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.