Culture At Large

Why 'Follower of Jesus' is Weak

Steven Koster

Until Lisa Miller asked the question, I hadn't really thought about the relative merits of "Follower of Jesus" vs. "Christian" as a self-description. I appreciate the whole idea of fresh new ways to tell the old, old story. But as I've mulled it over, I've surprised myself how I like Follower of Jesus less and less in the face of alternative names.

So here's reasons why "Follower of Jesus" is weak:

1) It says so little about who Jesus was.

Jesus of Nazareth was God's Anointed One (Christos in Greek, Messiah in Hebrew). He was not just some rabbi who taught people to be nice to each other. He came announcing that God was doing something big in history, and then he accomplished it. Jesus was his name, but Christ was his title, designating more clearly what he was all about. So at the very least "Follower of Christ" is a more significant description than "Follower of Jesus."

2) It says so little about who you are.

I follow a bunch of people on Twitter, people I like and respect. I follow my friends Jeff, and Dave, and Mike, and I hope hanging out with them makes me a better person. I'm not sure I'd call myself a little Jeff, or Dave, or Mike, nor even a disciple of Jeff, Dave or Mike. Not as a total life-focusing disciple anyway.

But you were baptized into the name of the Anointed one, and so share in his anointing. You were anointed to confess his name, to serve him as a living sacrifice of thanks, and to strive against evil. One day you will reign with Christ in his New Creation. I'm not sure "follower" comes anywhere near capturing that richness.

"Christian" (little Christ) and "disciple" (student or apprentice) do better, but as we noted, they're churchy words. I kinda like "Apprentice of Christ" because it's different and rich. Yet apprentice is also an old word, even a medieval word. Any better ideas?

3) It suggests it's all about you

Another red flag I see with "follower" is the sense that it's all about whom I choose to follow to my own ends. It's too easy to follow as I care to, only as far as I care to. If I don't like the path I'll go somewhere else.

It also says nothing about the People of God, whom the Spirit has called together, as if it's my choice to follow Jesus with or without the Body of Christ. The Gathering (ekklesia) is full of broken and ugly people, no doubt. Fellowship is hard. But spirituality without religion is not a biblical picture of what life in Christ is supposed to be.

4) There are better, biblical names

We've mentioned a few.

-Apprentice (Disciple, pupil, adherent, mathetes) -Ambassador (Apostle, Sent One, Missionary, one dispatched) -Child (son, daughter, house-servant, paidos) -Messenger (Angel/angelos) -Proclaimer (herald, preacher, kerux)

Of course Servant of Christ (Doulos Christos) is a favorite of the New Testament writers themselves. James, Titus, Jude, Peter, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John, and especially Paul describe Christians (and themselves) as slaves of God and Christ.

After all, as Dylan said, you gotta serve somebody.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith