The 5 Categories of Non-Christians
- Tim Brister Pastor, Author, and Blogger
- 2015 28 Jul
Last week, I brought up the new posture of Christianity in post-Christendom and how we re-enter culture in a subversive way to advance the kingdom of God. Before I jump into the paradigm and practices in post-Christendom, I believe it is important to give a little perspective.
In the little diagram above, I lay out 5 different categories for unbelievers. I contend that, with the shrinking of Christendom, there is an increase in paganism. In other words, when non-Christians are categorized according to their position/stance regarding Christianity, there are far more today in the -3 to -5 categories than there is in the -1 and -2.
To be clear, everyone to the left of the center line is what the Bible calls “lost” and outside Christ. There are no degrees of lostness. Either you are saved or you are lost. The difference is twofold: access and attitude. The further to the left you go, the less access non-Christians have to the gospel and the more likely the attitudes are strongly antithetical to the Christian faith. While the two are not necessarily intrinsic to each other, they are often connected (e.g., someone who could have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and not necessarily be opposed to it, and someone could be strongly opposed to Christianity and had considerable access to the gospel message).
Acknowledging that these descriptions are not exhaustive, they are however an attempt to provide distinctions between non-Christians as I have studied and spent time with them in a post-Christendom America.
0 to -1 | Conversant
The conversant crowd is the vestige of Christendom. These are non-Christians who (a) may think they are Christians by their regular involvement in religious activity or church or (b) find Christianity agreeable from an intellectual or cultural standpoint. They may have many friends and family members who are followers of Jesus Christ while they themselves have not chosen to repent and believe. The conversant crowd often find Christianity profitable from a worldview, ethical/moral, or cultural aspect and converses along those lines. They do not mind regular dialogue about Christianity and consider themselves somewhat competent in their understanding of Christianity.
-1 to -2 | Relevant
The relevant crowd are the people who still have considerable access the orthodox Christianity, either through occasional attendance to church services (Christmas and Easter), or through other forms of media (radio, television, internet, etc.). Having been brought up in Christendom, Christianity has some relevance for many of them. They may have attended church as a kid, gone to a vacation Bible school, prayed publicly, or learned the Ten Commandments in school growing up, etc. Occasionally, you may hear a reference or two to a biblical story, principle, or verse they learned in the past in their everyday interactions. As a result, Christianity remains relevant to them, though they are not as active or engaged as the conversant crowd.
-2 to -3 | Ignorant
The ignorant crowd are the people who simply do not know or understand Christianity. Many in the younger generations today did not grow up in Christian homes or in a Christian culture or sub-culture and, therefore, have virtually no true understanding of the Christian message. Christianity is more understood as a voting block, some kind of political affiliation, or having espoused conservative ethical and moral positions on cultural issues. When you aske them about Christianity, you typically get superficial answers because they simply don’t know much about true, biblical Christianity. Being ignorant does not necessarily mean being opposed; rather, they simply have not had nearly as much access and exposure to true Christianity in their lifetime. Contemporary sociologists and researchers have described the ignorant crowd as the “nones”—those who do not ascribe to any belief system and don’t want to be labeled as such.
-3 to -4 | Indifferent
The indifferent crowd are the people who don’t want you talking about Christianity in the public square. They would rather not be inundated with Facebook posts talking about Jesus or the Bible. If you are a Christian, fine. Just don’t bring it into their world or in their conversations. They don’t care that you are a Christian so long as you keep it to yourself. They may have ideas of spirituality, but it is often without any consistent worldview; rather, it is more a la carte, self-selective spirituality where they pick and choose the aspects of various belief systems they find palatable to them. The indifferent crowd find their philosophical underpinnings in moral relativism and subjective truth (I determine what is right and wrong, and I have the right to define what is true for me). They have little to no access to true Christianity because (a) they don’t care about it personally or find it needful, and (b) they do not have Christian friends, family, or acquaintances who are regularly engaged in their lives.
-4 to -5 | Militant
The militant crowd are the people who don’t want to be Christians and don’t want anyone else to be Christians, either. They are hostile to the Christian faith and don’t mind letting you know it. For most if not all of them, their aggression is due to a direct confrontation to their way of life. While the atheist or agnostic may say they do not believe in God from an intellectual standpoint, almost invariably, the issue is not an intellectual impasse but rather a moral confrontation. They do not want to be told what you must believe and how you must live. The militant, anti-authoritarian culture disavows any higher authority than the self. Christianity says there is one ultimate authority, God, to whom all men must give an account and be judged. The militant crowd wants no accountability to a God they do not believe in, and any time truth statements are made to them, they do not merely find them intellectually implausible, but morally reprehensible. The overwhelming number of people in the militant crowd are unreached and unengaged from the Christian community due to their militant attitudes toward Christianity as well the cultural retreat of Christendom into their own ghettos (sub-cultures) in recent decades.
Again, these descriptions are not intended to be exhaustive. They are my attempt to provide a perspective on post-Christendom and the world around us. I believe there has been a considerable shift over the past decade (or two) toward paganism, where the majority of non-Christians today are ignorant, indifferent, and militant.
In my next post, I will explain two paradigms of ministry by local churches and why the predominant paradigm, though effective in Christendom, will not be effective in post-Christendom.