Cultural Christianity

I read a Tweet on Twitter the other day that mentioned a new book coming out on March 5, 2019, titled, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel,” by Dean Inserra, founding and lead pastor of CITYCHURCH in Tallahassee, Florida. Information on the book including the Table of Contents and the first few pages of the book (Preface, and a few pages of Chapter 1 titled, “Help Them Get Lost: The Case for Reaching Cultural Christians”) is available on Amazon at this link (click on the book icon on the Amazon page to examine parts of the book).

Click on book pic above to go to Amazon.com order page

The topic is certainly an interesting and relevant one in America today. The Amazon page provides the following information (as well as much more) regarding the book which includes 15 chapters (chapter titles are listed), a Conclusion, and Appendix. The first three chapters are titled: Chapter 1: “Help Them Get Lost: The Case for Reaching Cultural Christians”; Chapter 2: “Religion without Salvation: Characteristics of Cultural Christianity”; and Chapter 3: “Civic Religion: Generic Faith That Demands and Asks Nothing of Its Followers.” The Appendix includes a listing of the types of Cultural Christianity the author includes in his book with definitions of each category in a grid as follows:

Country Club Christian (see Chapter 7)
Christmas and Easter Christian (see Chapter 8)
God and Country Christian (see Chapter 10)
Liberal Social Justice Christian (see Chapter 10)
Moralistic Therapeutic Deist/Good Guy Next Door (see Chapter 11)
Generational Catholic (see Chapter 12)
Mainline Protestant (see Chapter 13)
Bible Belt Christian (see Chapter 14)

As of the publishing of this blog post the book isn’t out yet (but it will be in a few days on March 5, 2019), so I’ve listed the information above for anyone who might be interested in this topic or in reading the book.

In defining the term Cultural Christian,” Wikipedia states:

Cultural Christians are deistspantheistsagnosticsatheists, anantitheists who adhere to Christian values and appreciate Christian culture. This kind of identification may be due to various factors, such as family background, personal experiences, and the social and cultural environment in which they grew up. Contrasting terms are “biblical Christian”, “committed Christian”, or “believing Christian”.

Outspoken English atheist Richard Dawkins has described himself in several interviews as a “cultural Christian” and a “cultural Anglican”. In his book,The God Delusion,” he calls Jesus Christ praiseworthy for his ethics. (Quote source here.)

In an August 13, 2018 article published on Public Discourse titled, Apatheism is More Damaging to Christianity Than Atheism and Antitheism,” by Paul Rowan Brian, freelance journalist who writes on culture, religion and politics, and Ben Sixsmith, a writer living in Poland; here are a few excerpts from their article:

Today… the greatest threat to Christianity is found not in the arguments of the atheist but in the assumptions of the apathetic. The danger is not a hostile reception of belief in God but an incurious indifference to the idea.

Although humanity’s concept of God or the gods has changed and progressed throughout history, as recounted in Robert Wright’s book,”The Evolution of God,” human beings have always cared whether or not there is a divine power ruling over them and wanted to know the attributes and nature of that divinity. Today, increasingly, that is not the case. With roots in the practical atheism and deism of the Enlightenment, “apatheism” is embodied in French philosopher Denis Diderot’s famous remark that “it is very important not to mistake hemlock for parsley, but to believe or not believe in God is not important at all.”

Church attendance in America has been on a steep decline for the past decade, with especially eyebrow-raising numbers among the young. A full 33 percent of twenty-one-to-twenty-nine-year-olds report that they are non-religious, and lower numbers of Catholics attended weekly Mass between 2014 to 2017 (average 39 percent) than between 2005 to 2008 (average 45 percent). Only an estimated 25 percent of American Catholics between 21 and 29 years old attend weekly Mass. Europe is even more secular, with a majority of sixteen to twenty-nine-year-olds reporting no religious beliefs. As the Public Religion Research Institute notes, there has been a growing “rise of the unaffiliated” in America. Many people don’t specifically disbelieve in the supernatural or God: they just don’t care and don’t want to talk or think about it. In the United States, apatheism is especially prevalent among the young, where “overall, religiously unaffiliated Americans are significantly younger than religiously affiliated Americans.”…

We have all met the apathetic. Their response to the question of God’s existence is a shrug, a sigh, or a grin. There are two main kinds of apatheists: apathetic agnostics and apathetic atheists. Apathetic agnostics believe it is not worth debating whether or not God exists; perhaps because human beings cannot know the answer and perhaps because if God exists, He does not care whether one believes in Him. What’s true is what you make true, as represented metaphorically by “ideas” like the devil or God, according to them….

