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.