Book Review: The Unsaved Christian
Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel, Moody Publishers, 2019. 203 pages. $14.99
In April 2018, my family and I made a big move. After nearly five years in New England, where I had been serving as a pastor, we returned to the south to pastor a church in South Carolina. Not only was it a big move in terms of geography; it was a big move culturally, too. Almost immediately we began to wonder what do we do with all this snow gear we’ve collected? Do they still make sweet tea like I remember?
But the move also led to more consequential questions for us, especially this one: how should we think about evangelism in the midst of the highly-churched culture of the American south?
MINISTERING TO CULTURAL CHRISTIANS
Dean Inserra tackles this very question in his book, The Unsaved Christian. In the first chapter he tells of a conversation he had with a friend who was returning to California to pastor a church, while Inserra was preparing to return to his hometown of Tallahassee, Florida. The conversation “created a missional urgency” for him. His friend described the basic difference the two of them would be facing: “In California . . . there is rarely confusion. Either you’re a Christian or you’re not. In the Bible Belt, many people think they’re Christians but have no concept of the severity of sin, necessity of repentance, message of grace, or the overall message of the gospel. They think they’re just fine with God and God is fine with them because they aren’t atheists and have been to church before as a kid” (12). Inserra says that ever since that moment he has been challenged to view “cultural Christians” as targets for evangelistic effort. And this led him to write this book on the subject since he has observed that “[reaching] people who think they are fine is a seldom-discussed starting point for evangelism and local church ministry” (15).
In the first few chapters, Inserra teaches his audience how to think about cultural Christians. Inserra’s paradigmatic text for cultural Christianity is Matthew 7:21–23, where Jesus prepares his hearers for the final word of judgment he will issue to those who claim to know Christ as Lord but receive the condemnation: “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!” Inserra writes, “This reality calls us to missional urgency to reach those in our [worship] services who are comfortable with Christian lingo but have no understanding of the truth” (18).
He then details his basic aim in engaging with cultural Christians. Inserra wants us to help them see the differences between biblical faith and what they actually believe. He shows how to use good questions as the key way to do this.
One of the most helpful features of the book spans across chapters 7–14 where Inserra lays out a taxonomy of cultural Christianity (also put into graph form as an appendix). Here he shows important distinctions between different varieties of cultural Christians as well as a thoughtful way to approach each type of person.
Inserra also gives a needed exhortation in chapter 15 to view cultural Christians as a target for our evangelistic efforts: “We have to reach out to Cultural Christians in our spheres, honestly and lovingly telling friends who claim Christianity that they might be missing the true gospel” (185).
A MINOR QUIBBLE
Overall this book is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants to thoughtfully engage with professing Christians who may not actually be genuinely converted. And you don’t have to live in the American South for it to be useful. Your ministry context may be in an area where you regularly meet lapsed Catholics (see chapter 12), mainline protestants (chapter 13), or just the nice guy next door (chapter 11).
My only quibble is I wish Inserra had spent more time distinguishing between cultural Christians and immature ones. For instance, Inserra writes, “Self-proclaimed Christians who worship a god that requires no self-sacrifice, no obedience, no submission, and no surrender are not worshiping the God of the Bible, no matter how much they claim they love Jesus” (38). This is a theologically true statement, and it serves as a rebuke for many professing Christians. But how can we better discern the difference between the merely nominal Christian and the immature, and what implications might it have for how we think about membership and discipline?
This quibble is minor. Ultimately Inserra has produced an enormously useful book for anyone ministering among those who are self-deceived about their spiritual state.