30 Apr 2009

UNchristian Views … Should We Care about them?

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Books, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, Preaching

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:

1) Hypocritical
2) All Christians talk about are “getting saved” … whatever that might mean
3) Antihomosexual
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 …

Shalom,
Bobby V

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.

27 Responses to “UNchristian Views … Should We Care about them?”

  1. Glenn Ziegler Says:

    Bobby,

    This post just nails the message I have been seeking to promote ever since the day I began as a minister. Yet after all that time, I am humbled at how succinctly and clearly you set forth the message.

    When bank tellers are taught how to detect fake money, they are taught by counting real money in the vault – for days. That is because the best way to spot a forgery is to know the real thing so well that you notice every defect and difference you may encounter on a fake bill.

    Jesus said He knows His sheep and calls them by name and they hear His voice and will only follow Him. When we know Jesus that well, we won’t have to worry about being fooled by a fake, no matter who they claim to follow or serve.

    So I have begun meeting people with a different question than i used to ask. I used to ask people if they knew Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that gets a catch-phrase kind of answer. Now I ask how they know when they are talking to a true servant of Jesus. The ones who can recognize even the more subtle differences in what and how Jesus taught and lived are the ones who know their Savior’s voice. They are real followers. The ones who can’t tell me anything about Jesus’ voice, are certainly NOT following Him. They may be following someone else who they think follows Jesus, but they do not know Jesus if they do not know how to recognize His voice.

    Now I promote knowing Jesus. If you know Him, you will have to decide whether to follow Him.

    And you know what? It is the most fruitful ministry I have ever done!

    Thanks for calling others to the ministry of knowing Jesus, Bobby.

  2. Steve Says:

    When I was a young twenty something, perhaps “hypocritical”, “sheltered” and “judgemental” might have been listed by my agemates in their critique of Christians. But the others are things that have developed to prominence/excess since then.

  3. AncientWanderer Says:

    Bobby-
    “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”

    Which one of those topics (except for the “angry/violent” that is simply an angry and violent reaction from the pagan world to us), which of the other 8 did, for example, the Apostle Paul NOT DEAL WITH? Or, Jesus for that matter? Which of those 8 was Jesus NOT accused of and Crucified for?

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby,

    I find it interesting that Paul makes these same arguments in Romans 2 (even after speaking against homosexual behavior). We have become so entrenched in our thought processes that we have lost the ability of free thinking.

    The “conservative” mind does not think that asking questions (of self/church actions) is a biblically sanctioned activity. So we have (in many ways) lost the ability to be the humble servants that we are expected to be.

    We had a discussion the other day about how we should treat those who are practicing homosexuality now that Iowa has made it legal for same sex couples to marry. During the course of our discussion it seemed that, because of the repugnant nature of this sin, some do not think those who practice this particular sin are worthy of the gospel. How sad a commentary…

    I think that if we keep are calling at the front of our mind, to be a holy, unique distinct and different people, we will be able to be REAL servants in the Master’s house and those of the world will know that we are legitimate and not faksters. That is the real challenge.

    I look forward to seeing you in June!

    Jeremy

  5. freeinchrist Says:

    Not to mention all of the people in this age group who are struggling to stay in the church. Many of them feel the same way about the church as the people outside of it. I find myself agreeing with much of what the unbelievers say about the church because often it is true. Postmoderns can tell when something is fake from a mile away and that is what they are doing when they look at the church.

  6. kingdomseeking Says:

    It’s been over a year ago since I read the book but if I recall, one of the perceptions that was stunning was the dichotomy that existed between the perception of who Jesus was (a postive impression) and the negative perception of who those claiming to be Jesus’ followers are (a negative view). That should cause every Christian to reaccess their practice of Christianity. I realize that perception and reality/actuality are not synonomous BUT there is always a certain level of truth to the perception. If our practice of discipleship appears different than the One we claim to be a disciple of, then… Well, you know.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  7. The Seeking Disciple Says:

    I agree in part. I agree that its interesting what the world thinks about American evangelicalism and how they perceive the established Church. However, I fear that the message of Jesus to be true disciples (Luke 14:25-35), to repent (Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19) and to be baptised as true disciples (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-4) becomes diluted when we become focused on making friends with the world instead of preaching God’s truth in love. Truth hurts. My children don’t often like for me to tell them “no” to certain things they want but they don’t see the love I have for them by demanding that they obey me.

