13189918.JPG

I’ve decided to slowly walk through UnChristian, as I’m slowly walking through Volf’s book, The End of Memory. Here we go.

01 THE BACK STORY

Christianity has an image problem…” so begins their book.

The book is the brainchild of Gabe Lyons who used to be John Maxwell’s right hand man, while in service to Maxwell Gabe began to really wrestle with the increasing number of younger non-Christians, the somewhat visible retreat of the church from thoughtful engagement with its surrounding cultures, and wanted to make more of a difference to the younger generations coming up than he currently was. So Gabe shared what the Lord was laying on his heart with a friend of his over at the Barna Group, David Kinnaman. That began a three year journey to explore the mysterious world of the ‘Mosaics and Busters’ who view the present church itself as unChristian. Why unChristian? “…[it] relfects outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Chistians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.” Its the reflection of outsiders’ that UnChristian as a book seeks to record. They feel they must do this because many Christians are unaware of just what kind of image problem Christianity really has. UnChristian represents their research results, and The Fermi Project represents Gabe Lyons new life calling.
In order to record these sentiments they broke their studies down into two groups of people – Mosaics born between 1984 and 2002; and Busters born between 1965 and 1983. UnChristian as a book focuses primarily on the older Mosaics between their teens and 22 and the younger Busters under thirty. UnChristian is based on the belief that God wants Christians to pay attention to outsiders because he cares about them. That Christianity’s image problem is not merely the perception of young outsiders. Reminding the readers throughout that Christianity is still large and massive in the US. All with the intent the research in this Barna book helps Christians see their own selves in a mirror and their own faith in a mirror more clearly.

02 DISCOVERING UNCHRISTIAN FAITH

Things have changed for young people today and so has their perception of evangelical Christianity. “There are nearly 24 million outsiders in America who are between the ages of 16-29 years old. Of these, nearly seven million said they have no opinion; and ten million have never heard the term “evangelical.” That leaves less than a half million young outsiders – out of the 24 million – who see evangelicals in a positive light.” What’s driving their distrust and negativity? According the our authors its not theology but rather our swagger, how we go about things and the sense of self importance we project. Along these lines something Kinnaman and Lyons said in this section really stuck out to me, “We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.”

So how do outsiders view us? Its a mixed bag, they see us as antihomosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, too involved in politics, out of touch with reality, old fashion, insensitive to others, boring, not accepting of other faiths, confusing; but they also say we teach some basically good things, have good values and principles, a few say we’re friendly, and offer hope for the future. Its important to understand how these Mosaics and Busters are viewing us because they often reflect “very real ways in which the Christian community has mistakenly portrayed itself to a skeptical generation.” From these cricitisms our authors pull out six main themes which the rest of their book seeks to address and at the end of each chapter they have around six pastors, authors, cultural leaders, etc. speaking briefly to them. The six themes are: 1) Hypocritical; 2) Too focused on getting converts; 3) Antihomosexual; 4) Sheltered; 5) Too political; and 6) Judgmental. The chart below captures the phrases both outsiders and churchgoers use to describe the Christian faith according to the Barna research – remember these include those among the 27 million between the ages of 16-29. (One of the things that immediately jumps out to me from this research is that the Church in the West is in dire need of articulating a biblical-theology of human sexuality, one that humanizes those within homosexuality while also conveying a hamarteology that can address their ethos meaningfully).

unchristian-critique2.JPG

These perceptions are not the blind, dumbfounded complaints of reprobate and depraved sinners but rather the perceptions of people who have genuinely been touched by something UnChristian according to Kinnaman & Lyons. They say,

Perceptions are not formed in a vacuum or based on limited exposure…People’s impressions have been forged through a wide range of inputs…The “secular” media certainly do affect how outsiders view Christianity, but less than you might think…Painful encounters with the faith also have a strong influence on what a person thinks of Christianity…Being hurt by Christianity is far more common among the young than among older outsiders.

Maybe your asking yourself the question, Do perceptions of outsiders really matter? “What people think about Christians influences how they respond to us…What people think about Christians should help us be objective…What people think of Christians can change…What people think about Christians reflects personal stories.” For Kinnaman and Lyon’s these perceptions offer Christianity with a wakeup call to the image problem she has today, and more than just a wakeup call they afford her with choices. What are they?

“You have choices. You can deny the hostility, you can refute its causes, you can harass those Christians who are trying their best to represent Jesus in a completely new context, or you can deal with the increasing hostility of outsiders in a way that honors God. Jesus pionered this approach…He engaged his culture and its people with respect and love. He was in but not of the world…That doesn’t sound like unChristian faith at all.”