Saturday, June 7, 2008

What is a Christian?

As we debate whether George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and several other of the more significant Founders were "Christian," it would help for us to agree on the definition of a Christian. What makes someone a "Christian"?

Here's a YouTube video I did a while back that addresses that subject...



For more information...

**Click here for an article along the same lines that I wrote for Suite101 Protestantism.

**And here is a feature page from Wheaton College on "Defining Evangelicalism."

41 comments:

Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

My original post had typos. Sorry about that. Here it is in corrected form.

In your You Tube video, you claim the proof for Jesus' existence is staggering.
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I wonder how you come to that conclusion other than through the authority of the Bible.
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And, if the preponderance of your evidence is based of biblical authority, you will know what I mean when I say that your thinking is representative of Medieval Scholasticism.
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Perhaps you would like to show that your thinking here is rational rather than authoritative?

Brian Tubbs said...

References to Jesus and his followers can be found in the writings of two Roman historians, a Jewish historian, a Greek philosopher, and more. These are all extra-biblical sources.

What's more, as we've discussed before in different venues, you may not accept the Bible as divinely inspired, but a rational person needs to at least engage it as a collection of ancient documents. As such, those ancient writings constitute a part of the evidential landscape. To say otherwise is to be very irrational and anti-intellectual.

Brian Tubbs said...

Clarification...when I say that the biblical writings are a part of the "evidential landscape," I mean that in a historical sense - not necessarily in a spiritual sense.

There are three ways of looking at the Bible...

1. That it's divinely inspired
2. That it's a collection of myths and fairy tales
3. That it's a collection of ancient writings

The third way is the ONLY valid way to look at the Bible - if you're a scholar or historian.

Obviously, as a pastor, I'm committed to the first way also. But I am able to take my pastoral hat off and put my historian hat on. As such, I am able to look at the Bible objectively.

Lindsey Shuman said...

But is this Christianity, 101 according to Brian Tubbs? You mention how there are varying opinions as to what makes up a Christian. As an evangelical myself, I am sure that you and I agree on a great deal. However (returning to the founding fathers), this does not mean that many of our founders were orthodox in their views of Christianity.

Pinky said...

To Both of You:
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Brian uses the two words, staggering, and rational, as though they belong in his paper on Christianity 101.
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The fact that there are two mentions in historical records of Jesus does not amount to anything resembling the idea of staggering evidence.
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In Brian's first response above he writes, "What's more, as we've discussed before in different venues, you may not accept the Bible as divinely inspired, but a rational person needs to at least engage it as a collection of ancient documents. As such, those ancient writings constitute a part of the evidential landscape. To say otherwise is to be very irrational and anti-intellectual."
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I must be rational according to your statement as I see the Bible, very much, as being a collection of ancient documents and I do think it is a part of the evidential landscape. But, so what?
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Just because such may be true does not give the Bible the position of absolute authority for all reality. That the Bible is claimed to be the Revealed Word of God is not rational.
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But, let me say that claiming such leads to the irrational thinking that leads the parade of anti-intellectualism in America today.
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Whenever--and I mean whenever--a person can compare any scientific discovery to Scripture to see what God has to say about it in the Bible is at the root of anti-intellectualism in American society.
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The Founding Fathers were influenced heavily by Puritanism and the Enlightenment which are the two major ingredients to the American psyche today. Deism was very popular among them. I have yet to see any historical records in which the Founders argued over Christianity versus Deism. There may be such records and I will be happy to read them. I also have a pretty good idea of Deism, that it was a rejection of the God of the Bible even though each believed in a sovereign God over all existence. Deism referred to that god as the God of Nature.
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Jonathan said...

Pinky,

Read further on this blog about the nuanced view the Founders had on Deism. Deism in its pure form wasn't that popular with the mainstream Founders. Rather, you'd have to look to figures out of the mainstream like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen for that.

However, the key Founders -- Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin -- arguably wouldn't qualify as "Christian" either according to Brian's standards. Even though Washington's exact religious creed is a matter of debate. They were "Deist-like" without being strict Deists. And then the question what is the proper label for this creed that is somewhere in between strict Deism and orthodox Christianity: "Christian-Deism"? "Unitarianism"? "Theistic Rationalism"?

