AFA’s Rusty Benson on “What Is a Christian?”


Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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19 Responses

  1. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    When I see attempts to make the founding fathers out to be orthodox Christians, either in the traditional pre-Enlightenment sense or, even more so, the present-day White American Evangelical Protestant sense, I assume that Here Be Hackery. This assumption is based on sad experience reading such things, with the track record being consistent enough that I feel no need for further confirmation.Report

  2. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    So what exactly is the relevance to us, or even to hardcore biblicist evangelicals, of the fact that Trump and many of the American Founders seem to fail this test? Which of the other candidates – or which other president or major party candidate in the history of the Republic – appears “forever overwhelmed at the miracle of his own salvation”? How would we determine whether someone is truly and objectively “overwhelmed,” and not merely “rather whelmed” – overwhelmed on Sundays and when the topic comes up, but generally able to operate heavy machinery?

    For political purposes, or the operation of the machinery of state, “being Christian” is obviously much more broadly defined. Likewise, whether the state itself or the American form of government can properly be referred to as “Christian” will always be a statement about Christianity in one sense, but not in another sense.

    The questions can be asked regarding Trump – or Franklin or Hamilton or Hillary Rodham Clinton or Ben Carson and so on – as to whether he or she really embodies a Christian ideal in politics, or whether supporting him or her would be good for the evangelicals or the Christian right, or whether, according to one or another doctrine, whether he or she would qualify as “truly Christian.” It seems to me that the answers to these three questions may be different in many instances, although one apolitical or anti-political tendency in Christianity, as in virtually all belief traditions, will tend toward a denial of the significance or even the possibility of the first two.Report

    • “being Christian” is obviously much more broadly defined.

      Indeed, it covers the Founders handily, non-church-attending skeptics or no, and among all presidents fails to include only the church-attending, deity-invoking incumbent.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      The issue is that the people in question will, very likely, make “I Am A Christian” be a foundational plank of their moral-high-ground construction. And, since everyone’s going to be saying it, “I’m A TRUE Christian, Not Like Those Other Fakers” is going to be a common line of argument (as well as “Here’s What TRUE Christians Are, You Aren’t One”.)

      So it’s useful to have a discussion of what we mean when we talk about “TRUE Christianity”, as opposed to “vague sense of nondenominational faith and a layman’s understanding of Christian dogma”.Report

    • Avatar Philip H says:

      Well, considering that I saw a quote recently that said “The most successful Socialist in the World was Jesus Christ” one could argue that it’s relevant to Christians of any strip that these folks AREN’T following Christ’s call to both “love your neighbor as yourself” and to feed, clothe and house the “least of these my brothers and sisters” since in doing so we do it for Him.

      But what do I know.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Oh, if you understood the original Greek, you’d see that the verse refers to a militia who were called to do that, not merely anybody and everybody.Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe says:

        There are different ways to understand the faith, we all know. Re Jesus as a Socialist, some folks think Marx invented collectivism. There is a big history of collectivism (and its debate with individualism) that traces back to Ancient Greece.

        And also, in the Judeo-Christian context. I’ve never read Thomas More’s “Utopia” — but that’s where the word comes from. There’s debate among scholars, on how to properly understand that book.

        But in it, wealth and poverty were abolished. That’s Marxism before Marx. Though whereas Marx was an atheist, More tied the principles of “Utopia” to some kind of eccentric Christian theology.Report

  3. Avatar Mark Boggs says:

    Yes, but does Ben Carson agree with this definition?Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We had this debate all the time within the Babtist church.

    Looking back, I should have done a better job of noticing how the debates over whether there was enough of the Water of Life firehosed into our mouths to leave a trickle for the Methodists kinda gave the whole game away.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    This is one of those things where we jump back and forth to what is meant by “Christianity” and how we use the same word to refer to two very (or somewhat, whatever) different things.

    A) There’s the stuff in The Nicene Creed (to use one example, it need not be that particular creed as there are other Christian creeds, of course, but the basic idea of a set of beliefs about God, His Son, The Holy Ghost, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and so on are the foundation of this particular definition of Christianity).

    B) There’s the whole “Western Civilization/Enlightenment/Gnosticism” thing. This is where things get a lot squishier and fuzzier. A good (if imperfect) summation was given by Eisenhower:

    And this is how they [the Founding Fathers in 1776] explained those: ‘we hold that all men are endowed by their Creator…’ not by the accident of their birth, not by the color of their skins or by anything else, but ‘all men are endowed by their Creator.’ In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply-felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is. With us of course it is the Judeo-Christian concept, but it must be a religion with all men are created equal.

    It’s not required to have a Jesus who was sacrificed for our sins. It’s not even really required to have an interventionist God, really. A deism could work here. This particular attitude gets called “Christian” sometimes (and, more to the point, often enough that it’s a shorthand for “Western Gnosticism rooted in Enlightenment values”).

    So there are some ways in which I am not a Christian. There are some ways in which I am not only Christian, I am a devout Christian.

    And a good way to cheat is to use one of these definitions and then switch out, mid-paragraph, and start using the other definition as if the two concepts are interchangeable (and they, seriously, aren’t… any overlap is coincidental).

    So, yeah, this is a Christian country insofar as it was written with a Christian Constitution by Christian men who believed in Christian values.

    But it also is not a Christian country and the Constitution is not a Christian Constitution and the founders may or may not have been Christians (I hear that Thomas Jefferson was, totally, an atheist) and who did not particularly hold Christian values.

    And so long as we are allowed to be all loosey-goosey about what we mean by “Christian”, both of those sentences can be true at the exact same time.

    But since this is really about Donald Trump, I don’t think he’s particularly Christian in the way that I am a Christian. He might, however, be a Christian in the way that I am not one… but that’s really not that interesting to me.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      I always figured that the lesson of Jesus’s death is that there is no more Global Reset Button, there is no more God watching us and making sure that if we screw up too badly he’ll start everything over (saving a chosen few, of course.) I mean, the story goes that we tortured God’s son to death and the worst that happened was a small earthquake!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Jesus’s Death was a lot of different things. The last scapegoat, the last sacrifice, the last blood that God will ever have to drink: His Own.

        It was also the kickoff to “oh, yeah, by the way punishment is now eternal”. This may or may not be seen as preferable to mere destruction of the earth, depending on your time horizon.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC says:

      Yes, this.

      Trying to separate out Western culture from Christianity is incredibly difficult.

      It’s actually difficult in *both* directions, although there’s a district lack of people trying to remove Western culture (And various Western fanon about Christianity) from Christianity.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Chrisitianity is always about addition.
        Just look at Vodun.Report

      • Avatar Matty says:

        What about Ethiopia or indeed some of the middle eastern churches that date back to before Islam took over the area?

        How is their Christianity different, or not to the western version? That might give us some ideas of which parts of the religion are more independent of the surrounding culture.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC says:

          How is their Christianity different, or not to the western version? That might give us some ideas of which parts of the religion are more independent of the surrounding culture.

          The parts of Christianity that did not end up under Rome and the Catholic church are pretty different. Heck, the parts of Christianity that developed under the *Greek* speaking parts of the Catholic church (Aka, Eastern Orthodox) are pretty different than the direction the west took.

          But, actually, you don’t even have to go that far. A lot of stuff that looks like Western culture influencing Christianity is actually just *American* culture, or at least the *influence* is only happening in America. Even somewhere like England ends up with entirely different religious movements.Report