    I know that your post is not to water down the message but to promote true preaching and not Americanized preaching. I agree with you here. I simply fear that if we want to cozy up to the world that we will become like them (as the children of Israel did; Judges 2:9-10; James 4:4) and like the seeker churches, we lose the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17) which confronts sin (Romans 3:19; 1 Timothy 1:8-10).

  8. Joshua L. Pappas Says:

    Worthwhile post Bobby. I’ve been struggling for some time now to figure out how to be really fruitful for the Lord. It is an extremely difficult world (for me) to figure out how to minister to. In some ways it’s still the world I grew up in, but it is also very different (and I’m just 33).

    I grew up in a very polemic sort of church culture and learned to express my faith most comfortably as a presentation of the truth over and against the error of everybody else. It’s not that I’ve now changed my mind about truth, but I realize that we cannot reach the world that way, at least not initially and primarily. I’ve known about “Un-Christian” for a while now, but haven’t read it. Maybe it’ll be this week’s buy for me.

  9. Dusty Chris Says:

    Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. If we present the gospel to those who we have a relationship, people are more receptive of the message. Not just our words are a testimony of Christ, but those who know us hopefully see Jesus in our actions and thus become moved to believe. Words without action leads to scoffing.

    Quite frankly, I would have said the same thing these non-Christians said concerning some Chritians.

  10. Terry Says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I have added a “P.S.” to the original post for those who are interested in that …

  12. AncientWanderer Says:

    Having said that…
    There is a fine line that must be walked by the Christian because “influence” is the key to evangelism. I can’t “influence” anyone if they don’t think I have something to say or if they think what I have to say is “unChristian”.

    One of the characteristics of an elder in the Lord’s church is that he has a good reputation in the community. Paul also exhorts us to be imitators of him (that would also be a form of “influence” in the world).

    That line, that thin line, has always been there. Jesus walked it as well as everyone of His disciples.

    I think for me it is allowing Jesus to determine “Christian” and “UNchristian”. The world is going to have a stilted opinion about both.

    {{Hey even I have a good rep in this area in the world… so it’s do-able 😉 }}

  13. nick gill Says:

    Terry,

    When people see Christians as anti-gay, they’re not saying they see Christians as against homosexuality.

    They’re saying that they see people who call themselves Christians showing up at military funerals and movie award ceremonies waving signs and shouting, “God HATES Fags and we do too!”

    When people say they see Christians as anti-choice, it isn’t just a commentary about abortion — Christians are seen as wanting to have total legal control over people’s lives.

  14. Terry Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Nick. I misunderstood the point of the post. I deleted my comment so that it would not distract from the discussion.

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Great comments everyone. Thanks for making a contribution.

    Don, I agree that the world is going to have a convoluted idea of “Christian” and “unChristian.” I pointed that out in the blog itself. But that is sort of beside the point is it not.

    That a person has misinformation is immaterial if that misinformation determines how he or she makes life changing decisions. But what is most tragic about the Buster and Mosaics view of Christianity is that THAT IS their perception and they got that perception from some where. Perhaps it was Jerry Falwell, or Bill O Reilly or Rush or Ann Coulter or a picture of a bunker buster with John 3.16 painted on it or … any number of sources. Is this really what we are “about?”

    And yes Paul did address homosexuality … once as a general comment and once as saying that some once were homosexuals. But that was clearly NOT Paul’s agenda. He did not enter Corinth and start an anti homosexual campaign.

    If Jesus is our Model/Pattern then how he interacted with the woman caught in the very act of adultery (insert any other sin you wish including lesbianism … she was caught in the very act of lesbianism). How did Jesus deal with this person that was “guilty as sin?” We do not read of Jesus insulting her. We do not read of Jesus hollering at her. We do not read of Jesus sowing a scarlet letter on her clothes. What we DO read of is Jesus’ interesting interaction with the church committee … in the mean time he affirmed the dignity of a human being, showed incredible love and grace. He made a friend for the Kingdom and ticked of the church people. The woman at the well is another amazing model dont you think? I’m not suggesting we endorse homosexuality in the slightest. I am suggesting that we become more Christlike and become known in our communities for what we are FOR and not what simply are against.

    Paul, like Moses before him, was concerned about the reputation of the gathering. He mentions in Titus that we “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (2.10).

    One final note: some of the perceptions of the Mosaics seem to be fairly on target. Many Christians are in fact more wrapped up in a conservative political agenda and calling it “Christian” than the kingdom of God. Nothing wrong in being conservative or being interested in politics … painting them as Christian is.

