Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

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Five Kinds of Christians

  • Dr. James Emery White

    James Emery Whiteis the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and a former professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he…

  • 2007 Nov 30

What kind of Christian are you?


Christianity Today International recently partnered with Zondervan Publishers in order to commission a study on the attitudes and behavior of professing Christians in the United States. 




There are five kinds of Christians: Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private and Cultural Christians.


Interestingly, each group represents around 20% of the population that identifies itself as Christian, with Private Christians holding a slight edge at 24%, and Liturgical Christians reflecting the smallest grouping at 16%.


So what kind Christian do these groups represent?


Active Christians (19%)

*Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ

*Committed churchgoers

*Bible readers

*Accept leadership positions

*Invest in personal faith development through the local church

*Feel obligated to share their faith (and 79% do so)


Professing Christians (20%)

*Believe salvation comes through Jesus Christ

*Focus on personal relationship with God and Jesus

*Similar beliefs to Active Christians, but with different actions

*Less involved in church in regard to both attending and serving

*Less commitment to Bible reading and sharing faith


Liturgical Christians (16%)

*Predominantly Catholic and Lutheran

*Regular churchgoers

*High level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community

*Recognize authority of the church


Private Christians (24%)

*Largest and youngest segment

*Believe in God and doing good things

*Own a Bible, but don’t read it

*Spiritual interest, but not within a church context

*Only about one-third attend church at all

*Almost none are church leaders


Cultural Christians (21%)

*Little outward religious behavior or attitudes

*God aware, but little personal involvement with God

*Do not view Jesus as essential to salvation

*Affirm many ways to God

*Favor universality theology


Of the five groups, I find the last two (Private and Cultural) the most pressing. Private Christians reflect the loss of the emerging generation to the church, which means they become “spiritual do-it-yourselfers” who are divorced from Christian community. Cultural Christians reflect the loss of the content of Christianity itself, which means that anything and everything can become equated with Christianity. As Actor Will Smith, who was raised Baptist, was recently quoted in Men’s Vogue, “Ninety-eight percent of the principles (in Scientology) are identical to the principles of the Bible... I don’t think that because the word someone uses for spirit is ‘thetan’ that the definition becomes any different.” In attempting to counter the point, Mr. Smith illustrates it, as Scientology and Christianity could not be further apart. And perhaps most distressing of all, a good Scientologist – who knows perfectly well what the word “thetan” means – would herself not agree with Mr. Smith that it is akin to the Christian idea at all.


In a roundtable conversation, where pastors were confronted with the findings of the survey, the need for apologetics was raised again and again. 


I agree.


And to help those outside of the faith, too. 

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.



“5 Kinds of Christians,” reported by Helen Lee, Leadership Journal, Fall 2007, Vol. XXVIII, No. 4 (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2007/004/1.19.html).


Will Smith quote:  “Quotable,” USA Today, Wednesday, November 21, 2007, 1D.


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