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Unchristian: Change the Perception
Christianity has an image problem.
If you’ve lived in America for very long, I doubt this surprises you. But it brings up important questions. Just what exactly do people think about Christians and Christianity? Why do these perceptions exist? Obviously, people believe their views are accurate (otherwise they would disavow them), but do their perceptions reflect reality? And why do people’s perceptions matter — should they matter — to Christ followers?
I have spent the last three years studying these questions through extensive interviews and research. You may be astonished to learn just how significant the dilemma is — and how the negative perceptions that your friends, neighbors, and colleagues have of Christianity will shape your life and our culture in the years to come. Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders. They admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians, and they reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians. I will describe how and why this is happening later in this book, but for the moment think about what this means. It changes the tenor of people’s discussions about Christianity. It alters their willingness to commit their lives to Jesus.
If you are interested in communicating and expressing Christ to new generations, you must understand the intensity with which they hold these views. As Christians, we cannot just throw up our hands in disgust or defensiveness. We have a responsibility to our friends and neighbors to have a sober, reasonable understanding of their perspectives.
How can people hold both positive and negative images at the same time? On balance, young people possess deeply ambivalent feelings about Christians and Christianity. Their reactions to the faith are widely divergent. What people say about Christianity depends on their experiences and when and where you talk with them. Their aversion is punctuated as often by indifference as it is by hostility. While some young adults are openly hostile to Christians, an equally common reaction is to blow us off.
When outsiders claim that we are unChristian, it is a reflection of this jumbled (and predominantly negative) set of perceptions. When they see Christians not acting like Jesus, they quickly Editor | Gabe Lyons 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. One-quarter of outsiders say that their foremost perception of Christianity is that the faith has changed for the worse. It has gotten off track and is not what Christ intended.
Modern-day Christianity no longer seems Christian.
THE PERCEPTIONS OF CHRISTIANITY
Sheltered (old-fashioned, out of touch with reality)
Proselytizers (insensitive to others, not genuine)
DO PERCEPTIONS MATTER?
Gabe and I frequently encounter the idea that Christians should not care what outsiders think about us. After all, Jesus warned that the “world” would hate us. Scripture even promises persecution for those who follow Christ. However, before you dismiss the unChristian perception as “just Christians doing their duty,” realize that the challenge runs much deeper.
The real problem comes when we recognize God’s holiness but fail to articulate the other side of his character: grace. Jesus represents truth
grace (see John 1:14). Embracing truth without holding grace in tension leads to harsh legalism, just as grace without truth devolves to compromise. Still, the important insight based on our research is that Mosaics and Busters rarely see Christians who embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, and love.
Should we care what people think? Gabe and I began to realize that the more important question was
What if young outsiders are right about us?
What is missing in our portrayal of the Christian faith to new generations? If we have failed to represent the grace that Jesus offers — if we have been poor representatives of a holy and loving God — then, absolutely, what they think about us matters. If we have been unChristian, then we bear responsibility for the problem — and the solution.
In trying to understand people’s reactions to Christianity, there are four reasons why perceptions matter.
1. What people think about Christians influences how they respond to us.
Young outsiders are choosing to avoid churches and reject allegiance to Christianity because the faith seems at odds with the type of people they want to associate with.
2. What people think about Christians should help us be objective.
Outsiders kept telling us that Christians are not realistic or transparent about themselves. An important perspective we should embrace is “You are what you are, not what you tell people you are.” As Christians, however, we need to make continual, honest evaluations of ourselves so that we can uncover the ways in which our lives do not accurately reflect what we profess.
3. What people think of Christians can change.
People’s attitudes are constantly in flux, particularly in a society that is as fluid and dynamic as ours. Just a decade ago the Christian faith was not generating the intense hostility it is today. If the Christian faith has image problems today, the ever-changing environment means we will have opportunities tomorrow to change those perceptions.
This won’t happen if we try simply to make ourselves look good. The reputation of the Christian faith should never be managed or spindoctored, but we can change how we’re known by becoming more Christ-like.
