In Name Only: Tackling the Problem of Nominal Christianity

Written by Eddie Gibbs Reviewed By Craig L. Blomberg

European evangelicals are painfully aware of the large numbers of people in their historically Catholic or Protestant countries who would continue to accept the label ‘Christian’ without exhibiting any consistent fruit of the Spirit, disciplines of prayer and Bible reading, or even church attendance. American statistics are not yet as bleak, but some of the same trends of nominalism can clearly be discerned. Here is a highly unusual but greatly needed study of the phenomenon that amasses and interprets large amounts of data from both sides of the Atlantic.

Gibbs is a transplanted Brit who taught for many years in Fuller Seminary, California, and is now an associate rector for an Episcopal church in Beverly Hills. Successive chapters define and describe the problem of nominality, demonstrate how (surprisingly) pervasive the problem was in biblical times, outline characteristics and causes, and suggest a programme for church renewal to restore nominal Christians. The second half of the book turns to issues of urbanization, secularization and religious pluralism and again concludes, remedially, with proposals for developing ministry structures to ‘win them back’. A detailed appendix by Peter Brierley, director of the UK-based Christian Research Association, sets forth the empirical data, questionnaires, and other information on which the study is based.

Six strands, in fact, constitute a person’s ‘religiousness’ or lack thereof: strength of conviction, knowledge base, commitment to the church, devotional life, subjective experience, and impact on daily living. Unhappy or unsatisfying encounters in a broad cross-section of these strands of life can lead to deterioration or abandonment of previously more vital Christianity. In other cases, people are baptized, confirmed or married in church, with no other connection to genuine spirituality, so that little or no faith development ever takes place.

Church leadership must intentionally ‘target’ nominal Christians of both kinds by creating opportunities for healthy community, particularly in small groups as in the ‘meta-church’ model, revitalizing worship, and calling for (and modelling) mature forms of commitment. Successful urban ministry requires people prepared to stay for the ‘long haul’, exegete and engage the local culture at many levels, respond to the intellectual challenges of secularization and religious pluralism, and recognize (and try to meet) the felt needs for spirituality which a scientific world-view ignores. This book is essential reading for anyone wanting to pastor successfully in the 21st century and win the unchurched to Christ.

Craig L. Blomberg

Craig L. Blomberg
Denver Seminary
Denver, Colorado, USA