Post-Christian Culture and False Conversion

There are things that can be mistaken that have little to no consequence, but conversion is not one of them.  You can be mistaken by the color of your socks while getting ready in the morning.  You can be mistaken by how well your digestive system can process “authentic” Chinese and Mexican food.  You be mistaken by the person you saw across the department store that looks exactly like an old friend but turns out to be a total stranger.  We make mistakes all the time, don’t we?

Yet, the greatest mistake carrying the greatest consequence comes down to our (1) understanding of the gospel and (2) knowing how sinners are to respond to the gospel call.  The most haunting words in all of the Bible come from the mouth of Jesus near the conclusion of the greatest sermon ever preached.  He said this:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Does that bother you that many will be surprised in the end who have become familiar with Jesus’ name but were total stranger’s to Jesus’ face?  They are people quite versed in Christian lingo, well-absorbed into the Christian sub-culture, exclusively acquainted with outwardly conforming religious influences.

In Jesus’ name.

We have seen contemporary evangelicalism produce everything under the sun in Jesus’ name, and yet we are living in a post-Christian culture.  I am convinced that what our society has experienced has not been true Christianity, although there are exceptions.  Indeed, I believe it can be argued that our post-Christian culture is really a post-false conversion culture that has rejected the substandard approaches to being followers of Jesus.  When conversion is reduced to praying a prayer, walking down an aisle, squeezing my hand, or getting little children to assent to “accept Jesus into their hearts,” you will engender generational nominalism fostered by a truncated gospel that is followed through with unbiblical responses.

We live in interesting times when young men like Matt Chandler have evangelical platforms as a “shepherds to unregenerate sheep” that have been built upon a generation of false conversions.  We are consistently hearing of new discipleship methods that are attempting to promote growth only to wear out in a short period of time.  Churches are actively engaging in the culture war against postmodernism and the growing divide between the American way and the Christian way as evangelicals seem to play a smaller and smaller role in shaping the world around us.

Two areas most commonly addressed are the lack of Christian ethics and the decline of evangelism.  Several years ago, Ron Sider took a note from the playbook of Mark Noll when he wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World? In his book, Sider points out that the statics on domestic abuse, divorce/infidelity, materialism/consumerism, and so on are virtually the same among “Christians” than the rest of the world.  The big assumption, however, is that all these people are indeed Christian in the truest sense of the word.  They have thus become indistinguishable from the rest of the world.  Instead of being “in the world” but “not of the world,” professing Christians have become “of the world” and for the most part not “in the world.”

Aside from ethics, there’s evangelism.  Everyone from Barna to LifeWay Research has shown that the overwhelming majority of churches have plateaued or are declining.  The call for a “Great Commission Resurgence” in the SBC was first issued by Dr. Thom Rainer upon the results of research revealing that post-Conservative Resurgence churches are no better at reaching the lost than the pre-Conservative Resurgence period led by liberals.  Southern Baptists essentially recovered the inerrancy of the Bible but failed to recovered the gospel.  Dr. Frank Page has argued that nearly half of the churches in the SBC will likely die in the next 15-20 years if things don’t change.

What’s going on?  Are our strategies and methods just not effective? Do we need to just do more “revivals” and get people excited about Jesus?  The answer to the ethical question is not found in the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Land.  The answer is found in the gospel and Jesus Christ.  The answer to the evangelism decline is not revivalism and Billy Graham.  The answer is found in the gospel and Jesus Christ.

Simply put, the situation we are in today is fundamentally due to our loss of the gospel and failure to understand what constitutes genuine conversion. The problem is not discipleship, evangelism, or morality; the problem is what we have made of conversion. You cannot expect a sinner to pursue holiness if they do not have the Holy Spirit indwelling them.  You cannot expect a sinner to be evangelistic if they have not first rightly responded to the evangel.  You cannot expect there to be growth where there is no life.  And when we point the finger at unconverted people in our pews complaining of a lack of obedience, we are no different than admonishing a dead man for not having picked himself up from his bootstraps.

We can miss biblical conversion in any number of ways.  If a person is converted only in the mind, he will substitute repentance and faith with mental assent and assume that the mere acquisition of more knowledge (intellectualism) will guarantee salvation. They will profess, “Lord, Lord” with great profundity for sure.  If a person is converted only in the heart, he will substitute repentance and faith with emotional experience (experientialism) and assume that more mountaintop experiences (or rededications) will guarantee salvation (by “nailing it down”).  They will profess, “Lord, Lord” with great passion no doubt.  If a person is converted only in the will, he will substitute repentance and faith with determination and resolve to do better (legalism) and assume that self-improvement (self-righteousness) brings him acceptance before God. They will profess, “Lord, Lord” with great persistence as you could expect.

