Two summers ago, I heard Rick Warren speak at a conference. Pastor Warren (God bless him) uttered a line in his speech that gave me particular pause: “There is no such thing as Christian music, only Christian lyrics.” It’s a significant line in his theology, and it also appears throughout the Purpose-Driven book empire.
It’s a line that goes to the heart of the crisis in Christian identity.
Essentially, Warren is suggesting that something is made Christian when it is clearly labeled as such. Song lyrics (words) are easy to recognize as Christian: do they contain the words God, Jesus, praise? If so, wham! They’re Christian! Instrumental music cannot be “Christian,” in Warren’s view, because how could we ever tell what it is about? If the song itself doesn’t proclaim itself verbally as such, it is not Christian (even if its composer is Christian).
This way of thinking turns the essence of Christianity into a cheap adjective. Slap it onto anything, and voila! You have redeemed the regular and made it holy! But wait—isn’t Christianity more complicated than that?
Christians are way too slaphappy with the name “Christian.” We cavalierly attach it to the most trivial of things. Let’s consider just some of the “Christian” things that populate our culture: Christian bookstores, Christian music, movies, videogames, radio, magazines, publishing houses, Christian Youtube (“Godtube”), Christian MySpace (“MyPraize”), Christian clothes, shoes, socks, paintings, mousepads, cooking utensils, crockpots, you name it….
But what makes any of this “Christian”? What makes one crockpot more suitable for Christians than another? Do we really need “Christian” alternatives in cutlery?
Long ago, Christians decided that rather than trying to influence mass culture from within, they’d take the more passive route and define themselves as a “subculture.” One more subculture among many. There are many reasons why they did this: 1) it’s easier, 2) niche markets make more money faster, and 3) modernity gave rise to the combative, defensive posture of “us vs. them”—an attitude that has defined pop-Christianity ever since.
As a result, “Christian” seemed to become a word best defined by what it wasn’t (i.e. liberal, gay, postmodern, pro-choice, etc…). Somewhere in there we lost our sense of history and tradition and identity—we lost our idea of what “Christian” really means. And if we don’t know what it means, how will anyone else?
The problem is that our society has convinced us that “Christian” is merely an adjective—a descriptive word that usually connotes a conservative, prudish, bigoted fundamentalist diametrically opposed to everything fun under the sun.
But the truth is that “Christian” is much better fit as a noun, or even better—a verb. To be a Christian it to live in pursuit of Christ—to not be satisfied with who you are, but to strive for who you might be. It’s an action-oriented life; it’s a process.
We need to stop demeaning Christianity by treating it like a just another attribute. “Christian” is not like “red” or “tall.” It’s not just a word to describe. It’s a living, breathing way of being.