The Surprising Fruit of Cultural Christianity

The Surprising Fruit of Cultural Christianity

If you live in a part of the country (or world) that’s more “culturally Christian,” don’t merely look down on those who you live among as being “inauthentic Christians.” That’s your mission field, and the fields just might be ripe for harvest.

Several months ago I had the opportunity to visit some family friends who recently relocated to rural, East Tennesee from NYC. The couple (I’ll call them Tony and Susan), both in their sixties, are as quintessentially New York as it gets. They talk, sound, and act like New Yorkers, and as someone who was raised not more than 60 miles from NYC, being around them feels familiar and comfortable.

I thought it was super strange that they chose to move to a relatively remote part of Tennessee instead of a more suburban area of Knoxville or Nashville. While having dinner, we learned that they had started going to a local Baptist church. I was intrigued. What were a couple of lapsed Italian Catholics doing with a bunch of backroad Baptists? Further conversation revealed that Susan truly understood the gospel, and was planning on getting baptized. This was independent of any influence coming from us, as we hadn’t seen them in years.

“That’s what people do”

When I asked what prompted them to start attending church, especially after having no involvement in any church for most of their lives, Susan said something like, “Well, down here that’s what people do – so we figured we would as well.” She went on to explain that after attending church for a few months, she started reading the Bible and was convicted that she was a sinner in need of God’s grace. We had the privilege of being at her baptism this last Sunday (we’re still working on Tony).

What initially struck me after hearing her story was how somebody on the right politically that had chosen to relocate to a place primarily for its support of their value structure had found their way into saving faith in Christ simply by following the logical flow of the cultural Christianity around them. Now, obviously, salvation is a work and gift of God, and He had no doubt been working on Susan for some time. It’s probably just a coincidence because, after all, we’re often warned about the dangers of Bible-Belt, cultural Christianity.

A Similar Pattern

However, Susan’s story isn’t really an outlier. In fact, I’ve heard and encountered similar stories for several years now – most of them since the great paradigm shift that began in 2020. It sort of goes like this:

  • Either because of covid-19 restrictions, the 2020 BLM rioting, or an increasing number of local drag-queen story hours at the local library, an individual or family decides that the blue area they live in isn’t ideal anymore.
  • They relocate, either to a red state like Idaho, Tennessee, Texas, or Florida, or they move to a more-red area inside their blue state.
  • While getting acclimated to the area, they start to deal with the normal things that happen when you relocate: isolation, loneliness, lack of familiar community – so they decide to start attending the local evangelical church (be it Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or a hip non-denominational church with a name like “The Hill,” “The Eastside Chuch,” Or “Church at the Grove”).

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