UnChristian 06 SHELTERED

Have you ever asked someone to be completely honest with the way they’re feeling about you, and then immediately after regret that you ever asked them for it? I have, and reading the first section of this chapter is kind of like sitting in front of someone being ‘completely honest with how they feel about you’. K & L open the chapter by listing some things people said about Christianity when asked to describe it;

The Titanic – a ship about to sink but unaware of its fate

A powerful amplifier being undermined by poor wiring and weak speakers

A pack of domesticated cats that look like they are thinking deep thoughts but are just waiting for their next meal

An ostrich with its head in the sand

A hobby that diverts people’s attention

Simply put people on the outside of the church think we out of tune with reality, that our faith lacks spiritual vitality and mystery, that we intentionally insulate ourselves from the outside world, and that we live in our own world all the while thinking everyone else is living in it as well. At this point in the conversation with my friend I’d probably say TMI, disclosure overload, what your saying is so out to lunch that I’m no longer taking your complaints seriously…but maybe I should.

K & L try and soften the impact of this news by reminding their readers that this conclusion really is ‘surprising’, that Christianity shouldn’t be out of tune because Jesus isn’t out of tune, that we don’t have to be nearly as sheltered as outsiders are saying we are. “Jesus is the legitimate path to a dynamic spiritual world that exists beyond our five sense…Christianity offers a sophisticated, livable response to the nature of the world and how we “work” as humans…Finally, a sheltered picture of Christianity is relatively recent development in history.” If all this is so, then why are young outsiders saying Christians live a sheltered life? One reason, suggest K & L, is that the church doesn’t appreciate enough just how different today’s ‘young world’ is. Young people are trained to believe they can control everything, they thrive on the unexpected and diversity is the Gatorade of their adolescent marathon, they live in between the tension of being a very experimental generation but also are the most protected generation ever to exist, and finally they love mystery, tension, nuance, uncertainty, and ambiguous answers. The church with its pat answers, relatively easy moral map, and un-doubting faith seems less genuine, less honest about the struggles and complexity of life; sheltered within the safe house of the story it tells itself.

Not only have youth’s worldviews and affections been going through changes but the challenges they face, even as the most protected generation, are manifold and fearcer than their Boomer families. Here are just a few of the challange’s they face;

  • Busters have grown up in a social setting more violent than that of their Boomer parents
  • Family structures have undergone dramatic change since the times when Boomers were growing up.
  • Compared with Boomers, today’s young adults are more likely to view sexually explicit magazines, movies, or websites.
  • As the 1950s ended, 30% of young people approved of sex before marriage, compared to 75 percent now.
  • From the late 1960s to the late 1990s, the average age when a young women lost her virginity had dropped from eighteen to fifteen.
  • Young adults experience substance abuse more frequently than do older adults.
  • Profanity has become a natural part of conversation and self-expression of most young adults.
  • Mosaics and Busters face other significant personal struggles and are aware of those challange’s.
  • Despite the centrality of relationships to this generation, nearly half of young adults say they are trying to find a few good friends.
  • Their interpersonal skills are also unusually prickly.
  • Many Mosaics and Busters live with an inner desperation that often leads to personal annihilation.

I think K & L sum up the thrust of these statements well when they say, “The activities that were on the fringe for Boomers now definethe lifestyle of Busters.”The call to the church who’s labeled shelter is a direct and straight forward one – ENGAGE THEM – engage them personally and engage their world. If we’re going to engage them personally the first thing we need to wrestle with is forming a life discipline that counteracts the ‘enclave’, ‘bubble’ tendency of churchgoers who abide only within the subcultures of the church. Confronting this means accepting our responsibility to reach out to our neighbors with humility and energy; not being fearful nor being easily offended thereby reacting in isolationism or crusades; while also helping the desperate with compassion; being prepared to bring not just personal but cultural change; and keeping the balance between purity in our lives and proximity to the ‘real world’. 