    Blessings,
    Bobby V

  16. Wade Tannehill Says:

    Bobby,

    I don’t think Don’s comment about the world’s convoluited idea of Christian and Non-Christian is really beside the point. I think it is right on target.

    So here is a news flash for anyone who may have forgotten. Jesus said that the world will hate his disciples and that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. And yes we should, as far as it depends on us, have a good reputation with outsiders. Absolutely.

    It’s a positive thing that today’s generation of the church refuses to tolerate the self-righteous smugness of some of their spiritual forebears. But however much we try to do impression management, a majority of the world still won’t like us. That’s because it isn’t conservative Christians who cannot live at peace with those who think differently. It is the liberals who cannot live at peace with those who think differently. Go to a liberal protest and go to a conservative protest. I would almost be willing to bet that the liberal protesters will be spewing more hatred, venom, and profanity. We see it all the time.

    And why blame O’Reilly, Coulter, and Limbaugh for the world’s impression of Christianity? The reason folks don’t like these people isn’t because they’re mean; it’s because they disagree with them. To the liberal, anyone who expresses disagreement or tells them that there is absolute right and wrong is mean. Someone needs to be like the prophets of old and address the ills of society—even pagan society. Maybe that’s the calling of these conservative political commentators.

    But I do agree that Christians have made the mistake of getting into bed with certain political parties which is always a bad idea and recipe for being exploited. Just ask the state church in Nazi Germany.

    Whenever the world hates us we’re told that it’s always because we’re not loving enough, or open minded enough, or whatever. At times that may be true. But I think that more often than not it’s because we march to the beat of an entirely different drum. Jesus was perfect and they hated him.

    Oh, and BTW, John 8:1-11 does not appear in some of the oldest and most reliable manuscripts. 🙂

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wade,

    I referenced O’reilly, Rush and Ann as illustrative. I think some of the rhetoric that is used by them can be very unhelpful…just my opinion. I have no problem with a conservative view point being expressed. I have a problem with talk radio style communication taking over the church

    Intolerance is something that I have seen all around. I’ve seen it at a gay pride parade and I’ve seen it in the Firm Foundation.

    Though John 8 is a textual variant I believe it to be an authentic reflection from the ministry of Jesus.

  18. kingdomseeking Says:

    Wade,

    I lived in one of the most liberal towns in the U.S.A., Ithaca, NY where every week there was someone or some group protesting something, not too mention all the other young social liberals who were always more than willing to engage in a convesation about current affairs and global concerns. Never once did I hear anyone “spewing more hatred, venom, and profanity…” but once while living in Memphis (the so-called belt-buckle of the Bible-belt) I heard a self-described conservative Christian who stood for traditional American values offer his solution to border control and illegal immigration. You know what his solution was? Give the border patrol an automatic rifle and a license to shoot first and ask questions second.

    That is the sort of hatred that should never come out of a confessing Christian’s mouth but it is comments like that that spoil the totality of the Christian witness in the perception of the postmodern generations. You know, one bad apple…

    I know that neither the Fred Phelps’s of the larger Christian world nor the equal opposite extremes recently expressed by Perez Hilton should be allowed to become respresenative of the whole. Unfortunately it does too often.

    As far as the book “Unchristian” is concerned, it is as I have said and have heard others say. Perception and reality are not the same but there is always a certain level of truth to perception. It is that certain level of truth that concerns me.

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  19. Wade Tannehill Says:

    Bobby and Rex,

    Thanks for your responses. I do not disagree with anything that either of you said in response to my comment. And Rex, it sounds as though you know more about liberals than I do. Perhaps I have allowed the extremes to become representative of the whole.

    I understand the alarm caused by the hate language of professing Christians, which should never be.

    But just as it is dangerous to align ourselves too closely with an ultra right wing party who promises to promote our moral concerns, I think it is likewise dangerous to affiliate ourselves too closely with a liberal left who promises to promote our concerns for social justice.

    It seems to have become rather fashionable for “progressive” Christians to bash politically conservative Christians and caricature them as hate mongers. It sometimes sounds as though we are parroting the far left. I just think it’s important to remain critical of both the far left and the radical right, recognizing that no political party is the kingdom of God. And while we all know that, we must be careful to not become as reactionary as the extremists on either side. If we lose our ability to think critically about the agendas of either left or right, I think we can easily become pawns of deception.

    And I’m not accusing anypone in this discussion of having crossed that line. I’m just saying, be careful about equating any political ideology with the kingdom of God. And due to abuses of some on the right I think we can become overly sympathetic with the left.

    I claim no expertise in this matter. Just thinking out loud.

