I have a stack in my office that is entirely dedicated to books I need to read. This stack rarely shortens because as I read one book another replaces it in the pile. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons’ book unChristian has been in that pile for at least six months, and I finally picked it up last week. I am so glad I did.
The premise of this book is three years of research on how outsiders of the Christian faith view Christianity. More specifically, it’s about the Buster (born between 1965 and 1983) and Mosaic (born between 1984 and 2002) generations and their perceptions of the church. The results are frightening. An overwhelming majority of this demographic has a negative impression of Christianity in America. They view us as hypocritical, too focused on getting converts, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. Does this come as a surprise?
Maybe to my parents’ and grandparents’ generations, but it certainly doesn’t surprise me. As a twentysomething, I’ve long struggled with my faith, my politics, and my culture and watched many of my friends from high school and college do the same. Many of them no longer practice their Christian faith, and I surmise that some of them have the same impressions of Christianity as many others in the country. I sure do.
Once Kinnaman and Lyons present the six broad themes found in their research, they dedicate a chapter to each impression using theme-specific research and interviews to illustrate how outsiders feel about Christians. Once they’re sure readers understand the problem of the theme, they address how Christians can work to change those perceptions, and they offer a new perception to work toward:
Perception: Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.
New perception: Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second.
- Too focused on getting converts
Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
New perception: Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.
Perception: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
New perception: Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.
Perception: Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
New perception: Christians are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face.
- Too political
Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
New perception: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.
Perception: Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.
New perception: Christians show grace by finding good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers.
These existing perceptions and new perceptions really challenged me. In light of Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins , a book my small-group Bible study has been based on this spring, many of the existing perceptions are a result of the sins we tolerate in the church and in our lives. Personally, I’m guilty of all of them—many just in the last week! Even before reading unChristian, God had been challenging me to build more relationships with outsiders, to engage the culture, and to be much slower to judge others (especially when I’m driving), and now I’m starting to see the bigger picture and how my personal faith is affecting and being affected by outsiders and Christianity.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, but with a condition. If you are a Christ-follower, engage the book by prayerfully measuring every paragraph against God’s Word. Sometimes we latch on to a book or a song and esteem it as Truth without holding it next to Scripture. Prayerfully ask God to show you your own heart and how you can begin changing the perception of Christianity in America.