Christians: Doctrinal vs Casual

There are a huge variety of Christians.  Heck, in this chart alone I list 19 different Christian theological categories that have multiple positions and there are more, of course.   The permutations of these theological positions make for our plethora of flavors of Christianity — something for everyone.  Don’t get me wrong, every religion splinters up like this and every religion has those who lament the process, only to ironically produce yet more sects.

With all these varieties of Christianity, it is impossible to generalize about Christianity. On this site I have slowly learned to be more careful about generalizing since anything I say about Christianity in general may be contradicted by some sect or other.  I have become more careful to try and  get agreed upon definitions to make progress in discussing religion.

To that end, let me experiment with the following definitions and see if any of my readers can imagine them useful:

Doctrinal Christians:

Christian who care about doctrines.  Christians who care about what they feel qualifies someone as a “real” or “true” Christian or follower of Jesus.  Christians who care about what the Bible really says.  From my experience, spanning progressives to conservatives, this category includes almost all the blogging Christians I know.  These Christians tend to consider themselves systematic in their thinking.

Casual Christians:

These comprise the vast majority of my Christian friends, and a huge percent of the Christian populations.  These Christians are casual, cultural or cafeteria Christians who don’t do systematic thinking about doctrine, the Bible, Jesus or God.  Fortunately for me, these folks aren’t into doctrine and don’t believe much of what they confess.

Question for readers:

Given that definitions can be artificial, fuzzy and doomed to problems.  And that they are just temporary agreements (usually implicit) to speed up conversation).  What do you think?  Are there too many problems with these categories to make them useful?

34 Comments

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

34 responses to “Christians: Doctrinal vs Casual

  1. Chart (or link to chart) seems to be missing.

  2. Thanx, David. Updated. Looking forward to your post on the delusion of belief – sounds very close to thing I’ve written but now with substance and historical backing!

  3. “These comprise the vast majority of my Christian friends, and a huge percent of the Christian populations. These Christians are casual, cultural or cafeteria Christians who don’t do systematic thinking about doctrine, the Bible, Jesus or God. Fortunately for me, these folks aren’t into doctrine and don’t believe much of what they confess.”

    Good grief, Sabio. Sounds exactly like something Satan would say.. Of course he loves those who have been fooled and are lukewarm and out to lunch, clueless as to what’s really going on. God won’t give up on these easily though. This IS all out war for the souls of humanity and the real Christian won’t be fooled and will know and recognize it.

    Anyway, mock me and laugh. Whatever. I really could care less.

  4. Hmmm…Satan…Sabio…do I see any similarity here? I think so…

  5. I’m not trying to imply or even accuse that Sabio is Satan; obviously he isn’t. However, just as God uses people to further His own end, so does Satan to further his. It’s really pretty simple. If you’re not on God’s side, you’re on the other by default.

  6. In fairness I’ve never heard Satan speak, so I’ll take your word for it.

    It is interesting that both God and Satan use people to their own ends, however, yet somehow it’s ok if God does it but not Satan?

  7. I think most people who love God are more than happy for Him to use them. It’s called “serving God.” It’s what the real Christian desires more than anything else in life.

  8. Satan’s ways, manner, lies, and trickery are described within the bible, as is his agenda. When I say “sounds like” I don’t mean literally sounds like. I mean it reads like something Satan would say, based upon how he is presented within the bible in various places, due to his agenda.

  9. So, if I want to be more like God, I should use my children for my purposes and tell them they should be happy to serve me?

  10. And what about people who serve Satan? Shouldn’t they be happy to serve him?

  11. I understood what you meant. I guess I just don’t remember Satan speaking much except to Eve in the Garden, to Jesus in the desert and to God in Job. Which one of those sounds like what Sabio said? Or did I miss a verse somewhere?

