What is a post-Christian?

post-Christian (post-kris’chen) n. [A 20th C. back formation from Christian.] 1. Someone whom Christians would say is not a Christian, but whom non-Christians consider Christian; applied by Gary Dorrien and other scholars to Unitarian Universalism and other groups formerly considered to be liberal Christians. 2. One who tries to live according to Jesus’s teachings, but who choses to distance himself/herself from conservative or fundamentalist Christianity by refusing to be called “Christian.” 3. In certain cases, a non-theist or atheist who follows the ethical teachings of Jesus. 4. An individual who resembles Christians sociologically but who does not hold Christian theological beliefs.
adj. 1. Pertaining to or derived from the moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings of Jesus, but retaining an openess to other moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings. 2. Heretical, not adhering to traditional Christian creeds; especially including the heresies of unitarianism and universalism, which are still considered heretical by most mainstream Christians. 3. Post-modern (q.v.) interpretations of Christianity. 4. As applied to religious organizations, a group that resembles Christians sociologically, but not theologically.

Update, 14 Sept 2006 — An example of “post-Christian” used in context, from Dana MacLean Greeley, 25 Beacon Street, and Other Recollections (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 11-12:

A question asked of Unitarians and Universalists again and again is ‘Are you Christians?’ I have spoken and written many times on this subject, but I have no simple answer to the question. Most Catholic and Protestant Christians, until fairly recently anyway, would have said that we are not Christians. Most Jews would think that we are Christians. When I told one Unitarian friend that Anglicanism’s Dean Stanley referred to Channing as ‘the morning star of the second reformation,’ my friend immediately concluded that Channing was heralding or prophseying a new era, and as Protestantism (resulting from the first Reformation) went beyond Catholicism, so the second Reformation would go beyond Protestantism; a post-Protestant, post-Christian era would begin. Numerous people believe that, or interpret Unitarianism that way. It is a plausible diagnosis, though Channing would never have thought of himself as the forerunner of a non-Christian faith. (For that matter, Jesus would never have thought of himself as the forerunner of a non-Jewish faith.)

For the record, Greeley considered himself a Christian.

5 thoughts on “What is a post-Christian?

  1. Tope

    Nothing like post-Christian in the bible please. Anyone that want to serve God acceptably must fulfill His condition, that is must be born again, and be willing to be called a christian, for that is whom he is.

  2. Dan

    Tope — Your criticism, though obviously heartfelt, is completely inadequate and ignores fundamental aspects of the Christian tradition. So yes, “nothing like post-Christian in the bible [sic]”. But God works through history, and it doesn’t take much to see that there’s nothing like today’s Christianity in the Bible. The Christian tradition as set forth in the Bible began in most ancient times, and the tradition kept changing, from Adam and Eve, through Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, up through Jesus, and beyond Jesus with Paul. And the tradition has kept on changing after the Bible was set down, with the adoption of different creeds over the centuries, and the many schisms that have gone through Christianity, including the split between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the Protestant Reformation, and more recently, the emergence of Pentecostalism as a major force within Christianity. To limit God by limiting God to only that which is stated in the Bible strikes me as diminishing God’s power to work through history.

    On to the second sentence of your comment: This actually has little or no relevance to the essay above, but thank you for stating your personal view.

  3. UUXMNR

    Funny that I should stumble upon this entry after writing this morning about my evolving relationship with Christianity, the faith I was raised in.

    Although I do see myself in the definition above – n. 2. One who tries to live according to Jesus’s teachings, but who [chooses] to distance himself/herself from conservative or fundamentalist Christianity by refusing to be called “Christian.” and adj. 1. Pertaining to or derived from the moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings of Jesus, but retaining an [openness] to other moral, religious, and/or ethical teachings. – I openly wonder what the point is of referring to something as post-Christian. Somehow, it seems akin to the habit many of us UU’s have of founding our faith on that which we don’t believe, as supposed to having something affirmative and substantial to go with.

    I understand that we didn’t coin the phrase, and that it means what it means. It just feels like…like being stuck, between a past many of us are rejecting, or are struggling with, and…and what, exactly? Maybe it just goes to show that we are tethered to our past and haven’t moved beyond it? I’m not saying that we ought to; but if not, then why stay in limbo? Why not just re-define what it means to be “Christian”?

    Those are rhetorical questions. Mostly. For my own reflection.

    But thanks for the post! More to think about.

  4. Rebecca

    First, I really liked the information that was given. Secondly, I am wanted to use the information in a paper and was wondering if you could tell when it written so that I can cite it. Thank you.

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