Brad Hart said...

First off, kudos to Brian for instigating a good discussion.

Pinky's quote:

"I also have a pretty good idea of Deism, that it was a rejection of the God of the Bible even though each believed in a sovereign God over all existence. Deism referred to that god as the God of Nature.

I agree with Jon when he states that Deism is not "popular with the mainstream founders." Deism, in its pure form, meant a belief in a supreme creator, who upon the completion of his creation turned a blind eye to the affairs of mankind. Thus, Pinky's definition above is flawed. The mainstream founders believed in a Providence that intervened on their behalf. Such a belief is completely incompatible with "pure" Deism.

I also agree with Jon's statement that these same mainstream founders do not qualify for orthodox Christianity either. Unitarianism seems to be the prevailing belief.

Pinky said...

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The thing is, Johathon, that while the "Founders" were the ones who signed the papers and acted as the titular heads of the Revolution, it was the American Colonists that carried it out. Of course, their representatives were their leaders; but, and this was especially true in those days, the leaders were beholden to uphold the interests of the people they represented.

The Revolution was all about self government and that's what America was founded on.
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Deism was big time in Philadelphia which was the intellectual head of the Colonies starting around 1760.
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Benj. Franklin was an avowed Deist.

Jonathan said...

Franklin wasn't much of a Deist. He was a Theist. And he was more likely to present his theological arguments under the auspices of "Christianity" not "Deism." Though, again, his unitarian creed rejected almost all of the tenets of orthodox Christianity. I'm not sure if I agree that "Deism" was big among common folk. To the contrary I'd say orthodox Christianity was probably more common among the masses than was Deism. However, given the phenomenon of "nominal Christianity" and how close that can be to "Deism" I really don't claim to know the true religious convictions of the majority of the populace during the Founding Era. I've seen one study that shows the vast majority were un-churched, that only 17% were regular church goers.

Pinky said...

The Colonialists began more than two hundred years before the Declaration of Independence that legally put the Crown on notice that they had separated to establish their own government.

During those two plus centuries, the colonies had been governing themselves without any economic assistance from the monarchy.
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They were a very religious people--Puritans and variations thereof. For the most part, church attendance had been obligatory. At least that's the way it appears to me so far in my learning.

The beginnings of Deism very definitely were a spin off from enlightened thinking. And, Benj. Franlin was a Deist.
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Here's a Wikipedia link that will help people understand Franklin. I don't think it is as accurate as it might be; but, it's a good easy start. Anyone interested can go on from there.

Check it out.

Pinky said...

Whoops, I forgot to include the link: Here are two links:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-114090213.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin

Pinky said...

Brad Hart wrote, "Deism, in its pure form, meant a belief in a supreme creator, who upon the completion of his creation turned a blind eye to the affairs of mankind."
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Wrong!

That is the absentee clockmaker idea.

Deists believed that God was very interested in the affairs of humanity and that he took a hand in things--maybe not everything; but, nevertheless, the God in Deism is active in earthly affairs.

Here is my reference where you will find Deism in a Nutshell.
http://www.positivedeism.com/deisminanutshell.html

Where is your reference?

Pinky said...

If we're going to make claims, we should be responsible to give the reference. Just claiming something does not give it any weight.

I'm sure everyone agrees.
:<)

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey, what's wrong with "Christianity 101, according to Brian Tubbs"? :-)

Brian Tubbs said...

Pink, when I say the evidence for Jesus is "staggering," I am referring to his existence as a first century figure in Judeo-Palestine. I'm saying that the evidence is "staggering" that there was a historical Jesus.

Quite honestly, I don't see how you can dispute that. How many historians do you know of that question the existence of Jesus?

Brad Hart said...

Pinky:

Where in the world are you getting your definition for Deism? You are completely missing the mark. It's like you jumped off the boat and missed the ocean.

And Wikipedia...come on...that's not a good source.

