The Unsaved Christian | Book Review


Matthew 7:21–23 is one of the most sobering passages of the Bible. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus tells His disciples, “but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” What does it mean to say, “Lord, Lord”? Jesus explains: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’” Regardless of their displays of spiritual power, Jesus’ verdict is negative: “Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

Dean Inserra opens The Unsaved Christian with this passage because it so starkly portrays the self-deception of self-identified Christians whom Christ cannot identify as His own. “These petitioners Jesus spoke of loved to say, ‘didn’t we?’ when they should have been saying, ‘didn’t He?’” In other words, they practiced self-righteousness, attempting to merit salvation through powerful spiritual works, rather than receiving God’s gracious gift of righteousness in Christ through repentance and faith in Him.

Today, many self-identified American Christians don’t claim to prophesy or exorcize demons or work miracles, but the central insight of The Unsaved Christian is that they are nevertheless as lost as the “evildoers” of Matthew 7:23. They are Christians in name only, practitioners of cultural Christianity. “Cultural Christianity is a mindset that places one’s security in heritage, values, rites of passage (such as a first communion or a baptism from childhood), and a generic deity, rather than the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,” writes Inserra. He goes on to provide a taxonomy of eight types of cultural Christians:

  1. Country Club Christian: “Self-focused, not missional; church just happens to be the social club of their preference.”
  2. Christmas & Easter Christian: “Holds the Christian holidays close with sentimentality, but the implications of these holidays seem to have little impact on daily life.”
  3. God & Country Christian: “Is ‘proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free’; digests everything first as an American or member of a certain political party, not as a believer. Can have blinders on to what really matters.”
  4. Liberal Social Justice Christian: “Feels strongly about specific social justice issues; compromises biblical teachings in light of cultural whims; believes that politicians and legislation can fix the world.”
  5. Good Guy Next Door Christian: “Believes God wants people to be good and kind to each other as taught in most world religions; Jesus just so happens to be the mascot, but the specifics of Christianity aren’t really relevant.”
  6. Generational Catholic Christian: “Generally either views Catholicism as a heritage or carries significant guilt to be loyal to its tenants.” (I think Inserra means “tenets.”)
  7. Mainline Protestant: “Generally believes vague things about the Bible but is prone to discard it in favor of the pressing beliefs of the day. Proclaims God’s love in terms of license to seek comfort.”
  8. Bible Belt Christian: “Displays external forms of religiosity and would be offended to be called an atheist, but in actuality, Jesus has little impact on their lives.”

These eight varieties of cultural Christians are ideal types, obviously, but they do describe a lot of the features of what passes for Christianity in contemporary American culture.

For each variety, Inserra elaborates on what it mistakes the gospel for, identifies starting points for gospel conversations, and shows how the gospel, correctly understood, both challenges and provides a remedy for it. Take the Bible Belt Christianity, for example. It is typically found in the South, which Flannery O’Connor described as “Christ-haunted.” Its “unofficial liturgy” is country music, and Inserra provides an insightful look at the religious outlook of three contemporary country songs.

Based on those songs, he comments: “Sadly, many people in the Bible Belt are haunted by the idea of Christ, while not understanding His love for them. The judgment of God lingers in their minds. Believing the gospel would allow them to understand that it is the kindness of God that can actually lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). With an awareness of God and our sins, but not the gospel, one is only left with country music theology, hoping God will let us into heaven one day after we have some fun on earth.”

Inserra closes The Unsaved Christian by enumerating three things necessary for evangelizing cultural Christians: “a refusal to be in denial, gospel clarity, and boldness to speak the truth in love” (emphasis in original). Inserra is a pastor, and he intends his book as an aid to pastors and other concerned Christians who long to “make disciples” of Jesus Christ” (Matthew 28:19). Distinguishing between authentic and nominal Christianity is never easy, especially in a supposedly Christian nation, but it’s an evangelistic necessity, lest we leave people thinking what we did, rather than what He did, saves us.

Book Reviewed
Dean Inserra, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019).

P.S. If you found my review helpful, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted from InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

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The Common Rule | Book Review


“We are all living according to a specific regimen of habits,” writes Justin Whitmel Earley, “and those habits shape most of our life.” Even more, “they form our hearts.” In The Common Rule, Earley outlines a “rule of life” or “program of habits” to help readers fulfill the biblical commandment to love God and neighbor (Matthew 22:34–40).

Earley calls this program “the common rule” because it has to do with “common practice by common people.” Its focus on laity rather than clergy distinguishes it from the well-known “rules” of Benedict or Augustine, although its basic purpose is the same as theirs. The common rule consists of eight habits, four daily and four weekly.

The daily habits are:

  • kneeling prayer three times a day,
  • one meal with others,
  • one hour with the phone off,
  • and Scripture before phone.

The weekly habits are:

  • one hour of vulnerable conversation with a friend,
  • curate media to four hours,
  • fasting from something for 24 hours,
  • and setting aside a day for sabbath.

Earley distinguishes the habits along two other spectrums. The first spectrum pertains to whether the habit helps us love God (sabbath, fasting, prayer, and Scripture before phone) or love our neighbors (meals, conversation, phone off, curated media). The second spectrum has to do with embracing the good (sabbath, prayer, meals, and conversation) or resisting the evil (fasting, Scripture before phone, phone off, and curated media).

One of Earley’s crucial insights throughout the book is that our habits reflect (and reinforce) our beliefs. He cites the early years of his career as a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer as a cautionary tale. To keep pace with his colleagues, to take just one example, he would pick up his phone to check his emails and formulate replies even before getting out of bed. As he thought about why he did this, he came to realize that he was drawing his identity and worth from others’ opinions of him. “Unless I’m well regarded in the office, I’m not worth anything,” he writes, describing that period.

By contrast, when he began to practice the daily habit of reading Scripture before picking up his phone, he began to draw his identity and worth from a different source. “Daily immersion in the Scriptures resists the anxiety of emails, the anger of news, and the envy of social media. Instead it forms us daily in our true identity as children of the King, dearly loved.”

Our habits, then, are what Earley calls “liturgies of belief.” Regardless of what we say we believe or value, habits reveal what we really believe and really value. “Our habits often obscure what we’re really worshiping,” Earley warns, “but that doesn’t mean we’re not worshiping something. The question is, what are we worshiping?”

That’s an excellent question, one that all eight habits of the common rule force us to face as we examine our habitual behaviors.

I highly recommend The Common Rule. It is a helpful little volume that will repay careful reading and re-reading, especially if you start putting its habits into practice. The book can be read individually, but perhaps the best way to read it is in a group whose goal is to grow in love for God and neighbor together.

Book Reviewed
Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com with permission.

P.P.P.S. I interviewed Justin for Episode 163 of the Influence Podcast.

P.P.P.S. Just wrote the cover story for the November-December 2018 issue of Influence magazine: “Habits of the Tech-Wise Heart.” It explores many of the themes of the book.