Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Book Review

UnChristian, What a New Generation Thinks about Christianity…and Why it Matters
by Dave Kinneman and Gabe Lyons
2007, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI,

Dave Kinneman is President of The Barna Group, (www.barna.org/) a Christian research firm in Ventura California. He teams up with Gabe Lyons to write this book after 3 years of intense study trying to find out why the younger generations of Americans largely hold the label “Christian” to be a negative thing. In the process of this study he identified a number of significant findings:

Fewer of the “Buster” and Mosaic” adults (adults between 16 and 41 in 2007) are returning to church after having their first child than previous generations by significant numbers.

Most Busters and Mosaics have heard the Christian story some time in their lives and most feel they “gave it a try.”

The general perception is (75%) that the Christian church does not accurately reflect the teachings or message of Jesus, thus it has become an “UnChristian” Christian church.

Significant themes in the negative impression:
1. Christians are hypocritical—measured by our own standards we fail to meet them and seem unconcerned with correcting the problem.
2. Christians are too concerned with gaining converts—we fail to see the people with whom we are sharing the Good News, and focus too much on a moment of conversion, the numbers and the programs.
3. Christians are anti-homosexual—we are bigoted and fixated on fixing the problem either through “cures” or leveraging political solutions against them.
4. Christians are sheltered—old fashioned, boring and out of touch with reality. We are simplistic and unable to adequately address the complexity of the grit and grime of peoples’ lives.
5. Christians are too political—we focus more on political solutions to peoples’ problems than spiritual ones. We are fused with the conservative right wing.
6. Christians are judgmental—we are quick to judge others and re not honest about our own attitudes and perspectives. It is hard to believe we truly love people.

After presenting the introductory information the authors dedicate a chapter apiece to each theme, explaining the background and giving examples of how these perceptions are expressed and how the reaction among younger adults functions. In the last chapter, “From UnChristian to Christian,” the authors offer a corrective for each of the above themes. They call us to respond to the criticisms with the right perspective, that of Jesus who was not defined by His detractors, and at the same time had an unwavering commitment to the truth. Defensiveness will not help us here, but rather a critical look at the truth behind the perceptions.

Then they call the church to:
1. Connect with people
2. Be creative
3. Serve people
4. Develop a lifestyle of compassion

Repeatedly in the book the authors call for the church to focus more on spiritual answers than social or political, or to use their words (not a direct quote:) to focus more on being righteous than being right, more on radical transformation than behavior modification. They warn against watering down the demands of the Gospel in the face of society’s norms and values, but even more clearly they emphasize the need to be non-combative in our approach to the world, and above all to show the love of Christ.

As an Episcopalian reading this book was an interesting exercise. I found that, though I not a "Buster" or "Mosaic," I empathized with a lot of the themes. Perhaps my multicultural background approximates the experience of younger adults today. I do believe the Anglican tradition is not trapped in the “conversion and numbers” game that many of our evangelical brothers and sisters experience. Given the theological perspective that underlies the text the authors would probably judge the Episcopal church as having sold out to the norms of society in regards to homosexuality, no matter what your personal convictions might be. As I read the book I was often made aware of the subtle but significant difference in perspective between the Anglican world and the conservative evangelical protestant perspective of the authors.

Given that, however, one cannot discount the assumption that non-Christian young adults do not draw a distinction between Evangelical and Episcopal, which means that by association we bear much of the same bad press. In an ever-aging church with a poor track record in attracting young adults, perhaps this book offers some new insights into why and what we need to do about it. The significant thing to me is that the “fixes” offered are not a “new strategy,” but merely a call to authentic Christian living in today’s world.

1 comment:

kesmun said...

As a Buster/Mosaic (tail end of Generation X, too), I know a lot of people my age frequently see "Religion" and "Christianity" just like this. The hugest bit is indeed the politicization of the "agenda" and the perceived fusion with not just the right wing, but the radical conservative right wing.

The media attention on our varied reactions to the ordination of V. Gene Robinson has both hurt and helped us. Helped us in that it showed the majority of the US church at least seems to not be reacting knee-jerk, but there actually seems to be a dialogue about his lifestyle. But it's also hurt us, in we're talking about it and not just accepting him.

We have a fine line to walk. Good thing we have practise!