Are They Christian?... and Other Dumb Questions
I’ve noticed in conversation with Christians a strange phenomenon. When talking about a book, film, or mentioning an interesting story of a person I’d heard something impactful. A question often comes out of nowhere. Not sure why it matters.
Are they Christian?
Some ask the innocent question because they know I’m a Christian. Maybe assume I only consume Bible, theology, and Veggie Tales. Not sure.
Am I overreacting? Maybe.
But the question is more common than not. I want to let it go but it reveals bad theology and concern for Christians being a faithful presence in culture.
The question makes assumptions about the nature of man. When I ask if a filmmaker is a Christian it assumes Non-Christians don’t make… or can’t make excellent films.
Maybe I ask because I sense spiritual themes of the film and it’s an innocent observation. But usually from Christians it's a different angle. It lumps all Non-Christian film and art in the drawer of the devil. Only nudity, cursing, and non-sense… and not the family-friendly movies Christians should watch (whatever that means).
The question loaded however we slice it. Let’s dig into the bad theology and problematic worldview coming from the question.
First, using Christian to describe a film is not helpful. Some “Christian” films represent Christ well and some do not. Films don’t have souls and can’t follow Jesus so it’s not a helpful term. Media outlets needs to quantify and categorize different genres of art. Christian film can be explicit like The Passion of the Christ or Left Behind (when I say explicit that does not mean accurate or good theology). But Christian themes are at least obvious in the film.
A second example is from the Christian music industry. Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) is the only genre of music defined by the lyrical content. It does not matter if it’s jazz, rock, or rap. If it says: Jesus, Spirit, God, or faith it gets dropped in the CCM world. No other mainstream music categorized and organized by the lyrical content. Most music categorized by genre and style: R&B, rock, country, etc.
Big assumptions that CCM music is contemporary and/or Christian. Music can’t have a soul and a lot ofstuff is not good for the soul. I digress.
You may have Christians who make explicit Christian music that glorifies Christ, or you may have Christians who make excellent music, without the explicit Christian lyrics, and they both can honor Christ.
Back to the “Are they Christian?” question. When we ask if someone is a Christian or something is Christian we are often making wrong headed assumptions about the person or the art.
Christians look for a plumber who is a believer. They need a contractor and they must follow Christ. Why? Somehow a person meets Christ and their plumbing skills anointed by God. They’ll see their work with new lenses and want to honor God with their skills. But they may have good or bad skills. God can’t change those.
I’m guessing Jesus made a few crooked tables in his day as a carpenter.
We’ve all been ripped off by a Christian and Non-Christian. We’ve seen good and shoddy work from believers and unbelievers. The question is not a good one.
I’ve seen great art from Christians and Non-Christians. Seen bad from both. Witnessed great marriages from Non-Christians and poor ones from Christians. There is no correlation between faith and the quality of work or ability to have healthy relationships. Why?
One of my favorite Christian doctrines is common grace. It’s the difference between saving grace which is God bringing a sinner from death to life and giving them the ability to believe and trust in Christ.
Common grace is for all people. It's rooted in when Jesus said,
“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Matthew 5:44-46
God allows the sun to rise and the rain to fall regardless if you love Him. He provides and sustains your life regardless of faith.
Christian artists and Non-Christian can make a good film and write good books. Non-Christians can raise beautiful children and do good work in the marketplace. It means God is sustaining and providing for all people whether they acknowledge God or not.
God makes man in his image with abilities, talents, and skills for the good of the world. Christian faith does not change this reality.
When we ask: Are they Christians? Is that Christian? It reveals a theology and world view of a sacred and secular dichotomy. More Plato than Jesus.
A world divided between good and bad people. Secular and religious work. Secular and religious art. Christian and everything else.
The world is good and displays God’s glory in sunsets and Non-Christian paintings. God is a Creator and made people to create in his image for the good of his world.
When can get into motivation for work. We can talk later about what makes a Christian worker distinct in how they work.
But when we ask if someone is a Christian it makes a lot of assumptions that aren’t helpful. We assert Non-Christians can’t care about justice and the poor. It assumes Non-Christians have nothing to teach us or know nothing about arts, business, or raising a family.
Common grace suggests truth can be found in every corner of the world in which Jesus is Lord. His truth is being reveled in music, novels, classrooms, work, sunsets, flowers, and conversations regardless of the source. All because people are made in the image of God.
The rain falls on the just, unjust, Christian painter, and Non-Christian sculptor.
The doctrine of common grace needs recovery in our day and age. I’m sorry for the ways Non-Christians are treated as second class citizens because of our bad theology. Something we must repent of.
May we see God raise up a fresh batch of disciples who are common-grace-driven.