Xns. It is surely possible for one to be a Xn and–for whatever reason–to lack the intention in question. As a relevant example, I know *lots* of people who (mistakenly in my view) seem to think that it’s just the beliefs themselves that save you and to assent to (2a) would be pelagian. Yet those easy-believists are Xns. At this point, this seems to me to be a counterexample to Carl’s def on the 2a reading. That leaves the 2b reading, which allows for Jesus to be a Xn.
    Now for that. Suppose I say–whether feigning honesty or honestly–Why in the *world* would someone not think that Christ was a Christian?! In the relevant sense Calvin was a Calvinist, Luther was a Lutheran, Marx was a Marxist (though of course in some senses they may not have been) so we have a general pattern that “X is an Xn” (nice double use of “X” eh?!) 🙂 Bottom line though: What can be said on behalf of the desideratum that X not turn out an Xn. I just don’t get that.
    PS – Matt quit teasing me with the conference tidbits! Yer killin me man!!
    Alex: The psychological was at the fore of my mind, but I like many aspects of the normative. I just couldn’t think clearly about in what range of cases psychological commitment entailed normative commitment and if the normative reading would put me afoul of the Church.
    Oh, and here’s an argument–for Catholics anyway (maybe a range of Protestants too)–that Jesus is a Xn.
    P1. Jesus is the head of the Catholic Church. (Catholic doctrine.)
    P2. If Jesus is the had of the Catholic Church, then he is a member-in-good-standing of the Catholic Church. (From the generalized form.)
    L1. Jesus is a member-in-good-standing of the Catholic Church. (P1,P2)
    P3. If L1, then Jesus is a Xn. (From: If X is a member-in-good-standing of the Catholic Church, then X is a Christian.)
    C1. Jesus is a Christian. (L1,P3)

    June 26, 2009 — 17:05
  • Trent Dougherty

    “head” for “had” in P2.

    June 26, 2009 — 17:06
  • Carl Ehrett

    I intended 2a. I agree this excludes legit Christians, specifically “easy-believists”, and therefore needs revision. I’m thinking,
    2c) the person is devoted to doing what she believes to be necessary for her to be spiritually saved through Christ.
    The easy-believist satisfies this trivially.
    Hmm, I take Marx to be a Marxist insofar as Marxism is (merely) a general ideology. Insofar as Marxism is the following of Marx (which I don’t think is an appropriate way to understand that term) I don’t think he’s a Marxist. That’s the difference between Marxism and Christianity in my mind. Christianity includes the idea, not just of believing the general ideology that Christ espoused, but of following him or being devoted to him personally.

    June 26, 2009 — 20:00
  • Heath White

    I’m pretty sure this question cannot be answered in a theologically neutral way. For example, many Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans would say that you are a Cath/Epis/Luth if you are validly baptized in the relevant church. The church itself is defined historically, as a continuing body over time. They would also say that being C/E/L is sufficient for being Xn. So that being a Xn is a causal-historical matter.
    Evangelicals and some other Protestants OTOH are going to say that you are Xn only if your mind and will are disposed somehow. Maybe there are some necessary beliefs, maybe there are some necessary dispositions of the will. In any case they will say that membership in some church body does not entail being a Christian.
    So, bottom line, any answer to this question is theologically loaded.
    As for whether Christ is a Christian, I think the difference I’ve identified affects the intuitions. If you think of Xty as church-membership, roughly, then Christ is the head of the church, hence a member, and you’re done. If you think of Xty as requiring some mental states, then some of those are going to be things like “following Jesus” or “accepting Christ as Lord and Savior” or “believing that Christ died for my sins” which do not apply to Christ himself.

