The Disease of Cultural Christianity

Josh —  November 2, 2012 — 3 Comments

This chart was released by the Pew Research Center several weeks ago and their data shows a rise in the religiously unaffiliated, the “nones”. Much has been made about this data here are a few of my thoughts:

Cultural Christianity is an oxymoron.

Spending my whole life in the midwest I have seen Christianity and the local church express itself as cultural institution. When the lives of those who claim Jesus as Lord exhibit the same behaviors as those who don’t the Gospel becomes something similar to brand loyalty.

Now I’m not throwing stones at others, I’m guilty of this as well. Whenever I have reduced the Gospel to abstinence, morality, or fire insurance I am just as guilty.

We have made a dangerous compromise settling for good things over true things. Many of these good things should be celebrated but we are confusing them with the end goal of the Gospel.

Thankfully this Cultural Christianity that reduces the Gospel to the lowest common denominator is being rejected. The rise of the nones are individuals who are observing the cultural expressions of the local church and not seeing anything different. Where their parents may have claimed a church or denomination without any discernible commitment, they are giving up the charade.

One of the big observations from the book unChristian that documents what outsiders of the church think about Christians is that Christians are too political. 

In this election season Cultural Christianity is rampant. Many Christians who support Romney can’t comprehend how a Christian could vote for Obama, and vice versa many Christians who support Obama can’t see how a Christian could vote for Romney. The reasons are rampant: abortion, poverty, marriage, war, spending, the faith of the candidates, etc. However when you listed to either camp you are given this vision of the destruction of America, and in some cases the local church, if the other side wins.

Let’s take the two main issues that Cultural Christians from either political leaning support: abortion and poverty.

If there was a prohibition on abortions, if Roe vs Wade was overturned I would celebrate because I do believe that would reduce the number of abortions. However we all realize this would not eliminate the practice and more importantly it would not change hearts to respect life. There would still be people in very difficult and dark situations looking for a way out.

I would be willing to pay higher taxes for social justice programs that addressed poverty. In addition there are government programs I would like to see receive less funding and for these funds to be redirected. There are countless underfunded programs that are doing incredible work, but I am also not naive enough to believe that throwing money at a problem creates a situation. There will still be inefficiencies and corruption.

Rational people would agree with both of the previous paragraphs and I hope that Christians would see both as expressions of their belief in the sanctity of life and caring for the least. But we all know that isn’t how this works.

Lines are drawn and Christianity is co-opted to serve the purposes of an agenda. Sometimes a very good agenda but something that is beneath the truth of the Gospel.

Be engaged and go vote Tuesday, but don’t settle for a watered down, cultural expression of Christianity. People are no longer seeing the value of affiliation or engagement in the local church. Therefore as leaders we must engage them, counteract their cynicism with something real.

Cultural Christianity is an oxymoron because it doesn’t work. And it definitely doesn’t bring about the Kingdom.


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Josh is a Rookie Pastor who after nearly a decade in student ministry is planting a church in Northern Kentucky. Like everyone else he doesn't know what he's doing Rookie Pastor is just the venue to share the mistakes and what he is learning along the way.

3 responses to The Disease of Cultural Christianity

  1. You’re on the right track, Josh…one thing I’d like to point out regarding social issues. You say *you* would be willing to pay higher taxes, but you’re concerned about waste and corruption. Those are certainly valid concerns, but don’t address the heart of the matter.

    When you vote for a tax, you’re necessarily voting for the full force of law (and all of the guns and violence contained therein) to back it. Taxes are compulsory. At no point did Jesus ever command (or even suggest) we should *coerce* our neighbor into helping the poor. He told *you* to give. He told *me* to give. He did not tell your unsaved greedy, selfish neighbor to give, and he certainly didn’t tell you to force him to do so at gunpoint.

    Remember, everything you vote for is backed by force. In some cases, force is appropriate…such as in self-defense, or defense of others. It’s right and correct to use or threaten force in order to prevent murder, rape, robbery, etc…but it’s NEVER ok to use force to impose our worldview on others. This applies to ALL aspects of Christian morality, from drug use, to pornography, to gay marriage, to welfare/charity. Besides, there is no virtue in an act performed under coercion.

    Jesus did not authorize us to be activists for such laws…in fact, when he issued The Golden Rule, he expressly forbid it. So unless you are voting for a candidate who will reduce the amount of coercion government uses (including taxes…there’s a reason the tax collectors were lumped in with the worst of sinners in Jesus’ day), then you’re not living your life like Christ…you’re living it as a “cultural christian”.

    As a Christian, your safest bet is to steer clear of political matters, and focus on changing hears and minds, not laws…as Jesus modeled for us.

    • To your last point, I have stated repeatedly here that I believe in the separation of church and state, for the benefit of the church.

      It is a blurry line though, being a citizen of a Kingdom and a citizen of a nation. However the entire point of this post (perhaps not clearly articulated) was to say that when Christianity is co-opted by any cause including politics it becomes watered down and ultimately Cultural Christianity.

      To your main argument about compulsory taxation. I used the two common extremes of abortion and social justice to show how they both advance Christian ideals and both are flawed. If I knew that we could eliminate poverty/abortion with legislation, spending, etc. I would fully support it. However I realize that politics is not the complete answer. As you point out you can’t legislate morality.

      Ultimately this comes back to the dual citizenship we all have. It is messy because there are competing interests here and choices of omission and commission must be made. What I am calling out is the path of least resistance where we reduce everything to the lowest common denominator and therefore remove the heart of the Gospel message: The Kingdom.

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  1. Stop Blaming God | Rookie Pastor - December 20, 2012

    [...] all around the world. Here in the states one of the ways this manifests is the way Christianity is cultural and not counter-cultural as I would contend [...]

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