The Two Christianities: Comparison Table


JesusThis week we’ve looked at insights I received last weekend concerning American Christianity’s bifurcation into two streams of thinking and operation, Externally Motivated (EM) Christianity and Internally Motivated (IM) Christianity. To go back to the sources, please read “The Two Christianities” and “The Two Christianities: Reader Feedback….”

To put a final note on what we’ve discussed—and thanks to all you readers for an outstanding discussion!—I offer a table comparing EM and IM Christianity:

Externally Motivated (EM) ChristianityInternally Motivated (IM) Christianity
Our theology/doctrine is…ConservativeConservative
Our praxis is…ConservativeLiberal
The covenant that forms the basis for our belief system is…The Old—The LawThe New—Grace
Our mission:Preservation of power structures that serve as evidences of godlinessDisciple-making
Our source(s) of motivation and power is/are…Existing political and social authorities manipulated to preserve systems and institutions deemed godlyThe Holy Spirit
Power rests on…Dynamic, media-savvy, big-name leaders who determine which power structures are worth supportingNameless, faceless individuals who love not their lives unto death
Power is maintained through…Fear of lossDying to self
Failure is perceived as…Losing the culture warNot fulfilling the Great Commission
When threatened, our response is…An eye for an eyeTurning the other cheek
When threatened, we become…Aggressors (or martyrs for the cause should we fail)Joined to Christ in His sufferings
We counter threats with…The systems and institutions we empowerHumility and patient endurance
We suffer for…Our causeThe Lord
Persecution is to be…PreventedExpected
Christianity exists to be…PreservedGiven away
Our faith is…A means to an endIts own reward
Evidence for our faithfulness exists primarily in…Following a strict list of do’s and don’ts derived from the BibleManifesting the gifts and fruits of the Spirit
The community of faith exists primarily to …Preserve the American civil religion and protect the rights of the faith communityReach out to the lost and build up the household of faith
The community of faith seeks justice for…ItselfFor all
Our attitude toward benevolence is…God helps those who help themselves (though we may intervene for the very worst cases)Acts 2:44-45
We meet the needs of those who…Most directly benefit our causesAre needy, regardless of their ability to benefit us
We have what we have…Because we have done what is rightBecause God is gracious
We are righteous because of…Our compliance with the moral code we’ve constructed from Biblical principlesWho Christ is
We seek relationships with …Our own kindAll people
We make our way in society by…“Christianizing” secular systems and cultureDiscerning by the word and the Spirit what is worthy of our time and attention
We root out sin in…OutsidersInsiders
We judge…The secular society and its cultureThe household of faith
We believe people are motivated to obedience by…External forces (usually political when dealing with secular society) applied through a Biblical moral codeBeing born again, filled with the Spirit, and fellowshipping within a grace-filled community
We validate our apologetic through…WordsActions
We spread truth through…DebateThe way we live in obedience to Christ
Our ministry is the ministry of…Reproof and correctionReconciliation and compassion
Our spiritual focus is…InwardOutward
Our leadership is…Concentrated in a few powerful peopleDispersed throughout the group
We prioritize…Earthly goals first, spiritual goals secondSpiritual goals first, earthly goals second
We are…GuardiansAmbassadors

I’m sure more comparisons exist. I thank readers for prompting some of comparisons seen here. Some day in the future we may revisit this issue and I’ll add more to the table.

Until then, I pray that this week’s discussion has blessed you and made you consider moving on past the EM life into that of the IM Christian.

