Three Kinds of Christians

In my last post I said this:

the Church in America is in a bad position: the majority uneducated and indifferent, and too many in the serious minority easily caught up in stupid reactionary behavior or fighting for influence over an ever smaller number of believers.

I was speaking specifically about the Catholic Church but the same could be said for any church.

The Average American Christian, compared to past generations, is more aptly described as a Moral Therapeutic Deist, since he is quite ignorant of Christian doctrine and his moral life is indistinguishable from that of his unchurched neighbors. God is just a therapeutic instrument who helps him be nice… he’s not, you know… God. This is the result of our capitalistic culture of lowest-common-denominator, and piss-poor catechesis.

Then there is the Professional Christian: the clergyman, the theology professor, the hospital or university administrator, the salaried charity organizer. He or she is probably a very nice person (as long as you don’t push certain buttons), a competent professional, and has the habits and left-leaning politics of the liberally educated upper middle class. His faith is focused on serving people with Gospel efficiency, and he is not concerned about dogmas or morals unless of course it is the dogma of Single Payer Healthcare. He is basically a character out of a John Updike novel but with a boring sex life.

Then there is the irreducible Die-Hard Christian, the one with his ass in the pew every Sunday, who knows his faith and makes a serious (if often flawed) attempt to practice it. He is dismayed by the fact that his children or childhood friends have so easily and lightly abandoned the faith, or that the churches and schools his grandparents built are now empty. He resents the Professional Christian because that ilk designed the liturgies, catechetical programs, youth-groups and college courses that (to the Die-Hard’s mind) resulted in the abysmal ignorance of the Moral Therapeutic Deist. His politics are generally well to the right of the Professional Christian, and sometimes so far to the right that the Professional wonders how the Die-Hard can call himself Christian at all.

Thus the people who run the institutions of faith and the people who actually straight-up believe it hate each other.

Now, this dire situation has mollified itself in the last few years because the Die-Hards started forming their own institutions and networks while (in the case of the Catholic Church) the diocesan clergy became more conservative. But the fact remains that the church – all Christian churches – are shrinking in the United States, because being a Christian – even of the Professional kind – implies having a spine and that is not a popular attribute to have in an infantile and materialistic culture.

Some day very soon there will only be the Die-Hards and the Professionals left, loudly blaming one another for the state in which their once glorious church has found itself. Of course they both share some of the blame: the Professionals were blind guides who failed their flocks and preferred class solidarity to the faith of their fathers, and the Die-Hards did alienate people with their rough edges and strident politics, but most of it was simply beyond their control. The culture changed, and the people followed.


  1. I’d love to know who examines the meaning of things as opposed to adhering to tribal politics?

    1. Me, obviously.

  2. I actually hope that you would consider a fourth. I don’t have to be in church physically to feel the Holy Spirit. I attend about half of the Sundays. I sometimes watch church from a live podcast and raise my hands in woods as well as in my office. I don’t believe post modern acceptance of certain lifestyles is acceptable in God’s eyes but I strive to love everyone. I discern right and wrong by the word and prayer. We drink and have good times in low brow fashion. Which one of your Christians am I?

    1. None of my business to categorize you as an individual.

    2. Lucretius · · Reply

      Hopefully the “on her way to sainthood” kind 🙂

      Christi pax.

  3. What about authentic Christians? We definitely need some of those. People who strive to be like Christ although they miss the mark.

    1. Be nice, wouldn’t it.

  4. Ahh, no one is more melancholy and cynical than I am, but just the same I can’t go there, I can’t believe those things. Christ is just too real and I catch glimpses of Him in people all the time. He said the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church and I believe Him.

    1. Christ did not promise success according to worldly standards. He did promise suffering and persecution.

  5. Lucretius · · Reply

    How would you fit saints into this system? Would they be able to arise from any of the categories?

    In my experience, which is small (take with a couple pounds of salt), neither the professionals nor the die-hard tribes seem to produce saints. I think sanctity in a sense transcends all these categories. What do you think?

    Christi pax.

    1. I think you need to read this:
      Seriously, the unstated problem in both these posts is the need for a kind of community that prouduces saints… or at least presents to people a credible ideal of holiness. Thanks for picking up on that.

  6. “Seriously, the unstated problem in both these posts is the need for a kind of community that prouduces saints… or at least presents to people a credible ideal of holiness.”

    By saints, do you mean something like a Christian community that produces disciples? One deficiency I see in much of the modern western church is that we don’t mentor people like we should, we don’t create disciples. The local church, the family church, has lost some of it’s intimacy, much like the culture has. Not everywhere of course, but I do know many people who have sat in a pew for years and yet they don’t seem to know Christ. Cultural Christianity, I call it.

    1. I didn’t really think of mentoring per se. My first thought was of some Benedictines I know: they have arranged their community in such a way that it helps each member be more Christ-like. That extends to personal behavior, prayer, belief, work and acts of charity. It is an integrated whole. They know what it is to be Christian and they do not attempt it in isolation.
      Not everyone can or should attempt what they do but I think some sort of analogous model has to be developed for ordinary Christians or they will not be Christians for very long.

      1. Interesting. Sometimes this is referred to as the Benedict option?

        I am curious about creating that lifestyle within our own circles, about protecting and preserving some like-mindedness. So like we join with others who have a similar mindset and support, teach, assist one another. I think that’s kind of how the early church worked. It reminds me of mentoring, of making disciples.

      2. Rod Dreher coined the phrase, but he isn’t referring to anything new. Virtue and goodness can only be learned in community.

      3. I remains unconvinced that goodness and virtues can only be learned in community. I believe God plays a powerful role there. Some people have good communities and got all wrong. Some actually develop virtues in the midst of adversity.

      4. Q: What did Jesus do?
        A: Start a community.

      5. He did start a community, but He also gave people the Holy Spirit to lead them and guide them. So community is good, having mentors and teachers is important, I’m just saying that it isn’t all environment, that community isn’t enough.

      6. Was the Holy Spirit given to a community, or was it given to isolated individuals?

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