Stranger in the Pew

 It was then I felt the stranger kick me right between the eyes – Billy Joel, The Stranger

Every once in a while I am confronted with a thought or concept that forces me to stop and re-examine my own behavior.  This past week was one of those weeks.

 I just finished reading David Kinnaman’s astonishing work on societal perceptions of Christianity in the post modern age.  The book is aptly titled “unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters”. 

This is a water shed work and one that I believe, if taken seriously will have a profound impact on how we “do” Christianity for decades to come.  Based on the fact that I had to wait over a month for my local library to order in a copy and that I was unable to renew it because there is still a long line of people waiting, I hope that there are already a number of Christians who are taking this research seriously.  Put quite simply if we don’t the church as we know it will be gone in a generation.

As I read Kinnaman’s research the church he described seemed foreign to me at first.   But the more I thought about it and looked back on some my own experiences as a life-long Christ Follower I began to see myself through the eyes of the young generation of outsiders that he polled.  And I didn’t like it. 

It’s easy for Christians when they are first confronted with the opinions of outsiders to simply say that they just don’t get it, but for me the most damning revelation that the research shows is how well informed many outsiders actually are.  We live in the information age with a social media mind set.  The amount of information that an outsider can gain about our churches with just the click of mouse is nothing short of incredible.  It’s not a lack information or understanding that is holding the young generation back from Church.   The core message of Jesus and our basic dogma is well known, well understood and for the most part well respected.   Ghandi could easily have been speaking for the current generation of outsiders when he said, “Your Christ I respect it’s you Christians I have issue with.”   

The number one issue outsiders have with Christianity, according to Kinnaman’s research is that it no longer represents the word and deed of Christ.  As much as I want this to be untrue and simply write it off as outsiders who just don’t get it, I can’t.  The fact is they’re right and if we really stop and examine both our history and our current behavior there is no escaping it; we are strangers to the core teachings of Jesus and I must be honest, I am just as bad as anyone.

In the book of Acts, when the disciples were first given the name, “Christian” is was because they so emulated Jesus that it was as if they were mini versions of him.  Literally translated the word means “Little Christ”.  But outsiders today are smart enough to see that the church, through political power, infighting and just plain laziness has become something else entirely.  We have become strangers to our own dogma, we are unChristian.

When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly conclude that the group deserves an unchristian label.  Like a corrupted computer file or a bad photocopy, Christianity, they say, is no longer in pure form, and so they reject it. – David Kinnaman; unChristian; What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters

In order for the current generation of outsiders to come the church, it’s our job to become what we were always meant to be.  “Little Christ” is not just a label you can put on and wear to church on Sunday morning, it’s a lifestyle.  Just as in Acts, to be called Christian, in order for it to be true, must be something that others say about you and not something that you can claim for yourself.  Not until that happens will we be able to shed the unChristian label those same outsiders have given us. 

I could go on about the specifics of how we are viewed and how to go about changing perceptions but I really think everyone should just read Kinnaman’s book.  You’ll be glad you did.



1 Comment

  1. These are the very things I heard as I became a Christian in the early 80’s. The faithful were aghast at what they saw happening. And there appeared to be no fix. They saw the culture infiltrate the pews and the pulpit. I took up their banner to speak about it. And 30 years later, whatever fix was applied only ignited more flames.

    I have come to understand that God can do as He pleases among His people. And I wonder why we see such a radical and serious decline in holiness. Division and compromise are first to pop into mind. But it is impossible to rule out the infulance of those who simply attend church to feel like they have accomplished God’s will for them.

    Regardless the problems, the only way to return the Church to what is pleasing to Him is to do what He says. Individually, then corporate repentance is required. But what shall we do as the leaders have become worse than the first infiltrators?

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