When did “christian” become an adjective?

I am revisiting a book I read many years ago. It is What on Earth Are We Doing?: Finding Our Place As Christians in the World by John Fischer. I read it when it was new in the late 1990s. As I pick among the many nuggets of good stuff that Fischer wrote, I am reminded of why this particular book made such an impact on me. In fact, I offered it to other leaders in my church who, whether they read it or not, never seemed to be captured by Fischer’s insights. You see, it takes contemporary evangelicalism to task. In our world we have attempted to build a parallel to what many would call “the world.” You know, that place where sin and debauchery lay waiting to waylay us and subjugate us to the cruel taskmaster of “worldliness.” So, according to Fischer, the word ‘christian’ became an adjective. Rather than the noun that it originally was coined as, someone who was a little Christ, we have made it descriptive. There is christian music and christian bookstores. We have christian novels and christian self-help books. We go to christian concerts and seminars and grocery stores and barbers. We have created a new “christian” world that allows us to have all of the stuff that the other ‘bad’ world has, but with a veneer of christian respectability. Is this what the gospel calls us to? Are we to insulate ourselves against the supposed enemy called human existence?
Back in the early 1970s I was part of the so-called Jesus Movement. One thing that we set as an objective was to show the world how it was possible to live according to the 1st century model of church that we read about in the book of Acts. We figured that if we could show people that this lifestyle ‘worked’ they would beat down our doors to get a piece of it. After all, as Fischer noted, we are a very pragmatic culture. If something ‘works,’ it absolutely MUST be true. We were, in fact, building the foundation of a ‘christian’ worldview. Today, one can look at the myriad organizations and churches that tout that their version of christianity works! You can be successful and have all of your needs met, just ‘step right up’ and climb aboard the gospel train. No more worries, no more stress, no more of the troubles of ‘Your’ world. We actually believed this. And, we preached it. The trouble was, it didn’t work. And, those on the outside could see that it didn’t work. We had televangelists talking the ‘christian’ talk, but failing miserably in life. Co-workers, who saw us everyday struggling to hold two worlds in tension, knew that we were failing. Now, we wonder why the culture has marginalized the message of Christ. We continue to try and show the world how good it is to be in a ‘christian’ world, but they aren’t watching. They really don’t care. As far as they are concerned we are a rerun of some bad 50s sitcom.
So, what to do? Honestly, I don’t have answers. That’s a good thing, I think. We cannot hold Yahweh in some box where we can let Him out when we need Him, but then close it when He gets too close. We want comfortable answers to all of life’s questions. After all, won’t that prove to the outside world that we are correct? Will that not vindicate us? Let me share a quote from Fischer’s book. This is something that he quoted from a lecture series given by Robert Farrar Capon:

The Gospel proclaims a disreputable salvation. It hands us neither an intellectually respectable God nor a morally serious one. It gives us an action of God in Christ that is foolishness to the Greek in us and a scandal to our Jewishness. It presents us with a Sabbath-breaking Messiah whose supreme act is to be executed as a criminal-and who then rises and disappears, leaving us with a blithe assurance that everything is repaired even though, as far as we can see, nothing has been fixed.

It seems that God is way bigger than we can imagine. God’s way of working in the cosmos is not what we would necessarily think it should be. Living as the bible seems to prescribe should work! But, we live in the time between now and the age to come. This life is filled with paradox that cannot be answered. There is a mystery about Yahweh that we cannot possibly understand. Not all of our questions will be answered, nor should they. Living in a separate, disinfected world is not God’s way. Getting closer to Yahweh, letting the Reign of God flourish within us is a way to start. Letting the glorious, good creation immerse us into the very presence of the Creator/Yahweh who walked among us is a way to begin living. Separating ourselves from the very world we are to be witnesses to this Great and Loving Father is not.

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