I’m a couple of chapters into David Kinnaman’s research report entitled unChristian. The author promises that people of the church culture won’t like what they read, and I’m sure that the warning will be realized as I work through the book. (For the interested, I’ll be reviewing the book in a couple of weeks after I’ve finished the whole book. Right now, I just want to make a few “gut reaction” observations as I read.) I thought I’d let you watch as I work through the material from time to time. Plus, I’ll get my thoughts down and see how true they ring when I’ve completed my reading.

First of all, two reasons I’m reading the book: (1) I was able to get a copy of the book without any out of pocket expense (I got a free copy). So, I might as well read the thing. (2) And probably more importantly, several respected colleagues have recommended reading this book. It seems to actually be a work of catalyst that will drive the church to the action required for her to re-become the church that Christ intended. I’m always up for trying to find useful information (whether I like it or not).

On the surface this book bears some resemblance to the growing mound of Christian-bashing books that has developed since the turn of the century. At the same time, this book is written by a Christian researcher who is just as floored by what the statistics are telling him as the reader will be. It is a loving nudge—maybe even more of a push—to the church to return to her calling. Leaders listen up.

In chapter 2, Kinnaman reports 6 thematic areas of concern that color the perceptions that people outside the church culture (Kinnaman uses the term “outsiders” as his descriptor of this group, a less invasive term than what Christians habitually use and still a tough term to settle on—such is the problem when looking for a single term to describe a group for the sake of written communication. Keep this in mind when deciding to adopt a term for wholesale use, much like we love the terminology “pagan”, “lost”, or “heathen”) as they decide how they feel about Christians and Christianity. The portrait painted is not pretty. One other quick note: Kinnaman will address each of these themes in a chapter I haven’t read yet, so what you’re getting here is my initial thoughts that may change or be shored up as I get into the research. Outsiders in the 16 to 29 age groupings perceive Christianity with the following characteristics:

  1. Hypocritical. Saying one thing and doing another. As hard as it is to admit it, this is probably an earned perception. So many of the louder voices of the Christian community come across as holier-than-everyone else, morally superior, and without flaw when the reality is we can be just as rotten on the inside as the next guy (often more so).
  2. Too focused on getting converts. The way conservative Christians have developed kamikaze-style witnessing tools, I can’t say that I blame those outside the church for this perception either. So many preachers have encouraged their people to see every conversation as an opportunity to “win somebody to Jesus” that we don’t have time to develop the relationships necessary to make the witness we throw out so freely valid. Yes, I believe that we must share our faith, but sometimes I think that we come across as simply looking for the next notch on our Bible or tally mark on the baptismal pool.
  3. Anti-homosexual. If I take issue with any of the perceptions, this would be it. Mainly because my own perception is one that finds the homosexual community one as a community that doing the same kinds of things the world perceives in the church—pushing itself upon those who are not part of it. At the same time, the more vocal portion of our number make it hard to avoid this perception, because our reaction to those who practice what we see as other than biblically appropriate with a less than loving response.
  4. Sheltered. We are seen as cloistering ourselves away and not looking at the world with a realistic viewpoint (putting our observational heads in the sand, or simply ignoring what we don’t like). To this perception, my response from the church side of the fence is “homeschooling, Christian publishing, Christian music, Christian radio” (see the on-going series on Mercenary Christianity). Are they so wrong about us?
  5. Too political. I’d have to agree here. Not only in the arena of politics, but also within the church community as well. My own denomination looks more like a political entity than a theological/doctrinal body every year.
  6. Judgmental. One word—Pharisees. Like our first century counterparts, we have a tendency to make snap decisions about someone and hold them to a standard that even we can’t keep.

What about you? Do you think that we are earning these perceptions or are young people just missing the boat when they look at Christians and Christianity?

I’m interested in seeing how the explanatory chapters deal with each of these issues. Stay tuned.