Friday, March 28, 2008

unChristian to Christian

To outsiders the word Christian has more in common with a brand than a faith. This shift of meaning in recent decades has been magnified by an increasing use of the term Christian to label music, clothes, schools, political action groups, and more. And sadly, it is a bad brand in the minds of tens of millions of people. In the middle of a culture where Christianity has come to represent hypocrisy, judgmentalism, anti-intellectualism, insensitivity, and bigotry. It's easy to see why the next generation wants nothing to do with it. (p. 223)

That's my favorite paragraph of the book unChristian. It's in an afterword by Gabe Lyons. Lyons was the one who commissioned the research the book is based on, and he's listed as a co-author (although I get the sense that Kinnaman was the primary writer). It points to a major problem with American Christianity, and I would add, the seeker-sensitive model of church growth that's been dominant the last 20 years or so. It's also a caution of how not to respond to this book. It would be easy to think that the answer is more of the same: better marketing of our "brand". After all, if Starbucks starts losing esteem they come up with a new marketing strategy, but the church is supposed to think in entirely different categories than the Fortune 500. God's ways are counterintuitive to wordly thinking.

Lyons suggests that Christians should "consider how much your faith has become entangled with Western values that are at odds with the heart of Christianity, such as consumerism and materialism" and that the church needs to disciple believers to have "a fully orbed view of Christian thinking and its relationship to all things throughout culture." Also, we need to recover an understanding of common grace. Chuck Colson, who's featured prominently in the book, is doing good work in this area. I agree with Lyons that "losing the theology and practice of common grace" has had disastrous effects. This is part and parcel of recovering the centrality of the gospel. It's not a panacea, but it's a good place to start.

Many modern-day Christians have lost touch with the all-encompassing gospel that goes beyond personal salvation and reaches every corner of society. When conversion growth is the single measure of success, the hard work of discipleship gets ignored. When Christian faith is relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you will spend the afterlife, the here and now matters less. When being a Christian can be determined by whether you "prayed the prayer," the focus shifts easily to who is in and who is out. As a result, Christians can be found primarily on the edges of society, pointing their fingers at outsiders, judging and condemning them. Subsequently, the lifestyle of being Christian shifts from being winsome and engaging to pessimistic and manipulative. (p. 224)

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