As a pastor I have been puzzling over exactly how one ministers in the Bible Belt. It is a confusing place. Christianity is seen with a positive regard, but there is something off about it. As far as my Christian experience goes I have always been in the south. I became a Christian in Georgia and I live in Mississippi. I also lived in Orlando, Florida, another evangelical hub. I have not lived in other parts of the country as a believer. One thing you find in Mississippi is a lot of people who identify as Christians and will even tell you which church they are currently on the rolls at. The problem is they have not attended in twenty years. When I get the chance to sit down with other pastors I like to talk with them about how we minister to people who already think they are saved. I saw The Unsaved Christian earlier this year and picked up a copy. On the shelf it sat until another pastor recently asked if I wanted to borrow his copy. So I sat down and read it.
The chapters are:
- Help Them Get Lost: The Case for Reaching Cultural Christians
- Religion Without Salvation: Characteristics of Cultural Christianity
- Civic Religion: Generic Faith That Demands and Asks Nothing of Its Followers
- Bridging the Gap: Challenging Cultural Christian Beliefs
- Overcoming Obstacles: Barriers to Reaching Cultural Christians
- False Assurance: Once Saved, Always Saved
- The Country Club Church: How Lax Church membership Fosters Cultural Christianity
- Christmas and Easter: Moving Beyond Cultural Observance to the Life-Changing Implications
- Making Decisions vs. Making Disciples: Why Raised Hands and Sinners Prayers Don’t Guarantee Salvation.
- God Shed His Grace on Thee: Partisans, Politics, and Prosperity
- The Moral Theist: Reaching the Good Person Who Believes in God
- Hail Mary, Notre Dame Wins: Reaching Generational; Catholics
- The Watered-Down Word: Reaching Mainline Protestants
- Faith, Family, and Football: Ministering tot he Bible Belt
- The Harvest is Plentiful: Challenging Cultural Christianity with Courage and Love
This is a quick read (short chapters!) so I will stick primarily to the helpful takeaways. I will give the main thrust of the book, what I like and what I disagree with.
The first five chapters sketch out the issue of cultural Christianity. Dean does a great job putting together a lot things we have probably heard or thought about. One important point that Dean brings out is that Cultural Christianity is not just a thing in the South. It is everywhere. It is everywhere people passively adopt Christianity as their religion without any actual effect upon the life. Fittingly, chapters 6-14 get into specific ways to reach different types of nominal Christians.
The first five chapters are worth the price of the book. I didn’t find the strategies all that helpful. There is wisdom there and I will likely check those chapters for some inspiration in the future. My main takeaway was that the primary way of reaching cultural Christians is to go out and do it. The reason Dean can write a book like this is because he has had so many conversations with cultural Christians. While we may lament cultural Christianity Dean presses us to see it as an opportunity for outreach! I love that optimism and it challenges me to reach out to cultural Christians in my vicinity.
One disagreement I have with the author stems from a reformed Baptist and Presbyterian divide on the church. Dean spends some time talking about the importance of pursuing “regenerate church membership.” For those unfamiliar with term, regeneration is the “making alive” ministry of the Holy Spirit. And while I appreciate the desire to have genuinely converted members of the church I disagree that this is a goal we should pursue. Here is why: Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no way for me to know whether my church members are regenerate or not. All I have to work from is what they say and what they do. In the Presbyterian church we require a “credible profession” of faith. That means someone professes their belief in the gospel and they live in a way that supports that profession. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it has practical implications of our theology.
While it has its flaws, The Unsaved Christian is a book that will help us see the opportunity that exists all around us for gospel ministry. If you have been confounded by cultural Christianity, if you feel pessimism setting in about our ability to reach cultural or nominal Christians, then this book will help restore your hope and fan the flame for reaching the lost even if they are already on a church roll…somewhere.
What do you think? Where do you see cultural Christianity at work today? Are there ways you have found helpful in communicating gospel truth? You can contact me here. Thanks for reading!