Tuesday, April 03, 2007

"Christian" is always a noun; "God" a verb.

"Christian" is only a noun, and "God" is always a verb.

The noun:

It is dangerous to label things "Christian". The word Christian first appears in the Bible as a noun. The first followers of Jesus were called Christians because they had devoted themselves to living the way of the Messiah, who they believed was Jesus. Noun. A person. A person who follows Jesus. A person living in tune with ultimate reality, God. A way of life centered around a person who lives. The problem with turning the noun into an adjective and then tacking it onto words is that it can create categories that limit the truth.

Here's what I mean: Something can be labeled "Christian" and not be true or good. I was speaking at a pastor's conference several years ago, and a well-known pastor was going to be speaking after me. I thought I'd stick around when I was done because I wanted to hear what he had to say. It was shocking. He essentially told a roomful of pastors that if their churches weren't growing and they weren't happy all the time and they weren't healthy and successful, then they probably weren't "called and chosen by God" to be pastors. I can't imagine the messages his talk put in the hearts and minds of those pastors who were listening. I couldn't begin to understand how he made those verses mean that. And it was a Christian pastor talking in a Christian church to other Christian pastors.

But it wasn't true.

This happens in all sorts of areas. It is possible for music to be labelled Christian and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That "Christian" band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren't a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a "Christian" movie and to be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft. Just because it is a Christian book by a Christian author and it was purchased in a Christian bookstore doesn't mean it is all true or good or beautiful. A Christian political group puts me in an awkward position: What if i disagree with them? Am I less of a Christian? What if I am convinced the "Christian" thing to do is to vote the exact opposite? Christian is a great noun and a poor adjective.
-Rob Bell, "Velvet Elvis," pp 83-85

The verb:

After such a long time, we have lost the certain knowledge of how to pronounce
the word. And, without the pronunciation, we are less than certain of its
meaning, since precise meaning in Hebrew is often dependent on knowing
how to pronounce the vowels –which are missing, especially in the case of
verbs – and YHWH is definitely a verb form.

We can take comfort in the certain knowledge that God is a verb.

God’s self-description is not static but active, appropriate to the God of Journeys.
YHWH is an archaic form of the verb to be. There are three outstanding
possibilities of interpretation, none of them mutually exclusive. First, I am
who am: this is the interpretation of the Septuagint, the ancient Greek transla-
tion of the Hebrew Bible, which bears great authority. From this we have a
theology of God as the only being whose essence is Existence, all other beings
being contingent on God, who is Being (or Is-ness) itself. A more precise
translation of this idea could be: “I am he who causes (things) to be” – that is,
“I am the Creator.” Second, I am who I am – in other words, “None of your
business,” or “You cannot control me by invoking my name as if I were one
of your household gods.” Third, I will be-there with you, which emphasizes
God’s continuing presence in his creation, his being-there with us.

-Cahill, The Gift of the Jews, p.108


"The French translation of the word 1 John uses for 'word,' is the term 'verb.' If Jesus is the Verb of God; the action of God in the cosmos, then disciples of Christ are little verbs. And little verbs don't have to worry so much about subjects and objects." -Leonard sweet, "Out of the Question...Into the Mystery,"p.198


  1. Hey,

    I've just posted the first of a multi-part series on Rob's

    book "Velvet Elvis".

    Join me in conversation at:


  2. this makes me embarrassed to be a christian

  3. what did you mean, Nicholas?

    Michael's blog has since moved.

    See his Bell posts at:


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!