I'll start out by saying, I am not really the type of person who likes to cause controversy just for the sake of stirring up trouble. Yes, I am honest. Yes, sometimes I feel compelled to speak truth in the face of untruth, but if you know me in real life, you know that I don't go searching out conflict.
So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the book Unchristian by David Kinnaman and Gave Lyons. In fact, I picked it up once at the library, looked it over and then promptly sat it back on the shelf. It didn't seem like good beach reading to me!
However, when I went to the library the other day, there it still was - like it was waiting for me. I knew the Spirit was nudging me to pick it up and read it. That He had something for me to learn - even if it might be sting to hear it.
Now, what is the book UnChristian about, you might ask. I'm glad you did because that is what this blog post and the next several blogs posts are going to be about. Over the past few months, I have been grappling with the idea of love and truth, and how those two things should co-exist in a Christian's life.
Jesus loved people. He cared about them. Yet, He didn't close His eyes to sin or injustice either. Of course, He was the Son of God, so it goes without saying, He got it 100% right. However, in my humanity and in our relativistic culture, I have a hard time, sometimes, finding the balance between what is spiritual discernment and what is being judgmental - what is loving the sinner and what slides over the line to condoning the sin? That line sometimes gets blurry, doesn't it?
The book UnChristian is about how nonbelievers view Christians and their faith. David Kinnaman co-owns and works with Barna Group which is basically a research company. That's their stock in trade - research. This book is compilation of three years of research among nonbelievers, particularly those in the 16-29 year age group (called Mosaics and Busters) - which make up 24 million or 40% of the U.S. population.
As Kinnaman said in his book, just because they believe it doesn't necessarily make it true, but it's important to know how the younger generation views Christianity and our faith even if their view may be skewed sometimes.
For instance, it's important to know that 49% of nonbelievers or outsiders (as Kinnaman calls them - as in they are outside the church and Christian faith)have a very negative view of evangelicals and/or born-again Christians. Only 3% have a good view. Those are some pretty sobering statistics don't you think? Sadly, the statistics of young Christians IN the church are not much different. They are frustrated by many of the same thing their non-believing friends are.
One person quoted in the book describes Christians in this way: "Christianity has become bloated with blind followers who would rather repeat slogans than actually feel true compassion and care. Christianity has become marketed and streamlined into a juggernaut of fearmongering that has lost its own heart."
Kinnamen gives four reasons why we should care what this next generation believes is true about Christians. We should also be interested in WHY they think this way. It means a long, hard look in the mirror for me even if I don't like what I see.
The first reason we should care is that what people think about Christianity influences how they respond to us and more importantly, how they respond to Christ.
Second, what people think of Christians should help us be objective. It's important for our lives to reflect what we believe - non believers certainly notice when it doesn't!
Third, their view of Christianity can change. A little over a decade ago, in 1996, a research poll found nonbelievers view of Christianity was much more positive than it is today. Our actions can change the current disheartening statistics. We can still reach this generation.
Fourth, what people think of Christians reflects their personal stories or experiences with the Christians and churches they've come in contact with. A very high percentage of this young generation has "tried church" and rejected it for a variety of reasons. That's very telling.
There were six broad categories the book looked at that reflected the most common points of skepticism and objections raised by nonbelievers. They were the following - hypocritical; too focused on getting converts; antihomosexual; sheltered; too political; and judgmental.
So, if you are a believer, do you feel defensive yet? I want to encourage you to take a deep breath. I am not asking anyone to change their beliefs. In fact, I want to quote a couple paragraphs found in chapter 2 in the book because I think the author explains this way better than I can.
"As we work to change negative perceptions of outsiders, we need to avoid an opposite and equally dangerous extreme. Some Christians respond to outsiders' negativity by promoting a less offensive faith. The unpopular parts of Christian teaching are omitted or de-emphasized They hijack the image of Jesus by portraying Him as an open-minded, big-hearted and never-offended-anyone moral teacher. This is an entirely wrong idea of Jesus. He taught remarkably tough truths about human beings and about sin." (pg. 30-31)
"Keep in mind that part of the reason Christians possess a bad reputation is because our faith perspectives grate against a morally relativistic culture. Mosaics and Busters (that 16-29 year age group) find that Christian perspectives run counter to their anything-goes mindset. Although outsiders don't always understand us, we have to be very careful about not tossing aside the Biblical motivations that contribute to these perceptions. For instance, Christians are known as judgmental because we address sin and its consequences. Christians should be involved in politics because faith weaves into every aspect of our lives. Christians should identify homosexual behavior as morally unacceptable because that is what Scripture teaches. Christians should be pursuing conversations and opportunities that point people to Christ because we are representatives of life's most important message. And Christians should stive for purity and integrity even if that makes us appear sheltered.
"As Christ's representatives, we have to articulate the reality that there is a holy Creator who holds us to a standard that exists beyond our finite, cracked lives. Our awareness as transcendent beings should alter who we are and how we think.
"However, before you dismiss the unChristian perception as "just Christians doing their duty," realize that the challenge runs much deeper. The real problem comes when we recognize God's holiness but fail to articulate the other side of his character: grace. Jesus represents truth plus grace. Embracing truth without holding grace in tension leads to harsh legalism, just as grace without truth devolves into compromise." (pg. 34)
The most convicting thing I have read so far in this book was one girl sharing that what bothered her most about Christians is that they seemed more interested in being right and winning the argument than they were in caring about her as an individual.
I don't know about you, but I don't think that is what Christ had in mind when He asked us to follow Him. I hope that as we look at the six areas that Kinnaman highlights as areas nonbelievers have the most criticisms about Christians, we can learn something that will make us better representatives of Christ.
We are supposed to be living in a way that causes people to want to know about Christ - not reject Him. I hope you will prayerfully come along with me on this journey of a deeper understanding of how to be in the world but not of it.