My definition: Christian

For the second in my running series of personal definitions, I define what I mean by the term “Christian“.

Let me preface by reiterating that I’m not trying to produce an authoritative definition, or devalue others’ definitions (particularly the definitions that Christians themselves hold). I’m simply letting you know what definition I am normally working with when I call someone “Christian”.

So here it is:

I take to be a Christian anyone who uses the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as a guide to leading an ethical life.

In practice, this definition will catch pretty much everyone who self-identifies as Christian. Of course, many “Christians” under this definition will not be considered True Christians by many other “Christians” (if you follow me).

I can live with that.

It also means that “Christians”, under my definition, are a varied bunch indeed – Gnostics, Catholics, Fundamentalists, Mormons, Quakers, some Unitarians, and others. So varied, in fact, that I should be very wary of making sweeping generalizations about “all Christians”. You’ll tell me if I slip up, won’t you?

Here are some other definitions on offer for what a Christian is:

OED (access to dictionary not free): “Believing, professing, or belonging to the religion of Christ.” (This is pretty vague – depending on how restrictively you define “the religion of Christ”, this definition is almost circular.)

Wiktionary: “An individual who seeks to live his or her life according to the principles and values taught by Jesus Christ.” (Basically what I said.) and Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary: They each give a range of definitions, including something close to mine.

And of course, I encourage you to explore the discussion of this issue at the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.


5 Responses to “My definition: Christian”

  1. berenike Says:

    Do you remember a while back you wrote something about taking into yourself the meaning of the vastness of the universe, or something along those lines? Apropos meaning of vastness:'ve been reminded of a couple of your posts by various posts on this blog, and I thought you might be interested in it in general.berenike(calvinist Cath's papist chum)

  2. The Cellarer Says:

    Just for info, the Catholic definition of a Christian is someone who has been validly baptised, which technically knocks out people like the Salvation Army, who don't baptise and the Mormons, the Church has reservations on the validity of their baptisms for various reasons.(The Cellarer – clicked on Cath's link to you)

  3. Timothy Mills Says:

    Berenike, thanks for the link! I'm enjoying getting to know Agent Intellect. For example, we're having a bracing but – I think – friendly debate on this post of his, regarding a possible parallel between atheism and conspiracy theories.Cellarer, thanks for the definition. I wonder if any of my other Christian readers could offer their definitions? And non-Christian readers, for that matter. After all, this post is all about understanding one another's language.

  4. My definition: humanist « Friendly Humanist Says:

    […] the term humanism isn’t as misunderstood as the other terms I’ve covered:  atheist, Christian, and fundamentalist.  It is unfamiliar to many, but at least folks don’t tend to have […]

  5. My definition: fundamentalist « Friendly Humanist Says:

    […] let me know whether this makes things easier or harder to read.] So far I have defined atheist and Christian. Today, I’d like to tackle another word that gets used by many but whose definition is […]

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