Do you ever come across a passage in a book that serves as a proverbial gut-punch? Dean Inserra’s recent book The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel did just that. Here’s that passage about “cultural Christians.”
Cultural Christians are the champions of the belief that good people go to heaven, especially since they believe they are the first in line because of their values. Whether God will punish their personal sins, or if they have been forgiven by Christ’s saving work on the cross is irrelevant. They go to heaven because they have lived in line with their values and raised nice kids. It is a salvation-by-works worldview. They don’t think much about how God factors in, how one knows that heaven is a real place, and what qualifies someone as a good person. But none of those things seem to matter. What matters is being on the nice list, and every Cultural Christian believes they are on it. The Bible is clear that “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10), but Cultural Christians often don’t think in terms of righteous and unrighteous. They think in terms of being a good person as defined by Western standards of values and ethics.(Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian. p. 58).
Let’s listify this passage to pull out some needed takeaways:
- The belief that good people go to heaven.
- They go to heaven due to a set of values they hold.
- Being good people and raising nice kids are a key component to that value.
- The God as shown in His Word is not a big factor in their decision making.
- A good person is defined by Western standards of values and ethics.
Inserra goes on in this chapter to show how belief, values, heritage, rites of passage (such as baptism into a local church), and (sadly) ignorance mark the cultural Christian’s movement. Here’s some key quotes from each:
- Belief: “Cultural Christians believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that His mom’s name was Mary. They may heven have words like “faith” and “hope” in their home decor. Just below the belief-inspired signs is where the nativity scene is set up for the month of December. They can also tell you exactly what is celebrated on Easter Sunday. Knowing stories of the Bible and believing they actually happened are commonplace in cultural Christianity.” He goes on to share how James 2:19 shows the demons believe these things are true as well, but if there’s no action backing up the faith they claim to hold, it’s dead (James 2:24).
- Values (see the quote above).
- Heritage: Inserra notes that “Cultural Christians are usually only a generation or two removed from gospel-believing Christians. The heritage of faith in the family can easily be confused with saving faith in Christ.”
- Rites of passage: He shares the story of a family who never went to church excited about “Emma’s baptism… this Sunday.” Though they never returned to church, he grew up in a place where this was very important and even noble. In a follow-up conversation, Inserra asked his friend one simple question: “Why?” Doing these rites of passage may give one a reason to think they are in good standing with God. But did a genuine conversation take place?
- Ignorance: Do cultural Christians know what the gospel is? Have they repented, or have they simply gone to church? Do they really know what the Bible teaches, or are they simply leaning on values in which they’ve grown up?
Why bring this up? The apostle Paul says, “Examine yourselves; test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5b). He wrote this to a church who confessed Christ, yet whose actions veered away from what He taught.
The gut-punch for me was that I need to continue to preach the gospel not just to the unreached outside the church, but for true Christians, cultural Christians, and everyone whom God providentially brings across my path. We all need the gospel. Revival hits when the church embraces the gospel all over again (or maybe for the first time).