4. What people think about Christians reflects personal stories.
faith affects your life, perhaps more than you realize. As you interact with your friends, the labels “hypocritical,” “conversion-happy,” “antihomosexual,” “sheltered,” “too political,” and “judgmental” are welded to what many people think about you. You do not have to like this, but it’s a fact of our complex world.
If you are a pastor, your church has to deal with the image of Christianity each time you send a mailing, in each instance of interacting with city officials, and every time you invite unchurched individuals to your church. If you are a professional working in other industries, such as science, education, the media, and so on, your job and your witnessare affected by the image that people conjure up when they hear you are a Christian. This is important because, as much as I want to help you understand the national patterns, it is ultimately your task to interpret those trends for your context and for the decisions you make each day about how you represent Christianity to others. Is there an appropriate balance between grace and truth in your life? Jesus was concerned about the reputation of his Father in heaven. Are you? Your life shows other people what God is like.
while I choose reason and tangible perceptions and experiences to guide me instead of magical sky Gods, I FULLY support your interpretation of Christianity as opposed to the views of tired, established, hateful, hypocritical goons out there. Currently, we as a nation are lagging behind in every aspect of education, and more and more people (read: christian tea-partiers) want to teach creationism, reject science, and stop funding education. I don't believe things can get more crazy or, I hate to use this hyperbole, but, dangerous. Lead your flock to enlightenment, reason, and betterment of ALL, not just heterosexual, protestant white males.
WE ARE *SICK* OF CHRISTIANS DOMINATING OTHERS' LIVES AND STRANGLING ANY KIND OF PROGRESS WE AS A NATION COULD HAVE.
Your comments are rife with the things that you say you are against. The Bible clearly teaches exnihilo Creation and real science supports this (which is why Creationists win debates almost every time with evolutionists). Second, education is the responsibility of the parents and never should be the function of the government, since the government can only deal in control and power, which it always seeks to extend over anything it funds. Third, ad homonyms are a betrayal of reason and intellegent arguments. If you would have a cogent discussion of these issues you need to engage rather than confront by name calling and untruths.
Just found you..was recommended by a sisster whose sstufy group is doing "The Next
Christians"...have a feeling that we will be doing likewise soon. Thank You!
So it is science or church, is that the only option?
And discount Jesus' words for cherry picked Leviticus rules?
You have actually made the point of this article.
Way to fill the pews.
Good stuff here.
My only concern is that we often become reactive rather than proactive over these issues.
True. Christianity has gathered this unchristian image you've described above, but also the negativity has been enhanced and promoted by the secular media and some anti-Christian element in e.g. the science community in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. I agree with Daniel's comment above, as I am a convert from Theistic Evolutionism due to the overwhelming scientific and theological evidence (rarely published). Nonetheless, I think these arguments should be presented respectfully but assertively. We've been intimidated by these voices for too long, but neither should we cram it down people's throats and make the image problem worse.
I've seen many sincere and compassionate Christians doing their best to throw out everything that even smells of Fighting Fundamentalism. I can understand it in a way, but then we can so easily throw out the baby with the bath water. I like Jesus' approach where He said to the woman caught in adultery: "Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." In our culture, I would use different words to say the same thing, however. Don't forget, too, that in spite of Jesus' compassion, He suffered from an (imposed) image problem. We will get it imposed on us whether we like it or not, but there's no point in making it worse.
If anything, Christians should be the most balanced, logical, compassionate, gracious, wholesome and healthily-living people on this planet. Jesus was.
I read the piece on abortion. Too bad those women hadn't listened to why the young lady wanted an abortion. She felt totally alone! Why wouldn't they try to befriend and provide the support she needed? We give money to "Pregnancy Reource Centres" and pontificate on "The right to life", but are we willing to invest ourselves in helping people like the young preganant woman? Support and encouragement is what she needed, not a sermon.
