While camping with my girls in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico with my girls (see my Facebook album for pix) I reread a small work by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons called Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Things about Christianity to help me prepare for a mens retreat with the them "Entering the Matrix." The retreat was well received as we discussed how traditional/institutional churches can face the postmodern shift. This heavily researched book was published in 2007 and is now in its sixth printing. It is a most fascinating piece. The work concentrates on the ages 16 to 29 year olds (postmoderns) and what they think and believe about Christianity. In short the "image" of the church within North America is not a favorable one with this age group. The research was sponsored by the Barna Group a respected evangelical think tank. What saddened me most of all as I read through the book and digested the information is that we are so often known for what we are against and not for what we are "for." The three most common responses in this age group as they "characterized" Christianity were:
Christians are "antihomosexual" (fully 91%)
Christians are "judgmental" (87%)
Christians are "hypocritical" (85%)
As Kinnaman and Lyons unpack the information several "perceptions" pervade the view of Christians within North America. These perceptions might as well be reality for so many of them. There are six dominating views of those in universities, colleges, in our high schools ... and even in our own churches. It gives me cause for pause that THESE are the things that pop into this generations mind when they hear the word "Christian." Here they are:
2) All Christians talk about are "getting saved" ... whatever that might mean
4) Christians are "sheltered" ... that is they don't live in the real world
5) Too Political
6) Judgmental ... Christians can't work with and can't get along with anyone who thinks differently than them
A young lady is quoted that sort of sums up a generational view. She unloaded on the term "Christian." "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" (p.26).
As the authors point out it doesn't matter if we agree with the perspectives of these people (and we don't). But it is difficult to get a fair "hearing" for Jesus and his kingdom when these are the images conjured up within the minds of those we wish to LOVE into the kingdom. UNCHRISTIAN does not simply relate some dismal statistics but rather within their research they attempted to answer the question of WHY these people overwhelmingly have negative views of Christianity. In the quote above I scratch my head and ask ... is this the MESSAGE of the Lord Jesus? Have we Christians mixed the message with things that are not? Was Jesus KNOWN as the person who was "antigay?" ... some where I think I read he was known as a "friend" to sinners. I guess that just might include "gays."
As a Christian, should we be concerned about what a non-believer thinks? Should we be worried about what the "pagan" might believe about something she could not understand from the outside? The answer is YES!
Is it not interesting that Moses appealed to what the Egyptians would think of God (his reputation) if he destroyed the Israelites ... even in the face of the Golden Calf debacle? "Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth?" (Exodus 32.12) ... God seemingly cared what the pagan Egyptians would think of his reputation. Should we not also be concerned about our "image problem?" I think we should. I think the perceptions of a younger generation is a huge barrier to message of the kingdom.
Information gathered in Unchristian should motivate us to embrace the full wealth of our faith. Perhaps we have been to selective in our preaching and teaching ... perhaps it is time to embrace the unbelievably profound depths of biblical faith and preach it with a renewed sense of humility and genuine love for those around us ... telling the truth in LOVE ... how biblical can that be? Perhaps we need to remind ourselves once again that Christianity was around for a long time before the USA and God is not Republican or Democrat ... nor white, nor even Protestant! At the very least Unchristian views should force us to ask the question of "why" do people think what they think about us. The look in the mirror may be good for us ...
P.S. In light of some of the developing comments I have decided to link this post I wrote over two years ago called Jesus: The Welcoming Friend of Sinners ... Even Homosexual Sinners ... Perhaps it will further stimulate good discussion.