I know this has been a rather heavy series of blog posts, but I found the research in the book UnChristian so compelling that I had to share it.
It has challenged me and made me take a much closer look at how I portray Jesus to a lost and dying world. The words in this book made me uncomfortable. They made me squirm. They made me hang my head in shame at times.
I wish I could put my head in the sand and ignore what I've read -to act like there isn't a problem. But I would be lying to myself, and worse, I would be perpetuating a false representation of what a Christian is supposed to be in this world - salt and light.
It is tempting to try to write a long treatise on what we should and shouldn't be doing but I'm just going to list the suggestions by the author and leave you with a passage of Scripture. I hope you'll take the time to read this book or at least re-read this series of blog posts that review the main points of the book. Then, I hope you will pray about what part God wants you to play in reshaping the outside world's perspective of who Christians are and what Christianity is.
* Respond with the right perspective. The response to these criticisms shouldn't be how we can better spin the image of Christianity in the public sector. Jesus was often criticized. He didn't dismiss it, but He responded in a variety of ways, depending on what the situation called for. Sometimes, He spoke up, sometimes He remained silent. Sometimes, He threw out questions that made people stop and think. Jesus was not willing to be defined by His enemies, and He considered the behind the scenes motives, distinguishing between true hostility and hurt. We need to look at all criticism thoughtfully. It may be invalid, but there could also be seeds of truth that we need to really be open to.
Connect with people. Jesus spent time with his 12 disciples. He lived life with them and invested in them. Jesus really saw the people He came in contact with - they were not just their sin or affliction. They were individuals. Nobody who came in contact with Jesus left the same - except the Pharisees and many of the religious leaders. Some people will be hostile to you and me just because we are Christians, and that's okay. The Bible never promises believers they will be popular.
Be creative. Jesus was an awesome communicator. He found various ways to speak to people right where they were at using language, stories and parables that resonated with His listeners. We need to lose the cliches that make so much sense to us, but confuse people outside the church culture. We need to be able to give a clear and effective expression of what it means to be a Christ follower and not expect outsiders to decode our Christianese many of us speak without even realizing it.
Serve people. What Kinnaman wrote really hit me and I think sums up this point the best, "The research brought me to this conclusion: to look more like Christ followers, we must cultivate deep concern and sensitivity to outsiders... Currently, Christianity is known for being unlike Jesus; one of the best ways to shift that perception would be to esteem and serve outsiders."
Live a lifestyle of compassion. The following passage in Isaiah gives us this truth - "in order to rebuild lives and restore our nation, we have to recover love and concern for others. Part of the reason Christians are known as unChristian is because the church has lost its ability and willingness to love and accept people who are not part of the insider club. This failure is draining the vigor from our faith. We say we love outsiders, but in many cases we show love only if it is on our terms, if they are interested in coming to our church, or if they respect our way of life." (emphasis mine)
"Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet. And declare to My people their transgression. And to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet, they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways as a nation that has done righteousness and has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions. They delight in the nearness of God.
Why have we fasted and You do not see? Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?' Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire, and drive hard all your workers.
Behold, you fast for contention and strife and to strike with a wicked fist. You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself? Is it for bowing one's head like a reed and for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed? Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; You will cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' If you remove the yoke from your midst, The [fn]pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness,
And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not [fn]fail.
Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; You will raise up the age-old foundations; And you will be called the repairer of the breach, The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.
~ Blessings, Bronte