Is the Best Term ‘Christian’ or ‘Follower of Christ?’

As a pastor I try to read broadly enough to understand the current Christian vernacular. One great read, Deep Church, unpacked the terminology of the emerging/emergent church and those that think more traditionally and suggests an in-between position. I recommend it. Through such reading I’ve noticed the past few years that the church’s vernacular seems to be in constant flux, depending on who you read or listen to. The church growth movement told me to avoid certain words or phrases for fear of turning off the listener. Other recent voices suggest new terminology as well, such as these.

  • Some replace such terms as justification, sanctification, and atonement with other words with less syllables.
  • The term seeker was/is used as a preferred word for  a lost person.
  • Salvation is now cross the line of faith.
  • The newest replacement phrase is follower of Christ in lieu of Christian or believer.

When I preach and teach, I try to use theological terms that make sense to the listener. If you listen to any of my messages, you’ll probably find that my word choices do change.

But the last one, follower of Christ, even though I sometimes use it, can sometimes feel a bit forced.

I’m not sure why I feel that way.

Is it because I’ve used believer and Christian for so long that subconsciously I don’t like change?

Is is it because I feel like I’m trying to be theologically hip by using the coolest new words or phrases?

Or, is it just too new for me to feel comfortable using it?

I’m still wrestling with this one.

What are your thoughts on updated theological vernacular?

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5 thoughts on “Is the Best Term ‘Christian’ or ‘Follower of Christ?’”

  1. Thank you for this post. I think its a worthwhile question.

    The angle I take is what effect do these words have on those hearing?

    Does Christian, as I think, tend to encourage people to think of someone who believes a certain way?

    Because, when I read the scriptures, Jesus does include belief, and it seems that this belief is embedded in the action of following Jesus. Following a real person. This is the end I am thinking when I am talking or teaching. In my mind I desire for people to follow Jesus more than have mental agreement with the fact that Jesus is a good guy (or Savior, etc).

    Good question and I hope it facilitates some good conversation.

  2. Charles, I’m glad to know I’m not the only person grappling with this question.
    Most of the time, I use Christian as always. Follower of Christ, or Christ Follower just isn’t that comfortable.
    My problem with Christian though is that it has just become too casual. The media and society in general uses Christian in such a broad manner that it seems to have less emphasis on Christ. It is disturbing to have the Westboro cult and other radical groups mentioned in the same manner as a True Christ centered church.
    It will be interesting to see other thoughts on this.

  3. Naming yourself as a Christ-follower differentiates you from the “social Christian”–those who identify with Christianity but have no relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s not about being raised in a Christian home, in a Christian community, attending a Christian church, or even walking an aisle and praying a prayer. A true Christian is a Christ-follower, but not all who claim Christianity as their religion are so. I write as one who understands the difference because I was once one who claimed Christianity as my religion, but I was not a Christ-follower, because I was following after my own goals, plans, dreams and ambitions.

  4. I started using “Christ-follower” rather than Christian or believer for, I’m afraid, negative reasons. I needed to make clear that I did not fit into the political category often identified in the media with the words – similarly to the reason why my friends who pastor urban churches will often not define themselves as “Evangelical.” While that is a practical reason, there is another that is more explicitly theological. Christ-follower connects with taking seriously the teachings of Jesus Christ. While I’m not specifically saying others do not, it helps to understand that my relationship with God is more relational than transactional, and I am constantly about the business of being a disciple.

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