Reading unChristian 1: Intro

I’ve been reading unChristian, the book I mentioned a couple weeks ago. I’m about half way through and I’m convinced this is a very important book. It’s one I am going to be recommending to everyone. Buy it. And really listen to what it has to say.

Here’s the short story. Basically, the book discusses some research that was conducted by The Barna Group and commissioned by the Fermi Project. The research was focused on better understanding the perceptions young non-Christians (they use the term “outsiders”) have towards Christianity (and Christians). The results are startling on multiple levels. I will definitely be blogging more about this. Until then, here is a basic summary of the perceptions “outsiders” have of Christianity.

Others in the series:
Reading unChristian 2: How bad is it?
Reading unChristian 3: Is this all one big misperception?

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23 Responses

  1. Thanks for the review on unchristian, this is a must read for all Christians.

  2. My first impression: If I am really honest with myself, I know I am guilty of most of the things in the first category and not enough of the things in the second. How do we change from being part of the problem to being part of the solution?

    I want to read this book. I saw it in the bookstore but it was shrink-wrapped! So no free preview for me!

  3. Hello,

    Why would “Teaches same basic idea as other religions” be listed under “Favorable Image”? I think it’s horrible that 82% think that Christianity is basically the same, and that is probably a big part of the problem.

    Also, if non-Christians are enemies with God (Colossians 1:21), and children of the devil (John 8:44), why would they think favorably of Christianity? 2 Corinthians 15-16 says, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.” If Christians go around acting like they should, they will be the smell of death to a good chunk of society.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  4. Adam,

    Could you explain what is meant by the columns “a lot” & “a lot or some”?

    It’s interesting that “consistently shows love for other people” & “a faith you respect” received the EXACT SAME percentages — I’m sure that’s no coincidence!

  5. Amanda – I went in and added some explanation regarding the categories. Does that help?

    Bill – important points. I will be addressing these issues in future posts regarding the book.

  6. I’m so glad you’re reading the book and blogging about it. I look forward to more.

  7. After reviewing the verses cited by Bill above, I guess you can add “child of the devil” and “enemy of God” to the things I’m guilty of.

  8. My impression on the verse saying we are the “smell of death” is that it refers to things like dying to one’s self, or laying down your life for others – things that people don’t generally find attractive – not related to the list of unfavorable attributes posted above.

    I think that the things people find unattractive about Christianity – the unfavorable things listed – are very problematic and not the sort of things that we should expect people to feel, just because they are unbelievers and dont “get it”. That is, looking at that list, did people feel that way about Jesus? I don’t think so.

    I’m not saying we should make Christianity attractive so that non-believers will like it, but I think this list of unfavorable characteristics – none of which I would attribute to Jesus – should clue is in to a problem here.

    All that to say, I personally think that the verse describing Christians as the “smell of death” does not really apply here. Just my two cents. Sorry if this comment doesn’t make sense…

  9. I think those are excellent points, Brooke. The fact that so many people view Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, insensitive, untrustworthy, and unloving show that, generally, we are not being the proper aroma to Christ or the world. Jesus did not fit those descriptions and neither should we.

    I really liked what the book had to say in its defense, and I’m sure that Adam will expound on that (he said he would). But I’ll say that I agree that we are not supposed to conform to the world to “sell” Jesus. But if this is how the world views Christians, we are not effectively being the radical lovers that Jesus was. Jesus didn’t go out of his way to be accepted, he wasn’t trying to get the world to like him, but he loved and he served, and people noticed that. It was the politically-minded that hated Jesus because he was a threat to them. The every-man generally had very different reactions.

  10. I want to clarify my post above. Even if we agree you can interpret the scriptures pointed to above as labeling “non-christians” as “enemies of God” and “children of the devil” (which I think is arguable), we should at least acknowledge two things about this. First, “christians” were once these things also. And second, some part of the christian is still those things. Salvation is generally understood to be a kind of already but not yet kind of thing, if you know what I mean. I think other excerpts from Paul’s writings demonstrate that he understood this to be the case.

