Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . .and Why It Matters
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
hc., 255pp., $17.99
In their provocative book Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . and Why It Matters, authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons describe and analyze the negative image that Evangelical Christianity has in American society today, especially among the younger generation. Christians are perceived as being hypocritical, anti-homosexual, sheltered too political, and judgmental. The authors point out that part of the reason for this perception is a shift in attitudes in society – the younger generation has a relativistic morality – but they also note that part of the problem lies within the church itself: we simply fail to live up to God's standards. As a result, we often come across as a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites. Even young people who were raised in the church often complain that the religious faith of their elders is shallow and phony. The authors then ask a pointed question: "What if millions of us are living for ourselves, even while we are going through the motions of religion?" (p. 219). The problem, they suggest, is that we lack a genuine care and compassion for others.
If we look at ourselves honestly, we will have to admit that they are largely right. Today in the church there is very little holiness, very little evangelism, and very little prayer. The underlying cause of this is painfully apparent: there is something lacking in our own relationship with God. We are living for ourselves and not for Him, and , as a result, we care little about others. And the unsaved call tell it.
So what should be our attitude towards those outside of the faith? Paul gives us a good idea in Titus 3:1-8. Writing to Titus, who was helping to organize the church on the island of Crete, Paul instructs him to tell the Cretan believers what they should do. He says that they should obey the civil authorities, and then he tells them "to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men" (vv. 1,2; NKJV). In other words, the behavior that is expected is the very opposite of the angry, shrill discourse that many people have come to associate with Christians today.
The church cannot be governed by polls. Its aim must be to please Christ, not the world. But a charge of hypocrisy, coming from whatever quarter, is serious indeed, because it implies that we are not living up to our own standards. And in our present situation there is far more truth to the accusation than we dare to admit. A visit to a Wednesday evening prayer meeting is all that it takes to see what has gone wrong. Few are gathered there, and their focus is almost exclusively on the physical needs of their friends and loved ones. There is rarely any prayer at all for the success of the ministry or the salvation of the lost.
Or to look at it from another angle, the problem, ironically, arises from a lack of true evangelism. We have become so complacent and self-satisfied that we have ceased to care about the eternal destinies of those around us. The church has become a social club for nice, middle-class people. We make it clear that we disapprove of certain forms of behavior, but that is about as far as it goes. The inevitable result is that our unsaved acquaintances have a sense of condemnation but not of compassion. We do not really care about them, and unfortunately they know it.
It was said of D.L. Moody the famous evangelist that he had a deep love for his fellow man. "Sympathy for all men apparently obliterated all traces of selfishness and unworthy ambition, so that he lived and died for others," as one put it (Moody: the Man and his Mission, 1900, p. 347). As a result, "the people flocked to his services, they heard him gladly, they were led to Christ" (Ibid., p. 194).
|D.L. Moody preaching
The problem is that our relationship with God is not what it should be. We have lost that sense of unworthiness and gratitude that should be the mark of every sinner saved by grace. We have forgotten what we once were and we have forgotten to Whom we owe all that we are now. We are proud when we should be humble; we are self-centered when we should be caring and compassionate. We have forgotten the love of Christ for us, and indeed, for all mankind.
We need to begin with prayer. We need to confess our own sin and failures, and then we need to pray for others. We need to pray for their salvation. We need to pray that God would open up opportunities to witness. We need to ask God to open hearts and minds to receive His word.
Compassion for the lost does not mean that we do not tell them that they are sinners. They will never come to Christ until they can see their lost condition. We do not show love by allowing them to perish in their sin. But the personal context is everything. What the poor lost sinners needs to see is a Christian who is conscious of his own unworthiness, a Christian who is humble and gentle, a Christian who genuinely cares about those around him. He needs to see a Christian who is willing to listen and is able to sympathize. And then the Christian needs to make it clear that we are all sinners, and that we all need God's grace. Then our image among those still outside the faith will be what it ought to be.