45 thoughts on “The Two Christianities: Comparison Table

  1. francisco

    EM IM
    We lean toward… joylessness joy in Christ
    We tend to be…. Arminian Cessationist Reformed Charismatic

    sorry, I couldn’t resist…

  2. Blessed? I’ve found reading this a real eye-opener, a lightbulb moment! now I know why I can be so often talking to a fellow christian and suddenly feel like we’re on two different planets. I guess that’s one advantage of having been through certain hard things .. it transitions you to IM because the system has let you down so badly that it has to be Jesus or nothing .. I’ve been scratching my head over the “culture war” concept for years, and now some people are trying to import it into Australia it’s even more puzzling .. doesn’t even fit our history (we were founded by convicts, not pilgrim Fathers) .. why waste energy on trying to preserve something that never really existed? It’s so much more fun to be free .. even if it does hurt intolerably at times ..

  3. jwise


    Another thing hit me about EM Christianity during my drive home. There’s a HUGE emphasis on “praying the prayer” to earn one’s salvation. Eternal security is huge, and it’s entirely staked on whether or not a person has prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into his heart.

    The IM person, however, is the one who examines himself to see whether or not he is in the faith. He does not rely on any action of his own (such as praying a prayer), but instead looks to humbly follow the Lord and is encouraged by a heart that produces repentance and righteouesness.

    • jwise,

      I’m going to disagree, slightly.

      When you look outside the West, you simply don’t see this fascination with self-discovery and introspection. I believe it’s because life is harder and therefore folks have less time for all that. An indolent culture sees introspection as essential, but one that’s persecuted or without that time simply can’t, so it doesn’t show.

      The more I consider this, the more I think that true disciples who are truly doing the work don’t have a lot of time to think about their standing before God or their motivations or about their own sin. They simply go out and do the mission to which they were called.

      I believe that would be highly freeing to us Western Christians, who get bogged down in that stuff so readily, to live less introspectively. I think that’s the true IM response: “It’s not about me.”

  4. Jonathan Hurshman

    I like your chart very much, but I still think the labels “externally-motivated” and “internally-motivated” could be improved. I think a significant part of the sound and fury generated in the original post was due to the labels.

    What should they be instead? I’m not sure. I’m thinking something like “Institutionally-oriented” and “Kingdom-oriented”, but I’m not sure that’s better.

    I think there’s also some overlap with what I’ve heard termed “boundary-oriented” and “center-oriented” modes.

    • Jonathan,

      I think the problem with EM and IM labels comes because people may not get my basic premise about the source of our motivations. And it really is about what motivates us. It’s also about where we see repositories of truth and faithfulness. EM Christians see that outside them, but IMs see it within them because Christ dwells there.

      I think it also applies to the idea of how we make the Faith real to us. To EMs that reality comes from external things, but the IM has made the faith his own because he has fully internalized the meaning behind it (the old head/heart correlation).

      The more I think about this, the more I think the originals are apt if we truly consider the meaning behind them.

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  6. Rick Beckman

    Dan, thanks for this! Ever since reading “Radical Reformission” by Driscoll, I’ve been noticing more and more how substantial “IM Christianity” (or missional friendly or however it needs to be described) really is. It’s been heavy on my heart, so I thank you for sharing your observations. I’m enjoying them — having been a die-hard EM Christian for several years.

    • Diane,

      Even this morning I thought of a few more items to add to it, but sometimes you just gotta let something go. I think people get the point and can fill in any blanks I left out.

  7. Matt Self

    Dan, this chart is great and really drives home your points in the previous article.

    Of course, you know this means I will now parody it at my site. 😉

  8. gina

    I’ve been reading your commentary and the only thing I’d like to see said is that there are plenty of IM Christians out in the trenches working along side EM Christians for causes that matter.
    Seems to me a balance is required. From looking at your list, you make no room for IM Christians who feel strongly about any issue in the “culture war.” For instance, I know families who are very active advocating pro-life type issues – not to mention taking in 10 or 12 foster kids at a time and I’ve lost count of how many they’ve adopted – but if someone were to read your list it would seem they’d have to be “labeled” by you as EM’s because they believe and work so hard for a cause. But in my book they’re IM’s all the way.
    Seems to me you are stopping just short of saying EM’s aren’t really Christians at all, they’re just people who go to church and do everything for themselves to feel good about how hard they work.