Brad Hart said...

Oh...and my sources are all RESPECTED historians. Steven Waldman, Gordon Wood, Joyce Appleby, Sydney Ahlstrom. I will look them up this evening so that you have the exact ones. No Wikipedia crap here!

Anonymous said...

The suggestion that the evidence of Jesus' existance is "staggering" is quite bizarre.

Consider that his acts supposedly included numerous publicly performed miracles, from reviving the dead, to feeding the multitudes, to overthrowing the financial hierarchy, and then as a capper, re-appearing three days after death and then vanishing into thin air.

Yet no contemporaneous non-believer generated "proof" that even existed, much less caused any kind of stir shows up until more than 100 years after his death. That was what, 4 generations in those days?

Even the distant Roman overlords would have certainly noted such a remarkable man, and likely would have used him or his legend for their own purposes. And as Scripture itself notes, those guys were quite fond of keeping track of the populace by means of censuses.

Brad Hart said...

Here are those sources on the CORRECT definition of PURE Deism:

Steven Waldman:
"Deism held that God created the laws of nature and then receded from action." [My emphasis] (Founding Faith, 192).

Nicholas Guyatt:
"For committed Christians, providence implied the actual involvement of God himself in human history. On the other hand, deists maintained that providence suspended its involvement in the affairs of its creation" [My emphasis] (Providence and the Invention of the United States, 170).

Sydney Ahlstrom:
"In America, to be sure, frank professions of pure deism were rare in the revolutionary period...As the Enlightenment progressed, more and more thinkers came to accept its primary assertion that reason and scientific knowledge could supply all the necessary elements of religion and ethics. As a result, the pure deist came to doubt God's hand in the affairs of man."

Don't get me wrong here. I believe that Deism played a major role in shaping the spiritual lenses of many of our founders. Deism definitely influenced our founding documents and many of our earliest leaders. To call our key founders PURE Deists, however, is a major stretch, since most of them believed that the hand of providence did intervene in their lives to some degree.

This is why we cannot call the founders PURE Deists.

Brad Hart said...

Oops...the Ahlstrom quote can be found in "A Religious History of the American People, page 333-367.

Brian Tubbs said...

Dear Anonymous, I didn't say that the evidence for the miracles was staggering. I said the evidence for Jesus having LIVED in first century Judeo-Palestine is staggering. I still dont' see how you or anyone can dispute that point.

If ANYONE here questions the existence of a historical Jesus, please cite some historians backing your skepticism. Virtually ALL historians concede that Jesus lived. The difference comes down to the nature of his life.

Brian Tubbs said...

Regarding Deism...Brad has correctly summed up what it meant to the Founders.

Pinky's definition of Deism resembles the one offered by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion. Dawkins is hardly a credible source when it comes to history.

Pinky said...

Brad Hart sez, "Here are those sources on the CORRECT definition of PURE Deism:"
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And he scoffs at my references. Here is the root link to the link I gave before:
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http://www.positivedeism.com/
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I have no interest in promoting Deism or any other religion as far as that goes; but, I do think it is important that ideologues who claim to be rational thinkers have their feet held to the fire. The idea of preconceived thoughts being accepted as truthful conclusions must be challenged in this post modern age.
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Pinky said...

Once again, Brian claims that the evidence is surprisingly impressive with this comment, "...when I say the evidence for Jesus is "staggering," I am referring to his existence as a first century figure in Judeo-Palestine. I'm saying that the evidence is "staggering" that there was a historical Jesus."
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Come on, Brian, with all due respect for your scholarly approach to Christianity here is a quick definition of the word, staggering, as you are using it;
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# adjective: so surprisingly impressive as to stun or overwhelm.
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Now, you may be surprisingly impressed and stunned or overwhelmed by the fact that your mind accepts Jesus in a very special way; but, to say that the evidence is staggering is a stretch and exaggeration of the facts involved.
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You are not only preaching to believers with mouths agape here. Some of us have the courage to question the time honored preconceived thoughts of medieval scholars. And, believe me, it takes a great deal of courage in our society to question any form of Christianity.
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Pinky said...

