All the salvation with half the guilt! It’s what some people call “Christianity lite.”
Sometimes you want all the benefits of Christianity, such as forgiveness of sins and getting into heaven, but you don’t want some of the weighty obligations, such as having to change your lifestyle and love your neighbor. The solution is to get a “diet” version of Christianity that has all the great benefits you desire, but without all the unwanted responsibilities to go along with them. Christians refer to this kind of theological attitude as Christian lite, Christianity lite, diet Christianity, and other similar combinations.
These “lite” combinations are interesting because several of them are explicitly referring to the advertising slogan for a popular American beer: Miller Lite. For decades Miller has been selling the “lite” version of its beer with the slogan “Tastes great, and is less filling.” Sometimes Christians even make a wordplay on the slogan itself; see the definition of Jesus lite below for examples of this.
The New Testament says in several places that we are to be “filled” with the Holy Spirit. And Psalm 23 in the Old Testament prays for a cup that “runneth over.” I find it interesting that some of these Christianese metaphors for “lite” versions of the faith refer to a faith that is less filling. Think about it. The Miller Lite beer slogan refers to tasting great and being less filling. The slogan for another popular beer, Bud Light, claims that it “won’t fill you up and will never let you down.” I’m all for using modern metaphors to describe the timeless truths of the Bible, so can we find a slogan or advertising campaign for a beverage or food that promises to fill us up? Such a product would be a great metaphor for people being filled with the Holy Spirit!
I blogged last year about Catholic lite. And you can also read about cheap grace and cafeteria Christianity, if you want to see other terms related to Christian attitudes toward theology.
That great image at the top of the blog post that looks like a label from a bottle comes from the cover of a book called Christianity Lite: Stop Drinking a Watered-Down Gospel by Glen Berteau. The book was published a few months ago, and it’s already on my amazon.com wish list. The reviews for the book are very strong and very positive. If you’re interested in reading more about “Christianity lite” or if you’d like to see what you can do to make your own faith more substantial, then this book would be a good place to start thinking about ways to do that.
Here are the opening words of chapter 1 of Berteau’s book:
Blessings, but without obedience. Comfort, but without sacrifice. Happiness, but without repentance. Many church leaders today communicate pleasant, positive, inspiring messages. In fact, their services are bulging with people who want to hear these promises! Their message, though, is only half of the gospel—and half of the gospel is no gospel at all. From a distance it looks like real Christianity, but it’s not. It’s weak and powerless. It’s attractive, but it can’t accomplish God’s ultimate purpose to radically transform lives. It’s fun to go to a church where everything is positive, but this is a “lite” version of the Christian faith. It focuses on the grand and glowing promises of blessing, but it overlooks the requirements of courage, obedience, and sacrifice.
Now here are the definitions. How many of the “diet” and “lite” terms have you heard? What other terms do you know that describe an anemic version of Christian theology?
Christian lite n. Also Christian light. [Christian + lite (or light) ‘having fewer calories or being less substantial than a similar product’; patterned after the name of various low-calorie sodas and beers such as Miller Lite] A selective presentation or practice of Christianity that is calculated not to offend.
See also *Anglican lite; *cafeteria Christian; *Catholic lite; *Christianity light; *diet Catholic; *diet Christianity; *Jesus lite.
• 1990 Wagner God’s Schools: Choice and Compromise in Am. Society 131 : Critics of these new Christian alternatives may say that they smack of “Christian Lite.” 2003 Ryan That You May Believe: Studies in the Gospel of John 50 : Many Christians today are into what we could call “Christian lite,” like a “lite” beer. “Give me a little Jesus, just enough to make me happy.” 2006 Yaconelli Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus 000 : It’s the ministry of excitement; discipleship through fun, culture-friendly, “Christian-lite” events. Like parents who pop in a video to entertain the kids when relatives arrive, the idea is to keep the young people from running out. 2012 Urick Christian Discipleship and the Local Church 225 : The pragmatic, seeker-sensitive, user-friendly (“Christian Lite”), audience-driven way of “doing church” today … is confusing, dividing, and neutralizing many evangelicals.
