The New York Times describes the perpetrator of the Norweigan massacre as a “religious, gun-loving Norwegian obsessed with what he saw as the threat of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration to the cultural and patriotic values of his country.” Other early reports (including The Times) have highlighted an alleged religious motivation, calling him a “Christian extremist.” Others have even used the term “Christian terrorist.” The “Christian” label was seized upon by media reports after a police official in Norway called him a “fundamentalist Christian.”
As I noted on Sunday, reports that he was a “fundamentalist Christian” led Frank Schaeffer to argue that conservative evangelical beliefs inevitably lead to this kind of violence. He even went so far as to warn that evangelicals will be perpetrating similar attacks in the U.S. in days to come. He writes:
In my new book “Sex, Mom and God” I predicted just such an action. I predicted that right wing Christians will unleash terror here in America too. I predict that they will copy Islamic extremists, and may eventually even make common cause with them…
The rise of the “Tea Party,” the refusal by far right Republicans to authorize a the debt ceiling extension, the extremist anti-government words of people like Michele Bachmann, all these things are predictors of the violent Christian, white, “all-American” extremism to come. Norway is just a first taste of what will happen here on a larger scale.
I do not think that Frank Schaeffer’s argument is very compelling, nor do I think that many fair-minded people will give it much attention at all. It is wrong at every level.
But I do think that Schaeffer represents a common error that people make when talking about Christians. The error has to do with how we use the word “Christian.” The way we use the word is often quite different from the way the Bible uses it. I think it is important that though the term has a range of possible meanings in popular speech, it has a very narrow meaning in the Bible.
The term actually only appears three times in all of the Bible—twice in Acts and once in 1 Peter.
Acts 11:26 “The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.”
Acts 26:28 “Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.'”
1 Peter 4:16 “If anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”
These texts show that a Christian is someone who has been redeemed by Christ and who follows Christ. In Acts 11:26, a Christian is synonymous with “disciple.” Acts 26:28 implies that a Christian is someone who has been persuaded
to believe in the gospel. And 1 Peter 4:16 indicates that a Christian is someone who is willing to suffer persecution for the sake of following Christ. In short, a Christian is someone who is a disciple, a believer, and a sufferer.
This narrow definition of Christian differs from the way the term is often used now in common parlance. The biblical definition excludes those who are identified as Christians merely because of cultural heritage, family tradition, or national identity. The term Christian, biblically speaking, only applies to followers of Christ.
For this reason, we have to remember that being called a Christian is quite different from actually being a Christian. In fact, Jesus and the apostles warned against just this kind of hypocrisy:
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
1 John 2:4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;
These texts reveal that it is not what is said of a personal that really counts. It’s what a person does that reveals what a person really is. Only those who “do the will of My Father” and who “keep His commandments” are true Christians. Anything else is just hypocrisy and lies.
Jesus commands his disciples not to kill and nor even to hate their enemies. Rather, he commands them to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44). In fact, love is the first fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and it is the tell-tale sign of the authentic Christian (John 13:35; 1 John 4:7-8). Where love is absent, so is Christianity. I have yet to see evidence to support the idea that the perpetrator of the atrocity in Norway is a Christian by any biblical definition.
Biblically speaking, there is no such thing as a “Christian terrorist.” Christians might die for their faith, but they do not murder for it.
UPDATE 7/26/11: Contrary to early reports, Anders Behring Breivik is not a Christian. In fact, the release of his 1,518 page manifesto shows that he has specifically disavowed any real commitment to Christ. In his own words:
A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians?
If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian (p. 1307).
I had not yet read this when I started this post about how the Bible defines the word Christian. It turns out, however, that he does in fact epitomize what I warned against. He has a commitment to a cultural artifact but not to Christ. At most, he is Christian in name only. By his own admission, he hasn’t tasted the reality of it.