Contrary to all this, a truly converted sinner will be transformed by the Spirit of God with a change evidenced by turning from sin (repentance) and turning to God (faith) which encompasses their entire being–mind, heart, and will.  In recent years, we have all but taken God out of the equation so that conversion is not the miraculous working of God but a mere decision by man.  Now, certainly one has to “decide” and respond in faith and repentance, but if there is not a true understanding of the gospel and a true gracious working of regeneration in the heart of a sinner, then no trick, technique, or trend will be able to accomplish what God has determined Himself to do.  Conversion is not merely “our part” or something we contribute in salvation apart from God’s sovereign work of effectually drawing and applying the new covenant promise of transforming our lives from within. Everyone to whom God begins the “good work” will bring it completion (Phil. 1:6), and there should be distinguishing marks of the saving, sanctifying, and persevering grace of God in the converted sinner being daily conformed into the image of Christ.

We are living in a post-Christian culture who has looked at a version of Christian to a large degree comprised of falsely converted people and said, “If that’s what Christianity is about, then what’s the difference?  Why would I want that?”  They have seen the intellectual Christians (mind only), the mystical Christian (heart only), and the moral Christians (will only), but many not seen the Spirit-ual Christians–those marked, indwelt, and changed by the Spirit of God.  Trinitarianly speaking, if you do not have the Spirit you do not have life (John 6:63); if you do not have the Son of God, you do not have the life (1 John 5:11-12); if you do not know the only true God, you do not have eternal life (John 17:3).  The converting work of a sinner from death to life is a miracle wrought by our Triune God, graciously opening our eyes to see and our ears to hear and giving us a heart to follow and obey.

If we are to innovative and engaging in a post-Christian world, our first step is to revisit what it means to be–and more specifically how one becomes–a Christian.  We do not need another evangelism strategy or to be trendy and talk about sex for 60 straight days.  What we need is for the day of programming false conversions and perpetuating false assurances to come to an end.  Those words of Jesus need to haunt us until we are awakened to the reality that missing it here means missing it for an eternity.  Let us create a culture where we are regularly examining ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5), working out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13), diligent to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10).  I am persuaded that what we do “in Jesus’ name” will then flow out of who we truly are as a result of Jesus’ transforming grace in lives that marked by repentance and faith.

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16 Comments on “Post-Christian Culture and False Conversion”

  1. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    After those who are chosen in Christ, are regenerated, The Holy Spirit issues the effectual call to them, that issues in the initial conversion experience, in which the awakened sinner turns to God from sin, self, his own righteousness and works.

  2. Rod Carroll Says:

    Timmy, I have a fear that the reason our people (in the church buildings) don’t “get it” is because so many of their leaders/preachers don’t get it. There are so many leaders who are caught up in the latest programs and fads to draw more people or to be known as one of the “cool” churches that they are just blind. Maybe even unregenerate (an assumption I know). The Gospel has no influence on them personally so therefore it doesn’t effect their teaching/preaching. I would even say that there is probably a fear out there that if they cut out all the hollow fluff and preached the Gospel that their “numbers” would drop and they might not rank high at the end of the year in the churches report. God help us.

  3. Justin Wheeler Says:

    Timmy,

    Again you have brought the major issue to the fore, the gospel. You have rightly said, “Southern Baptists essentially recovered the inerrancy of the Bible but failed to recover the gospel.”

    When that battle was won (over inerrancy) the fight for the gospel was assumed to have been won as well.

    The Word of God has been recovered and restored, in confession; but how many Josiahs will be willing to tear down the idols that linger from the past, or as you put it “for the day of programming false conversions and perpetuating false assurances to come to an end.”

    Keep sounding the clear call and pray that God would vindicate his Word, in and through His people. Thanks again for your clarity and boldness.

    Justin

  4. Thomas Twitchell Says:

    If a person is converted only in the heart, he will substitute repentance and faith with emotional experience (experientialism) and assume that more mountaintop experiences (or rededications) will guarantee salvation (by “nailing it down”). They will profess, “Lord, Lord” with great passion no doubt. If a person is converted only in the will, he will substitute repentance and faith with determination and resolve to do better (legalism) and assume that self-improvement (self-righteousness) brings him acceptance before God.

