Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I just finished reading a fascinating book called unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The book is mainly authored by the president of the Barna Group (Kinnaman) and is written based on their very thorough research of what people outside of the Christian faith really think about Christians and their faith. Although this book does give a lot of research information, it is not a “dry” book and makes very interesting reading. Reading this book has made me do a lot of re-thinking and has caused my vision to become a bit clearer in certain areas of my faith. I didn’t find anything the author said as a shock; they are things that I have already perceived occurring in our society. And nothing he said angered me either. Instead, I have been inspired to love more and more unconditionally.

The book contains nine chapters which give an overview of the main perceptions of Christians and Christianity from the outsider’s point of view:

1) The Backstory

2) Discovering unChristian Faith

3) Hypocritical

4) Get Saved!

5) Antihomosexual

6) Sheltered

7) Too Political

8) Judgmental

9) From unChristian to Christian

Here are some of the statements made by David Kinnaman in the first chapter which stood out to me:

Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians…It alters their willingness to commit their lives to Jesus.” (pg. 11)

…I invite you to see what Christianity looks like from the outside. In fact, the title of this book, unChristian, reflects outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be…for many people the Christian faith looks weary and threadbare. They admit they have a hard time actually seeing Jesus because of all the negative baggage that now surrounds him. (pg. 15)

One outsider from Mississippi made this blunt observation: ‘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. (pg. 15)

My purpose is not to berate Christians. You won’t find here the names of any Christian leaders who have done wrong things. From time to time, I will use an anonymous illustration to show why some of the negative perceptions exist. Yet the point is not to pick on any particular person. Every Christ follower bears some degree of responsibility for the image problem…it is not helpful to assign blame to those who have made mistakes. Still, for the things we can influence—our lives, our churches, the way we express Christianity to others—I hope that by helping you better understand people’s skepticism, your capacity to love people will increase, offering them genuine hope and real compassion through Jesus Christ. (pg. 16)

In the second chapter, he begins explaining the general view of the unChristian faith by those outside of it:

One of the surprising insights from our research is that the growing hostility toward Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers. They say their aggression matches the oversized opinions and egos of Christians. One outsider put it this way: ‘Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical, empire builders; they want to convert everyone, and they generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe.’” (pg. 26)

…it is clear that Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are. (pg. 26)

We are known for having an us-versus-them mentality. Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe. They feel minimized—or worse, demonized—by those who love Jesus. (pg. 27)

In our national surveys we found the three most common perceptions of present-day Christianity are anithomosexual (an image held by 91 percent of young outsiders), judgmental (87 percent), and hypocritical (85 percent). (pg. 27)

Only a small percentage of outsiders strongly believe that the labels ‘respect, love, hope, and trust’ describe Christianity. A minority of outsiders perceives Christianity as genuine and real, as something that makes sense, and as relevant to their life. (pg. 27)

Jesus was called a friend of sinners, relentlessly pursuing the downtrodden. What an irony that today his followers are seen in the opposite light! How can people love God, who they can’t see, if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love? (pg. 36)

And so the book goes on to give the perceptions of “outsiders” towards Christianity/Christians. There are so many more things I could go on to quote, but it is best to just get the book and read the “whole” thing. My favorite chapters were: “Hypocritical”, “Get Saved”, “Antihomosexual”, and “Judgmental” because I see those perceptions as some of the worst ones. And the “Hypocritical” and “Judgmental” are attitudes haven’t just been reserved towards “outsiders”! Unfortunately, they are also prevalent attitudes in the body of Christ between Christian brothers and sisters.

I have to include one more quote from the book, because it was an “Amen!” moment for me when I read the words.

At the end of each chapter, Kinnaman includes some insights on the topic from different people. In the “Judgmental” chapter Mike Foster says this:

So how do we become people who are known for grace? First we must admit that we have a problem. We can’t continue to pretend that the church is a place of grace if fundamentally we kick to the curb those within our very own community who screw up. If we can’t forgive our pastors, leaders, and friends, then how could we possibly begin to forgive others…We must begin by loving each other, forgiving each other, and carrying each other’s burdens, especially when we fall. When a brother or sister is steamrolled by life, we don’t run from them, we rally around them.

Secondly, we must engage with the people whom we have been taught to stay away from for too long. We must boldly enter into the environments where grace flourishes and does its best work. Christian insulation and a safe life are not what you and I signed up for when we said we would follow Jesus. He was never insulated from people’s pain, and he sure didn’t keep to safe places. He engaged with those who were being crushed by their mistakes and bad choices. Jesus wiped away the tears of the prostitutes, held the hands of the outcasts, and touched the wounds of the sick and the crazy. He hung with the not-so-perfect people of the world and showed them what Christianity was all about. He was never concerned about a person’s title, society’s name tag, or the sign on their place of work. Porn stars or preachers, gay or straight, Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t mean a rip to God. We are all his children, and we are all in need of this stunningly beautiful thing called grace. We know what we need to do, now let’s go do it. (pg. 202-203)

Amen! As CHRISTians, we are called to love as CHRIST.

He said, “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

As CHRISTians we are not called to judge, criticize, and condemn. There is one Judge and we are not Him!

Jesus called us to love the Lord God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our strength and with all of our mind and to love our neighbor as our own self. Our neighbor is whoever God places in our path so that we may show HIS grace, HIS love, and HIS care for them.

"And who is my neighbor?"

Jesus replied and said, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. "And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. "Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. "But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. "On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.'

“Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?"

And he said, "The one who showed mercy toward him."

Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do the same."

(Luke 10:29-37)

More about CHRIST-like love in an upcoming post…

By HIS grace…

1 comment:

  1. Here's the link to the book on Amazon


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