Christianity and partisanship have switched places
I read an interesting article by Benjamin Corey in which he argues that there are really only two types of Christians. He makes the argument that Christian has gone from an adjective to a noun. Before you glaze over or have flashbacks to high school English class, here’s the simple way he uses to describe the difference:
“I don’t believe the word “Christian” was ever intended to be used the way we use it in America. When it was first used, the term wasn’t in reference to a well-crafted religion with a long list of tenets, but instead was simply used to describe people who actively did what Jesus said to do. Essentially, the word meant “little Christs.”
Christian, as the word was intended, was measurable– or at least observable. You could tell who was and who wasn’t, and that wasn’t a “judgement” about the state of their heart, either. Being able to tell who was Christian, and who wasn’t, was something one could do by simply observing their outward behavior.”
If you read the entire article, you’ll see that his argument is that we have shifted Christianity from something observable to something private and personal that has no relation to how we live. That’s what it means to shift from adjective to noun. It goes from action that is observable to state of being without action.
I think there is some legitimacy to his argument, but I think it goes far beyond what he is arguing. I think Corey stops too short.
When Christianity shifted from adjective to noun, it wasn’t done on its own. There are many things that happened that encouraged the shift. Culture changed, the place of the church and faith in public changed, the very nature of church changed. We’re still seeing this effect. It might be part of the reason why the church in the West is in decline and has been for a number of decades.
But this change in Christianity wasn’t just a movement in one direction. When Christianity shifted from adjective to noun, other things took its place. Other things went from nouns to adjectives to fill the void of action that is observable. All vacuums are filled by something.
I would argue that several things attempted to fill that void. Our work is one of those – it’s not just something that we do, but has taking over a consuming aspect for many people in which you can’t ever disconnect. Entertainment has been trying to do that as well – as we move from entertainment being a passive thing that you watch to a more interactive experience that is shaped around you and what you do. There are other things that have been trying to fill the void.
I think the current winner that has been filling the void is partisanship. Notice that I didn’t say politics. That’s because politics and partisanship are two different things. Partisanship used to be a noun – a label. And not so long ago, you could observe someone and not have any idea what party they were attached to. You could even find out what party they were attached to and have no idea if they were conservative or more liberal in their outlook. Remember the days when there were conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans? Partisanship was a noun. But in the last several decades, it has been shifting to an adjective, filling the void that the church has been leaving as it has shifted in the opposite direction.
Now it is much easier to tell what party someone is attached to based on what they say, how they act, what they post on social media, even what they drive in some cases, and what they wear sometimes too. Their partisanship is observable. And the further we go along in this direction, the worse it will be because partisanship isn’t interested in the greater good, but in obtaining and keeping power. That has destructive consequences that we have only just begun to experience.
If you want to change this, start making your Christian faith the foundation of your life, not just a label. Instead, live it out in such a way that your faith is observable, an adjective.