Brand Hart sez, This is why we cannot call the founders PURE Deists.
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Where in these posts is it written that any person thinks of "the Founders as PURE Deists"?
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We can say the same thing to you that I said to Brian, You are not only preaching to believers with mouths agape here.

Pinky said...

Brian sez, Dawkins is hardly a credible source when it comes to history.
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Be that as it may, Brian. Do you think we should consider you as a credible source when it comes to history? Should we not question what you have to say about history? Does the fact that you are in agreement with the majority of participants in any blog make any claims true? Is that the edge on which truth and reality are cut?
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All I am saying is that when ANYONE makes DECLARATIVE comments, they are holding themselves up for questioning.
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I guess you probably won't back off on the claim that the evidence for Jesus is so surprisingly impressive that it stuns and overwhelms those to whom it is expressed.
But, I'm not allowing it to go unquestioned.
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Jonathan said...

Pinky,

Re Deism, you've stumbled upon the nuance that we've been blogging about for, at least in my case, years.

Yes, in some broader non-pure sense the key Founders were "Deists." But in a broad sense they were also "Christians" (they tended to call themselves Christians and were involved with Christian Churches). Hence David Holmes' term "Christian-Deists." In a strict sense, they were neither "Deists" nor "Christians," hence Gregg Frazer's term "theistic rationalists."

Pinky said...

Jonathan seems to want to be centrist in this concern being expressed here.
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I think you are correct. I remember when I was a boy in grade school--4th grade--in 1940, our teacher, for some reason, was discussing what it means to be a Christian. The conclusion of her comments had it that she used the word, Christian, in the sense that America was a "Christian" nation, i.e., we did on to others as we would have them do to us--basically, good guys. Something like that. It was a popular way of explaining the word, Christian, then; but, now we have to be churched in a particular church in order to be considered a Christian. Depending on who is doing the judging, that is.
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:<)

Pinky said...

And, we were able to turn the other cheek.

Anonymous said...

brian: I doubt that your believing friends would be overwhelmed with gratitude for your defense of the claim that an ordinary Jesus existed.

As for the historians, most know much better than to try to proove a negative. And I suspect more than a few quaver at the prospect of running that fool's errand, only to be pilloried and have their motives questioned by the practitioners of Christian Correctness.

Historically speaking, the powerful have almost always controlled history (I'm sure you know the quotes), and given the structure of most of Western society over the last 2000 years, there has been almost nobody with any real incentive to really go after that sacred cow.

Christian churches dominated societies for 1800 of those years and still play major roles in academia and, of course, elsewhere.

I can only imagine some poor inquisitive 17th century monk or earlier Crusader who stumbled across a first century document debunking the myth of Jesus. Don't you think both he and his discovery would have vanished in a unholy puff of smoke???

Lindsey Shuman said...

Pinky said:

"I also have a pretty good idea of Deism, that it was a rejection of the God of the Bible even though each believed in a sovereign God over all existence. Deism referred to that god as the God of Nature."

Nope. Brad and Jon are right in their definition of Deism. You are right to say that Deism played a major role in the lives of the founders, BUT the founders were neither purely Deists or Orthodox Christians.

I really like the "theistic rationalist" definition that Jon mentions. I also think that Brad's insistance on the founders as Unitarians is also applicable.

Pinky, your desire to somehow be "objective" or to "question" the authenticity of things is actually revealing your bias.

Pinky said...

L.S. writes, Brad and Jon are right in their definition of Deism. You are right to say that Deism played a major role in the lives of the founders, BUT the founders were neither purely Deists or Orthodox Christians.

Can you find anyplace in this blog thread where anyone claimed that the Founders were "purely Diests or Orthodox Christians"? And, what the heck does the term, Orthodox Christians, mean?
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Pinky, your desire to somehow be "objective" or to "question" the authenticity of things is actually revealing your bias.
If my "bias", as you say, has been revealed, what is it? I don't think I have any bias regarding the Founders being Deists even though some of them were.