    June 27, 2009 — 19:53
  • Here’s a thought. For me, here’s another desideratum for a definition of “Christian”:
    (*) It is not possible for brain damage alone to make a Christian cease to be a Christian.
    Why? Well, we have all these promises in the Scriptures about how nothing can separate us from Christ. Now maybe one could claim that God miraculously prevents the kind of brain damage that would make a Christian cease to be a Christian. But I don’t think we should be supposing miracles of this sort to be guaranteed.
    Now, given (*), I think we have to accept at least one of the following two claims:
    1. A strong form of dualism on which some doxastic or conceptually-loaded dispositional states are entirely independent of the brain is true, or
    2. Being a Christian does not require any particular doxastic or conceptually-loaded dispositional states.
    If one is a Christian materialist or supervenientist, then one must opt for (2).
    I am not particularly troubled by (1) myself, but (*) probably does provide some incremental confirmation of (2).

    June 28, 2009 — 15:22
  • On the question whether Christ is a Christian, compare the following question: Is Elizabeth Windsor an Englishwoman?
    Consider the following argument: To be English is to be an English subject. An English subject is someone who is a subject of the reigning king or queen of English (or, more precisely, of that monarch in right of England). Elizabeth is not a subject of the reigning monarch–she is the reigning monarch. So she is not an English subject, and hence isn’t English.
    One might try to get out of that argument by positing the concept of an English (British?) “citizen”. But that concept is, as far as I can tell, alien to the traditions of monarchy–the folk in a monarchy who are not the sovereign are not citizens, but subjects strictly speaking (that one talks of “Canadian citizens” is, on this view, either a loose way of speaking perhaps influenced by neighbors to the South, or a betrayal of our monarchic tradition).
    Nonetheless, despite the argument, it seems correct to say that Elizabeth is English. This suggests that there are two ways of being English: one can be an English subject or an English sovereign. (This may need some further qualification if we do not want to count Elizabeth an Australian or Canadian. See also this research note of the Australian parliamentary service.)
    If this is correct, then we should likewise say that there are two ways of being Christian–two ways of being a part of the body of Christ. One way is by being the head, and the other is by, say, being committed (normatively?) to following the head.

    June 28, 2009 — 15:41
  • “of English” should be “of England”. 🙂

    June 28, 2009 — 15:42
  • Matthew Mullins

    Alex,
    I think having eternal salvation is going to include more than simply going to heaven. For one, a person has to be in a position to need salvation in order to be the recipient of salvific grace. Further you might think that a person needs to do something, or have been disposed to do something, in order to receive such grace. Previously I said that being the recipient of such grace may be a sufficient condition for being a Christian, but further reflection makes me think that’s wrong. I don’t think being a Christian is going to reduce to simply being saved. (If so, then only in the barest of senses.) Consider the following two assertions:

    1. Alex is saved, but he’s not a Christian.
    2. Alex is a Christian, but he’s unsaved.

    One strikes me as felicitous, but two strikes me as Moorean. One could come out true if you think that infants are covered by the covenant of grace, but aren’t capable of having the necessary beliefs and dispositions to be a Christian.

    June 28, 2009 — 17:05
  • Matthew Mullins

    Heath,
    The thing that makes me think there is a theologically neutral way to resolve this question is that, typically, Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and other mainline protestants, aren’t in the business of telling each other they aren’t Christians. I take it that while Methodists and Catholics have deep theological differences, they can at least agree that they are all Christians. I also take it that when they talk about each other as Christians, they are using the word in the same way. Whatever it means when members of these different groups refer to each other as ‘Christian’ is what I’m after.

    June 28, 2009 — 17:17
  • Matthew Mullins

    Trent,
    I have a hard time seeing how Jesus could meet Carl’s (1) or (2). I think part of the problem is that Jesus couldn’t stand in the appropriate relationship to himself in order to have those beliefs. Alex’s Elizabeth Windsor brings out the kind of worry that’s been in my mind all along, which is the distinction between lord and subject. I’m happy to say that Christ is the head of the church, and as such is a Christian, but he doesn’t get the Christian status in the same way that we do.

