Thursday, October 18, 2007

unChristian

I am beginning to read perhaps the most important book of this year-
"unChistian: What a new generation thinks about Christianity . . . and why it matters" by Dave Kinnaman of Barna and Gabe Lyons of the Fermi Project. These men have done extensive research to reveal that while 10 years ago 4 out of 5 Americans had positive views of Christianity, today over 40% have negative opinions. What are their opinions? That we are anti-homosexual, judgmental, sheltered and care only about proselytizing and converting people--among other things.

Their words will be both alarming and convicting to you, I am sure.

I spoke with Gabe Lyons about his book, which he desribes as a book of hope, a solution rather than a problem. Not only does the book talk about the failings within our Christian sub-culture, it provides solutions for how to redeem even the very word "Christian" in the 21st century.

Additionally, the book pulls in advice from great minds like Andy Stanley, Rick Warren, Margaret Feinberg, John Stott, Sarah Cunningham, Dan Kimball, Brian Mclaren and Mark Batterson. These pieces add real diversity and flavor to the message presented.
If you have read this book or have any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment.

5 comments:

Dan Williams said...

Hello, Jonathan. It's been quite a while since I've seen you, Dean, and the gang down at (shhh) L.U. Laurie and I still proudly display the picture you gave us of some random plane in our living room. It is a regular reminder of the good times and great people that God has brought along our path.

I will try to stay on point now as I realize this isn't the place for catching up with old friends. I haven't gotten my hands on a copy of "unChristian" yet. But, I have been emersed in some of the popular literature of the emergent conversation. I'm familiar with Bell and McLaren and the gang.

Here are some broad, undeveloped thoughts for our own "conversation". First, I strongly agree that the church, especially the church situated in North America, needs to be challenged about its true, authentic identity and purpose. I'm glad that there is a (relatively) new conversation going on. Second, It seems clear to me, especially as I serve as a pastor in the Northeastern part of the U.S., that the church--the Spirit-guided communities of Jesus followers--no longer enjoys a place of privilege and acceptance in contemporary culture. No, the church is viewed with skeptism and disgust. This is partially our own fault, and it is very predictable since even our Leader said, "If they despised me, they will despise you." Lastly, I would say that a signficant part of what I read from the prominent emergent voices is (I hope) an over-reaction against the short-comings of 20th century fundamentalism. The Lord knows that some of what they have expressed in their autobiographical writings does indeed reasonate within my own heart. I am hopeful that "being the church" will be more essential to our generation that "doing church". I am hopeful that "sharing truth" and "showing compassion" will be two sides of the same coin in our ministries. I am hopeful that there will be less screaming and more conversation, not only between "believers" but with "non-Christians" as well.

Well, I'm kind of new to the blogging scene, so I hope that this lengthy comment isn't out of order. I hope to hear from you (and/or others who may be reading your writings). May God bless you as you serve Him and His kingdom.

Danny

Jonathan Merritt said...

Danny-

Good to hear from you! I want to hear all about what is going on with you guys. Email me directly: hunkeritdown@yahoo.com

I enjoyed your thoughtful comments thoroughly. Regarding your first point, you are right on target. We cannot ignore that the Church in North America is gasping and flailing. Christians are no longer the king-makers we once were. We are nowed viewed critically by a world that is often post-Christian and too often anti-Christian.

Michael Frost addresses this in a book I would unequivocally recommend titled, "Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture." In his mind, and increasingly in my own, the retrogression of Christianity from a political force to a movement is a positive thing.

Some historians claim that the decline of Christianity's authenticity can be traced to the proliferation of buildings of worship rather than home communities. While I don't believe a proper ecclesiology demands a perpetuation of home churches, it is interesting that Jaroslav Pelikan in his book, "Jesus Through the Centuries," shows that "as respect for the organized church has declined, respect for Jesus has grown." 20 years later this is strengthened by works like Dan Kimball's "They Like Jesus Not the Church."

I love my church, but I believe our progression towards post-Christendom presents a valuable opportunity to do exactly what you mentioned: stop DOING church and start BEING the church. Don't you agree?

(I guess this lengthy reply validated that you were not lengthy in your intial comment.)

Look forward to conversing with you- Great comments.

Blessings,

Jonathan

Jonathan Merritt said...

