Imitation still being the sincerest form of flattery, there eventually appeared a video that is technically, I suppose, a spoof, but the intent behind the obvious humor was quite serious. Instead of a PC and a Mac, it featured a "Christian" and a "Christ follower, respectively. Just as the original was set up to make a Macintosh computer much more attractive than a PC, so the imitative spoof was set up to make being a "Christ follower" decidedly superior to being a "Christian."
The implication is clearly that to be a Christ follower is to be accountable solely and directly to ... Christ. Simple. Transparent. Unaffected. Weighed down by nothing more substantive than the question mark at the end of "WWJD?". To be a Christian, by contrast, is to carry 2,000 years worth of baggage--controversies, councils, creeds, sacraments, orders, doctrines, dogmas, and institutional infrastructures. Why bother with all that? Why not just cut through it all and and just get on with following Jesus?
There are two angles (at least) from which to approach such a conclusion. One is the evangelical, ultra-low church, hyper-individualistic strain of piety and devotion that is fairly ubiquitous in the history of American Christianity. But another route to the same spot is the ultra-modern liberal deconstructionist school of thought represented by, inter alia, the Jesus Seminar. These two camps are pretty much mortal enemies, so I realize the irony of painting them with the same brush. But they both uphold, in differing ways, the notion that what we are accountable to is what the actual Jesus who got Palestinian dirt between his toes would want us to think an do. The fundamentalist would claim that such knowledge is unambiguously accessible on the pages of the New Testament. The modernist takes a more complex and sophisticated approach in proposing that the "historical Jesus" (a term coined about a century ago) is accessible by carefully combing through historical and literary artifacts with the disciplined and detached eye of a scholar. Importantly, however, both would contend that most, if not all, of what the generations succeeding Jesus' own said about him (for the modernist, this would include the way Paul theologized Jesus) ought to be taken with several grains of salt, if not tossed out completely. The two might come up with very different descriptions of what it looks like to be a "Christ follower," but they would both maintain a suspicious attitude toward the theological and institutional apparatus associated with being "Christian."
This is a pluralistic world and a free society, and I don't find myself particularly scandalized by these views. They are certainly nothing new. What utterly baffles me, however, is when someone who is personally implicated, by free choice, with institutional structures and commitments that are decidedly "Christian" takes the position of the cheeky "Christ follower." Yesterday, on the HoB/D listserv, there was a thread inspired by tomorrow's Epistle reading from Colossians that speaks of Christ being "pre-eminent." At one point, an Episcopal priest from Tennessee (his name is Peter Keese, which I share at his request), wrote this:
My thinking (still evolving, I hope) is that we misunderstand and misuse the notion - the reality, if you will - of incarnation. I'm suggesting that incarnation is a universal reality - Jesus being a symbol and example of what God is doing everywhere and all the time. It is not that I object to the notion of God incarnating in Jesus; what I object to is your (and my) reluctance to claim that God inhabits you (and me) no less fully.I have heard such suggestions before--from Unitarians, other non-Christians, and from Episcopalian lay people who are poorly-catechized. But Peter (whom I know personally and with whom I have had a quite cordial relationship over the years) is a presbyter--an elder--who helps form candidates for ordained ministry and whose diocese has elected him to represent them at the last two General Conventions. So we're not talking about some crackpot on the margins of the institution.
In another part of the thread, another priest (again, someone I know personally, and who is in charge of a parish), gave voice to the modernist "Christ follower" position that traditional christology--from the language of "pre-eminence" in the New Testament to that of the creeds--represents the successful attempt to certain forces within the movement begun by the historical Jesus to exert political control over others. It's the shopworn "history is written by the winners" mantra.