    • Gina,

      I would recommend reading my first post on this issue.

      Being an EM is a step on the journey. It’s the people where people are aware of evil as seen through the eyes of a true believer. But that’s not maturity. Too many people stop at the EM stage. That’s too bad.

      And there’s no reason that IM’s can’t be involved in the kind of issues that EMs are. For the IM, though, that issue simply isn’t the main one. Not only that, but IMs make sure they are fulfilling true IM characteristics before they tgo off and get involved in the kinds of issues that attract EMs.

      Unwary IMs, though, can get sucked into the EM world. This happens all the time. Too much emphasis on EM issues and IMs lose their focus.

      • gina

        I had already read your first post and I still feel like you are drawing distinctions based on outward things. I don’t think your chart or distinctions make much room for personalities or allowance that the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of someone you consider an EM. Not much room in your definitions for gifting because you assume they’re issue focused instead of God focused. God made people different ways with different focuses, that’s part of being in the body.
        I figure it’s a good thing there are EM’s in the world or you wouldn’t be able to run this webpage – your rights as a Christian may have been taken from you long ago if not for them.

        • Gina,

          I once debated with one of the foremost teachers of philosophy in Christianity that we Christians forfeit our “rights” at the cross. The death of Christ and our subsequent identification with His death ended all talk of our “rights.” As the word says in both the Old and the New Testament, for the Lord’s sake we are being killed all the day long, regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. It is not about rights and never has been.

          In fact, I would go so far as to say that perhaps this talk of rights stifles true growth in Christ, as the conversation never advances beyond what you or I deserve, while the truth is that we deserve death. Not many will talk of this, though. We end up doing what we can to ensure a comfortable living for ourselves rather than ensuring the Gospel gets out, no matter the cost to us.

          While God does make us with unique gifts and qualities, there is only one Lord, one Faith, and one baptism. In other words, only one focus exists. I believe with all my heart that this one focus is closer to the IM life than the EM one.

          As I noted elsewhere, this is not to say that the EMs contribute nothing or are labeled “bad.” I claim that the EM perspective is still Christianity, though a less mature version of it. In some ways, the EM thought process is a fixation, and as such it has the tendency to detract from growth as it is not the true goal of following Christ.

          Yes, we need guardians of the faith and guardians are good—so long as they have their hearts set on the heavenly Kingdom and not on one of their own making.

          • gina

            Just the way you made the list makes the EM’s look “bad.” No one would actually desire to be one based on your distinctions – that’s why I mentioned the fact that you should be open to the idea that IM’s might be interested in issues dealing with the culture. I get that you say they could be, but the way you make your list seems to me to make it where one wouldn’t be if they wanted to be considered ‘mature.’
            As for rights, I’m not saying that should be the focus of Christianity, I’m saying that the people who fight in the courts for Christian causes are making it possible for us to keep sharing the gospel in the first place.
            I just believe God is perfectly balanced and any time we get out of balance in our point of view on things, we’re out of step with Him. I think your list doesn’t make any room for people that speak for God in culture – and I’m not even one of them, I just believe they have their place. (Clearly, it should be understood that I’m not standing up for the total FRUITCAKES that supposedly “stand up to culture” but just end up making Christians look like losers.)

            • Gina,

              You and I will have to diasgree.

              The Chinese Church is growing by leaps and bounds despite goverment sanctions against them. We have no such sanctions in this country, yet Christianity’s growth here has ground to a halt. We are more concerned about making money and living a carefree life than we are about making disciples and joining with Christ in His sufferings.

              So, in the end, all this fighting in the courts may actually work against the Gospel, not for it. I read David Limbaugh’s book Persecution and came away appalled at both sides of that war. I don’t see anything in the Gospel that includes suing people who maltreat us. I see turning the other cheek. I see walking a second mile. I see praying for those who persecute us. I don’t see lawsuits and legal wrangling. That’s the American civil religion, but it may not have anything to do with real Christianity.