    I don’t think these two are any different. Their expression externally may appear different but both are experiential, providing mere emotional excitements.

    If we are to innovative and engaging in a post-Christian world, our first step is to revisit what it means to be–and more specifically how one becomes–a Christian.

    You answered this, however it bears repeating. Becoming a Christian is not simply regeneration/conversion but also discipleship/training; the two parts of the Great Commission: make disciples/baptising and teaching/preserving truth. Perhaps the greatest failure of the Church is to not explain what “becoming a Christian” really means. Perhaps many would not be so quick to sign the card if the obligation of submission to the Gospel was more clearly spelled out. We often attach the obligation as an addendum to the Gospel rather that the substance of it. But, “take up you cross and follow me” is an essestial Gospel element. It is what repentance and belief requires. The American version is fastfood Chrisianity over against the life-long slow stewed learning curve that requires diligence in study stirred frequently by leaders who demonstrate the reality being persued. Too often those who sit and wait to be fed far outnumber those preparing and learning to prepare the meal. And, far too often we fail to exercise the discipline: “Those who will not work will not be fed.”

    I like Justin Taylor’s metaphor of the “whole-building” Gospel.

  5. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    REDEDICATIONS ARE A FAULTY FOLLOWUP FOR A FAULTY GOSPEL. WHAT ARE YOU DEDICATING/ THEY THAT ARE IN THE FLESH cannot PLEASE GOD.

  6. J.D. Hawg Says:

    Timmy,

    You have really captured what has been burning in my heart and in my wife’s heart for months now. I was a false convert, brought up in the Southern Baptist system that is just as strong today. I got my “fire insurance” at the age of nine and I was good to go. My wife and I just left a megachurch in our area because of the sickening altar calls, the constant preaching to the goats to “do better” and the complete lack of interest by the youth pastors and the resident youth evangelist on whether or not the “decisions” made at the last youth rally were genuine or not.

    Question: what will be the result in eternity for those who may be regenerate but are leading our churches this way and leading people into false security? Will it all burn up with the wood, hay and straw and they’ll get in by the skin of their teeth? It’s so sad. Anytime I’m out witnessing to strangers you see the unfortunate results of this system and “numbers idolatry”.

    Thanks for your faithfulness to the Truth.

  7. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    JD Hawg;
    Those who arev truly regenerate, WILL NOT MISLEAD PEOPLE. God never called a man to misrepresent Him.

  8. thomastwitchell Says:

    “Those who arev truly regenerate, WILL NOT MISLEAD PEOPLE. God never called a man to misrepresent Him.”

    Don’t forget Galatians 2 (where apostles mislead people), 1 Tim 1:20 and as Hawg mentioned 1 Corintians. And be careful that you are not found to be misrepresenting Him if perfection is your standard.

    Hawg, have you ever considered that “the Day” in 1 Corinthians is not necessarily the Eschaton. “The day” language is found in the context of whenever God speaks of a time when he judges his people. Paul speaks of his own visiting of the Corinthians, and may have himself in mind: “For this reason I write these things while I am away from you, that when I come I may not have to be severe in my use of the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.” Look at the language of 2 Corinthians 13:10. It is the same with which he began in 1 Corinthians. Though there are obvious eschatological overtones and “the day” language appears elsewhere in these same books in reference to THE DAY, I think Paul has something more close in mind. There was a day a reckoning coming and the one to meet out the fire of discipline, if necessary, was Paul. Remember how alike this is to the Lord’s cleansing of the temple: 1 Corinthians 4:19-20 cf. Matthew 21:5-13?

  9. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    thomastwitchell;
    The Judiazers in Gal 2, and those in I Tim were NOT TRUE, BUT FALSE APOSTLES, NEVER SAYS WERE REGENERRATTED. bRETHREN AFTER THE FLESH-JEWS-NOT AFTER THE Spirit. When one departs from the truth he is an APOSTATE. NEVER SAVED TO BEGIN WITH.

  10. thomastwitchell Says:

    PWF- It was Peter who was rebuke to the face. And he and the others were sent from James and Paul indicts them all. And, it was not until Paul went to Jerusalem and then after the Council and Elders ruled, that letters were issued to establish what had always been the truth. In other words, even though these men were with the Lord and were regenerate, it took Paul’s rebuke and a vision to Peter, and his witnessing the Baptism of the Spirit in the gentiles, to correct these regenerate men’s misleading of the people.