    June 28, 2009 — 18:26
  • Heath White

    Matthew,
    Well, here’s my report from the folk. I grew up in an evangelical, believer-baptism church. Such people would say (a) there is a fact of the matter about whether a person is a Christian; (b) for morally competent persons (not infants, severely retarded persons, etc.) we can cash this fact out counterfactually, as the claim that if one were to die now, one would wind up in heaven (purgatory is not a consideration); (c) one has this status as a result of some dispositions of mind and will, labeled in a vague way as “accepting Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior.” The fact that (c) is probably a vague matter, while (a) is not, means that we need to be epistemicists about the state of being a Christian, but I don’t think anyone in my church was that sophisticated. For those to whom this viewpoint is entirely unfamiliar, evangelicals use “Christian” more or less as a faithful Catholic would use “faithful Catholic,” i.e. to indicate a measure of adherence to Christ that suffices for salvation.
    I was once in an Episcopal church where an infant was baptized. Afterwards the priest carried the baby down the aisle, announcing “the world’s newest Christian.” I thought to myself that many people I knew would disagree entirely.
    I am not claiming that either the people in my childhood church, or the Episcopal priest, are correct about what it is to be a Christian. But it’s pretty clear to me that they do not have the same concept (conception?) of what it amounts to.

    June 28, 2009 — 19:55
  • Gordon Knight

    Mathew,
    Is it true that Christians don’t say that other denominations are not Christian? What of the “born again” who holds that to be a Christian requires some sort of born again experience?
    Accusations of heresay seem to be sometimes a matter of just arguing over doctrine “so and so is wrong about the trinity” but in other cases it seems that people do think that other self-identified christians are not “real” christians.
    I think the concept of being a Christian has to be understood as a matter of family resemblance.. like being Socialist. You don’t have to be a die hard marxist to be a socialist, but if you buy into Keynes or Freidman you can’t be one.

    June 28, 2009 — 21:41
  • Matthew Mullins

    Gordon,
    What you say may well be true of some on the fringe, but as I said in my comment, I don’t think this is common among mainline denominations. Most of them at least profess to be ecumenical. Besides, I thought even heretical Christians are still Christians, otherwise they wouldn’t be heretical at all.

    June 29, 2009 — 2:39
  • Gordon Knight

    I guess I don’t see why this ecumenism cannot be accounted for adequately by family resemblance, rather than necessary and sufficient conditions. There is a lot of variety in the various Christian churches.
    Isn’t there a point at which someone’s alleged heresy is considered to make one really a non-Christian? Suppose I said “I am a Christian but I don’t believe in God”
    I think its odd to call yourself a Christian and yet not believe in God. But there have been self-described atheistic Christians. Are such people heretics or just non-christians using the name. Maybe there is no definite answer.

    June 29, 2009 — 5:09
  • anon

    Matt,
    You said:
    “I thought even heretical Christians are still Christians, otherwise they wouldn’t be heretical at all.”
    Maybe “heretical Christian” is like “stone lion.” Stone lions resemble lions, which is why we *call* them “lions.” What keeps them from actually being lions is that they’re made of stone.
    Heretical Christians resemble Christians, which is why we *call* them “Christians.” What keeps them from actually being Christians is that they’re heretics.

    June 29, 2009 — 9:37
  • Heath White

    Upon reflection, I think the disagreement can be boiled down pretty far. One camp, (“high church” roughly) holds that
    Being Lutheran/Episcopalian/Catholic/Baptist etc. entails being a Christian.
    Another camp (“low church”) holds that
    Dying as a Christian entails salvation.
    If you put these together, then you get that dying as a L/E/C/B etc. entails salvation. But neither camp holds that. So at least one of the entailments must be rejected.
    I would say that if one party embraces an entailment including the concept F, and another party rejects it, then the two parties have different concepts of F. In any case, the two parties are not going to agree on necessary and sufficient conditions for F-ness.

