Are you confused about how to label yourself in our current political boiling pot? Do you just want to bury your head in the sand when news reports start pounding away at what “Conservative Christians” or “Evangelicals” are doing or saying? I know that is the way I have felt on numerous occasions since 2016. It looks like we have an identity crisis for Christians today. We are afraid to identify with the current groups that call themselves Christians because we are afraid of what this group will say next; we don’t fully trust the “Evangelicals” or the “Conservative Christians” to react in a Christ like manor. So, we keep our heads down, trying to lead a quiet life. Recently I found some relief for my conundrum. I was blessed to listen to a very smart man, Ed Stetzer, author of Christians in the Age of Outrage. His conference speech and book have helped me make sense of some very difficult issues.
Political Polls love to give statistics about “Conservative Christian” or “Evangelical” views and political leanings. Since the 1970s pollsters like George Gallup settled on identifying respondents by how they self-identify. They ask people if they consider themselves “a born-again, or evangelical, Christian”. So instead of being identified by their core beliefs or how they live out their beliefs, they lean only on self-identification. The problem here is that “practicing evangelicals and inactive, in-name-only evangelicals were included in the same category, and that makes a difference,” (pg 64, Christian’s in the Age of Outrage).
Our country has had a default religious identification of Christianity since its beginning. There are many people who will identify with Christianity simply because most people in America say they are Christians. They want to identify with the majority belief. We can call these people nominal Christians. LifeWay Research did a study in 2017 that shows that:
29% of Americans identify as “born-again Christians”
24% of Americans identify as “evangelical Christians”
15% of Americans strongly agreed with core evangelical beliefs
So, according to this research, almost half of the people who identify themselves as “evangelical” really don’t believe what evangelicals are supposed to believe. The idea here is that the term “evangelical” or “born-again” has come to be a stand in for a cultural or nominal Christian.
You can see that for an active convictional Christian like myself, it can be my worst nightmare to be lumped into a poll with people that are Christians in name only. These nominal Christians may try to represent Christianity, but they fall short. They don’t have the power of the Holy Spirit to lead the impossible life of a Christian. The nominals may have the T-shirt, but they won’t be able to stay in the race. “Nominal Christians are a distorted reflection of Christianity because they try to have the religiosity without Christ,” (pg 67, Christians in the Age of Outrage).
So, you may be wondering what marks the life of a true Christian. First let me say that Christians are not perfect. Only Christ is perfect. We are all broken and as true Christians we know that. We have come to a place in our lives where we have made a decision to follow Christ. This process begins with a belief in Christ and what the Bible says, it moves to confession of our un-Christlike actions and attitudes (sin) to God, with a confidence that God will forgive us, and a turning from sin toward righteousness. Once this takes place in the life of a believer, God places his Holy Spirit within us. This Holy Spirit is our spiritual guide. It helps us know right from wrong and reveals God’s will. The secret to living a spirit filled life is keeping ourselves connected to God through confession, prayer, Bible study, and doing good to our neighbors. Reading the short book of 1 John in the Bible will help you get a grasp of what the Christian life should look like.
God is always a gentleman and will not take our free will from us. Even as a true Christian we still have the choice to make Godly decisions or selfish ones. So, you still have Christians that mess up. However, all true Christians will have these same experiences and beliefs. Most of these Convictional Christians are living out their faith in amazing ways, glorifying God in lives well lived.
As you digest the current news headlines, remember that the polls are faulty in reporting. They have clumped nominal Christians with Convictional Christians, often calling them Evangelicals. Remember that people are known by their deeds. If someone professes to be a spokesman for Christianity, look at them carefully-examine their words, deeds, and actions with the example of Christ.
Yours in Christ,