We just examined how there are many false gospels that people believe in the Bible Belt. Most of these false gospels have developed because of a cultural Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to societal norms that regulate a community. Those in the Bible Belt and most of evangelicalism have been surrounded by a cultural Christianity disconnected from the Christian faith as presented in the Bible. As a result it common to speak with those who call themselves Christians but who believe do not believe historic orthodox Christianity. Although they might put "Christian" down on the census, many of these cultural Christians have not been converted and saved by Jesus Christ. This cultural, superficial Christianity appears to be fading away with the rise of those who claim no religious affiliation. Ed Stezer has written extensively on the rise of the nones. However, pastoring in the Bible Belt has proved to have interesting challenges. The greatest challenge of pastors and ministry leaders in the Bible Belt is this: How do we evangelize to those who already think they are Christian?
This is a very difficult challenge, unique to places like the Bible Belt. In many parts of our country or the world there is just an outright rejection of the Christian faith. In some ways it is easier to present the Gospel to these people, because they often have little to no understanding of the Christian faith. Evangelizing in the Bible Belt can be an extra challenge because, in addition to presenting the true Gospel, we often have to show these cultural christians that they have gravely misunderstood Christianity. So the following are some strategies to help us better evangelize these cultural christians.
The Christian Faith is Not...
1. The Christian Faith is Not the Republican Party
Since the rise of the moral majority, Evangelical Christians have connected themselves heavly to the republican party. It is no secret that the Bible Belt states tend to vote Republican. There has been good reasons for this close partnership with the republican party, primarily due to important moral issues such as abortion or the Biblical definition of marriage. However the Christian faith is not the republican party. The Christian faith is not a political ideology. Yes, the Christian faith does impact how we think about politics, but no political party is the church. In fact, political parties will often fail in representing our convictions and beliefs, including the republican party.
Unfortunately many have assumed that since they vote republican and live in the Bible Belt, that is what Christianity is all about. In their mind to be a Christian is to be a good ol' church boy who hates democrats and has an anti-Obama sticker on their truck. The Christian Faith is not a political agenda, ideology, or party.
2. The Christian Faith is Not Be Good, Try Harder
Many think of Christianity as a list of rules to follow. Moralism is rampant, and many think that being a Christian means we must pay penance for our sins. Many cultural Christians are more like Hindus than Christians, as they believe in karma and that their good most outweigh their bad. As we evangelize to cultural christians we need to highlight their inability to earn God's favor or save themselves. We need to highlight the hopeless estate of every human being and that no matter how many times you may come to church or walk old ladies across the street, you cannot save yourself. We need the righteousness of God, not our filthy rags and rubbish. Thanks be to God, that he gives us the righteousness of Jesus!
3. The Christian Faith is Not a Southern Thing
Many think that to be southern is to be christian. Cultural christians assume that since they grew up in the Bible Belt they assume they are default Christian. Yet, the Christian faith is not just for southern people but for all people from every tribe, language, tongue, and nation. The Gospel is the true truth about the world for all people at all times. The Christian faith is much bigger than some cultural identity for our region. Jesus is the only way of salvation for all people everywhere. Jesus isn't just the way of salvation for southerners, but for the whole world. As a result, we have to get out of our southern bubble of isolation and participate in the Great Commission, taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
4. The Christian Faith is Not Just Your Parents Faith
The church I serve in is a church with a history. We are getting close to our 100th birthday. As I've spoken with many of our older members who have been members of our church their entire lives, I've spoken to them about their children. Many of their children have grown up in the church only to have nothing to do with it once they enter adulthood. In the Bible Belt there a many people who are de-churched, meaning they kind of consider themselves Christians but only because their parents brought them to church as a kid. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must emphasize that to be a Christian does not mean you live off of your parents faith. We must call these cultural christians to personally place their faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and call them to commit to Jesus and his church.
The Christian Faith is...
1. The Christian Faith is for the Outcasts and the Nobodies
Although the south has made great strides the past few decades, repenting from the great racism of the past, it is still a recurring problem. Many cultural christians have a disdain for those of a different ethnicity, income level, or social economic status. They think that those who live on food stamps or dwell in rough neighborhoods do not deserve the Gospel or to ever set foot in our churches.
But Christ died for the nobodies and the outcasts. Jesus spent his time with the rejects of society–the drunkards, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. Many cultural christians are but self-righteous pharisees who think they are above other people because they are religious. We must emphasize to cultural christians that Jesus came to save all people–from the destitute and immoral, to the prideful and self-righteous. We ALL need God's grace and we must attack the racism and elitism that runs through so much of cultural christianity.
2. The Christian Faith is all about Jesus
As the church has become more institutional, cultural christians have gotten confused over what the Christian faith is all about. Is it about upward basketball games, boy scout groups, and elaborate Christmas dramas to entertain us? Is the church a social club to hang out with like-minded people or to seclude ourselves from our sinful community? Is the Christian faith about providing family safe activities to protect us from the harshness of the world? Many have gotten so confused over the purpose of the church and the Christian faith.
We must remind people daily and often that Christianity is all about Jesus. It is not about institutions, programs, or morality. We must emphasize time and again the beauty of the Gospel. We must remind people time and time again of Jesus' perfect life, vicarious death, and victorious resurrection. The Christian faith is centered around the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As we evangelize to cultural christians we must regularly emphasize and remind people of this fact.
3. The Christian Faith Transforms Your Entire Life
The Christian faith is not separate from the rest of your life. Many cultural christians have their spiritual life, work life, family life, and recreational life divided into neat let segments that never interact. We must remind cultural Christians that when we claim Jesus is our Lord, he is just that, our Lord. He is Lord over our finances, Lord over our time, Lord over our families, and Lord over our work. Christianity is holistic encompassing the totality of who we are. Jesus didn't come to save just an area of our life, but our entire lives.
Sharing the Gospel with cultural christians has unique challenges. Often it takes time and patient, recurring conversation to let the Spirit tear down their gravely misunderstood cultural christianity in order to help them see the wonderful, life changing grace of God.
Have you experienced difficulties evangelizing to cultural christians? Share your experiences and thoughts with the rest of us in the comments!