Christian light n. See *Christian lite.
Anglican lite n. Also Anglican light. [see *Christian lite] An inferior or halfhearted brand of Anglicanism; *Christian lite.
• 1997 Episcopal Church J. of the Proceedings of the Annual Convention (Western Michigan) 39 : Are we “Anglican lite,” ever so predictable, safe, domesticated, comfortable and boring? Does it ever worry us that perhaps too often we have lost or compromised?
Catholic lite n. Also Catholic light. [see *Christian lite] A church or denomination whose liturgical practices resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church. See various senses.
See also *Christian lite; *diet Catholic.
1. The Episcopal church.
• 1997 R. Williams, in his eulogy for Herb Caen, as quoted in San Francisco Chronicle (8 Feb.) : This is an Episcopal church right? Very good. Episcopal—that’s Catholic lite: same religion, half the guilt. 2001 Reed How to Survive Being a Presbyterian 179 : Episcopalians are Catholics Lite, who have one-third less guilt, and call themselves “Whiskeypalians” because they say that when four of them get together there’s always a fifth. 2003 Bremer Blessed with Tourists: The Borderlands of Religion and Tourism in San Antonio 125 : Anna Martinez-Amos, who served as site advocate at Mission Espada, also brought a Catholic background to her work, although she says that now she’s “Catholic-light,” by which she means Episcopalian. 2008 The Episcopal Handbook (Morehouse Publishing) 79 : Comedian Robin Williams (an Episcopalian) popularized this term in an interview when, referring to a beer commercial, he described Catholic Lite as “same rituals, half the guilt.” Like all jokes, there’s a nugget of truth in there, and one we’re rather proud of.
2. The Anglican church.
• 2010 Cutié Dilemma: A Priest’s Struggle with Faith and Love 186 : Anglicans are not, as I’ve heard some say, “Catholic lite” or “Catholics without a pope.”
3. The Lutheran church.
• 2010 Kennedy Make ’Em Laugh and Take Their Money 75 : I was raised Lutheran, which is basically Catholic without confession. Basically, a bunch of Catholics got pissed off about something, left and started their own thing, kind of Catholic-Lite.
Christianity lite n. Also Christianity light. [see *Christian lite] An inferior or superficial brand of Christianity.
• 1998 Holmes Don’t Try to Stop on a Mountaintop 125 : Christianity lite is faith with no fiber. It is a lightweight, impotent version of the gospel, that allows itself to be rattled by externals 2003 MacArthur Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus 84 : I don’t believe anyone ever slipped and fell into the kingdom of God. That’s cheap grace, easy-believism, Christianity Lite, a shallow, emotional revivalist approach. 2003 Clarke The Gospel of Matthew and Its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel 61 : These three chapters are … popular among those who prefer “Christianity Light,” with a Jesus who was an itinerant teacher—a kind of first-century Jewish guru—and not the Savior and Redeemer of the Passion Narratives. 2004 Gribble, Crotts Sermons On The Gospel Readings: Series I, Cycle A 79 : This is not “Christianity Lite”—a low calorie version of the faith that can somehow remove some of the weight of the gospel. 2007 Twitchell Where Men Hide 218 : In fact, in most megachurches the weekend services are the loss-leader (often candidly called Christianity 101 or Christianity Lite) that leads to the real business—the midweek service. 2007 Staub The Culturally Savvy Christian: A Manifesto for Deepening Faith and Enriching Popular Culture in an Age of Christianity-Lite [title] 2010 Putnam, Campbell American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us 62 : Though [Rick] Warren doesn’t feel he is teaching Christianity Lite, many of the worshippers who have found their way to Saddleback definitely seem pleased to have found a religious experience that liberates them from specific, strict, or proscriptive theology, and that primarily centers on self-help and self-improvement. 2010 McCracken Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide 227 : The church must make sure we aren’t selling an empty, easy, superficial product devoid of anything truthful or real. It’s easy to sell Christianity-Lite when you mention only the positive. 2013 Berteau Christianity Lite: Stop Drinking a Watered-Down Gospel [title]
Christianity light n. See *Christianity lite.
diet Catholic n. [diet ‘having fewer calories than a similar product; less substantial’ + Catholic] A church or denomination whose liturgical practices resemble those of the Roman Catholic Church; a Protestant Christian who attends such a church. See various senses.