    So what? Well, if I (a christian) was once a child of the devil and enemy of God, how is it that I ever accepted Christ? And would I have done so if my view of Christians was as negative as that held today by most non-believers? I think this is important to consider. Are we even giving people a chance to become anything other than who they are, since it is only Jesus who can change us and we are putting barriers in between him and those who might otherwise seek him?

    Also, if some part of me is still left unredeemed, and we think being a non-christian explains why some would have a negative view of Christianity, then wouldn’t we all have that same view? Or some part of us? I don’t know. I just don’t think we can label as if we are so different and then dismiss the opinions of those we label so easily.

    A final thought about John 8: I concede that this is open to interpretation, but a plain reading of that conversation suggests that Jesus is speaking to those who “believed in him”, who he refers to as his “disciples” (see verse 31). Then he refers to them as children of the devil in verse 44. Then he says they don’t really believe in verse 45. Then they try to kill him in verse 59 after he claims to be God. It’s a fascinating conversation and reveals a lot about us if we look a little deeper and don’t dismiss Jesus’ remarks as only directed at someone else.

  11. When Jesus fed 5000 people with some fish and bread (John 6), they loved Him. Later, in John 6, when He said they must eat His body and drink His blood, they were offended and left. Ultimately the masses of people and the leaders hated Him to the point of killing Him.

    They martyred most of the rest of the apostles. The apostles did miracles and kind things, but they were also preaching the Gospel, and many people hated them. Why do we expect different results for ourselves?

    When the true Gospel is preached, some people will get offended. Some will smell death. I’m afraid that those who smell death make up the majority.

    I wonder if criminals were given a similar poll about the police, how the police would come out looking. Would the police really care about the results?

    Thanks,
    Bill

  12. Bill: I don’t disagree with you that offense is involved. But shouldn’t it be the exposure of our own sinful nature that is offensive? Isn’t that why Jesus is offensive? I don’t think I’ve ever been convicted by something said to me by someone I consider hypocritical and judgmental. It is those who really care about me, who like me, who have given up part of their lives to be part of mine, that are able to share the “true Gospel” (Jesus) with me in a way that convicts and offends. Why don’t we focus on building those kind of relationships and let Jesus do the offending?

    The analogy you use is interesting. When I read the gospels, I just don’t see Jesus as a policeman. Where do we get the idea that is how we should see ourselves in relation to others who don’t know him yet? The only “policemen” I see in the gospels were the Pharisees. And Jesus didn’t have much good to say about them.

  13. Mark,

    I think you’re exactly right. Exposing the nature of a sinner is the part that is offensive, along with telling them that there are consequences for their sin. If I tell someone the Gospel, and they reject it, they may very well be mad at me, Jesus and all Christians. I hope all of us have made people mad by sharing the Gospel–not by sharing it unlovingly, but by speaking the truth. Some people don’t like it and they get mad. I also hope we’ve all shared it and seen people’s faces light up.

    From an eternal perspecitve, I would say God is the police, judge, jury and executioner, or Savior. If anything, our job is to warn the criminals that the police are coming, and the police sent us to tell them an escape route. If we’re not the police, we’re working for the police.

    Thanks,
    Bill

  14. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy the policeman metaphor. I just can’t.

  15. Here’s what I think (and I’m just quoting other people rather than explaining myself because a) it’s past my bedtime, and b) I’d probably get really longwinded, obnoxious, and/or not make any sense):

    From Mark:

    “It is those who really care about me, who like me, who have given up part of their lives to be part of mine, that are able to share the “true Gospel” (Jesus) with me in a way that convicts and offends. Why don’t we focus on building those kind of relationships and let Jesus do the offending?”

    From Francis:

    “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

  16. Bill: You say I’m exactly right, but then I could not disagree more with the rest of what you say. I imagine you and I have very different views about what it looks like to “expose the nature of the sinner lovingly”. The most important thing I said was that we should focus on building relationships and let Jesus do the offending. We have no business trying to get people to recognize they have sin in their lives unless we are in deep, intimate relationship with them. You seemed to miss that point in your reply.

    And I couldn’t disagree more about God being police, judge, jury or executioner. I don’t think people need to be warned about God at all. That doesn’t sound like “good news” to me.

