Monday, September 29, 2008


I have always wondered at the suffix "-ity" that we attach, or somebody in the past thought to attach, to "Christian". -Ity, as it turns out, is a Latin suffix meaning state of being. Words like "clarity", "captivity", "objectivity", all serve to describe the state of the thing itself; it is clear, it is captive, it is non-subjective. I wonder then what "Christianity" implicitly says if not the state of being as Christ.

Rich Mullins was infamous for responding to the "what is your religion" question with: "I am becoming a Christian". Rich felt that one can hardly claim to have attained Christianity, the state of being as Christ, but could more realistically say that one is pursuing it. In this sense, he was reluctant to suggest being as Christ, but felt it was honest to say he was trying to be.

I wonder if Christian-ism wouldn't be better for what we as Christians intend to describe. After all, our faith is a practice in more than one sense of the word. Not only would -ism imply action behind belief, but it might also suggest that a constant state has not been achieved, and instead we are practicing, training, to become more like that state. Christianism is only one of many options, but it seems to be a bit more humble about its announcement of one's religious alignment, and more congruous with other religions, or faith practices. Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Shintoism, ad infinitum.

I suppose in one sense we shouldn't like to be so similarly named with the other world religions, but I wonder at how we feel the suffix -ity really helps us define ourselves in a respectful and yet different way. Are we so bold to say that we are celebrants of our state of being like Christ? Shouldn't we at least say, as Rich did, that we are becoming Christians? Discussions about things like this seem little more than semantics, but I think if Postmodernism has taught us anything it is the relevance of language, and the inherent idea behind the words we use.

What word would each of us use to best describe our faith? Does Christianity sum it up for you, or would something else better define you? We tend to add adjectives before the word Christian as our faith evolves, so much so that we are at the point where there are books full of denominational names and what not. Emergent/Catholic/Pentecostal/Baptist/Methodist/
Episcopalian/ad-nasuem. All these words precede "Christian" so as to modify the state of being like Christ, and include some theological distinctive. But I wonder if this is exactly the problem with our thinking, we are announcing our achievement, our new quality, our new nature or ideas.

Perhaps it isn't the modifying adjective that needs to change, but the noun it describes. It isn't that we need to change the numerator or denominators of the fraction, it's that we need to discard the thing itself, and recognize that it isn't so simply stated as math and numbers. We need to stop ourselves from referring to our relationship as the achievement of a new nature, though that is part of what we believe, and instead refer to our journey of faith as exactly that.

Modern Christianity taught us that what was important was the end, that the achievement of a state was where the winner's circle was. But I think Postmodern Christianism will teach us what Jesus and Paul did, that our faith is a race, a walk, a path, a way, a journey =).