First of all, meet the "Student." The student's strength is studying God's Word and theology. The innocent danger of the Student is that they mark spiritual maturity on knowledge of the Bible and theology. In other words, no matter what else defines your Christian life, it is your knowledge that defines you as a mature Christian. The dangerous danger of the Student is that salvation can be narrowed down, not to a response of repentance and faith in Christ, but on adopting a certain theological stand or memorizing a certain creed. In other words, take this class, learn this creed and we'll call you a child of God. We can see these shades developing within fundamentalist as well as liturgical churches.
|Four Types of Christians|
The second type of Christian is the "Servant." The Servant's strength is found in obeying the commands of God's Word to reach out to the poor and needy and look after orphans and widows in their distress, and even in the work of evangelism. The innocent danger of the Servant is when spiritual maturity is marked by no other factor than what you are doing for the Lord. The dangerous danger of the Servant is making salvation an issue, not of Jesus, but by meeting social needs. In other words, you are a Christian if you feed the poor and you are not a true Christian if you do not. The same formula can be applied to other acts of service, as well. We can see these shades developing in the social gospel movement, but also within Evangelicalism when it comes to the work of evangelism.
The third type of Christian is the "Sweetheart." This is a Christian defined by their love. For them, all that matters is loving Jesus and loving people. The innocent danger of the Sweetheart is when truth is set aside or compromised for the sake of love. The dangerous danger is when salvation is marked by love. In other words, if a person loves God, they are saved regardless of how they respond to Jesus. We see this trend in the Emergent Movement and in the younger generation of Christians in general.
The fourth type of Christian is the "Softy." The strength of the Softy (that sounds weird) is their ability to love and worship Jesus from the depth of their emotions. We owe much of our worship music to the Softy. The innocent danger is when spiritual maturity is marked by an emotional experience rather than by faith. The dangerous danger is when an emotional experience is the mark of salvation and the lack of such an experience is evidence of non-conversion or the absence of the Holy Spirit. We tend to see this in many charismatic circles.
Notice that I am including all four within Christianity. Does this mean that all people in these camps are Christians? No. There are "religious" people in all four camps who are not truly saved because they have never turned to Jesus Christ alone in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of their sins. There are some in each camp who deny the need to do so, or who suggest that there are other acceptable means of attaining peace with God. My little chart is assuming that the person is a genuine, born-again Christian.
Now, that being said, how do we end up in one of those four groups? I think there are several factors including (but not limited to) your personality, your gifts, your passions, your particular church or denomination, and the preachers or authors who most influence you. I have no problem with a Christian being stronger in one of these areas over the other. We are, after all, the Body of Christ.
The problem with these four groups comes in a couple of areas. First of all, our human tendency is toward extremes. We aren't just stronger in our area, we let it swallow us. So much so that we see the other three groups as unsaved, heretical, and dangerous. The second danger is that, having viewed the other three areas as bad, we cut those qualities out of our lives as much as possible. We then begin to define true spiritual maturity as excelling in our particular area. We view someone who is weak in our area and strong in another as being a babe in Christ who needs to grow into true maturity. And , of course, the worst danger is when we make our section of the graph the only acceptable definition of Christianity and any who are in the other areas are deemed unconverted and heretical.
Consider the chart of a Christian to the right. This person came to a point of genuine repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. They are weaker in the area of Student. They read their Bible, but struggle with reading comprehension and they struggle to memorize Bible verses or understand deep, theological issues. They couldn't even begin to wrestle with the complexities of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. They are pretty active in serving. They do things within the church and they help with others around them in need and they share the Gospel with their friends. They are a Softy, to be sure. The thought of what Jesus has done for them floods their heart with joy and tears flow easily. Where they are truly strong is as a Sweetheart. They love Jesus more than life and they love people like crazy. The verse that says that Christians will be known by their love certainly applies to them. Is this a Christian? Yes, as determined by the first description in this paragraph. Are they a mature Christian? Perhaps, but that is not determined by what their graph looks like. Do you need to still grow in other areas to be balanced? Of course - we all do.
Scripture calls us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. In a sense, to be a Softy (overwhelmed by the greatness and grace of God), a Sweetheart (loving Jesus and loving people), a Student (grounded in the truth and authority of the Word of God), and a Servant (reaching out a hand to the needy and a voice of the Gospel to the lost). All together. All at once. That is a Christian. To love God by being the most of all four that we can. To shut out any one or any three is a crippled Christianity. So many debates and divisions come in because, instead of recognizing areas where we need growth, we point to the other camps and slam them for their lack in our area.
If you are not a strong Student, please know how important it is to know the truth of the God you love and who has saved you. If you are not a strong servant, please know that Scripture says that religion that God sees as pure is to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world, and Jesus separates the sheep and the goats by what they did and did not do. If you are not a strong Sweetheart, remember that they will know we are Christians by our love. If you are not a strong Softy, consider hwy it is that you can get excited and emotional about many things in life, so how much more should we be emotionally gripped more than anything by the greatness, mercy, love and grace of our God.
When it comes to spiritual growth, what we naturally tend to do is play to our strengths. So, the Student seeks spiritual growth through more and deeper study. The Servant seeks spiritual growth through more service. The Sweetheart seeks spiritual growth by showing more love. The Softy seeks spiritual growth through increased emotional experiences. This is where our strengths end up revealing our weaknesses.
When the Student dives deeper and deeper into study, they may struggle with becoming harsh, critical and judgmental. Two Students can also become entangled over various theological matters. The Servant may struggle with legalism in thinking that their obedience is what keeps them in God's grace. Also, two Servants may be at odds, one neglecting the needy for the sake of evangelism while the other neglects evangelism for the sake of the needy. The Sweetheart may struggle with opening the gates to anyone who claims the name of Jesus regardless of how that Jesus is defined. They may call upon others to seek unity and to embrace people who may actually have a cultic understanding of Jesus. The Softy may struggle with emotionalism. Jesus ceases to be enough for them unless they can feel something. They can also become critical of those who are not naturally emotional.
In a way, you are really only as strong as your weakness. In football, a team's offense may be able to score 50 points a game, but the team can remain win-less if their defense allows 52 points a game. And so, spiritual growth and maturity is not just a matter of further beefing up your strength, but rather in also allowing God to work in your area of weakness, growing ever closer to all four aspects of our Christian life being equally strong.
Physically, there are those who can bench press 500 pounds, but cannot run 500 feet without feeling like they are about to die. And there are those who can run for miles but can't do 10 push-ups. A healthy exercise program focuses on strength as well as cardio. In our spiritual growth, let's not make it either or, but all of the above.
So, there you have it. Just based on my observations in others and myself over 24 years.