Pinning down a concise definition of Christianity can seem like an impossible task, particularly at a college campus with thousands of Christian and non-Christian students, dozens of student ministries and courses offering an academic take on religion.
Christian practices are easily influenced by outside influences, at times causing the faith to look completely different from church to church. Various Christian groups can be placed on a spectrum of conservative or liberal, strict or lenient, self-focused or God-focused and so much more.
To properly view the Christian faith, you first must seek to understand the figure central to it, Jesus Christ.
“The Christian faith has been muddied by so many internal and external factors that it’s hard to know exactly what it means anymore,” Shawn Green, lead minister at the local Sherwood Oaks Christian Church, said. “But, if you really want to see who God is and what Christianity is about, look to Jesus.”
Unfortunately, it is not often Jesus where young people get their ideas regarding Christianity, but through popular culture or in classes.
Learning about Christianity in a secular academic setting is well and good — if I thought otherwise I wouldn’t be minoring in religious studies. At the same time, there are limits to how accurately supernatural concepts can be understood outside of a religious context. Academia attempts to study the supernatural through a purely natural lens, which by definition can not provide a full picture.
“When I attended Bible college, one of my mentors cautioned me against approaching my faith from a purely academic standpoint,” Green said. “He said that growing in my theological understanding is a great endeavor, as long as I do not forget the God of my theology.”
Additionally, the plots of shows and movies portray religious people in a more eccentric or distasteful way than is accurate for the average believer, so it’s important to not let that distort your perceptions.
“Personally, I want my faith in Jesus to be experienced in a way that, when my non-Christian friends see Christians negatively portrayed in pop culture they think, ‘That’s not who I know Shawn to be,’” Green said.
Individuals such as street preacher Brother Jed, a regular visitor to IU’s campus, make it seem like Christianity is all about judgement and drawing a frustrated crowd.
Many churches — some more than others — can make Sunday morning services appear more like a political rally than a time to worship God due to their commitment to both right-wing or left-wing politics.
As a Christian hoping to pursue a career in government, I always want to make sure my political ideology is aligned with the teachings of God. I want my faith to provide the foundation for my politics, not the other way around. I believe that only Jesus can cure many of the ills that no government or president can, helping me to keep earthly and eternal concerns in proper relationship with one another.
Christianity should not be adapted to fit our own political views or personal desires. Christianity should not be viewed based on fringe practitioners, popular culture or in a purely academic way. Above all these secondary and fallible influences there is Christ and what he did for you and me 2,000 years ago.
“See how He loved and served others and that he willingly gave up his life for yours so that no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what’s been done to you, you can be adopted into God’s family and be a part of His mission to make this world a little more like He created it to be,” Green said.
People may misconstrue biblical Christianity, and Christians themselves will fall far below the example set by Christ time and time again. These are not reasons to turn away from Christianity, but an invitation to accept the inherent imperfections of the world and instead place your trust in Jesus. Allow no person and no worldly distortion to define Christianity, but only Christ.
Charlie Willis is a law and public policy major and religious studies minor. He is a member of Cru and a former member of IUSG Congress. Oddly, he maintains a community of 150-plus pet rocks with their own government.