This morning I got cut off in my car by another vehicle with explicit references to ”God” on the license plate and to ”Christian” on the bumper. The driver then proceeded to drive on our campus, ignore a stop sign, speed through the central campus, avoid a speed bump by swerving onto a bus stop waiting area, showing no signals when turning, and finally entering a private road in order to access a public parking lot. I would be hard-pressed to call that “Christian” behavior. On my way to the office I use the hallway on the east side of our building. The staircase smells like smoke and cigarette butts litter the space in front of the window even though our university is frank about being a non-smoking campus. Exposing others to second-hand smoke is not what I would call “Christian” behavior. In the afternoon a student fails to see me just a few steps behind with a handful of books from the library and simply closes the door in front of my face. A lack of consideration I find difficult to label “Christian.” In some classes, students spend their time engaging in social networking, messaging, emailing, or simply web browsing instead of engaging the class discussion. A lack of respect toward the instructor and the classmates I am hard-pressed to call “Christian.” I could come up with many more of these episodes. The one that bothers me the most, however, is the fact that when I came on campus five years ago, I was amazed at the fact that everybody greeted me, and that meant mostly strangers. Today, I am amazed at the many people who walk right past me without even looking at me or who fail to respond when I greet them. Do I have to reiterate that this is not what I would call “Christian”?
Of course, it does not matter what I would call “Christian.” What matters is what that label means in light of the gospel of “Christ.” My concerns are also not really about our university. I could have given examples from other “Christian” places and communities with similar results. The sticker “Christian” has pervaded many areas of American society; it has even been applied to American society itself. In the same vein, we now call some societies “post-Christian.” What I am concerned about is that none of those who assume the label “Christian” by associating with a decidedly Christian community would fail to carry that label in a manner that reflects the gospel. What exactly does “Christian” mean if it is not a reference to a life emulating Christ lived with respect for oneself and others, care for the safety of others, a consciousness we may call good will toward all people. Those who fail to recognize the importance of reflecting the gospel emphasize the fact that even among “Christians” righteousness is attributed to God alone. All of us “Christians” are in need of restoration and renewal. God responds to that need with what we may call ”grace.” It is a hallmark of the term “Christian.” For many of us in the renewal movements, grace is a particular reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit. If anything, wearing the label “Christian” means to live a Spirit-filled life, one that is oriented toward transformation in the image of Christ who seeks to fill all of our lives with the grace of the Father. Being “Christian” still means that we aim to become Christ-like, not that we are so already. What we advertise with the word “Christian” is not ourselves but Christ and our desire to be like him. That is the intention of any community that calls itself “Christian.” In the same sense it should be adopted by every individual. Let us learn to wear the label more deliberately. It should not be false advertisement.