Most of our church communities have an abysmal record in dealing lovingly, fairly, graciously with those struggling with homosexuality. Listening to them and HEARING them might help us to minister to, and serve them.
WHAT I GOT OUT OF THIS EXCELLENT ARTICLE.:
You are what you are, not what you tell people you are.” We need to make continual, honest evaluations of ourselves so that we can uncover the ways in which our lives do NOT accurately reflect what we profess.
Our life shows other people what God is like.
The perceptions of outsiders will change only when Christians strive to represent the heart of God in every relationship and situation.
Spiritual formation is about depth rather than simplistic formulas
Worshiping God intimately and passionately
Engaging in spiritual friendships with other believers
We do not simply change our principles to accommodate people who disagree with us, but we should be willing to look at ourselves in the light of Jesus
Rather than being known for criticism, let’s learn to step in and work toward a solution for the problems we see They say Christians are more focused on condemning people than helping people become more like Jesus.
Are we more concerned with the unrighteousness of others than our own self-righteousness?
The opposite of sin is not virtue; it is grace. We need to move beyond expecting people to behave according to our expectations, and instead try to help connect them to God’s purposes.
Jesus was in but not of the world. Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did.
1. Respond with the right perspective. If his inquisitors tried to corner Jesus his response was often to raise another question or to tell a story that changed the parameters of the argument.
His response was oft en to raise another question or to tell a story that changed the parameters of the argument. The message of the cross doesn't make sense to outsiders
.2. Connect with people. The goal of overcoming their negative baggage is to point them to life in Christ. Not “spin” the Christian message; we live it - no need to exaggerate or hype faith - embrace and describe all the potency, depth, complexity, and realism of following Christ.
3. Be Creative. Make difficult concepts vivid and use the language of common people to help point them toward spiritual depth.
4. Serve People. Be compassionate, soft -hearted, and kind to people who are different from us, even hostile toward us. Need to do more than learn about faith;need live it.
Being Christian means being God’s agent of common grace in the world, Being Christian is hard work. The truest knowing comes in the doing.
Take seriously their opportunity to disciple and celebrate people who have a fully orbed view of Christian thinking and its relationship to all things throughout culture.
As Christians of all generations allow Christ to transform their hearts, minds, and actions, their expressions of the Christian faith will change, resulting in an influence on society that we have not experienced in decades.
Regretably, I often see a lack of distinction between being against homosexuality and being against the homosexual person; the propaganda is so persistent. I have a young homosexual male in my life who rejoices in God "never leaving or forsaking" him despite his willful (his word) activities; this is a reflection of the lack of understanding of God as Holy and I fear for not just his physical safety (bars) but that of his soul. Many young people have a hard time choosing to stand against the institutionalization and imposed normalization and endorsement of sin because they want so badly to be accepted, and let's keep it real: sometimes it's just cowardice.
Playing down the light that God shines on my particular sin at any given moment by saying, "Well you know we all..." would be an entirely inapproriate response to a Holy confrontation--God is not talking to "we all", he's talking to me all. Jesus said he did not come to bring peace but a sword and that we must prioritize our relationship with Him above even the one to our own mother, (you have NO idea how much I can relate to that) so it was easy to know how to respond when my friend wanted me to create a comfotable environment for his willful sin--not emotionally fun, but easy (Matt. 10:34-39). "Life is not about easy answers"--really? What does that mean? God did not leave us clueless about the place of our emotions in relationship to His Word and law, we just tend to create complication when we want to indulge the flesh (Deuteronomy 30:11-14; Romans 1:28).
The thing about UnChristian is that it doesn't qualify the subjective experiences of those with so much negative to say about "Christians", "The Church" & "Christianity" against the objective standard of the Word. It control for those who are just on a bandwagon of offense and or lying. It doesn't give attention to their any ability on their part to overcome undue stereotyping. Also, the terms "Christians", "The Church" & "Christianity" must be defined--biblically. "The biblical response should be..."; well, the biblical response IS to speak the truth in love but that does not guarantee that people will not be offended, and if they are offended it doesn't necessarily mean we're doing something wrong, if a person is in sin they are supposed to feel bad, not like a victim, but aware of the contrast between their life and the holiness of God and desire to close that distance by repenting (Ephesians 4:11-16, 5:1-7, 10-13 & John 16:7-11, 3:17-21).
