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Who is a Christian?

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."


  1. Diane6:42 AM

    I am a christian by definition, but I would never like my name to be associated with Dobson's.
    Why does he think he has the power to decide who is a christian and who is not?

    This is what scares me about he and his fellow "christians" having this country become a theocracy.
    Whose religion, whose definitions would we use?
    It would not be so easy as to say a christian nation.

    Our forefathers were right in the seperation of church and state.

  2. Anonymous9:23 AM

    Besides the arrogance of it, it's obvious the twisted nature of Dobson thinking unless someone believes what he believes they are not a believer is at the core of his sick way of faith. Dobson is a dangerous, yet influential, leader in the Christian Right. I know statements like these expose him as an influential nutcase, but he needs to just shut up.

  3. I wondered myself when I read that quote yesterday. This is what is going on in the SBC too. Who decides if we are a Baptist?

  4. Thanks for the comments!

    Diane & anonymous: You are right that a main problem here is that Dobson seems to think he is in a position to authoritatively report on the status of someone else’s soul. Yet, only God can do that and Dobson is not God.

    Kevin: You are correct that there is a very similar effort in Baptist life to define “Baptist” in such a way to intentionally exclude some Baptists. That is also a serious problem.

  5. Dobson seems to have take a serious of strange statements of late defining who is and who is not a Christian. I'm not exactly sure what is bringing this on, but it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense for him to say such things.

  6. John: Thanks for the comment. I, too, wonder what is going on but I do not have an answer. I truly wish that Dr. Dobson would return to focusing on the family and leave the politics alone.


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