As I discovered in Watergate, we humans have an infinite capacity for self-justification—which is why it is pretty good to get a reality check and find out how others see us. After all, only your closest friends tell you if you have bad breath.
That is a service David Kinnaman, president of Barna polling, and Gabe Lyons, one of our Centurions, have performed for us with their new book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . . And Why It Matters.
Kinnaman and Lyons spent three years polling young, unchurched Americans to find out what they thought about Christianity. Millions of young people, they discovered, see us as judgmental, hypocritical, anti-homosexual, too political, insensitive—and boring. Ouch!
Your immediate reaction—like mine—is that this characterization is grossly unfair. Why don't these folks recognize all the good things we do, like helping prisoners and Africans with AIDS?
The answer is that, fairly or not, hostile press characterizations of us as judgmental, homophobic bigots have stuck. But this is only half the answer. A shocking 50 percent of respondents said they base their negative views on personal contacts with Christians.
As the authors write, "Many of those outside of Christianity . . . reject Jesus because they feel rejected by Christians."
Let's be honest: Sometimes we do come across as judgmental, anti-homosexual, and excessively politicized. And all too often, when others misrepresent Christianity, we do not know enough about our own doctrines to explain the truth. Yes, we draw millions into our churches on Sunday, but let's face it: We draw them in by offering therapeutic services that make them feel better, but not be better.
This truth was dramatically acknowledged last month by Bill Hybels, founder of the successful Willow Creek Church movement, when he announced the results of a survey conducted of his own members: Heavy involvement in church programs did not translate into spiritual growth and maturity. To his everlasting credit, Hybels had the integrity to announce the findings and repent.
Hybels clearly understands the problem: What the Church needs to do is to make disciples, to grow people in the faith, not be spectators. We must teach them what Christians believe and how to live out these doctrines in all of life. Like Hybels, church leaders need to examine whether they are making disciples and encouraging holy living.
This is exactly why Prison Fellowship recently revised its mission. We recognize that we must not just get prisoners into Bible studies; we've got to work with them toward a transformed life and help train them when they get out—a much tougher job, but it is what Jesus demands.
And this is why I have written a new book, The Faith, Given Once, for All, being released next month. It explains what all true Christians believe, why we believe it—and why it matters. We need to know what we believe so we can live changed lives—and defend Christianity against its detractors.
unChristian providentially challenges us at the very moment many are waking up to the need to clean up our own house. Once we do this, we will be able to reach out to those outside the faith and—in a loving, non-judgmental way—offer them the glorious Truth.
From BreakPoint®, January 4, 2008, Copyright 2008, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship