For the purpose of answering questions along the lines of "Is X Christian?" (several examples of which have already come up--and undoubtedly will continue to come up, especially once the site is public), I wonder if we need a definition of "Christian."

As I mentioned in one of my own answers, the word can have different meanings in different contexts. If we choose to develop a definition for this term, it probably needs to be multi-faceted, to account for varying contexts.

Although it might be a bit of a hairy task to come up with (a) definition(s) we can use for this site, I suspect it will make the site much more usable. And in my mind, it is okay if we answer the question "Is X Christian?" with "Yes, and no--it matches definition A, but not definition B." At least we're able, this way, to provide a useful answer to the OP.


EDIT

In response to Mark's answer, I think the nature of this site is sufficiently different from the nature of SciFi, that it is reasonable to consider other answers to the dilemma. Many people are likely to come to a site like this with difficult questions they are struggling to answer or resolve in their personal faith. And asking "Is X consistent with Y faith?" is an important part of exploring and coming to understand that faith.

The same can't very well be said of Science Fiction. Those of us who enjoy SciFi can easily do so without a clear understanding of whether what we're enjoying is SciFi, Fantasy, or some other genre.

This also brings up the point that SciFi does not have a clear definition (or definitions), in that a single work of fiction of work can cleanly fit into multiple categories simultaneously.

Perhaps a similar argument can be made of religions doctrines and philosophies, but to me the concepts seem significantly different. I don't think anyone would say the belief that "Jesus is the Son of God, but not divine" is "partly Christian, partly Muslim, partly XYZ."

Perhaps what I'm getting at, is that I think we need some context in which to discuss various philosophies and doctrines that may appear to have some element of Christian influence, but which upon further investigation likely have very little to do with Christianity, as I think any of us would define it.

For example, many Buddhist and New Age friends claim that their ideologies are completely compatible with Christianity. I don't know of any Christian ideology that would agree with this, though. So if someone approaches us with the question "Is Buddhism compatible with Christianity?" or "Is Yoga compatible with Christianity?" we need a context in which to answer it. And saying it's off-topic does not seem like the proper approach.

I'm not advocating for a dogmatic definition of Christianity that is designed to exclude anyone from participating in this site. I'm simply looking for a context in which we can answer these sorts of questions, which I'm sure will come up.

Perhaps the answer is to steer away from defining Christianity, and instead finding some other context in which these questions can be asked and answered.

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When you say Buddhist and New Age friends claim their ideologies are completely compatible with Christianity, then that no Christian ideology would agree, this is clearly only true if you don't grant those friends their claim to being Christian. They agree with themselves. You could make the same argument for anyone you wish to exclude. –  psr Nov 19 '11 at 0:24
    
I am just bumping this up due to extended conversation in this question christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/32651 –  The Freemason Sep 3 at 20:13

4 Answers 4

I don't think we're going to come to a consensus about what is Christian beyond self-identification.

I've been quoting the following joke often the past few days:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

But there's a good, serious summary on Area 51 about the problems with trying to nail down the answer to "who is a Christian?".

The answer is not as clear cut as we would like: if it were, there wouldn't be countless denominations. There are myriad things in a definition of Christianity that people can take exception with that it's probably better if we just avoid the question entirely. If you say you're Christian and can support your answers with sources and context, that's good enough for me.

And I think we really ought to steer clear of trying to ask questions where we say "Are Buddhists/Muslims/Mormons/Insert-Group-Here okay with Christians?" or "Can Buddhism/Islam/the LDS movement/Insert-Movement-Here be reconciled with Christianity?": they're interesting questions...for a book. Or a blog post. Or an encyclical. Or a round-table. Not for a question and answer site.

That is, "Is X Christian?" is a good discussion topic. It gets the thought process flowing and makes people question and challenge what they consider to be common knowledge or universal belief. It's a question that invites more questions, not definitive answers.

The goal of Stack Exchange isn't to create questions that are good discussion topics, it's to create questions that have answers.

It's a little bit of an odd comparison, but one of the things SciFi.SE decided early on was that genre-identification questions (i.e. "Is X science fiction?") would be off-topic as the questions could and would lead to extended discussions about the nature of the term.

So I think we should adopt a similar policy to SciFi.SE here: if you're asking "Is X Christian?" you're asking the wrong question. Instead, provide a contextual framework under which one can answer the question in a potentially definitive manner:

  • Does the Magisterial teachings of the Roman Catholic Church accept X as true?
  • What does Martin Luther say about X?
  • Given what the Bible says about X, is Y also true?

Not surprisingly, these are of similar character to questions already asked on this site without controversy.

