Wanting to keep in touch with people as my life faces a shift in focus, I have joined the social-networking site, Facebook. It gives you the opportunity to fill in a 'Profile' with one of the questions being 'Religion'.
What do I write?
I am not sure 'Christian' is that helpful. The word is too fluid and the connotations often too destructive. For some time now (sparked by the Willow Creek world with Bill Hybels, I think) it has been commonplace to use the phrase 'follower of Jesus'. I like that a lot.
But is it sufficient?
No - it is not. In recent months I have gone back to an image I nicked from a book on Greek grammar 25 years ago. I translated it and have used it in preaching classes ever since. It shows the spatial dimensions associated with prepositions (I can just feel your excitement at the moment!):
When these little words are attached to 'Christ' then a much fuller understanding of what it means to be a Christian is gained. While it may all start with being a 'follower-of-Jesus' (as we see in the Gospels), it certainly does not just remain there (as we see in the rest of the New Testament).
I taught Spirituality for just one year... If I was to boil that semester down to one insight it would be this diagram. I called the topic "energising spirituality: being connected with Christ". Let's face it - we are spatially-challenged Christians! If you want the supreme discussion about what it means to be a Christian sit around and reflect on each of the following phrases, and see if you can come up with texts that explain them and images that 'see' them:
away from Christ
This is how I understand my 'Religion'. It is about discovering the significance of these phrases, celebrating them with others of like mind, and letting them take us wherever they will. In doing so I find two themes surface every single day. Spirituality is enabled and energised as we live with these twin realities:
(a) It is about obeying Christ. He is Lord and Master. My life is under 'new management'. I do what he tells me to do and go where he tells me to go. It is about following his direction - not just his life, but also his teaching.
(b) It is about uniting with Christ. We are in Christ. Christ is in us. There is a mutual indwelling. Unique among the religions of the world, Christianity is about a merger with the founder. This is probably the central teaching of the New Testament. Start with the Vine and the Branches (John 15) - and then when you have eyes to see, you see it everywhere!
A little book by John Stott has been gold for me on this one. But like gold it is so hard to locate. Titled as either Understanding Christ (US?) or Focus on Christ (UK?) - but with the same subtitle: An Enquiry into the Theology of Prepositions - I wish you well in finding it. It will be worth the effort.