In his book, The Seven Faith Tribes, George Barna identified the largest group of self-identified Christians in the United States as “casual Christians.” After the recent Pew Forum study on religion found the number of people saying they have no religious affiliation rising, Ed Stetzer said the number of “cultural Christians” in the United States is declining. I think the decrease in casual or cultural Christians is a good thing, those monikers don’t even really make sense.
I love golfing. I enjoy the stillness, the relaxed pace, and taking out any lingering frustration on a golf ball. But no one would mistake me for a serious golfer. I only go a couple times a year. Recently a friend gave me a pair of golf shoes, but before that I wore tennis shoes. I swing fifteen-year-old clubs I got used. My dad bought the putter I wield at a garage sale for two dollars, when I was seven. I don’t mind if people talk while I’m hitting a shot, and I don’t spend much time lining up my putts. In every way my approach to the game of golf is casual.
When we’re casual about something we don’t expend much energy on it. Casual walks don’t wear anyone out. Casual afternoons don’t include doing your taxes. It’s good to have casual times in life. Without them you’d be so high-strung you’d end up talking like Hulk Hogan. But there are consequences to being casual about something.
You don’t master things you take casually. No casual cook has ever been hired as a chef at a five-star restaurant. I’ve yet to hear anyone referred to as an elite casual athlete. Being casual leads to mediocrity at best.
We’re not passionate about the casual things in our lives. One of the things I care about most in life is my family. I am deeply committed to being the best husband and father I can be. I spend casual time with my family, but I’m not casual about them. I am fully invested in making sure my family feels loved, cared for, and supported.
When Christianity is casual for someone there’s a problem.
“Are you going to church this Sunday?”
“I don’t know. I’ll see if I feel like it. I might be up late Saturday night.”
“What about prayer meeting?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. It’s so early in the morning, and besides, there are only three or four there so it feels a bit awkward.”
“Well how is your personal time with God?”
“It’s fine, we have an understanding. I don’t expect too much of him and he doesn’t expect too much of me.”
I know that being a follower of Jesus is not about going to a church service, or a prayer meeting, or reading the Bible, or any other singular activity. At the same time, the lives of so many who call themselves Christians are marked by an absolute lack of anything that looks like serious commitment. In what other area of life can you claim to be committed to something with no evidence to back it up? When someone joins the military they have to show up at boot camp, get a new haircut, and structure their life around a new schedule. A person who says they are committed to living healthy and never exercises is a liar. Life as a disciple of Jesus is not about attendance at any program or gathering, but life as a disciple of Jesus is one of high commitment and that should show up somewhere. It isn’t casual.
Men and women in other parts of the world risk their lives to meet together in the name of Jesus, pray, and study the Scriptures. Doing those activities is not the point any more than it is in the United States, but they know they can’t grow in their faith without being intentional. Their lives reflect their commitment to be disciples of Jesus. They are willing to give up their lives if it comes to that. Many American Christians aren’t willing to give up their favorite television shows to meet together, pray, and study the Scriptures. People don’t think it’s odd to approach new life in Jesus Christ like golf on the weekend.
Can you imagine Jesus being okay with casual Christianity? “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and chill out together, or on your own if you don’t feel like being around people. When you get a couple free minutes remember what I taught you. But don’t go out of your way.”
We serve a God who has triumphed over sin and death. He is with us by his Spirit every minute of every day, ready to empower us to live out the new life he has given us. So if casual Christianity is declining, I’m all for it.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. John 12:32
This week I’ve been reading Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis. I’m about halfway through the book, and so far much of it has been spent setting up a distinction between Christianity (a Western, doctrinally-driven, who’s in who’s out system) and following Jesus. When I finish the book I will spend some time unpacking that distinction, it’s validity, and it’s ramifications for discipleship, but today I wanted to share a challenge God has given me through the book–especially for preachers and teachers.
The power of our faith is not a set of doctrines. It is not an organization. It is not a perfect set of apologetic arguments. All these things have their place, but the power of our faith is a person–Jesus Christ. Yet how much of my preaching is devoted to unpacking doctrines, shaping the organization of the church, and arguing for the faith in light of objections? What if I shifted my focus from these things to lifting Jesus up and pointing people toward him? What if I pointed to Jesus and trusted the Holy Spirit to use that to draw people to Himself?
I’m not saying these things are mutually exclusive, but I looked over my past few sermons and while I talk quite a bit about Jesus, it is often in the context of doctrine more than just pointing people to Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So while I’m not committing to cut all doctrine, apologetics, etc from my preaching, I am committing to a focus on lifting up Jesus and pointing to Him. I even added a section to my outline for sermon prep this week–with the simple heading “Jesus.” As I said earlier, it’s not that I haven’t been talking about Jesus, but this heading is meant to remind me to lift Jesus up. Not necessarily to explain Him or defend Him–just to lift Him.
Preachers and teachers–let’s make much of Jesus and trust Him to do the reconciling work He’s promised!
We traversed northern Indiana this weekend to spend some time with family and see Michelle’s bro get Grand Champion at the showchoir competition. On the way there I encountered three of my favorite signs (and by favorite I mean not favorite).
1. On highway 30 as you enter the booming cosmopolitan area of Warsaw, there is a yellow caution sign (two to be exact, one on each side) that has a flashing yellow light on top of it to make sure you realize how important it is. It says “Congested Area Ahead.” Having sat pretty much parked on the freeways of both Denver and Chicago, without any signs to warn me of the impending congestion, I find these signs pretty silly. I think the worst I’ve ever encountered passing through Warsaw was having to change lanes to get around the occasional tractor.
2. Just after the congested Warsaw there is a billboard for Open Bible Baptist Church (just to make sure you know that their Bibles open), and their slogan on the billboard is “Faith–the way it used to be.” I wonder what they mean. Was that when the open Bible was used to promote slavery, the subjugation of women, the Christian flag in schools, or when you didn’t have to worry about having a website? I know, I’m overly critical, but it just cracks me up. Who knows, maybe they mean when Jesus was still on earth, I’d be up for that!
3. The last one, and most serious to me, was a bumper sticker that has a yellow ribbon (for remembering our troops) with a cross in the middle. Does God endorse our military? Are we a theocracy? Wasn’t the cross a place where the most powerful allowed himself to be tortured for the sake of others without retaliating? I hope our troops are safe, and we can pray for their safety, but to put a cross in the middle of a military symbol has to border on blasphemy.