    God is our loving father revealed to us in the face of Jesus. I do not recognize the things you say about him (police, judge, jury, executioner) in Jesus, so I reject them. I think you might be confusing the penal substitution view of the atonement with the Gospel, which is all too common and a serious error in my opinion.

  17. Brooke,

    Who created hell?

    Mary,

    St. Francis never said that. Even if he did, it’s unbiblical. We should pay attention to the Bible, not some Catholic.

    Mark,

    You’re probably right. I’m sure your evangelism method is far superior than mine. It’s cool that you have it all figured out. I’m not that bright, so I just do what they did in the Bible.

    Thanks,
    Bill

    p.s. For results of the typical Christian’s method of sharing the Gospel, see above survey results.

  18. Mary: I have always loved that St. Francis quote. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    Bill: I really don’t think I have it all figured out. Far from it, actually. If my last comment gave you that impression, I apologize. I felt you did not understand my earlier post, so I tried to be more clear. In doing so I guess I came across as having everything figured out. Again, I apologize. I am sincerely trying to engage you in a constructive conversation about how we as Christians should go about sharing our faith. I disagree with your approach, but I did not mean to offend you.

    I am confused by your “p.s.” Your approach seems to be more along the lines of what I would refer to as “typical”. By that I mean telling people they are sinful and will go to hell unless they believe in Jesus. And I agree that this approach contributes to the above survey results. But I doubt that was your meaning. Would you mind explaining further?

  19. Bill, I’d have to say that I don’t know who created hell because I’m not sure there is one (at least in the sense you’re probably referring to)… see Adam’s posts on Sept 17th and 19th…

  20. Bill, although I didn’t necessarily agree with you, I thought I understood where you were coming from until your last comment. With all of these people disagreeing with you, I can see that it might be easy to feel attacked. I hope that’s not the case, but your last comment came across as very defensive.

    You talk about the above survey results as if they are good. Now, I can understand how some of the things mentioned might be good in some cases, but I am truly confused as to how we are spreading the love of Christ to the world if the world doesn’t want to listen to anything we have to say. Because that is what those results mean. They mean that the world thinks that what we have–Christ–is hypocritical and judgmental and unloving. THAT IS NOT WHAT CHRIST LOOKS LIKE!!! Offensive at times, yes, particularly to the flesh. But let’s get past that. That is not the point of those survey results.

    Also, if we’re going to base our faith-sharing on the Bible, then let’s look at the Bible. Love is mentioned FAR more often than any references to hell, so that is what many in this group have chosen to focus on when sharing Christ with the world. (I know this because I personally know Brooke, Mark, Mary, and Adam). Jesus loved people, and that’s what he calls us to do. At times, his love was offensive, but it was never judgmental or hypocritical or inconsistent. It was relevant and real, and people are not seeing that in us. Yes, some of that is because the world at large will reject Jesus. But people who genuinely want to know God are being turned off because of the negative way some/many Christians act. That is a problem.

    Jesus did not say that they would know us because we tell them they’re going to hell. He said they would know us by our love. The poll results show that the world does not know us for our love.

  21. I think Bill must have missed the whole hell conversation. However, I do find it interesting how many people seem to feel that the “Policeman” aspect of God is the biggest proof of his love. I couldn’t disagree more, but still, it bears at least acknowledging since a lot of Christians feel this way.

  22. Hey Adam, one of my friends has a blog that I have a feeling you would enjoy. He has a post about this book too, if you’d like to take a look over there… Here’s the link… Some Strange Ideas http://www.somestrangeideas.com/2007/09/03/unchristian/

  23. I just started reading this book yesterday. One reference to Matthew sparked my curiosity so I read Matthew 23 this morning and couldn’t help but be struck by how applicable Jesus’ diatribe to the Pharisees is to so many of today’s Christians. (me included). Maybe it’s time that we started considering the unpleasant notion that we are today’s Pharisees. And that doesn’t mean that we water down Christianity to make it more palatable. Jesus definitely didn’t do that, but really the only way to love others as Jesus did is to feed on Him, and confess to Him when we know we are not loving our neighbor. He will give us a new heart in that moment for that person. Here’s the chapter for those interested in what Jesus said to the Pharisees. http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2023&version=45

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