    So, again, careful, because you’re departing from the truth.

  11. D.L. Kane Says:

    EZEKIEL 2 & 3:1-10 instantly came to mind as I was reading.

    Timmy,

    The only thing a post like this should elicite in the hearts, minds and souls of all who love the Lord is a sorrowful yet joyful, AMEN. I could say so much more; but it would only echo your very clear proclamation–a message that needs to be heard from every pulpit and from the lips of all who wear His Name.

    Open their eyes, O’ Lord.

    D.L. Kane

  12. Truthseeker Says:

    Timmy,

    I believe you have hit on what is THE issue of our generation. We must be diligent to proclaim the True Gospel so that the lost doctrine of Regeneration might be recovered. This is a huge burden of mine. I have been consumed by these truths. Every SBC church I have attended for the last 32 years has preached a man-centered gospel and decisional regeneration. I didn’t even know it until, by His grace, God began to show me these truths about 2 years ago. He has used the preaching of the Truth, primarily through mp3 downloads from trusted sources, and sites like yours and many others to educate and inform me. Brothers, we must not grow weary in standing for the True Gospel, even if we stand alone.

    By His Grace and for His Glory!

  13. Dr. Paul W. Foltz Says:

    Truthseeker;
    AMEN and amen. One must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit BEFORE he can believe and repent. see my blog on Regeneration, listed under my profile at;
    freegracepreacher@blogspot.com

  14. Clifford Wynn Says:

    This is very well stated, and is most refreshing, for it speaks the truth. I was raised a Baptist, not SBC, just plain Baptist while I was a child. I had grandparents on my father side of the family that spoke of Jesus Christ often, mostly my grandmother, and my aunt. I went to church, sang in the choir, which I enjoyed very much, matter of fact I won a childrens book about Jesus when I won a contest for having read over 1000 verses. I was 10 years old at the time. But I also suffered from 3rd generation incest. Sexual, physical, mental, and gender confusion to name a few. Eventually I ended up in the homosexual lifestyle, and witchcraft was practiced in the household by my mother. To make a long story short, it wasn’t until I was 27 in early months of 1978, while alone in my room with a small little “tract”, (that I picked up in a subway train car returning home late at night from work)which was a testimonial concerning a man who was convicted of a violent crime and sentenced to life in prison, while in Prison he called out if there was a God to please reveal himself to him, and save him. Well the Lord answered his prayer, he met the Lord and his life was changed overnight with the warden and guards witnessing to the fact that this man was no longer violent, and had changed! Well this made me question how is it possible for someone to change like that? And the Lord heard my question, and He answered, I could hear my Aunts voice stating, you can not be a christian and be homosexual, it is a sin against God. And the Lord opened my understanding, and I realized and saw the TRUTH! Homosexuality was a sin! I felt such a love surround me there was no condemnation, just a love of conviction, and I cried out Lord forgive me, I did not believe, forgive me please, I just wept, and wept, for I realized I lived a lie, it was all a lie! Then a miraculous thing happened, I started to feel a cleansing, crying and weeping, and more cleansing, I cried out to the Lord, you are real, you are really real!!!!!! You are really alive, and real! This is nothing like I had when I was a boy going to church. I felt so loved, and I just cried out Lord I surrender my life to you, please take over my life,this is the Love I’ve been searching for!!!!
    You are real, and then such overwhelming Love poured through my body, and I felt such a cleansing, and Joy unspeakable! I could not believe it!!!! I found Jesus, or I should say HE found me!
    What I’m trying to say is the Lord said it HIMSELF, “no one can come unto ME UNLESS my FATHER DRAW him”.
    It is ALL ABOUT undeserved GRACE, GRACE to SEE, GRACE to REPENT, GRACE to be forgiven, GRACE to be Cleansed, GRACE to be sealed with His Holy Spirit, and more GRACE right through to SEEING HIM FACE TO FACE into eternity! So yes it is a gift, which no man in the flesh seeks out, no man seeks after God, how can he, he is in sinful flesh. God starts it and ends upon whom He choses. Man never can chose God, it is not in him to desire to. It is All about God and His marvelous and Eternal Purpose, the salvation of a lost soul!
    So Ditto on what you have said. And AMEN. I do have a few things to share on some of your thoughts concerning believing with the heart, (emotions). And I would like to share them another time, if you would not mind. For I do think I have said enough, do you not think so?
    Thank you for sharing this insight, for it is TRUE.


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