9.11.2009

Two Words with Terribly Broad Definitions

In The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer urges true Christians to love all human beings, especially to love their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ; and this love is the mark of the Christian (drawn from John 13:33-35). But in light of the failure on the part of so-called Christians to love one another, plus their wide divergence of beliefs, he remarks: "The meaning of the word Christian has been reduced to practically nothing." Schaeffer has in mind the question of whether the liberal theologian is really in the same camp as the Christian fundamentalist sitting in the pew. What is it to be a Christian?

Perhaps we can restore the meaning of this word by asking what it was in the first and second centuries to be a Christian.

A second word that suffers from a similar loss of meaning is the word evangelical. Grenz, Guretzki, and Nordling's Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms provides a concise definition: "In its most general sense evangelical means being characterized by a concern for the essential core of the Christian message, which proclaims the possibility of salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ. More specifically, evangelicalism has been used to refer to the transdenominational and international movement that emphasizes the need to experience personal conversion through belief in Christ and his work on the cross, and a commitment to the authority of Scripture as the infallible guide for Christian faith and practice." My question at this point is whether this leaves Joel Osteen out of the evangelical camp. I gather from the popular culture that Osteen is considered to be an evangelical; but the dictionary definition seems to rule him out. Is the popular definition of the word evangelical too broad, as is that of the word Christian? I tend to think it is. But what do you think? What comes to mind when you hear that someone is an evangelical?

(Note: The quotation from Schaeffer's The Mark of the Christian appears on p. 135 of his The Church at the End of the 20th Century, published by IVP, as the former book was originally an appendix of the latter book.)

1 comment:

Brett Berger said...

So, I think that this is probably the limit of language in general. All words possess a range of possible meanings derived from their range of uses. And all words are under a slow process of evolution.

Like the outsider who thinks all people of a certain ethnicity look the same, the outsiders will always use the broad sense of these words. We insiders, will always feel the need to demonstrate the differences.

As far as Osteen goes, I just wish he would stop squinting and smiling.