Christian vs. Jesus Follower??

Every now and then I mention in this blog that I usually prefer to use the term "Jesus Follower" rather than "Christian".  This largely has to do with the ways the term "Christian" is understood in North America these days.  I believe it’s definition has morphed from being "like Christ" to being a cultural identity loaded with all kinds of political and nationalistic implications.  Words like "love" and holidays like "Easter" have morphed in our culture much the same way.  Some day, I might even feel the same about the term "Jesus Follower".  But for now I like the freshness and rawness of the phrase. 

Anyways, here’s an interesting take on this discussion:


  1. Absolutely right, Aleksei. His Church will be preserved… and I’m not saying anything other than that. I just feel that the word “Christian” in the mind of many Westerners (and probably Easterners) is associated nowadays with politics, music, television stations, the Iraq War, Hollywood, white Republicans, manifest destiny, hypocritical and scandalous church figures, etc etc etc. Rarely anymore does it mean a group of people who have put on Christ and who are sold out to living for Christ and who have been transformed because of Jesus Christ. I guess I love the word “Christian” so much that I’d like to redeem it from being so watered-down. I want to be called a “Christian” because I follow Jesus with everything I’ve got… (a “Jesus Follower”). I don’t want to be called a “Christian” because I’m white, grew up in Indiana, went to a “Christian” college, vote conservative, and go to an evangelical church. I want to be called a “Christian” because the world looks at me and sees a guy who patterns his life after Jesus. To the degree that someone calls me “Christian” because I’m following Jesus… bring on the label! I love the word “Christian” if it means what it should mean. Does that make sense?

  2. What does it mean? How are Christians today different from those in Antioch?
    Christ promised that He would preserve His Church against the gates of hell forever. If Antioch and Acts is what you want, you don’t need a time machine. Go East, young man. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the comment Aleksei. I appreciate your candor and I agree with your comment about “put Him on”. I hope in the phrase “Jesus Follower” that such an idea would be conveyed… just like the first disciples like Peter and Matthew were just asked by Jesus to “follow me.” It’s as simple and yet as profound as that really.
    I personally don’t have a problem with the word “Christian”… but it doesn’t mean the same thing in Western society today that it meant when it was first coined in the book of Acts to describe the Christians in Antioch. The term “Christian” was first used as a label… invented by those who weren’t Christians to describe those who were.
    The society today largely uses the word “Christian” to describe a different type of person than those first believers in Antioch. “Christian” today can mean so many things… I would love to redeem the word to mean more of what it meant back in the book of Acts… Perhaps I’m trying to do that by searching for a new label that brings out the simple/profound truth of being a disciple of our Lord.
    Certainly no offense is intended in my post… or in the phrase “Jesus Follower”.

  4. Forgive me for being crude, but this seems like a product of the neuroses that have been affecting Western Christianity ever since the Reformation.
    “Christian” is the term that has always been used since the days in Antioch; the first martyrs of the Church proudly proclaimed themselves to be such. It isn’t good enough for us today?
    Not only that, but it is theologically vague; we don’t “follow” Jesus, we _put Him on_ through baptism. We are baptized into his death and resurrection. Certainly the life of a Christian should be characterized by moral integrity, but this comes from participating in the life of Christ.

  5. Thanks for the comments! I’m listening to your words and wrestling with them. I think I want to point out that I haven’t given up on the word “Christian” – in fact, I hope that someday in English that this word is redeemed… and in fact, my hope is securely confident that it will. If people ask me if I’m a Christian, I would answer a confident and humble “yes”. But in my witness, and in the reshaping work of the Spirit, I am trying to humbly identify myself as a follower of Jesus, a disciple, a branch trying to bear his fruit— that still needs pruning.

  6. I think the comments thus far really demonstrate the fact that we are all trying to figure out what is the best way to identify ourselves. Christian, Red Letter Christian, little Christ, true brand Christian, Jesus Follower.
    I was meeting with our church elders a while back and I used the term “followers of the way” they hated it. they said it sounded like we were a cult. They are Christians. Their very identity is Christ. Biblically I would say this is accurate and true for all who walk with Jesus.
    The problem is that we (Christians/Jesus Followers/whatever else and everyone else) are so tired of seeing “Christians,” who are so identified with Christ, sinning. On one hand, I love the term Christian. On the other it seems to carry with it an idea of sinless, oneness with Christ that I have yet been unable to practically attain. Jesus Follower seems to have room for my many and frequent mistakes and errors in judgment, and yet at the same time carries the implication that I am trying to live as Jesus lived.
    Oh, I like the video clips. Any idea how I can save them to my hard drive?

  7. I recognize that the term Christian has become synonymous wih a lot of stuff that has very little to do with the perceptions of the people in first century christianity, however, there were equivalent terms at the time that were tearing the church apart. Gnostic, Nazarean, etc. It always struck me as fascinating how the church tried to seperate itself from these groups through excommunication and the lie, but I think it is equally interesting to look at those few people who fought the wod battles.
    Clement of Alexandria, I believe, wrote a great deal of what we now know about Christianity in the first century and he refused to let the word gnostic go. Theword has something, though I cant remember exacly what, to do with secret wisdom or sarchers for wisdom or keepers of wisdom. Anyway, Clement’s writing seems to come back to this idea of the ‘true’ gnostic being th one who follows the precepts an commands of Jesus, the apostles ad the church leaders. In an era when the church was attempting to prove ts differences from this group, Clement jumped on board and argued that he was one of the ‘true’ brand gnostics. Maybe, instead of arguing over why we are different, we should be ‘true’ brand Christians???

  8. I like the term Jesus Follower because it can’t be turned into an adjective to describe music, movies, book stores, cultural ghettos, voting blocks or breath mints. We are just as responsible for changing the meaning of the word Christian as anyone. The church in North America has forgotten that only a person can be a “little Christ”.

  9. Interesting stuff, surprisingly that little fake mac add was really well done. Although, “Christians” are presented as uncool, much like PC guy I think it is interesting that we want to distinguish ourselves from (in this case) other Christians. Maybe this is the wrong approach? Just a thought…
    I think it is truly sad that the word “Christian” has been seen as so negative that we no longer want to be associated with it. Tony Campolo uses the term “red letter Christians” to describe his religious convictions. His departure is away from the word “Evangelical” as he believes this word has almost become synonymous with political “Republicans.” I guess words are created and then released into the world, there meanings change depending on the context that they are used. In someway words have lives of their own which individual people struggle to change and mold. What I find most interesting is that “Christian” was a term that was used (I should recheck my facts) in a mocking way. Jesus followers were “little Christs.” I guess we took that title and embraced it, its meaning then changed into a title that has been used for hundreds of years. Maybe it is changing back again?

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