            • gina

              We probably don’t have to disagree much 🙂 because I was really talking about the people DEFENDING Christians, not SUING others for supposed Christian rights. And I happen to think a LITTLE persecution would go a long way here in the US. However, I’ve actually spent time in China (there’s a little more than government “sanctions” going on there. I got taken to the local jail just for being in a group of white people going somewhere that tourists don’t go and helping people they don’t care about there) – we probably like being able to share the gospel here. We might want to at least keep that whole freedom of religion thing as long as possible.

  9. Dan, I think that although your chart is interesting its dichotomous arrangement is liable to incite people into a dualistic tizzy, where they regard things on the recto side as “mostly good” and those on the verso side as “mostly bad”. And looking back in history, indurate dualisms have often been the cause a great deal of problems.

    For example, you have

    We are… Guardians vs. Ambassadors

    I don’t see how these are mutually exclusive or mutally antagonistic, and in fact I regard both categories as equally important. We are told in Scriptures both to be ambassadors (2Corth 5:20), and to guard what’s entrusted to us (1Tim 6:20). I don’t see how one is an “EM” thing and the other is an “IM” thing.

    Nonetheless, when individually considered, case by case, there are some points that are indeed debatable, one way of the other. But it does look like pulling together in tabular form some of the things you have griped about in the past.

  10. jettybetty

    I usually don’t like labels–but since I’ve been reading your posts that lead up to this one–your chart really helps me understand what you are saying! Also, I think it will help me understand the EM’s in my life–I am IM–and I can get frustrated with the EMs–and I want to be able to love them, too!
    Thanks for putting this together.

  11. Dan…based on the general tone of your analysis, and the comments of the self-proclaimed IM’ers, there appears to be another appropriate comparison…

    I am more righteous than:

    EM – unrepentant sinners;
    IM – EM Christians.


    • Sir Chuck,

      One of the guys in my small group made an apt point this evening. He and his wife were childless and decided to become foster parents. They are now adopting their first foster child, a six-year-old girl.

      He said this evening that he’s found that all the things that used to upset him he’s been forced to let slide due to parenthood. I think all of us can relate.

      I think that sums it up for the IM. The IM Christian’s stood back and said, “What really matters?” This doesn’t make the IM better than the EM. It’s just another step in the process of maturity.

      I spent years in the EM camp and am only now beginning to see a better way exists. I’m 44. I’m not here to say that “I’m better than so-and-so because I’m seeing this now. If anything, my response is that I want to help other people see, too.”

      God help me if that brands me as “self-righteous.”

      This isn’t about who’s more righteous.

      • Well said. Unfortunately, the posting and ensuing discussion doesn’t come off that way.

        Maturity in Christ is a great thing, but not one to be held up for evaluation and comparison. Visit Romans 14 again; note especially Paul’s comment in v22. c15 and 16 build on the theme of acceptance “just as we are.”

        Your insight was right on, shared as it was by the Holy Spirit. In my opinion, the first posting was a fair attempt to witness to the Truth, and the ensuing discussion (both sides) was excellent But this posting, the table in particular, took it a little too far. Such is the challenge of the gift of teaching (and blogging).

        Offered in love,


        • Sir Chuck,

          Taken in love. Thanks.

          I drew the broadest possible extremes to make the point. That always opens the author to claims of pandering to one side or the other.

          I believe the distinction is subtle, therefore I attempted to frame it more broadly in hopes that readers would get the subtler implications. People didn’t understand the first post in this mini-series or else I would not have included this chart.

          As they say, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

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  14. EM = them
    IM = me

    Oh, Lord, I thank Thee that I’M not like thEM sinners!

    ANY time we are bent on comparing ourselves to other Christians in order to come out feeling superior, we are in grave error. There is no excuse. Let us compare ourselves to Christ first and only.

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