Apathetic atheists believe it is quite obvious that God does not exist, but that there is no point debating it, either because they believe that the argument has already been won or because their “live and let live” philosophy entails a mild tolerance of belief in God…. Many apatheists have no more respect for arguments for the existence of God than do Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennett; they are simply more polite. (Quote source here.)

That quote might seem to be a bit off topic but it gives us a broader perspective of where we as Christians find ourselves in the mix of our culture. With that understanding of the broader culture, we better can address the question, What is Cultural Christianity?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

Cultural Christianity is religion that superficially identifies itself as “Christianity” but does not truly adhere to the faith. A “cultural Christian” is a nominal believerhe wears the label “Christian,” but the label has more to do with his family background and upbringing than any personal conviction that Jesus is Lord. Cultural Christianity is more social than spiritual. A cultural Christian identifies with certain aspects of Christianity, such as the good works of Jesus, but rejects the spiritual aspects required to be a biblically defined Christian. Some people consider themselves “Christians” because of family background, personal experience, country of residence, or social environment. Others identify as “Christian” as a way of declaring a religious affiliation, as opposed to being “Muslim” or “Buddhist.” Famed scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins refers to himself as a “cultural Christian” because he admires some of the ceremonial and philanthropic aspects of Christianity. Dawkins is not born again; he simply sees “Christianity” as a label to use.

In free nations, the gospel is often presented as a costless addition to one’s life: just add churchgoing to your hobbies, add charitable giving to your list of good deeds, or add the cross to the trophies on your mantle. In this way, many people go through the motions of “accepting Jesus” with no accompanying surrender to His lordship. These people, who do not “abide in Christ,” are cultural Christians. They are branches that hang around the True Vine but have no true attachment (see John 15:1–8).

There was no such thing as cultural Christianity in the days of the early church. In fact, to be a Christian was to more than likely be marked as a target of persecution. The very term “Christian” was coined in the city of Antioch as a way to identify the first followers of Christ (Acts 11:26). The first disciples were so much like Jesus that they were called “little Christs” by their detractors. Unfortunately, the term has lost meaning over the years and come to represent an ideology or a social class rather than a lifestyle of obedience to God.

Cultural Christianity is not true Christianity. A true Christian is one who has received Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior (John 1:12). Christ’s death and resurrection has been appropriated to that person as his or her substitute for sin (Romans 10:8–102 Corinthians 5:21). The Holy Spirit indwells that person (Romans 8:9). “Receiving” Christ is far more than a mental acknowledgment of truth. Satan acknowledges the identity of the Son of God (Mark 5:7). The faith that saves us also changes us (see James 2:26). Jesus said that anyone who wishes to become His disciple must “deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). While we cannot earn salvation by sacrifice or good works, a lifestyle transformation and desire to please the Lord are direct results of being “born again” (John 3:3).

The following are some identifying marks of cultural Christianity:

Denying the inspiration of Scripture or parts of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:162 Peter 1:21).

Ignoring or downplaying true repentance as the first step toward knowing God (Matthew 4:17Acts 2:38).

Focusing on Jesus’ love and acceptance to the exclusion of His teaching on hell, obedience, and self-sacrifice (Matthew 4:1723:33Mark 9:43Luke 12:5).

Tolerating or even celebrating ongoing sin while claiming to know God (Romans 1:321 Corinthians 5:1–21 John 3:9–10).

Redefining scriptural truths to accommodate culture (Numbers 23:19Malachi 3:6).

Understanding Jesus to be primarily a social reformer, rather than God in the flesh who is the sacrifice for our sin (Matthew 10:34Mark 14:7).

Claiming God’s promises while ignoring the requirements included with them (Psalm 50:16Jeremiah 18:10).

Denying or minimizing Jesus’ claim that He is the only way to God (John 3:15–1814:6).

Performing enough religious activity to gain a sense of well-being without a true devotion to Jesus (Galatians 5:16–17Romans 8:9).

Talking much about “God” in a general sense, but very little about Jesus Christ as Lord (John 13:1314:6).

Seeing protection and blessing as goals to be achieved, rather than byproducts of a love relationship with God (Mark 12:30Deuteronomy 11:13–17).

Choosing a church based upon any or all of the above (Revelation 3:15–17).

Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21–23 should be a wake-up call to cultural Christianity: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Quote source here.)

In an article published on November 14, 2018 titled, The Challenge of Being a Christian,” by Matt Nelson, chiropractor, author, apologist, and Assistant Director of the Word on Fire Institute, and speaker and writer for FaceToFace Ministries, here are a few excerpts from his article:

One of the greatest obstacles to becoming a committed Christian is that Christianity is challenging. The task of living a fully God-centered life is no walk in the park, as the lives of the greatest and most fully converted Christians who have ever lived—the saints—will attest. Indeed, Christianity lived to the fullest involves struggle. But is the struggle worth it?

