David Kinnaman with Gabe Lyons. 2007. UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: BakerBooks. (Goto Part 1)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
For most of my life, certainly before I entered seminary, I was very self-conscious about sharing my faith even in church. Part of the issue was that I did not feel good enough to be a Christian and that my trials and tribulations somehow disqualified me from being one of those “more perfect” Christians. I felt “judged” as a Christian but what I did not realize is that I was projecting my own insecurities on other people. And my doubts were—by no means—original. It was not until I was encouraged to teach Sunday school that I started to realize how unoriginal my doubts and insecurities really were.
A very helpful tool that David Kinnamen uses in UnChristian is to set his 6 unflattering perceptions of Christians in opposition to aspirational perceptions that would be more helpful. Below is the list.
“Perception: Christians say one thing but live something entirely different.
New perception: Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second” (41).
“Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
New perception: Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God” (67).
“Perception: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
New perception: Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyles” (91).
“Perception: Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
New perception: Christians are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face” (121).
“Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
New Perception: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues” (153)
“Perception: Christians are prideful and quick to find faults in others.
New Perception: Christians show grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers” (181).
While it is hard to argue with these suggestions, such ideas are often quickly transformed into a new job description for pastors who are, in effect, competing with the best that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have to offer in crafting sophisticated brands, complete with state-of-the-art music and videos. Think of the insecurities that might arise in comparing oneself, not with the guy in the next pew as I did, but with the talents of a television evangelist or musician.
Let me look a minute at Kinnaman’s big 3 complaints—Christians are homophobic, judgmental, and hypocritical.
Homophobic. Kinnaman agrees that Christians have not practiced what they preach when it comes to homosexuality. They have not hated the sin and loved the sinner. The perception outside the church is that God hates homosexuals (110).
Kinnaman makes a very interesting observation. In the second and third centuries, Christianity made great inroads in the Roman empire because during the outbreak of epidemics, they stayed to care for the sick at the risk of their own lives. Early in the AIDS epidemic (1970-80s), the majority of Christians refused to be involved and, in fact, proclaimed God’s judgment on homosexuals. This is not a trivial image problem—people still remember (110). Its like Christians have discarded their cross .
In this context, Kinnaman’s new perception—“Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyles” (91)—was a fairly radical assertion in 2007 when this book was published and still remains controversial among many Christian groups. He was not, however, excusing homosexuality; he was only advocating that it be treated on par with other hard sins, like alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual addition, divorce, abortion, and so on.
Judgmental. Kinnaman asks: “Are we perceived to be a loving group of people?” Here we see strong diversity of opinion which seems to be scaled by the intensity of involvement in the life of the church. The percentage of those believing that the church is a loving community are: pastor (76 percent), born-again Christians (47 percent), churchgoers (41 percent), and outsiders (20 percent) (185). Ouch!
Kinnaman’s discussion of judgment errors is insightful. He cites 4 errors in judgment:
- Coming to the wrong conclusion. For example, judging people by their outward appearance.
- Having the right judgment but at the wrong time.
- Having the wrong motivation—we should be motivated by love.
- Expressing favoritism (187-189).
Kinnaman offers these suggestions:
- Listen more, talk less.
- Do not label people.
- Don’t pretend to know all the answers.
- Walk in the other person’s shoes.
- Be genuine.
- Offer friendship without an agenda (194-195).
A lot more could be said here.
Hypocritical. It is indeed ironic that Christians should be considered hypocritical because Jesus was the first one to use the word, hypocrite, to mean two-faced . A hypocrite in the Greek was an actor. Kinnaman makes the point that young people are cynical in general and expect us to be hypocritical just like everyone else. The problem arise is that Christians are perceived to be self-righteous about their hypocrisy (49). Consequently, Kinnaman’s advice to be transparent about your flaws and “act first, talk second” takes the edge off of this criticism (41).
David Kinnaman’s UnChristian is an insightful and interesting read. Pastors, lay leaders, and seminarians will find his research helpful. On a more cautionary note, I hope that the results do not encourage Christians to despair of engaging people for fear of offense. A common concern among pastors, for example, is that they live in a glass house and never have any down time.
Insecurities are still a challenge for me. Even thought I am a pastor and talk about my faith all the time, my insecurities still show up when I am tired or when I need to share my faith in Spanish. My tendency to over-prepare for talks is, in part, because of these insecurities.
Question: Are you shy about sharing your faith? Are there particular situations that are more difficult? What would help you get over your reluctance to share?
 This is reality that is hard to avoid. For about 10 years, my mother-in-law, who spoke only Parsi, lived with us. She was an angel and I miss her greatly—she taught me most of the Parsi that I know. What was her favorite show on Sunday morning? Joel Osteen (www.JoelOsteen.com). She loved the music.
 “Jesus told his disciples, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24 ESV)
 The need to practice holiness stands behind this criticism. The famous words of Jesus are taken from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:1-5 ESV)