  12. OK, well getting back on topic…
    I like the distinction presented here between doctrinal and casual. It reminds me of Gordon Allport’s classification of intrinsic vs. extrinsic religiosity without the associated baggage. In Allport’s view, intrinsic religion – where people take religion very seriously – was supposed to be associated with all the positive features of religion, while extrinsic – more casual participation – was associated with all the negative features, such as bigotry. However, research seems to suggest that while the extrinsic style does seem to go hand-in-hand with stuff like racism and sexism, the intrinsic style on the other hand has its own problems because it is associated with particular doctrinally permitted forms of prejudice, e.g. homophobia and distrust of atheists. Allport tended to idealize intrinsic religiosity, far more than was ever warranted in my opinion. I think referring to “doctrinal” vs. “casual” instead is a more realistic description. Additionally, this division suggests the possibility that the less committed form of Christianity may have its benign aspects. For example, in Britain and Scandinavia today, I understand that many people are nominally members of their national churches but have little interest in religious activity and are therefore less likely to support intolerant policies associated with commitment to doctrinal beliefs.

  13. @ Warrioress,
    (1) LOL
    The last several post and your blog almost have me laughing when you do everything but call me Satan himself. I had actually forgot about this other classic Fundie black-and-white Bible (Zoroastrian-Like) view of a world were everyone is on other one team or the other. Hilarious, if not a very sad view. Most Christians I know don’t hold this view at all — thank God! (irony intended).
    But then, maybe you think they may go to Hell for that view too — or maybe you feel they don’t believe like you because that nasty Satan deceived them too.
    Seriously, this is great entertainment until I remember that you are DEAD serious.
    I guess you are one of those grand REAL Christians who won’t be fooled. Lucky you.

    (2) You misunderstood
    I think you misunderstood this post. In it, you’d be a Doctrinal Christian

    @ MichaelB,
    Thanx for jumping in. The more real people that the Warrioress sees that were once True Believers like her that are now apparently deceived by Satan, the better. Maybe years from now she will rethink. But for now, her rigidity is probably serving her very well. It is a shame that after years of devotion to Yahweh that he’d allow Satan to deceive us. Now, if we had chosen without being deceived, I could see Hell as punishment. But heck, for deception, I would not even punish my kids, and I’d expect Jehovah to be a better parent — but heck, who am I?

  14. FYI Readers: Scott is a psychologist researcher and writer for “Psychology Today” — and a very good one. Well, that does not matter to you Warrioress , because I am sure Scott is also a servant of Satan and deceived and uttering stuff just like Satan too since he does not belief in your theology.

    @ Scott McGreal,
    I am very happy to hear that you find these distinctions possibly useful. Thank you for explaining Allports older (and less wise) categories. 😉
    Yes, these categories are meant to be nonjudgemental and allow virtues and faults in both categories and yet allow important distinctions.
    Great examples — thank you kindly.

    (OK, now others can go on about Hell and Satan if they wish!)

  15. Sabio,
    I’m not trying to convince you of my point of view so I don’t know why you seem to feel the need to “educate” and attempt a makeover of my personal spiritual views (please don’t continue to say that you’re not doing this). Perhaps you feel that out of the goodness of your heart you’ve taken this poor backward Christian gal under your more tutored and well-traveled wing, and are desperately trying to simply bring me into 21st century thinking, more attuned to a global view??

    (eye roll)

  16. Sabio,
    I’ve really enjoyed visiting here, but you know I have a really busy schedule and I’m about to work on a posting that addresses a little bit about my take on Bishop John Shelby Spong and some of the others you listed as “progressive” former evangelicals,” etc. I do hope you’ll have a look when I finish, if for no other reason than to simply allow me to attempt to show you, yet again, my opinion of what you’re missing as this black & white, God life-drama plays out before us all and we live out our various spiritual choices.

  17. @ the warrioress

    “…allow me to attempt to show you, yet again…” Who is trying to educate whom here?

  18. One good turn deserves another, Mike. 😉

  19. TWF

    @ the warrioress

    This is off subject to the post, but since you bring it up… Sometime, it’s actually gray. Examples:

    1) When God sent an evil spirit to tempt David into conducting a census
    2) How God said that He would send miracle-working prophets as a test to see if people would stick with Him instead of believing the miracle-workers.

    That doesn’t sound like the “good” side to me, nor is it black-and-white. Unless, of course, you simply define “good” as whatever God does, such that morality is truly relative to God’s whims.