    June 29, 2009 — 10:30
  • Matthew:
    I cannot buy “Alex is saved, but he’s not a Christian”, perhaps excepting the case of folks who died prior to Christ’s resurrection.
    As for “Alex is a Christian, but he’s unsaved”, I’d want to disambiguate “saved”. Saved from what? Sin. Which sin? Original sin or personal sins. Now, “Alex is a Christian, but he’s not saved from original sin” is impossible. But, “Alex is a Christian, but there are personal sins from which he is not saved” is presently true in respect of a large variety of venial sins, and at all too many past points in my life also in respect of various mortal sins.
    Heath:
    I think the claim that there is more than one concept in play seems right. It might help to ask why we need the concept before deciding on how to explicate it. (I generally am wary of this kind of approach to philosophical analysis, but in this case it seems right.)
    If we think we need the term to delineate a socially significant group, we need a term of external ascription, and probably want to avoid references to grace, etc.
    If we think we need the term to describe the necessary and sufficient condition for salvation, we’re wrong. 🙂 We can just say “saved”, and then disambiguate further by saying what the person is saved from.
    If we think we need the term theologically to describe members of the body of Christ, then we would probably do better to just use the richer term “member of the body of Christ”.
    One of the most important places we may think we need the term is for sacramental, liturgical and canonical purposes: e.g., a consummated marriage between two “Christians” is indissoluble, while a marriage between two “non-Christians” can sometimes be dissolved upon the conversion of one of the two; only a “non-Christian” can become a catechumen; it is never permissible that a “non-Christian” receive communion. But I think there we might do well to avoid the term “Christian” and instead consider the individual questions on their own, without assuming that the answers to each of them will necessarily be the same.
    Another place where the term “Christian” occurs is as a specifier of more generic terms: “orthodox Christian”, “devout Christian”, etc. But I think that knowing the necessary and sufficient conditions for being a Christian does not gain one all that much in regard to these terms. In fact, a better approach might be to define the ideal case–the orthodox and orthopractic Christian (Mary being the paradigm, on the Catholic view)–and then to say that this is the focal meaning, and we who resemble the ideal case in a relevant way count as “Christians” secundum quid.
    Everybody:
    I wonder whether it’s not a theological mistake to focus much on the word “Christian”. In Scripture, the term is used largely as a term of external description–the three NT occurrences of the term (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Pet 4:16) are all basically in the context of external ascription. These occurrences of the term are all consistent with a social account like this: a Christian is one who is a member in good standing of the Christian community.
    Scripture more commonly uses concepts like: disciple, member of the body of Christ, brother or sister in Christ, child of God, and believer. One should not, I think, automatically assume that these terms are coextensive with “Christian”, nor that that they are coextensive with one another, though in the final analysis they may be.