Oh, and if you are interested in this, let me know and I can email you a .pdf of an my article "The Times They Are A-Changin: Facing a Post-Christian Culture." It includes interviews with Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, Dan Kimball, Michael Frost, and Leneord Sweet.

Also, my article "From an 8-track Church to an Mp3 Movement" which includes thoughts by Rick Warren, Dan Kimball and Eric Geiger (co-author of Simple Church).

dan williams said...

Hi, Jonathan. Somebody has been doing his homework. I appreciate your reply and the quotes that you provided. They are very helpful. I do agree that we are seeing a trend in North America (I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about this trend in the South) from the church having a position of power and prominence, to the "church" as irrelevant and marginalized. This has forced us as leaders (who by the way are committed to 1) Jesus Christ, and 2) to the church) to rethink our purpose and commission. I've read stuff lately about chaning from maintainence to mission, etc. One helpful book was Milfred Minatrea's "Shaped By God's Heart: The Passions and Practices of Missional Churches". Good stuff...

The church is not unimportant. I'm afraid that many who are disenfranchised with the institutionalized church are pushing for its demise. When we talk about "church" we need to clarify which level we are talking. Are we talking the 'local' church, the 'church in North America', or the true, invisible church of God? To be sure, churches have issues...but so do people...and people make up the church, you know?

We were created to relate to God. We were made to worship Him. The business of the church is the worship of God. We are commissioned to invite others into this reconciled relationship. A part of our vocation as the church is the "witness" to our culture. There is still a place for doctrine, hymn books, uncomfortable pews, etc. Our problem has been that we've strayed from the passion of God. It has become about us, and not about Him.

I pray that more and more of God's children begin to wrestle with these thoughts. Are we pleasing our Father? Are we "about His business"? Are we holding our breath until heaven, or are we expelling our breath in love towards those around us and inviting them to know the Way?

D.W.

Garet Robinson said...

Perhaps the most compelling part of this book, or most disheartening for me at least, was the statement in the first chapter that most outsiders (their term for non-Christians 16-29 yrs) saw Christians as having a "swagger" about them. That deeply impacts me, particularly because we are called to humility and grace before anything else.

I have read unChristian and thoroughly enjoyed it. I don't agree with everything, but I am overwhelmed with a desire to rediscover my calling and how I am around outsiders. Perhaps the most compelling thing about this read is that the Emerging/Emergent movement has been saying this stuff for 15 years (talking about the post-Christian thing, how we are purporting ourselves poorly, etc.) and just now the evangelical church is starting to get it. We need to see some major changes...and it all starts with me and with you.

The shift in how outsiders see evangelical Christianity has been so drastic it must leave us at a place where we realize we are, in some cases, doing more harm than good. For instance leaving a Gospel-tract and a shoddy tip for a waitress does not nearly create a meaningful connection as talking to a wait meaningfully. An example from my life, just the other day I was out buying lunch for a friend and the waitress made some comment that I should just buy her lunch as well...and I offered to do just that. This led to a conversation about what I get to do and how she can get involved. Nothing too "meaningful" spiritually was accomplished but she at least heard a qualified explanation of the Gospel.

Maybe that is it, maybe we have in our attempts to process down our swagger and push Jesus onto people we've disqualified ourselves from presenting the Gospel to people. I think there is something there.

If anything this book should be a wake up call. It should shake us from our feeble seats of indolence on to our feet to passionately BE the Gospel to those around us.

The chapters that I enjoyed (in order of appreciation):
1. Sheltered
2. Get Saved
3. Hypocritical

One thing line that I loved was: If outsiders stop listening we can't just turn up the volume. (pg. 84) Wow, impacting.

Here's where I'm at after everything:
a. I think we must make this book required reading for everyone graduating seminary for the next 15 years.
b. I have no idea what to do about the antiHomosexuality chapter...I just don't know it's a hard issue
c. We, evangelicals, have a lot to answer for before the throne of God
d. I hope this book isn't discredited by major leaders in our many denominations because of the 5th chapter
e. It probably will be
f. It's not up to me to be a "brand manager" for Christianity
g. There are more smarter people out there than we give them credit for
h. Christianity in 2037 must be identified as being a lifestyle and not an event
i. I'm now praying for homosexuals I know and love in Christ
j. I pray to God to show me how I can begin changing these perceptions for those around me whom I encounter

Great blog. Let's keep up the convo!

Grace and Peace to you!