04 June 2009

Nouns and Adjectives

I have a couple different issues with the word 'Christian,' but most of them are just aesthetic. I don't generally call myself a Christian because of all the baggage that goes along with that word. When i claim that title, sometimes people are more hung up on its association with the Crusades, anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion, and religiosity than they are with knowing what it means to me. A title is there to describe a person, but when that title means something different to the one who bears it than those around him, it's a faulty title.

But i also take issue with the use of the word 'Christian' in the world around me. I know not everyone agrees with all of his teachings or his politics, but Rob Bell wrote something rather profound in his book Velvet Elvis. He said, 'Christian is a great noun and poor adjective.'

For those who fell asleep during English class and never knew, or cared to know, the different parts of speech and their use, here's a short primer. A noun is a person, a place, a thing, or an idea. If you can touch it or experience it, whatever *it* is, it's a noun. An adjective is any word used to describe that noun.

This is how it plays out. New York City is a noun, the name of a place. Yet, when it's taken word by word, not all three of them are nouns, even if collectively they are. 'New' is an adjective that modifies (describes) the noun 'York City.' Just as 'Blue Bonnet' brand spread is a noun, but 'blue' by itself is never a noun.

Some words cannot be made into nouns. Unless 'blue' is the name of a person or a place, it is not a noun. There is no object blue. You cannot experience blue or touch blue. You can touch blue paint or a blue wall, but you cannot touch blue itself. Same with 'new.' There is no 'new'.

Some words are amidexterious. Doctor, for instance. Acting on its own, the word 'doctor' is a noun; acting in conjunction with a name, or a place, it's an adjective.

And this is where Rob Bell's quote steps in. Like 'doctor,' 'Christian' is a label describing a group of people. Unlike 'doctor,' being a Christian is a way of life. It should impact every piece of your life, from sunrise to sunset, top to bottom, 360 degrees. It changes the way you view and interact with the world. It changes how you live your lives, even down to what you listen to, what you read, what you wear, and what you eat.

But to say that you listen to Christian music, read Christian novels, and wear Christian clothes should be as ridiculous as saying you eat Christian food.

For some unknown reason, we have made this word that describes us as people and our decision to follow in the footsteps of Christ and we use it to describe the things we fill our lives with. A Christian is one who follows God; a CD cannot follow God, so it cannot be Christian. Even a band cannot follow God. The individuals in the band can individually, and they can come together collectively, but to call them a Christian band should sound the same to our ears as saying a Christian church. There should be a small sense of redundancy there. Sure, there are churches that don't follow the teachings of Jesus, just as there are bands that don't, so we have felt the need to differentiate between the two.

But where does it stop? We describe them as Christian bands who make Christian music, so why do we not hear more about the Christian accountants who make Christian budgets? There must be something about the arts. Christian music, Christian movies, Christian novels, Christian paintings.

Hold on.

Christian paintings? Rembrandt isn't remembered as a Christian painter who painted Christian paintings, nor is Michelangelo a Christian sculptor. They are artists who created good art that we still admire today. Their faith informed their art, most certainly, but it did not define it.

We should not let our faith, our Christianity, define our art. It should no longer be Christian music/books/movies. Our faith should be an integral part of their formation, but placing a label on things when that label belongs on a person is only a way to convince yourself into thinking what you are creating is pleasing to God.


  1. Word. You know it's interesting to note that early believers never called themselves Christians. . .that was a moniker that was given to them by society looking to identify them and give them a label. They used to just be followers of "the way". I kinda like that I have to say. Anyhow, language is powerful and dangerous because it often seeks to put things into neat little boxes. . .it compartmentalizes . . .something that I think we Americans love to do I know I'm guilty of it at times. . .it's easier to organize, to understand, to control that way. But the beauty of Christ's gospel is that it's not just a genre or a style that you can double-click a folder name for. . it's meant to be "the way" we live. . .to saturate down to the very marrow of our lives. .Christ living IN us always. . as we paint, sing, dance, write blogs, make cookies, bellylaugh, watch the sunset, hold a newborn as he yawns in our arms, as we live and breathe! But anyhow. . .keep up the ruminations Benson. I dig it!

  2. Wait... did I take a wrong step down the street of blogs and wind up on your Christian one and not a language one?

  3. Just to clarify, is your issue in the use of the word "Christian" as a label in the same way we use the word "Kosher"? Or because you do not like it being applied as an adjective because it cheapens the meaning of the word?


  4. Funny, Scott. :)

    Pier, there is a difference in the words. Officially, 'kosher' is either a verb or an adjective. It is a word describing the process through which food was prepared, as well as the people who follow such practices and the specific objects involved. Really, it comes down to being a set of laws. A faith system defines how you live inwardly, laws define how you life outwardly. 'Christian' and 'kosher' may seem comparable, but they are words used in vastly different capacities.

    I also think it cheapens the word, to use it as an adjective. Adding more and more connotations to it detracts from it's actual meaning.

  5. nice... I've never taken this idea down to the parts of speech debate. Its good insight though. On the other hand it is difficult to stand against the Christian term and try to avoid being labeled with all that comes with it. I think everyone who is attempting to follow Christ more than religion struggles with this labeling issue.

    Living within the label lends the opportunity to change the labels meaning. On the other hand, it is much easier for corporations to dump the brand and begin a new one once the former label becomes diluted. Matt mentions that "Christian" is obviously not Jesus' label, so I'm doubt he'd care if people stopped using it. But it is a difficult situation because the label is highly associated with Christ. Save the label or start a new one?

  6. Thomas Kinkade comes to mind...http://stufffchristianslike.blogspot.com/2008/01/11-thomas-kinkade.html

  7. When asked, I always refer to myself as a Christ Follower.