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Are Christians Too Sheltered?
I'm here with Margaret Feinberg out of Denver, Colorado. She is the author of "The Organic God," and is just an incredible speaker and thinker. She really does so much to educate all of us about the next generation. And I know that for you, Margaret, participating in this project was about really just moving this conversation forward that you've been having offline with people for years.
Tell us a little bit about the unChristian project. When you first read our research, how did you react to realizing that people think Christians are anti-homosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical??
Unfortunately, I felt like I had to agree with a lot of those perceptions. We spend the majority of our time with people who are not Christians, and a lot of their perceptions are extremely negative. Interestingly, I think a lot of the people who are not Christians today that we spend time with, grew up in the church. And yet they still have these perceptions as well. So for me the research was a lot of confirmation of what I'm seeing and experiencing in my everyday conversations.
Yeah. Well, this particular subject that we are going to talk about today is, "Sheltered." And when we talked about sheltered, the one thing people meant, when they said Christians are sheltered, was that they're boring, unintelligent, and that we're old-fashioned, out-of-touch with reality. Those were some of the other words and terms that kept coming up. Margaret, why do you think it is that we've become so sheltered?
I think part of it, and this is from my own study and research. I feel like there has been a major shift between the generations. For many of our parents' generations, I always thought they took on a fortress mentality when it came to life and possibly even engaging in culture. It was more of an idea of "I've got to protect me and mine." At the end of the day I want to stay pure, and the way to do that is to withdraw from the world, to withdraw from culture, to withdraw from things that could possibly shade or affect me. And I think the generation that is coming of age is beginning to ask a whole different set of questions. They're saying, "How do I go into culture?" "How do I go into the world and be an agent of change and of transformation?" A lot of the shift and the struggle is there, almost a generational mindset, or at least a psychographic shift in thinking about these things.
Yeah. You know, one of the things we talk about in this chapter of the book was this idea, that Christians get pretty easily offended. When we find ourselves when we are confronted with the fallen world, or things that we might not agree with, we tend to react by withdrawing or pulling away and being offended by it. And it seems that Jesus' approach or even Paul's approach, as we read the scriptures is that he was provoked. He was provoked to engage. He didn't run from it, but more or less tried to get involved in the conversation and listen and better help articulate what the gospel means in the middle of a fallen world. And so, that's one of our encouragements in this chapter. The other thing that we talk about, Margaret, is how we can see these perceptions changed. And until we better understand what's causing them, we can't really move towards a solution. But you wrote in this chapter, you contributed, and it was great just to see your thoughts on this.
Our point was to say, "Look, Christians can change this perception when we become a lot more engaged, informed, and aware of the issues going on." And, Margaret, how in your life do you find yourself being able to stay more informed and aware of the issues in the world and not being sheltered?
Well, Gabe, as you know, at the end of the day, I'm a total practical girl. Like, I just love everyday engagement. What can I do to do those things? For me, I'm a huge reader and so I think simple things like subscribing to USA Today, to my local or city newspaper, as well as my favorite magazine ever - The New Yorker, is a huge way just to read and be part of those conversations. For a lot of listeners, they may say, "Well I don't necessarily want to read in print, I want to read online." I say, "Great, make your home page, that place where you check in everyday that's going to provide the news sources." What's going on in our world? What are people talking about? What are the trends and what are people wrestling with?
Another simple thing that we just realized is that we've got to have in our life... We need a college student in our life, and preferably several. Because, if you want to engage in the conversations that are going on in our culture and in our world and just be more aware, college students are amazing for that. Not just as a source of loving and mentoring, but also of being loved and being taught just a whole lot of things about what are going on in the world.
I also think being just open to reading and to studying and to having conversations, that are so different than maybe what we would choose or what comes naturally to us. I know that as Leif and I fly, we'll find random magazines or newspapers or whatever it may be just floating around in the airports. We love that, so I'll sit there and I'll read some trade journal from the grocery industry, which is something I know nothing about.
But when I open my mind to reading and studying those things, I start to see connection points for what's going on in different industries, in different areas of culture in our world to what's going on in my own world. So I think that, that overall idea to be a constant learner and to constantly look for opportunities to read, to study, and most of all to listen and to ask questions where people can just talk.