  20. Sabio, I think it’s great that you are being more careful in how you categorize people. I have strong beliefs too, and we should occasionally reevaluate just to keep our delusions in check.

    I’ve always seen Chrisitianity as having these two styles. I really, really liked what a recent commenter said here once; that the word “faith” used to mean “love”. So if devout Christians would just acknowledge that what they have is love instead of “evidence”, I think that would finally separate their entanglement with science.

  21. Interesting, TWF. I hadn’t thought of it like that before. I see what you mean. You’ve got an intriguing blog too. I’ll have to check that out in more detail.

    God has certainly done things that I would not consider good at all. I’ve had difficulty agreeing with and understanding some of these things. I guess I have to reframe what I said because obviously there are shades of gray within the bible. Thanks for pointing this out.

  22. @ warrioress,
    I think you will notice a significant difference between Ex-Christian atheists and “Natural Atheists” (those who never embraced a religion as an adult). This is a general tendency (statistical) and not true for everyone by any means. This is my theory, at least for those who blog.

    TWF is an ex-adult-Christian and to top that off, as you have noted, he has done a careful exploration of the Bible again as a non-believer. I truly hope you enjoy his blog and he would love to have your comments on any parts you work through.

    BTW, I agree with Michael about the irony of jumping between accusing me of educating and denying judging people but I won’t quibble about it.

    You seem to be very good here and I will be very glad to look at your future posts on your site. It is funny to dialogue knowing how different our positions and how immovable both of us must seem to each other. But good news, I don’t think Jason will jump out and hurt you in this life or the next.

  23. amelie,
    Thanx, good points.

  24. @ warrioress

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I think all any of us here are requesting (of believers or ouselves or our children) is that people be willing to take an extra step and further question the “difficult” things. When you feel like retreating to a safe place, resist the urge and push forward because you are probably right on the edge of uncovering an important truth about yourself or the world in general.

  25. Sabio – I think you might also want to include Secularists. Just a guess, but I’d think more Atheists are ex-Christians and the “never were exposed to religion” types are the Secularists. As you know I wrote 2 posts on the topic and found that Atheists are much more involved in religion – even if it’s merely debating the topic of religion (excluding Wicca and Native Peoples, it seems) whereas Secularists, even those knowledgeable about the Bible as a historic document, tend to leave it out of their lives / blogs / discussions.

  26. Well, amelie, then we have term issues.
    “Secularist” is commonly used to mean a person who does not feel religion should play a role in government. This could be a religious person or non-religious person. But I have no ambition to argue terms at all.

    Also, the “atheist” vs “agnostic” distinction does not interest me except as my last post on gutted gods discusses.

    That all said, There are lots of categories for non-religious folks.

    Here are some dichotomous categories
    Blogger vs. Nonblogger
    Ex-believer vs Non-exbeliever
    Former childhood-only religion embracer vs. Former adult religion embracer.
    Chlldren Affected by religion vs. Children Not affected by religion
    Raised by doctrinal religionists vs. Not
    Extrovert vs Introvert

    and the list goes on

    Why someone cares about it more than another is a complicated matter
    Categories help us see that
    Neat, tight definitions are almost impossible and everyone argues
    Simple definitions will almost never work for everyone.

  27. That is one definition of Secular, but not the only one. Most dictionary definitions (including Merriam Webster) have first on the list:


    1. of or pertaining to worldly things or to things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; temporal: secular interests.

    2. not pertaining to or connected with religion (opposed to sacred ): secular music.

    The definition of Atheist, as you can see, is an active denial or disbelief in gods. As a Secularist, I am not agnostic. I do not believe in God. However I concern myself with science, not religion. Almost all self-declared Atheists have some form of activism going on.

  28. *Oops, correction. As a Secularist, I am not Agnostic – I am not on the fence about God. 🙂

  29. Well, amelie, then we have term issues.
    “Secularist” is commonly used to mean a person who does not feel religion should play a role in government. This could be a religious person or non-religious person. But I have no ambition to argue terms at all.

    Also, the “atheist” vs “agnostic” distinction does not interest me except as my last post on gutted gods discusses.

    That all said, There are lots of categories for non-religious folks.

