I’m running a weekly series at The Stream this year on Guy P. Harrison’s 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian. There are a lot more than 50 questions and challenges in the book, so I don’t have space there to answer everything he asks. Last Saturday I addressed him on “Who is a Christian?” He raised some strange definitional challenges in that chapter, but I ran out of room for to address them.
Harrison observes the many “versions” of Christianity and says,
I suspect that the primary reason for all this disunity is the basic nature of religion itself. If one has a club, organization, or world religion that is based on claims of divine revelation — something anyone can claim — then it’s pretty hard to win an argument about who is right or who is wrong. There is no hard evidence to rely on, no undeniable proof that transcends the words of men or women.
Harrison also pounds the point that Christianity is splintered into multiple sects, including Latter Day Saints — as if they really were Christian. He also says, “I think it is the outsider who is in the best position to determine what makes one a Christian, for only an outsider is truly unbiased.” His own outsider conclusion: “Those who say they are Christian are Christian.”
What’s Up With That?
Let’s parse out what’s going on here. First, his evidential challenge is strange, for we do have evidence for what counts as historic biblical Christianity. It’s the Bible and history.
So Harrison is saying one of two things. Either historic biblical Christianity is irrelevant to “who is a Christian,” or else historic biblical Christianity is impossible to recognize when one sees it.
Both options are widely shared, even among groups who can trace their heritage to historic biblical Christianity. I’m thinking especially of mainline denominations that have adopted the world’s ethics and doctrines, in strict opposition to the Christianity that’s come before, and continue calling themselves Christian. They’re only Christians to the extent that the word itself is so flexible as to be meaningless.
The second option is that it’s impossible to recognize historic biblical Christianity when one sees it. I can see some point here in view of Christianity’s many divisions, but only for those who think the Bible and the ancient creeds, our best definitions, are impossible to read and interpret.
I addressed this in the Stream article, but let me round that out by returning to Harrison’s concern about our not having evidence. We’re not lacking evidence for “who is a Christian.” The Bible is evidence — thoroughly presented and authoritative.
It isn’t as systematic as some wish it was, so it doesn’t answer every potential question, but it answers enough. For those who like to say, “That’s just your interpretation,” the fact is, there is for any passage a very limited range of possible interpretations, based on the historical and grammatical content and context. There are many possible interpretations, but many of them are wrong.
“Who is a Christian?” is therefore defined by reference to an interpretable source. Some interpretations are definably correct, and within their range of meaning is where one finds who is truly a Christian (and living like it).F
Outsiders Don’t Know Best
The idea that outsiders can decide who is a Christian, “for only an outsider is truly unbiased,” is odd in that light. Which outsiders have studied the source that closely? And doesn’t their unbelief bias them, too, to discount the centrality of our core documents? To support the idea that there is no real Christianity?
If there’s any unbiased source on true Christianity, it’s Jesus Christ. Let’s let his story and his teaching be our source.