Often the skeptic will see the struggle and be deterred. What he may not see—perhaps a result of self-inflicted spiritual blindness—is the outflow of joy that permeates every saint’s struggle; and if he does see it he will not want it—not because he does not want joy but rather because he does not want joy enough to give up his old ways. But, of course, even the most hardened skeptic cannot be considered a total write-off. Indeed some skeptics are eventually compelled to change their mind. This is the hopeful realization that drives evangelization.

The rejection of God today, however, is often not caused primarily by philosophical argument. Usually it is a result of indifferentism towards religion—a result of what Bishop Robert Barron has called the “Meh” culture. The question is: Is this popular religious indifference warranted? Are Christians who toil for the cause of Christ wasting their precious time? (Read the rest of his article for the answer at this link.)

In an article published on September 23, 2017 titled, The Dying Away of Cultural Christianity,” by Brett McCracken, author and senior editor for The Gospel Coalition; he also writes regularly for Christianity Today and on his website, BrettMcCracken.com; here is an excerpt from his article:

The “God” of Cultural Christianity

For most of US history, to be American was to be “Christian.” National identity was conflated with religious identity in a way that produced a distorted form of Christianity, mostly about family values, Golden Rule moralism, and good citizenship. The God of this “Christianity” was first and foremost a nice guy who rewarded moral living by sanctifying the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (i.e., a substantial 401(k), a three-car garage, and as many Instagram followers as possible). This form of Christianity—prominent in twenty-first-century America—has been aptly labeled “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a faith defined by a distant, “cosmic ATM” God who only cares that we are nice to one another and feel good about ourselves.

This faux God—stripped of theological and historical specificity and closer to Santa Claus than Yahweh—began to flourish amidst the gradual “death of God” narrative advanced by philosophical, literary, artistic, and scientific elites from the Enlightenment to postmodernity. In this context, mainstream Christianity became less about truly believing in God and supernatural events like the incarnation and resurrection; it became more about the rites and rituals of Christianity-flavored morality: a convenient, comfortable, quaint system of personal and societal uplift. Thankfully, and predictably, this sort of toothless, “nice,” good-citizen Christianity is on the decline.

Why? As Terry Eagleton observes, it’s because Christianity is fundamentally disruptive rather than conciliatory to polite society and powers-that-be:

The form of life Jesus offers his followers is not one of social integration but a scandal to the priestly and political establishment. It is a question of being homeless, propertyless, peripatetic, celibate, socially marginal, disdainful of kinsfolk, averse to material possessions, a friend of outcasts and pariahs, a thorn in the side of the Establishment and a scourge of the rich and powerful.

What we are seeing in American Christianity is a healthy pruning away of the mutant and neutered forms of it that are easily abandoned when they become culturally inconvenient or unfashionable. As Russell Moore observes, “A Christianity that reflects its culture, whether that culture is Smith College or NASCAR, only lasts as long as it is useful to its host. That’s because it’s, at root, idolatry, and people turn from their idols when they stop sending rain.”

What It Means to Follow Christ

Rather than being a cause for alarm, the dying-away of cultural Christianity should be seen as an opportunity. It used to be too easy to be a Christian in America; so easy that one could adopt the label simply by being born in this “Christian nation” and going to church once or twice a year (if that), in between relentless attempts to swindle the stock market, accumulate beach properties, and build an empire of wealth and acclaim.

To be sure, and especially in contrast to much of the rest of the world, it’s still easy to be a Christian in America. But it is becoming less easy and certainly less normal. And that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal. Again, Russell Moore:

The Book of Acts, like the Gospels before it, shows us that Christianity thrives when it is, as Kierkegaard put it, a sign of contradiction. Only a strange gospel can differentiate itself from the worlds we construct. But the strange, freakish, foolish old gospel is what God uses to save people and to resurrect churches (1 Cor. 1:20–22).

Following Christ is not one’s golden ticket to a white-picket-fence American dream. It’s an invitation to die, to pick up a cross. Christians are those who give themselves away in love and sacrifice to advance a kingdom that is not of this world (John 18:36).

As C. S. Lewis writes: “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” (Quote source with footnotes for author quotes above at this link.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus found in Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls . . .

For my yoke is easy . . .

And my burden . . .

Is light . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come to Me” by Jenn Johnson | The Loft Sessions:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

 

Advertisements