Unchristian: What a New Generation really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman. Originally published in 2007.

I finished this book a couple of months ago, and my feelings about it were mixed. I didn’t know how to review it. The premise is simple: Christianity has a real PR problem with today’s generation of young Americans, and this is in large part due to the fact that we -American Christians- are for the most part horrible examples. We are, in a word, UnChristian.

On the one hand, and the research bears this out, there is very little difference between the lifestyle of the average Christian and the average American in terms of entertainment, how we spend our money, how we dress, etc. These are certainly legitimate concerns.

However, Kinnaman loses me with his insistence that most moderns reject Christianity because of the behavior of Christians. While there is something to be said for the issues in the American church, this conclusion thoroughly ignores the fact that the Bible clearly indicates that fewer and fewer people will embrace truth, choosing the “broad way”, while those who choose the “narrow road” will be few in number.

He makes excellent points, many of which I have made myself on numerous occasions, such as:

“Having spent time around “sinners” and also around purported saints, I have a hunch why Jesus spent so much time with the former group: I think he preferred their company. Because the sinners were honest about themselves and had no pretense, Jesus could deal with them. In contrast, the saints put on airs, judged him, and sought to catch him in a moral trap. In the end it was the saints, not the sinners, who arrested Jesus.”

But a lot of the “hypocrite label that he claims is rightly thrown at Christians by unbelievers strikes me as disingenuous. He ignores the corresponding balance of human nature which has always rejected Christ and His Truth.

For all the problems in the postmodern church, and they are many, the solution to the “problem” of lagging Christian conversions has little to do with the church itself, and more to do with the spirit of the age; a spirit which has infected the church in ways big and small. Such as the way many American Christians conflate our political views with convictions of faith.  Kinnaman makes a good observation here:

 “It strikes me as unChristian that we often have more charitable attitudes toward ideological allies than we do toward brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we disagree on matters of politics.”

Also,  there is the proliferation of ministries which focus on technology as a means of spreading the gospel rather than being salt and light to other human beings in the flesh. It gives us the false illusion that we are doing more than we actually are. The strategy is a bad one:

“In an era of mass media, it is easy to believe that the more eyeballs, the more impact. But radio, television, and tracts accounted for a combined total of less than one-half of 1% of the Busters who are born again.”

I doubt the Internet does much better. It probably does more to turn people off than draw them in. If those of us who are really, truly pressing for a true and deep relationship with Christ would connect with others outside of our comfortable christian bubbles, we might see more people opening their hearts to the gospel.

Instead, Kinnaman suggests we should try to be “used of God” in media, arts and entertainment, and other avenues to reach people through the mediums of communication most commonly used today:

In many ways politics follows culture. As ancient Greek musician Damon of Athens said, ‘Show me the lyric of a nation and it matters not who writes its laws.’ Movies, television, books, magazines, the Internet, and music are incredibly significant in shaping world views and lifestyles of today’s America. And Christians are expressing a growing awareness and response to these avenues of influence. Where is God calling you to serve him – media, arts and entertainment, politics, education, church, business, science?

Am I the only one who has noticed how inept and far afield “Christian” media goes when it attempts to make movies and music which connect with the culture? For all the panic and shrieking Christians expressed over the movie, “The Shack”, I found the theology in that movie as “accurate” as most Kendrick Brothers films. In other words, Christian movies leave as much opportunity to eat the meat and spit out the bones as most secular produced movies which portray Christianity in a positive light.

Despite my initial and lingering problems with some of David Kinnaman’s conclusions, UnChristian certainly offers an opportunity for prayerful self-reflection. This is an appropriate summation of something we need to consider as we encounter those outside of the faith:

Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don’t hold up both truth in tension, you invariably becomes useless and separated from the world God loves.

Too often, it seems we forget that God loves those who have not yet encountered His grace as much as He loved us before we encountered it.

Grade: C+







12 thoughts on “UnChristian

  1. Robyn says:

    I think real followers of The Way are right on track with their example to their children, their families, and the world. It’s the man-made religious activity (church culture) that is failing, this is their harvest.

    “ On the one hand, and the research bears this out, there is very little difference between the lifestyle of the average Christian and the average American in terms of entertainment, how we spend our money, how we dress, etc. These are certainly legitimate concerns.”

    It was interesting to hear (read) someone else say it, Darrell and I have been asking those questions for years: if you have cable and watch the same movies as the world, how are you different. If husbands farm their wives out for a pay cheque the same as the world, how are you different. If you turn your kids over to the education system, same as the world does, how are you different. If wives treat and divorce their husbands the same as secular wives do, how are they different? On and on it could go. I’ve finally relaxed about it though, somewhat. It doesn’t matter how much someone says, “I’m a sweet orange,” if all that comes out of them is sour lemon … they are a lemon. The proof is in the doing.