  20. kingdomseeking Says:

    Wade,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that being a “progressive Christian” should not be an excuse to bash those who have conservative political views. Love should be our ethic at all tims.

    Any ways, I am still trying to figure out the liberals too as living in Ithaca (after have been raised in the midwest and south) provided some moments of cultural shock. :-).

    Grace and peace,

    K. Rex Butts

  21. Brad Stanford Says:

    It’s on thing to be hated for being hateful. It’s another to be hated for taking the establishment’s thunder.

    The sign-waving, gay-hating,truth-without-relationship christian is not biblical. To be like Jesus, all of that anger should be turned toward what we have made of the church. It should not be directed at a world that acts worldly.

    Service, relationship, community, and discipleship (mostly in that order) are the accelerents of the kingdom. The only “watered down” gospel is the one that does not adhere to these things.

    The grace of our Lord exhibited to the woman caught in adultery is rare in His followers. The world is wise to no longer give ear to such obvious hypocrisy, our self-justification for it notwithstanding. As it says in Proverbs “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The more that Christians give an uncaring harsh answer to the world, the less glory God will get.

  22. Michale D. Greene Says:

    Don’t know when this was posted, I have been away from the ‘puter for a few days. Just wanted to say that these opinions of Christians and Christianity are not new. When I was a teenager, coming of age in the draft card, bra burning, rebellious age of the 60’s I felt the same way about Christians and Christianity.

    When some of these “post moderns” grow up, mature, have their own families, and begin to examine life and search for its meaning, many will, as many of my generation have done, take another look at Biblical Christianity and find what they are looking for.

    What we need to be diligent in doing is preaching the whole counsel of God and to be ready to give an answer to any who ask us for a reason for the hope that is within us, but with meekness and fear.

    Michael D. Greene

  23. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Michael there is not doubt that some things among the Mosaics can be identified as merely generation gaps. But though it may be easy to write the most significant trends among them as a generation gap I think that would be a grave mistake. More than a mere generation gap separates Mosaics from Boomers especially. The authors of UNchristian explore several reasons why this is the case in brief on pages 22ff and then throughout the book.

  24. Doug in Phoenix Says:

    Wade, Bobby, and Rex –

    Regarding Christians and the political left/right – I highly recommend the following book. It is very scripturally based. It makes one think about politics with a focus on Jesus and scripture.

    “Turn Neither to the Right nor to the Left: A Thinking Christian’s guide to Politics and Public Policy” – by D. Eric Schansberg (2003)

    He is first a Christian and academically an economist. Its well worth the read.

  25. Keith Brenton Says:

    I interviewed co-author David Kinnaman for New Wineskins last year and found him to be extraordinarily insightful: ‘Not Enough to be Transformed’: An Interview with David Kinnaman. The last sentences in the article still give me a chill of agreement. (There was some more interview that you can listen to in the MP3, but that seemed like a powerful place to stop.)

  26. Dusty Chris Says:

    So what is the alternative? Embrace those who embrace sinful lifestyles?

    There is a side of me that says,”Yeah, embrace others with the love of Christ.” And I think that is the only way post-moderns will ever be saved. It is up to God to convict and transform sinners hearts, not us. I have seen it happen.

    I was part of a worship group that would engage in 2 hours of praise and worship then pray for each other. There were men who were drug addicts, sex addicts, alcoholics, homosexual, and spiritually dead that were a part of the group. And I saw how God transformed us into useful, sober, Spirit-filled men. But it was not sermons or lessons that transformed anyone. It was the time we spent in praise and worship and prayer that allowed God the room to change us.

    I have not been very successful at changing anyone from anything through rhetoric, begging or conjoling. But God is willing if one humbly falls to their knees in front of Him. The model of Jesus was to love sinners and offer them something better…isn’t that really what works for us as well?

  27. Gardner Hall Says:

    “Christianity” is unpopular only partly because many modern “Christians” are different from early disciples: trusting in politics (usually of the right wing) to solve problems, avoiding contact with the poor and being pharisaical in their approach to others.

    However, it is also important to remember that early Christians were quite unpopular, at least in Roman society, because they were other worldly, not materialistic and opposed sins prevalent in the Roman world like adultery,homosexuality, lasciviousness, etc. Early Christianity did not worry about adjusting itself to fit the mold of the Roman world and neither should we.

    While recognizing the disgusting stench that comes from Phariseeism (I think that’s the main emphasis of your post), we do Christ a disservice if we worry too much about being popular with society in general.

    Thanks again Bobby

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