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How, then, can an honest seeker ask "Should I consider the teachings of X to be Christian?" The term "Christian" could be rephrased as "Good theology," "Good teaching," "Solid teaching", "Biblical teaching", etc... but all of those terms have the same, if not worse, problem than the term "Christian." How else can we deal with these types of questions? –  Flimzy Aug 24 '11 at 21:54
    
@Flimzy I'm sorry, I thought my suggestion was clear: make them off-topic. "Is X Christian?" isn't a question that is going to have a definitive answer and is pretty close to the definition of not constructive. I think the corpus of questions so far have shown the site doesn't need to be primarily about sorting things into Christian-or-not bins. –  user72 Aug 24 '11 at 21:59
    
I guess what I'm saying is that those sorts of questions should not be off-topic, as they are questions that many honest seekers will want answers to, and for very legitimate reasons, IMO. But perhaps there is a better way to ask them, so they aren't as "controversial." –  Flimzy Aug 24 '11 at 22:03
    
@Flimzy Your question would probably be better off asked as a real question, where we can devote the necessary attention to it. –  DJClayworth Aug 25 '11 at 16:26

For the sake of simplicity, I'll just repeat what I've already said in chat and leave it up to vote here:

I think the only universal truth among all Christian sects and denominations, and probably the only belief that we can (and should) use as a qualifier for "Christianity" on this site, is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth lived, died, and was resurrected for the sake of our salvation.

Almost everything else regarding the definition of what it means to be "Christian" and what beliefs, doctrines, and documents should be canonical to a "Christian" faith, has been translated, debated, and even literally fought over between the various Christ-oriented faiths of the world for millennia.

Still, that one truth - the general course and purpose of Jesus' life - is something I'm certain everyone who calls themselves a "Christian" can agree upon, regardless of whether or not they believe certain other self-proclaimed "Christians" deserve the title.

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So, if a group identified themselves as Christian, but did not believe in the resurrection, would they not be allowed to participate in this site? –  Richard Sep 8 '11 at 18:32
    
Also, the purpose of Jesus' life can be debated as well from different sects' viewpoints. Some believe he was just a good, moral man and that the bible is not the infallible or inspired by God. Yet they believe themselves to be Christians. –  Richard Sep 8 '11 at 18:39
    
@Richard: How can I call myself a Christ-ian if I only believe in Jesus, but not in him being the Christ of God? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 29 '12 at 22:25
    
Not all Christians believe this, though. For that matter, not all Christians believe that Jesus was the Christ. Christians follow the Christ. Nowhere is it to be assumed that that Christ must necessarily be Jesus. –  Steely Dan Oct 10 '12 at 2:13

To answer the question, we need to keep in mind three areas:

Personal

Personally, we may be persuaded that in order to be a Christian then it is vital to believe certain doctrines, act in a certain way or belong to a certain group. That is fine and proper and we agree to respect each others POV even (especially) when we don't share it.

The Site

For this site to work, it needs a definition that includes groups who call themselves Christian even if we personally believe that their members have misappropriated the label. One reason for this is that we need to be able to ask and answer questions about doctrines that we don't agree with, practices we abhor and groups we would never join. We're not here to judge them, only to understand them and to share our expertise with others.

For the purpose of this site, then, the topic of Christianity includes any question that pertains to any faith that is puts the person of Jesus Christ front-and-centre. This will include a wide range of beliefs and practices to which many of us do not subscribe - but that shouldn't stop us asking questions about them nor providing answers where we are experts in a particular topic. For the purpose of this site, a question is on-topic if it pertains to a Christ-centred world-view, even if the Jesus at the heart of that world-view is a stranger to our own personal view of faith and the gospel.

This means that our personal definition of Christian may be much narrower than the one that defines this site. That is fine and proper, too.

Answering Questions

When a question is posted to the site, something like, "is XXX Christian?", we need to be aware that the questioner may not share our definition of "Christian".

For the purpose of answering such a question, an appropriate and respectful answer will take into account the definition of Christian used by the person asking the question. If that definition isn't clear, then a good response would be to ask for clarification and/or explain the different opinions.

Depending on the question a personal viewpoint may be helpful, but more often than not we should answer questions as if we were writing an essay at University rather than preaching to a congregation. After all, this site doesn't exist to convert people to our way of thinking, but rather to provide a platform to learn and to inform.

TL;DR?

To answer the question "is XXX Christian?", consider 3 perspectives@

  • For the site, the answer will be "yes" (in the sense of "on topic") if XXX is relevant to a Jesus-based movement, theology, lifestyle etc.
  • For us as individuals, the answer is "yes" if XXX fits our definition of Christian.
  • In answer to questions on the main site, the answer will vech depend on the definition of "Christian" used by the questioner. If we don't know, ask claiicaio or explain the various positions.
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up vote 3 down vote accepted

Quoting from this other question:

please assume that the answer to "is X Christian?" is always the same as "does X self-identify as Christian?"

Therefore the definition of "Christian" for the purpose of this site is:

A person, group, or other entity that identifies itself as Christian.

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