Evangelizing the Cultural Christian
by Clay Jones
While I was growing up in the 1960s, my father was a gambling womanizer, my mother was an astrologer into all things occult, I was a shoplifting rebellious punk, and together we attended the United Methodist Church.1 If asked, all of us would have self-identified as Christians. We weren’t Buddhists, after all! Our pastor, like many pastors especially of mainline Protestant denominations, didn’t have a real relationship with Jesus and taught that if you lived a basically good life, then you would be saved. In grade school, I’d watch our pastor spout spiritual stories, read poetry, and sometimes weep over who knows what. He was clear about one thing: being born again was “old fashioned.” Listening to him, I’d muse that I would rather be a garbage collector than a pastor.
Thankfully, my parents became “born-again” Christians while I was in junior high school, and they took me to a 1969 Billy Graham Crusade. Billy preached on heaven and hell that Sunday afternoon, and by the time he finished, I was convinced that I was going to hell. So I “went forward,” and within a few months was devouring the Bible. This was during what was called the Jesus Movement. Soon, other “Jesus freaks” and I went witnessing to strangers in parks and at the beach, to fellow students in my high school, and door to door proclaiming the Good News. Our biggest obstacle in witnessing back then was that almost everyone would say, “I go to church; I’m a Christian.” But we had a ready reply: “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in the garage makes you a car.”
Although fewer self-identify as Christians today than did back then, a 2015 Pew survey of 35,000 Americans concluded that 70.6 percent of Americans still consider themselves Christians and a “clear majority (55%) of all U. S. Protestants” consider themselves “evangelicals.”2 A 2015 Lifeway study of 1,000 people concluded that three in ten Americans hold beliefs that would make them evangelicals.3 Thus a majority of Americans already think they are Christians. The trouble is that mere assent to theological concepts doesn’t mean that one is saved from his sins. A further problem is that over the past few decades, many (including me) would get the person to whom we were “witnessing” to pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and then we would assure him that because he had prayed that prayer that he was now, in fact, born again and therefore saved. We even told him to never doubt his salvation. This confusion has continued, and many (who give Christian truth mere assent, and may have even prayed the Sinner’s Prayer) think they are Christians when they are not.
What can we do to evangelize cultural Christians?…