What are YOUR references for the DECLARATIONS you are making here?
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I have given mine and they are authentic. Check them out. To make it easy for you, here is another link to understanding Deism: http://panendeism.org/deisthistory.aspx

While you're at it, check out the link I also gave above to Pure Deism. Here it is: http://www.positivedeism.com/
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I have no irons in that fire.
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Brian Tubbs said...

To Pink and Anonymous, the majority of this discussion seems to have revolved around the definition of Deism. That's fine. Perhaps it's not the venue to debate the historicity of Jesus.

I won't try to persuade you anymore, but I do want to defend myself against a misunderstanding.

Anonymous writes: "I doubt that your believing friends would be overwhelmed with gratitude for your defense of the claim that an ordinary Jesus existed."

My "believing friends" who have the ability to understand what I'm writing won't be bothered at all by my points. I'm NOT saying that Jesus was ordinary. I'm saying that virtually all historians agree that he AT LEAST existed in the first century! THAT is what I'm saying. Obviously...I believe Jesus to be more than simply an ordinary man. My point (in this particular discussion) is simply that it's ludicrous to deny that he was real - that he actually lived in the first century.

Pinky said...

I agree that this thread was thrown off course by the Deism tangent which got to be an argument over jots and tittles.
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But, a couple of more pertinent issues come to the forefront.
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One is the idea of what it takes for a person to stand up and be counted as a Christian and the other has to do with the authority involved in discovering the truth.

These are two very important issues. And, in my mind, I see them pointing at a hi-jacking of the message given by Jesus to all humanity. In my mind, it amounts to blasphemy.
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Brian Tubbs said...

Pink, one of your points is precisely where I was thinking and hoping the discussion would go. That being....How should we evaluate whether a particular person (in our case, a Founder) is or is not a Christian?

Ultimately....God makes the determination as to who gets into heaven. We can't do that, but when it comes to evaluating how many or which of the Founders were "Christian," it's helpful to have some kind of standard or agreement in terms of how we determine that.

Pinky said...

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Brian writes, "...when it comes to evaluating how many or which of the Founders were 'Christian,' it's helpful to have some kind of standard or agreement in terms of how we determine that."
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How is that so?
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Any standard you come up with is only important as a way of directing the more gullible to buy into some direction toward some purpose or another.
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The entire Gospel of Jesus is based on the idea that individuals are able to have a one on one relationship with God--to be at one with God. Mostly, standards of what one should or should not believe are impediments to a relationship with God.
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No where in Scripture, that I know of, does Jesus set down any standards of belief for a person to follow him.
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Brian Tubbs said...

If I make the statement "George Washington was a Christian," how can we validate that or assess that?

That's what I mean by having some kind of standard of evaluation.

Pinky said...

Sounds pretty post modernist to me.

We have to deconstruct George Washington?

I don't think so.

Why can't we just let him be who he was?

WHY is it important to make him your kind of Christian?

Rob Scot said...

Sounds to me more like basic history than post-modernism.

It's all well and good to 'just let (Washington) be who he was,' but the question for a historian is, 'okay, WHO was he?' I see nothing whatsoever irrational in Brad's effort to agree upon a common standard or terminolgy to facilitate an historical inquiry. Indeed, it seems preposterous to attempt otherwise. Neither have I yet seen anything here which implies that he is trying to force Washington into being '(his) kind of Christian.'

I mean no disrespect to pinky, but in all honesty, that last comment just seems a bit irrational.

Pinky said...

Post modernism is, among other things, all about taking things apart to see what makes them tick.

My point about George Washington does not deprecate our first president in any way. He was a leader among men; but, his leadership was highly dependent on the culture in which he moved. That was true then just as it is true about our leaders today. They expose themselves to us and we choose from among them.

So, what is the much more important issue is the nature of the culture during those troubling days of the Founding. George Washington was one man among millions; albeit, a popular figure.

There existed a variety of denominations and religious thoughts; but, upper most in the minds of the people was the idea that they wanted to be free to "do their own thing". Ever hear THAT before?