    June 29, 2009 — 11:23
  • Trent Dougherty

    Carl: We remain on the same non-cognitivist page, but “following X” is also multiply ambiguous and, I suspect will bring up exactly the same problems as before. For it seems in need of explication by intention to follow a certain path (in addition to minimal beliefs), but Jesus is committed to following that path. And it would be weird to ad hocly exclude X from the Xn’s by adding “…and is not committed to following X personally.”
    Heath: This may well turn out to be true, but I doubt it initially. The reason is that all the groups you mention, certainly Catholicism, admits a general notion of Christian (The “Marian structure” encompassing the “Petrine structure”).
    Alex: I vote for you for “King of English”!! (After all, the Holy Roman Emperors were elected officials.) This suggestion of yours came up–perhaps from you (or perhaps from me?) in my post on the Trinity where I said that God was God’s God (on the model of the fact that the President is the President’s President) here: http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2007/05/who-is-gods-god.html.
    Matt: I’m not sure I read the problem, but my first hypothesis on what you mean seems answered in my Trinity post. What relation can’t Jesus stand in? It is *odd to say* that he is committed to following himself, but if that is defined in terms of following his teachings, then it’s not a problem. That’s what I pushed just above with Carl. The question is of a theoretical anchor and I’m suggesting that it’s teachings, not persons. If, per impossible, Jesus taught falsely, I wouldn’t follow Jesus (if I knew that he taught falsely).
    Gordon: As my comments to Heath above show, I’m in general agreement with (what, reading on, I came to learn was) Matt’s position. The fact that there is a generic notion of Christian in Catholicism and the “mainline” denoms is consistent with their holding that lots of other people who aren’t members of their communion aren’t Christians.
    Gordon2: I’m glad you raised the question of FAMILY RESEMBLANCE because I was going to do so anyway. I am of the opinion that, seemingly contra most analytic philosophers (and Socrates, sadly), that most terms (in the relevant reference class) don’t *have* universal definitions of the kind Socrates and Aristotle wanted: it’s just resemblance all the way down. Thus the best we can do is group them into classes–which will be historically embeded–and say what each class has in common and then trace the chain of resemblance conceptually (but surely guided by history). Thus regarding Matt’s apt reference to infants, I just think there is not possibly a definition that gets both the standard and non-standard cases. Sadly, I fear this is true with “knows” as well.
    Alex: It looks like you go on to endorse something like what I just said to Gordon HOWEVER to be niggling, I think it’s better to say ONE CONCEPT tied by family resemblance than multiple concepts. Or at least say multiple usages instead of concepts, with it left open whether usages differentiate concepts. I am certainly with you that “Christian” is in the lower echelons of importance of ecclesiastical terms theologically. However, culturally it’s the go-to term (unlike the more Scripturally heavy terms you mention). But the usage which makes that true seems to focus on the question of salvation. When, as a Catholic, my in-laws consider, as they surely did given their background after my conversion, whether I was still a Christian, I think what they primarily had in mind was whether I’d now make it to Heaven (objection: but they thought that because they assumed you now believed salvation-stopping things. Reply: true, but it still shows the terminological teleology).
    PS – Sorry for any typos!

    June 29, 2009 — 15:39
  • Here’s a thought. Start with these two claims:
    (1) Christopher Hitchens believes that Pope John Paul II and Billy Graham were Christians.
    (2) Christopher Hitchens believes that there is no such thing as sin, salvation or grace.
    As far as I know, (1) and (2) are true. But if being saved, or having received salvific grace (as per my own earlier suggestion which I now withdraw), is a part of the concept of being a Christian, then it seems CH’s beliefs are plainly inconsistent, and CH ought to say that there has never been a Christian. That is a very strange result. The general point here is this. If the concept Christian has supernatural content, then it seems we get the consequence that the vast majority of non-Christians, to be consistent, ought to say that there have never been any Christians.
    This is surely not right.
    So I think we have one of two options:
    (I) Accept that Christian does not have explicit supernatural content. It still does not have to be a concept that non-Christians need to explicitly have. Many non-Christians will likely defer to those who are clear cases of Christian to define the extension of Christian. However, their deference has limits: they will not defer to an understanding that is too heavy in supernatural content. But they might well defer to a definition in terms of baptism, since baptism can be identified by its non-supernatural features, or in terms of doctrinal or personal commitment.
    (II) Accept that there are two concepts of Christian, one typically used by non-Christians and the other used by Christians. This might be the right solution, but I think for it to be fully satisfactory, this should not be a case of equivocity. Rather, the two terms should fall in the same family. Thus, the Christian version of the concept can have some supernatural content, but can have sufficient non-supernatural content so as to fall in the same family as some non-supernaturalistic version. For instance, if the Christian says that a Christian is someone committed by the grace of God to following Christ, or someone who has received the graces of the sacrament of baptism, then this will fall in the same family as, respectively, the concept of someone committed to following Christ, or the concept of someone who has gone through a baptismal ceremony.

    June 29, 2009 — 16:34
  • Gordon Knight

    A Christian reading this should consider how he or she would define Budhism, Hinduism, or Islam. There is a variety of Budhism which gives privledged place to the Lotus Sutra. Other varieties, don’t do this. So what should we say. Who are the real Budhists? Do we need necessary and sufficient conditions? How would one possibly come up with such without some pre-conception of what the “true Budhism” is, which itself is controversial.

    June 30, 2009 — 4:39