Engaging their world means understanding that its not a ‘world’ but ‘world’s’. Our call as Christians is to be faithful in the worlds we live within, as K & L suggest, “Christianity begins to shift its sheltered reputation when Christ followers are engaged, informed, and on the leading edge, offering a sophisticated response to the issues people face.” Our authors pick out two very large sectors of this world to discuss how we can engage them and why we are not engaging them; they are the intellectuals and the overlooked. “…upscale outsiders, regardless of their age, maintain the most negative views of the Christian faith.” There is good news for all of us to hear here, there are a group of emerging young Christian professionals raising to this challenge, BUT we may be offering them an additional challenge as churches – are we supporting them and exhorting them or are we denigrating them by calling their workspace ‘secular’ and ours ‘spiritual’. K & L give us a glimpse at the habits, mindsets, and motivation these new, younger leaders have;

  • These young Christian leaders realize that they must display excellence at their craft.
  • One common element of this mindset is the pursuit of a first-class education.
  • These young leaders define faith as their driving passion in life.
  • These young leaders we have studied have a healthy respect  for their peers and the difference of opinion and lifestyle these people represent.
  • The motivation of these young leaders is to redeem rather than condemn the arenas in which they work.

The overlooked are on the other side of the spectrum, as life’s rejects they used to not fitting in well in society but what’s startling or read: sad is that they aren’t fitting into the church either. Within their group are the loners, the self-injurers (or as kids in high-school call them ‘cutters’ or ‘scenes who cut themselves’), and the fatherless. K & L wrap this chapter off with a simple statement – lets do something!

The pastors, writers, professors, and cultural leaders they had contribute at the end of this chapter were: Margaret Feinberg; Reggie Joiner; Louie Giglio; Chuck Colson; Mark Batterson; Gary Haugen; D. Michael Lindsay; and John Stott.

Further Thoughts:

Sheltered is a term that in my mind can be applied unilaterally between churchgoers and outsiders. The shelter we choose to live in, think in, and be influenced by always has a ceiling that seems just high enough to provide cultural air for us and our friends to breathe in. Nevertheless I do think the Christian shelter is often smaller than that of the worlds, why? There are three tendency I see affecting the broader church and even what I would consider my more academic and high-culture tradition, the PCA.

The first is entrenchment: K & L picked up on this one, I would have loved to see them develop it further but alas they have their own page limitations and audience interest to consider. Entrenchment can be positive or negative, we do in fact need to entrench ourselves against unbelieving presumptions about God, creation, man, the Answer(s) to it all, etc.; but it can and is in my mind more often a negative attribute of the churches life in society. We are behind the times, we do see evolutionist, tree-hugers (maybe we need to huge a few trees), and more in very broad terms; we couldn’t name a single influential leader in these communities outside of the ones in popular literature nor could we explain or describe the nuanced difference between them. We have a lot of intellectual hubris to shed – period.

The second is literalism: the mention of the Ancient Near East or the Second Temple Context of scripture raises far more suspicious brows than it does raise applause in today’s church. We don’t trust the academia that is producing more serious studies and monographs because their way of reading and interpreting scripture seems so foriegn to our way of reading devotionally with the purpose that God can ‘touch us’, ‘speak to us’, etc.; and in fact their reading seems foreign to our pastors style of interpreting text on Sunday mornings. We are stuck in inch deep biblical-theology and we don’t want to leave it, and if we do leave it, its typically for widening our ‘systematic theological assumptions’ more than it is for understanding the life, times, and theologies of the original audience of scripture. Many of us do have wonderful pastors and organic leaders who embody in their handling and use of scripture a counter-intuitive witness to this trend – praise God, may He increase them…

Lastly, and in a relatable strain, I believe the old ‘faith and science’ wars are still alienating us from understanding our world and the cultures that stand behind ‘the others’ positions. Nevertheless I think this ‘shelteredness’ is a shared one as I said at the beginning of these further thoughts. Most outsiders have no idea of the complexity that exists in today’s Christianty…is the reason because we’re hiding it, or are they denying the obvious? Its probably a bit of both.