Who is a Christian?

March 28, 2007

Who is a Christian? What is the definition of that word? Well, James Dobson apparently has an odd definition. On his radio program he recently said this about potential presidential candidate Fred Thompson:

Everyone knows he's conservative and has come out strongly for the things that the pro-family movement stands for. ... [But] I don't think he's a Christian; at least that's my impression.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Thompson, responded:
Thompson is indeed a Christian. ... He was baptized into the Church of Christ.
Focus on the Family spokesman Gary Schneeberger then explained:
[Dobson] has never known Thompson to be a committed Christian--someone who talks openly about his faith. ... We use that word--Christian--to refer to people who are evangelical Christians.
Other than the problem that Dobson spent another broadcast of his radio program talking about possible presidential candidates, there is a very troubling issue here. Dobson makes one of two mistakes: either Dobson wrongly judged Thompson and arrogantly declared judgment on Thompson's soul, or Dobson has a really poor definition of the word "Christian." According to his spokesman's statement, it must the latter problem. Yet, the word "Christian" is much broader in its scope than the word "evangelical." Even if one believes that all Christians should be evangelicals, that does not mean that they are. Being a Christian deals with one's relationship to God, while being an evangelical deals with one's commitment to sharing that relationship with other people.

This is an excellent reminder for all of us to be very careful with the words we use. We must make sure that we define and use them accurately in a way that clearly communicates our intended message. And we must be careful not to be inaccurate or overly exclusive in our definitions, especially with such an important word as "Christian."