The following is written by Dean Inserra concerning Christianity in the Southern “Bible belt”:
I felt like a sellout. It was time to leave seminary and begin pastoral ministry, and I was taking the easy road by moving back to my hometown in Northern Florida. My seminary neighbor, I thought, was the true missionary, heading to plant churches in Northern California. I had “missional insecurity,” the way Christians feel when they plan a spring break trip to some resort before learning their friends are going on mission trip. All of this good education and knowledge about the urgency of the gospel . . . and I was going to be a pastor in the Bible Belt?
I tried to make myself feel better by letting my neighbor know how much I admired his boldness. I threw in some self-deprecating jokes about sweet tea, but he quickly interrupted my pity party. “Where I am going,” he said, “people know they’re not Christians. The starting point is clear, whether unbelief, secularism, or some sort of humanistic spirituality. But where you’re going, everyone thinks they’re a Christian. It’s like you have to get people lost so they can see they need to be saved.”
That was all I needed to hear, and he was right.
My neighbor described the largest mission field where I live. It’s called cultural or nominal Christianity. This mission field is primarily made up of people who’d quickly answer “yes” if asked whether they are Christians. But ask any questions about their faith, and you’ll soon realize you’re hearing something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you asked a nominal Christian why he is a Christian, Jesus Christ himself would likely have little bearing on the answer. For many people, good standing with God is related to heritage, rites of passage, or general morality. Jesus just happens to be a nice mascot.
This disparity requires our attention, because it isn’t unique to the American South. Across the nation, the most dominant religion doesn’t show up on a census, poll, or survey—it’s impossible to detect by those methods. The most common practiced religion in America today is a generic theism that mingles biblical concepts with a hope that one is a good person—all while maintaining autonomy over personal decisions and lifestyle. In this religion, good people go to a “better place” when they die. Going to this better place doesn’t depend on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet somehow these beliefs still get classified as “Christian.”
In this way, thousands of people are overlooked in outreach efforts because they may already be sitting in pews. Yet their lives show no evidence of saving faith. Whether the disconnect is the result of poor gospel communication by churches, fear of telling the truth, or a general misunderstanding of what the Bible says, the need is there, and it’s urgent. It can be easy to conclude that cultural Christians just need to get more serious about their faith, and so problems with cultural Christianity are declared discipleship issues.
I don’t believe this to be the case. I believe cultural Christians need evangelism before they need discipleship, since they may be unsaved altogether.
Inserra is a rare bird making an obvious point in our day today in the Bible belt. I have seen by experience that many of the schools that I have been to are filled with “Christian” students who have tried to live a Christian life without any relationship to Jesus. Jesus is not a passion. Jesus is not a model. Jesus is a sidekick. Jesus is a means to a greater end.
This is certainly something that would be wise for us to reflect on in our church, parenting, work relationships, schools, and wherever we interact with others in our lives. Is our mission to bring other people to know the glory, majesty, grace, and love of Jesus and to be devoted to Him in every aspect of life (which is what it means to be “holy”)? Is our “gospel” detached from Jesus or is Jesus the gospel? Is heaven glorious to us because Jesus gives us all we want there or is heaven glorious because it is there where we experience Jesus to the full for eternity? When we ask these questions and more, we might begin to see more of a dividing line in our cultural Christianity and therefore evangelize and disciple more effectively.
For the full article from Inserra, click here.