What Makes Something Christian?

The word Christian, in the adjective form, is applied quite liberally these days. Just Google the term and you’ll find a cornucopia of “Christian” things: Christian music, Christian schools, Christian art, Christian books, Christian stores, Christian coalitions, Christian websites — even Christian bubble gum.

I’ve been thinking lately along the lines of what it is exactly that makes something Christian. What is the difference in Christian art, books, or bubble gum when compared to non-christian art, books and bubble gum — aside from the fact that Christians tend to be seen with the Christian versions?

What recently brought the issue to my mind was a quote in CT that referred to some “writer guidelines from Steeple Hill, the Christian imprint of romance novel giant Harlequin.” I searched around, and found the entire guidelines for the publisher’s prospective writers. Here’s what the publisher expects from its Christian novels:

There should be no explicit sex in these stories, and a minimum of sensuality and sexual desire. Both humor and drama have a place in these books; foul language, swearing and scenes containing violence do not. Though the stories may take place in urban environments, hanging out in bar settings, drinking alcohol or becoming involved in sexual situations is not appropriate for Christian characters….

…Because Steeple Hill Books sells to both CBA and ABA bookstores, we must adhere to CBA conventions. The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, dancing, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or magic or the mention of intimate body parts. Lying is also problematical in the CBA market and characters who are Christian should not lie or deceive others. Possibly there could be exceptional circumstances (matters of life and death), but this has to be okayed by an editor.

There is much irony to be found in these guidelines. If held to these standards, Christian novels like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov or Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood wouldn’t come close to making the cut. Furthermore, even the Bible would fail these standards on almost every point with all its assorted violence, sex, mentions of intimate body parts, alcohol consumption, dancing, games of chance, and lying — but I digress.

The point is that to this publisher (and many like it), it is the absence of certain behaviors and elements of life that make their books “Christian.” While it is certainly appropriate for Christians to abstain from certain behaviors (lying, for example), this is not necessarily a uniquely Christian perspective. In fact, most of the prohibitions mentioned above could just as well describe an Islamic novel, if there is such a thing.

What makes something Christian? The answer is simple enough: Christ. It is the positive, redemptive lordship of Jesus Christ that makes something Christian. Claiming the name of Christ without acknowledging his lordship is little more than name-dropping.

Scripture tells us, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” ( 1 John 4:2-3a) How well do the “Christian” things in our culture adhere to this confession? Perhaps we should broaden the question — how well do the “Christian” people in our culture adhere to such a confession? Are our lives mere morality, or do they exhibit transformation of renewed minds in Christ?

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