See also *Catholic lite; *Christian lite.
1. An Episcopalian; the Episcopal church.
• 1999 Manson, Strauss The Long Hard Road out of Hell 19 : I was an Episcopalian, which is basically diet Catholic (same great dogma but now with less rules).
2. A Lutheran; the Lutheran church.
• 2001 Mullen War of the Angels 41 : “Are either of you Catholic?” I asked. “We’re Lutheran,” said Patrick. “That’s sort of diet Catholic.
diet Christianity n. [diet ‘having fewer calories than a similar product; less substantial’ + Christianity] An inferior or superficial brand of Christianity; *Christian lite.
• 2005 Elzinga Thank God I’m Not a Pharisee … or Am I? 75 : Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about watering down our faith and creating what I call “Diet Christianity” or what some refer to as “Christian Light.” 2007 Ingram Good to Great in God’s Eyes: 10 Practices Great Christians Have in Common 130 : Avoiding risk is not an option in the Christian life. God understands that faith can be scary and that our sense of security feels threatened, but he didn’t give us any kind of “diet Christianity” with no risks added.
Jesus lite n. [see *Christian lite] An inferior or superficial brand of Christianity; an inferior presentation of Jesus; *Christian lite.
Sometimes a pun or wordplay on the phrase “great taste, less filling” (the long-time slogan of Miller Lite beer) is mentioned along with the reference to Jesus lite (see citations for 2005a, 2011a).
• 1997 Percy Going Deep: Exploring Spirituality in Life and Leadership 32 : Jennings wonders whether such programming simultaneously draws sellout crowds and sells out God. “Jesus lite,” suggests TV critic Matt Roush. 1998 Merkle A Different Touch: A Study of Vows in Religious Life 19 : Cultural religion offers a Jesus “lite” who does not save as the Jesus Christ of the gospel. 2002 Inge, Hall The Greenwood Guide to American Popular Culture III. 1680 : Christian television offers “Jesus Lite,” a version of Christianity that promises blessings but makes no demands. 2005 Walling Until I Return 30 : We end up with a nice guy who taught nice things and then died on a cross. There is no resurrection—it’s too unexplainable. There is no ascension—it’s too unbelievable. The result is Jesus lite: great teachings—less divinity. 2005 Stevens, Morgan Simply Strategic Growth: Attracting a Crowd to Your Church 39 : I’m not talking about watering down the gospel. I’m not talking about Jesus lite. 2006 Kuligin Ten Things I Wish Jesus Never Said 118 : Our world is in love with “Jesus-lite,” not the real Jesus. If all we ever do is tolerate the evil around us, the world will love us to death for it. But we should not fool ourselves into believing that Jesus will approve of us. 2009 Wicker The Fall of the Evangelical Nation 101 : Critics call them country clubs for the sanctified, citadels for Jesus, big-box churches, Wal-Marts of religion selling “Jesus lite.” 2011 Sprague Disaster 92 : No one comes into contact with the real Jesus and remains unchanged. Don’t settle for Jesus-lite—great taste, less demanding. 2011 Bartlett Virtually Christian: How Christ Changes Human Meaning and Makes Creation New 173 : The mega-church movement referred to the rise of single Protestant congregations with numbers in the thousands, featuring arena sanctuaries, rock bands, projection screens, fitness centers, coffee shops, schools, and a theology that has been dubbed as Jesus-lite.