As we listen and as we imbibe that information, we have the opportunity to grow and the perception of who we are, changes.
Well, Margaret, I love the way you say this. You talk about in your contribution here, "Relationships are critical. We need to talk to people, anyone, and everyone. Ask questions, lots of questions. Listen closely to their answers and open up your life to strangers, visitors, and friends of friends." Then you go on to just talk about waking people out of being sheltered and say, "Wake up to the cold reality that you're part of the plan. You have a role in this generation, not only to receive the baton of faith but passing it on to the next generation."
And this is what I think was helpful. "You have a role in preserving the earth, protecting the poor, defending the exploited, and we need you. In particular we need you to be aware, to learn, to grow spiritually, relationally, and culturally because it can't be done without you."
You pulled out a few specific issues, things that I guess you're finding in your own life and as you talk to this generation that they care about. Could you talk a little bit more about some of those issues - preserving the earth, protecting the poor, defending the exploited?
I think that our generation, more than anything, wants to live and be a part of something that's greater than themselves. As big as that idea is, it plays out in just very practical ways. It comes out into being environmentally aware and looking for just even the smallest ways that we can recycle, that we can preserve, that we can leave less of a footprint on our earth. I think it is protecting the poor and caring for them. Throughout the Old Testament as well as the new we constantly are hearing this heartbeat of God, that we are to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, and those who have less. That's something that our generation wants to put into action.
And lastly, defending the exploited. Around the world we hear so many needs and so many just abuses and social injustice in the sex trade, in so many different areas. As followers of Jesus, one of our major things that we are to do is speak up for those who have no voice. In our generation we're seeing people who are rising to the surface and saying, "OK, they can't speak up, but I could speak in their behalf."
That's an incredible opportunity not just to make a difference in the world and be part of something that's bigger than ourselves, but also to fulfill the calling of being a follower of Christ in this generation.
You know, Margaret, sometimes people see this kind of research, and it can be a little devastating. It can put them back, and they feel almost like there's no hope. But I know what I'm finding is that there's a lot of hope, and I'm seeing it in stories all over the place. I wonder, what is your sense right now as you connect with people who are in their twenties and talk to them about the kind of things they care about? Are you seeing that there's a shift taking place and that there is hope?
I totally am. You know, it's easy to focus on the negative as you say, Gabe. But what I'm seeing is, across this country as I travel, men and women who are literally staking it all. They're staking their lives, their younger years, their mortgages, and their families for the advancement of a cause, which is to make God famous, to make Him known. I see that, time and time again. So, it's easy to get distracted by the statistics and the facts, but rest assured that the kingdom of God and His servants are moving forward, and in an incredibly exciting thing. I also see that this generation is a bit distracted, but at the same time once they get focused, they're incredibly intentional about the lives that they're living.
There's this sense that they want to be intentional with their time, with their resources, with the gifts and the passions that they've been given and put them into something that is making a difference. As you start to look around and you see those faces with eyes and they have long hours of work that is put in, it's incredibly encouraging.
Well, Margaret, it's been great just having this brief conversation with you. I know you have so much more to offer here, and I hope people will just check into some of the things you're writing on your blog as well as in "The Organic God." I think your blog's at Margaretfeinberg.com, where people can just get more acquainted with some of your thinking on this. But you're really leading the way. I think you're really helping affirm and encourage the body of Christ to move in the right direction. It's very refreshing, so thank you for being with us today.
Thank you, Gabe.
What do you think? Are Christians too sheltered?
How do we practice discernment in an undiscerning world?
Editor's Note: This image was selected to represent the way Christians have often mocked and imitated culture, instead of creating culture. Suggested reading: Andy Crouch's
or Gabe Lyon's
The Next Christians
for more on the idea of being creators and not critics.
ALSO BY MARGARET FEINBERG
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A Hidden Mural, A Reminder of God's Resources
ALSO IN CHURCH
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by Bruce Edwards
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by Louie Giglio
Empowering Women in a Missional Movement
by Jo Saxton
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