Friends, Jesus Christ is the head of the church--not the opinions of the "young people"; we can set ourselves up to be emotionally manipulated if we don't subject emotive language to the wisdom of the ages about human nature contained in God's Word. The church is Jesus' idea, and He said the gates of hell will not prevail, those who are cowardly need to stop claiming Christ because He will not claim them if they insist on straddling the fence and failing to clearly speak where God has clearly spoken without equivocation, ambiguation or mitigation. Perception is not reality; REALITY IS REALITY, and reality is ultimately the person of Christ himself.
Of course God loves homosexuals, some are repentant in heart some are not; the question is whether the person love Jesus ON HIS TERMS, which is "as the scripture has said" (John 7:38 & 2 Timothy 3:16). There is a lot of past hurt and a deep root of rejection in the souls of the homosexuals and lesbians I've known, hurt tends to color one's judgment and criticism; I encourage them to get current in their conversations with me and try not to prejudge me as someone who is like whatever stupidity they've seen on TV. One guy I know, I asked him if he'd ever done what Jesus instructed in Matthew 18 when he was offended or didn't get the answers he wanted from someone in church--he hadn't, he just left, hurt. I shared with him that I knew God wasn't upset with me for not being in church because someone I thought was befriending me just abruptly stopped bringing me when I shared my view that, "observing something negative does not make the person observing a negative person; some things by their very nature are just negative--everything is not happy and upbeat" (the conversation wasn't about a negative aspect of my church experience by the way). Eventually, when the time was ripe, I asked him if he thinks that all the things "The Church" & "Christians" have done bad to him will be an acceptable excuse when he stands before the Lord Jesus Christ--he frowned at first and then said, "Okay, I get it".
Anyhu, didn't mean to carry on, but it is very important for Christ followers to understand that our faith is one that refers to us as passers-through in this world, we are destined to feel the same heat that got Jesus crucified, and that we are not fit for the kingdom if we prioritize "making people feel welcome" or the fleeting pleasures of the world around us or behind us over the offense of the cross and being GOD's friend. Outsiders are not qualified biblically to judge spiritually-alive and mature believers. Jesus was not as soft as so many assume He was, the first word out of his mouth when he preached His gospel was "repent", and he said the MAJORITY would be attracted to the way that leads to destruction. The bible says that when people live a lifestyle given over to various lusts, it affects their ability to reason soundly; feelings are not even TELLING us the truth half the time, so you know they certainly can't BE the truth. Please read and listen to the entire book of 1 John MANY TIMES (God lead me to get it in my spirit when I was 17), 2 Corinthians 3, 4, 10:3-5; Matt. 7:12-14, 21-23; Ephesians 4:17-24 & Jude.
I think you're missing the point. When it comes to homosexuality, we're not talking about 'hate the sin, love the sinner.' We're talking about letting people be what God made them to be, either gay or straight. It's not like alcoholism, or stealing, or just being a jerk.
Those five bible passages you always quote about God hating homosexuality are flat out wrong. Yes, two and three thousand years ago, people were just plain wrong about that. And now we know better. A few other things we've grown past as a global culture:
1) killing every man, woman, child, and animal in God's name,
2) propogating slavery because that's just how it's always been, or
3) subjugating women.
Here's to hoping the 19 to 29 year olds do, one day, inherit the earth. Just like the 'lost generation' made strides in ending racism, just like the boomers pushed forward gender equality, let's hope the after-boomers can do away with discrimination based on sexual orientation.
To Ms. Marie: Jesus made people feel welcome, it was the religious people who were not made to feel welcome because they were the hypocrites. Get it?
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