Let’s Stop Using Christian as an Adjective
Do you call yourself a Christian? What does that word mean to you? What might it mean to others? Especially to those who aren’t part of our faith community? Let us consider if we should use Christian as a noun, Christian as an adjective, or Christian as something else.
Christian in the Bible
The word Christian does occur in Scripture, but not often.
Luke uses it twice in the book of Acts. He first confirms that the word popped up in Antioch (Acts 11:26). It was a label given to those who follow Jesus, that is, the Christ (the Messiah). Later King Agrippa uses it when talking to Paul at his trial (Acts 26:28).
Peter is the only other biblical writer who uses the word, Christian. He writes about those who suffer for their faith as followers of Jesus. He encourages them to not be ashamed but to praise God (1 Peter 4:16). Implicitly, when our walk with Jesus aligns so closely with him, that we face attack, this persecution, in effect, confirms our faith. Although unwanted, this opposition becomes a praiseworthy event.
Noun Versus Adjective
In each of these cases, the writers use Christian as a noun. This is an appropriate convention for us to follow. However, we often encounter this word misused as an adjective: as in Christian music, Christian movie, Christian business, Christian community, and Christian book, to name a few common usages. And singer Steve Taylor facetiously sang a song that mentioned a Christian cow. This jest certainly shows the absurdity of employing Christian as an adjective
Although the dictionary now permits using Christian as an adjective—no doubt prompted because of its common misuse—we must remind ourselves that this usage isn’t a biblical application for the word. Rob Bell writes that “Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective” (Velvet Elvis, page 84).
Yet even as a noun, Christian means different things to different people. Because of that it’s a label packed with misunderstanding. For this reason, I personally don’t like the tag of Christian, and I try to minimize using it. I prefer calling myself a follower of Jesus, or if I’m being overly confident, a disciple of Jesus. Yet to avoid confusing my audience, I sometimes resort to saying that I’m a Christian.
As an author who often writes books for the Christian market—that is, for followers of Jesus—I’m often confronted with the need to use Christian as an adjective for the sake of clarity. This results in admitting that I am a Christian author and that I write Christian books. (More correctly, I am an author who is a Christian—that is, I follow Jesus. And my books are for other Christians—that is, other followers of Jesus.)
My attempts to explain these two truths without using the word Christian, only confuses people and leads them to make wrong assumptions about me and the topics I cover.
Should Christian be a Verb?
I, along with many others, have advocated that love is a verb. That is, love isn’t how we feel or think; it’s how we act. We show our love by what we do.
I wonder if we would likewise benefit by thinking of Christian as a verb. Yes, being a Christian is about belief and faith, but if we don’t put our faith into action, what good is it? Can we have a true faith without doing good (James 2:14-19)?
Moving Forward as Christians
I encourage you to embrace Christian as a noun, stop using it as an adjective, and explore how you can turn it into a verb. This may be the most effective witness we can offer.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.
Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.
2 replies on “Is Christian a Noun or an Adjective?”
This is a good post. I too prefer to self identify as either a Christ-follower or disciple myself. The term Christian has taken on too many differ meanings to express a clear truth. The same can be said about the term “evangelical “. While first used in Europe as someone who was a Protestant as apposed to a Roman Catholic, and still is over there, that term here in the states can mean so many different things that I will not use it to self identify. I believe that the author of confusion is ultimately responsible for once meaningful words to lose their original meanings.
Yes, Robert, Evangelical is another label I want to avoid. Thanks for commenting!