Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: UnChristian (2007)

UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why It Matters. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. 2007. Baker Books. 256 pages. [Source: Bought]

UnChristian is a thought-provoking examination of research revealing people's perceptions of Christianity today. Researchers sought out the opinions of those aged 16-40. The studies included in the results or calculations were conducted from 1995 to January 2007. These perceptions may or may not be absolutely true or grounded completely in reality. But to the person who holds these perceptions, they feel true, they are held as true. These perceptions contribute to general stereotypes. (Perhaps stereotypes help shape perceptions as well?) The book focuses on negative perceptions of Christians, of the Christian faith, of God, of the church as a whole.
The generic Christian does not have a good reputation.

The chapter titles: "The Backstory," "Discovering unChristian Faith," "Hypocritical," "Get Saved!," "Antihomosexual," "Sheltered," "Too Political," "Judgmental," "From unChristian to Christian," "Afterword: New Perceptions." Each chapter shares a perception and a "new perception." For example, the perception of hypocrisy from chapter three: "Christians say one thing but live something entirely different." The "new perception" also from chapter three: "Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second." The new perception being the proposed goal for Christians who want to improve their reputation. Or from chapter four: "Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others" and "Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God."

For being based on research, on scholarship, this book is surprisingly reader-friendly. I did not agree with every single sentence, paragraph, or conclusion. Neither did I disagree with every single sentence, paragraph, or conclusion. There are a few things I can conclude.

First, the church is not doing a good job of being the people of the Book; therefore Christians may not actually know that much about what they are supposed to believe, their lives are not a reflecting a biblical worldview. It is NOT a matter of simply obeying a strict list of rules or disobeying the rules and being a rebel. It is a MATTER of the heart and soul. Of living a spirit-filled life, of having the mind of Christ, of being transformed into his likeness, of abiding and growing in Christ. They do not see the world through Christ's eyes; their hands and feet are their own. They see themselves on the throne. Before a person can be Christ-like, they have to personally KNOW Christ, LOVE Christ, be SEEKING to put Him first. Christians own perceptions of their faith might see it as DO and not DONE.

Second, this book reveals the need for people to consider how they do relationships. One of the big conclusions seen in MULTIPLE chapters, is that Christians are perceived as being absolutely terrible when it comes to listening to others. They are perceived as not actually caring about what anyone has to say. I think this problem of not listening or not caring is not just a problem for Christians--I think it is a widespread problem. But just because this book picks on Christians doesn't mean that it's not a valid opinion. Some people like to talk to hear themselves talk. Some people talk first, think second. But if relationships are to matter, they take time and effort. It is an investment of self. Listening is crucial if both people are to feel valued. People can talk and share plenty, but sometimes one can still walk away feeling unheard and unappreciated. I think each of us has a need to feel heard, to feel loved, to feel wanted, to feel accepted, to feel KNOWN. In some ways only God can meet all our needs all of the time. But God places us in communities, in relationships, in families to do just this.

Third, no matter the research, no matter the results, only one book is necessary for informing Christians on how they should live in this world: the Bible. This conclusion is my own. The authors never state it quite like this. The authors do value the Bible, I'm not saying they don't. But what matters most is what JESUS has to say to the church. The New Testament is full of words to the church, to Christian communities, to believers. Be humble. Put others first. Be considerate. Be kind. Be sensitive. Be forgiving. Show mercy. Be generous. Show hospitality. Don't show favoritism. Love others. Love even your enemies. Don't complain. Don't fight. Don't gossip. Don't be judgmental. Be thankful. Be united with other believers. Pray More. Pray without ceasing! Be discerning! Be wise! Be prepared! Here are just a few places where Christians are told directly how to live the Christian life:
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast what is good.
Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
Romans 12:13-14 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Romans 12:15-18 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant that yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing
Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 5:10-11 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Ephesians 5:15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
Colossians 3:12-17 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the words of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Does the church need reviving? reforming? transforming? Does the church need to be renewed by the Spirit? Do Christians today need awakening? I think the answer is obvious. The Christian faith can be vital, full of life and love. The church doesn't need self-effort; churches struggling and trying on their own to improve perceptions. (I probably would have appreciated the book more if it had been less salvage our image, change our brand, etc.) The change has to come from the inside--from the Spirit of God. All fruit comes from ABIDING not trying. We need more zeal, not less. We need men and women in love with God, in love with His glory, more men and women delighting in God, more men and women hungering and thirsting for God's Word. We need to be people of THE BOOK. Superficiality of the faith comes from people taking the Word of God superficially.

Favorite quotes:
To engage nonChristians and point them to Jesus, we have to understand and approach them based on what they really think, not what we assume about them. We can't overcome their hostility by ignoring it. We need to understand their unvarnished views of us. (16)
We are known for having an us-versus-them mentality. Outsiders believe Christians do not like them because of what they do, how they look, or what they believe. They feel minimized--or worse, demonized--by those who love Jesus. (27)
When it comes to matters of faith, young outsiders feel they know what Christians want before any words are uttered. (68)
Only one-third of young outsiders believe that Christians genuinely care about them (34 percent). And most Christians are oblivious to those perceptions--64 percent of Christians said they believe that outsiders would perceive their efforts as genuine. This is especially significant because Christians were very accurate in anticipating many of the negative perceptions of outsiders, but being perceived as insincere surprised believers. Showing genuine interest in someone is hard to fake. (69) 
Intentionally or not, we promote the idea to outsiders that being a Christ follower is primarily about the mere choice to convert. We do not portray it as an all-out, into-the-kingdom enlistment that dramatically influences all aspects of life. (79)
A Playlist for the Church:

Carry Your Love by Caedmon's Call
Mystery of Mercy, Caedmon's Call

If We Are The Body, Casting Crowns
What If His People Prayed, Casting Crowns
Jesus Friend of Sinners, Casting Crowns
Wedding Day, Casting Crowns

Just as I Am by Andrew Peterson
We Are Not As Strong As We Think We Are, Rich Mullins
My Jesus by Todd Agnew
Hands and Feet by Audio Adrenaline

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Annette said...

Excellent review because it is so well-written and right on the mark for what needed to be expressed.
I feel the generation just under me which is the 20-40 age, believe they have a "new and improved way." What I mean is they want to interpret Scripture to suit their beliefs about certain social or moral subjects. They don't want to read and study the Bible, but instead hash and rehash on certain themes or points in Scripture. They want to embrace other religions or cultures without knowing Jesus first as their Lord. They want to tell me how wrong I am, and that in our modern era we know that the Bible can't possibly have meant what we'd thought it to mean because we know more now because of Science.
What they don't realize is there is nothing new under the sun. Other groups of people have filtered through the church before expressing their viewpoints, and in arrogance believing themselves to be right.