    People aren’t stupid, they know the real deal when they encounter it.

    The Shack was a pale theologian’s movie. However, I find the critics of it (which I once was) tending to think that just because a movie (or song, or poem, or art etc) carries the handle of “Christian,” it should reach *their* specific level of relationship and intellectual growth in God; but clearly, God uses anything for anyone at His chosen time – and at the level each individual needs. It would be damaging, I would think, for a new believer, in all their fervor and excitement about how they came to know of the real living God through this movie; only to be told the movie was “bad” by the self-appointed super-sister Christians (again, which I once was). Seriously, they’re drinking the real living water, who cares if they found it in weak lemonade; they’ll figure it out as God grows them up. (that’s definitely a rant 😉 … my distain for wolf-religion shows-up from time to time).

    Our family loved the Shack, the fact that church culture was ‘up-in-arms’ about it was our green light to view; one of our markers that raise our curiosity to dig deeper into a thing to analyze: church people. Not *all* church people but the most vocal ones for sure.

    This book sounds right up my alley, I’ll add it to my list. (which is now EVER growing since I found your blog Els!)


  2. elspeth says:

    Confession: We saw Spider-man Homecoming AND Guardians of the Galaxy AND my one history buff daughter and I went to see Dunkirk yesterday afternoon.

    In general we are careful what we watch. We don’t automatically, however, shun what is popular.

    I enjoyed your take on The Shack. I liked it also and agree that sadly, when the church culture is up in arms over something -or conversely is all aglow about something like Fireproof- you’re best off doing your own research.


  3. Robyn says:

    completely agreed there! (about doing your own research)

    We saw Dunkirk yesterday as well! As with all things war, they continue to fill me with a sense of awe and respect for those who sacrificed for our freedom of democracy and capitalism.

    I’ve given up on Spiderman …. I think I’m a Tobey McGuire fan more than a Spiderman fan 😉

    We’ve got a wide variety of viewing in our house, but for some reason agree that cable is a bad choice. I’ll watch anything that’s based in non-fiction and some fiction as long as I think I can extrapolate *something* for real life experiences.

    Honestly though, if I feel myself getting dafter by the second; or dirtier by the second, I’ll generally stop watching (or reading) and move onto something else — I don’t have time for it or the baggage it will bring.

    Just to be clear: I don’t have a problem with mainstream media viewing like Netflix or movies or music. It’s the double standard of the church culture that drives me batty. “You’re going to hell because you’re living with your boyfriend …. THAT IS sin!” As they fill their mouths with abundance, getting ever fatter, calling their gluttony a glandular issue.

    … that type of stuff.


  4. elspeth says:

    We don’t have cable either and yes to the feeling of getting dafter or dirtier. I have a book or books and a lamp in our family room. Oftentimes when something is being watched I am reading a book.

    I am not much of a Spider-man fan either. But this is a comic book house. My husband read them a lot as a kid. And so we see most Marvel movies.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. hearthie says:

    I am going to agree and disagree with you simultaneously. 🙂

    1) Yes, the time is getting late, and we knew how this would play out – well, those of us who can read the book of Jude, for instance.

    2) However, that doesn’t free those of us who are Christians from the claims of hypocrisy among the Worldlings – the Western church is pretty soggy with rot these days.

    Of course Robyn makes a good point about that latter – are the folks who are soggy with rot in a relationship with Jesus? Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in their lives? Or do they call themselves Christians because it’s easier?

    I have an answer to that – sometimes. Because we’re all sinners, and the easy path *is* the easy path. Twist and wiggle and walk far enough away from the Lord that you can’t feel the heat of His gaze on your back as you willfully sin because you’ve convinced yourself that it’s “okay” to do so, or that what you’re doing isn’t “really sin” – or just out of ignorance and poor teaching.

    But I *am* concerned with the souls of men. Souls of my friends. How do I witness to them, how do I represent Jesus to them? Media isn’t the answer, unless it’s a medium of my friendship. How do I counter their charges of hypocrisy? Is it in MY life? Do I live what I say that I believe? How about those Christians to whom I point as good examples of the faith – are they living it? Am I loving? Am I discernably, uncomfortably, different? Am I a good example of 1 Peter 3:16?

    When an accusation is levied, I want to check and see if it has a grain of truth in it, and then I want to do what I can do about fixing that. Since I was just noticing that a great many people leave the faith both because they’ve never really been IN the faith and because of the hypocrisy of their elders, I consider self-examination for hypocrisy a worthy goal.