    Here are some dichotomous categories
    Blogger vs. Nonblogger
    Ex-believer vs Non-exbeliever
    Former childhood-only religion embracer vs. Former adult religion embracer.
    Chlldren Affected by religion vs. Children Not affected by religion

    and the list goes on
    Why someone cares about it more than another is a complicated matter
    Categories help us see that
    Neat, tight definitions are almost impossible and everyone argues
    Simple definitions will almost never work for everyone.

  30. Hey Sabio, thanks very much for your kind words 🙂
    As for being an agent of Satan, I’m sure lots of people are convinced of that already! One thing that makes me wonder about that though is the New Testament verse that goes “If Satan is divided against Satan, how does his kingdom stand?” Considering some of the in-fighting in the atheist blogging community alone, it would seem that Satan’s kingdom must be in a shambles!

  31. @ Scott McGreal,
    That was hilarious! That is Matt 12:26 where Jesus was explaining he could not heal if he was Satan. And I am in medicine but not curing leprosy or demon possession recently — well, they don’t come to my clinic.

  32. @MichaelB,

    “@ warrioress

    I can’t speak for everyone, but I think all any of us here are requesting (of believers or ouselves or our children) is that people be willing to take an extra step and further question the “difficult” things. When you feel like retreating to a safe place, resist the urge and push forward because you are probably right on the edge of uncovering an important truth about yourself or the world in general.”

    I’m enjoying this and I will attempt to do that. Thank you, Michael.

    @Sabio,

    I can’t find the post with the “assignment” you gave me. I don’t have time to do it though right now. lol… thank you for thinking of me. Keith (remember him? the scientist?) was a naturalist. He was a little snarky, but overall he and I got along pretty well; still, I think we eventually got tired of discussion that was really going nowhere, meaning converting and/or changing either one of us. I guess we were both trying to do that to each other.

    I think it’s very interesting to read your various commenters here. They are all extremely intelligent people and I’m impressed. I really like it when people can just accept me as I am without ulterior motivation, like atheist witnessing ..lol or me doing the same to them. It’s nice if we can just chill and share our thoughts freely.

    I will definitely spend time on TWF’s blog. I was astounded by all of that research on it.

  33. I like these definitions, but I wonder if you think it is possible for one to be both, at the same time, or if you consider them to be mutually exclusive of one another?

    For example, lately I’ve been studying the Bible, to see how it relates to other things that have been going on in my mind (I was raised in church, in a ‘Christian’ [I use the term loosely] home, and I’d had enough of that hypocrisy by the time I’d reached my teens!) and I am of the personal opinion that one should, indeed, study the scripture, learn from it, and use it as a starting place to get to know ‘God’ (if that is the God you believe in… feel free to substitute whatever religious doctrine one may follow, or nothing if one doesn’t follow anything, lol), but I also strongly believe that ‘THE CHURCH’ is on a whole, misguided in their close-minded and self-righteous approach as to what constitutes a relationship with God.

    While it matters to me what the Bible ‘really’ says, I also know it ‘really’ says that what is right for one person may not be right for another, and “that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” (Reference: Romans, Chapter 14 – all of it, basically)

    And I follow a lot of practices that the ‘Doctrinal’ Christian would consider ‘heathen’, or ‘ungodly’, yet feel no conviction that they are wrong, hence my casual approach to Christianity (by your definition), even though the ‘Doctrinal’ aspect greatly matters to me, as well.

    So on that note, I feel like I fall into both categories simultaneously, while still seeing the validity and existence of each category separately.

  34. @Krafted
    You are absolutely right — as in all taxonomies, it is artificial and overlaps can be seen and thus revealing that reality is much less simple than a few categories!

    You feel people should “study the scripture, learn from it” — I feel the same of all religious literature, all secular literature and various cultures. Continuing to read the same thing over and over at the exclusion of them is a good way to not truly understand “God”, if I may use the term.

    You sound like a lot of my Christian friends: a “pick and choose” Christian. I think picking-and-choosing is inevitable and can be very good — especially the wider selection a person is given.

    Perhaps you agree except you are a little more focused on one tradition?

    [thanx for visiting]

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