    Examining anyone else is a waste of time.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. elspeth says:

    I don’t think we disagree at all, Hearth. I concur with everything you wrote.

    My exception with some of the assertions in this book (certainly not all because I agree with much of it) is the notion that Christianity has a “PR problem” that can be solved and converted into more converts by eliminating hypocrisy.

    Yes, we need to walk our talk. Absolutely. And yes, we need to be compassionate and care about the souls of others. You know I have beating the drum about our lack of humility and smug sense of superiority even in our own sin for quite some time now. I’m with you.

    I just don’t know if I agree with some of the solutions offered. Yes, we need to change a LOT of how we walk, and prayerfully try and reach people. But there is a hint of a whiff of the idea that *we* can draw more people in by virtue of our stellar Christian walk and that people’s rejection of Christ is mostly *our* fault.

    That, I cannot square with The Book.


  7. hearthie says:

    Ah. Well. I don’t know…

    I am wary of PR problems. I think even the concept of PR is inherently hypocritical. And prideful. “Look at me, I have it all together!” “I am a model Christian”. Yikes.

    BUT I agree that the number of hypocritical Christians gives the folks who don’t want to be Christian an easy out, an easy excuse. Keeps them from that sense of discomfort as they throw false accusations – they have enough true ammo. And it keeps us from new converts who believe their lying eyes (I’ve been listening to a lot of conversion stories on youtube lately – converts are often drawn in by lives lived in obedience and *love*).

    At any rate, I think there’s room for both these things to be true. Western Christianity is in serious trouble, and Christianity in other areas of the world is doing fine – if not physically, in the fire in their bellies.

    Trying to pinpoint if this decline is the fault of our times or our own fault is a little strange – are we not creatures of our time?

    Does the Lord tarry, the only thing I see repairing the Church in the West is the Refiner’s fire – but does the Lord tarry, that will be supplied.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Robyn says:

    I hope you guys can follow, I wasn’t able to get back until now but wanted to be part of the conversation 😉

    @ Elspeth:
    “And so we see most Marvel movies.”

    -We are a Marvel house too … mostly. We like some DC but very little, they tend to be much darker. However, on a spiritual note, they creatively capture human depravity.

    @ Hearthie:
    “Since I was just noticing that a great many people leave the faith both because they’ve never really been IN the faith and because of the hypocrisy of their elders, I consider self-examination for hypocrisy a worthy goal.”

    -Agree and agree again. Self-examination to make sure you *are* actually the living epistle that you think that you are. Giving my husband and (adult) kids the freedom to check is very helpful. “Friends” are less likely to be as forthcoming with “holes” in your soul. I consider myself VERY fortunate to have two great friends that will risk.

    @ Elspeth:
    “But there is a hint of a whiff of the idea that *we* can draw more people in by virtue of our stellar Christian walk and that people’s rejection of Christ is mostly *our* fault.”

    -I agree with you there Els – can’t really line that up with Scripture. However, that being said, (and I’m pretty sure I lack the articulation to capture this but I’ll try) I know I was, at the same time, in God’s way of reaching Darrell. I wasn’t a good epistle (living or other LOL) I wasn’t walking the talk. Is God stronger? Yes. Still, I was in the way. I know what I just said sounds like opposites, but both were (and are) true.

    @ Hearthie:

    I wonder if the Lord’s not going to ‘repair’ the western church, but rather, similar to what He did between the OT and the NT, He didn’t repair the Law but morphed it into Grace through fulfillment. The church is still operating like it’s a synagogue from the OT under the Law; she’s just not completely transformed yet.

    I’ve got no Scripture to back up that view, it’s just my own speculation.


  9. Bike Bubba says:

    One thing that strikes me is that all too often, Christians get all worked up about the wrong things, generally substituting Christian culture for what Scripture actually says. Hence when it comes time to really live differently–eschewing lying, gossip, laziness, usury, and the like–we’re all worn out.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Robyn says:

    I agree with you Bike. I also find that generally, the outward sins are the ones that the finger points at the most, ie: swearing or drinking or smoking. But the inner sins are excused, ie: gossip or slander are not seen as a sign of ‘stinking thinking’.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Bike Bubba says:

    Should clarify my comment as well; not only are we locked into our own cultural patterns, but since this squeezes out the Gospel, we end up….failing to reach our neighbors. When many of us get to the Pearly Gates, that just might leave a mark, to put it mildly. Y’all knew that of course, but for my sake I figured I’d better clarify it!

    Liked by 1 person

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