Here is a quote and some follow up items from pages 30-32 of UnChristian:
One of the responses to this research that we often encounter is blaming the negative perceptions of Christianity on people's spiritual denial. But Christianity's image problem with a new generation is not due merely to spiritual resistance on the part of outsiders, although sometimes this plays a role.
Then these follow up/ clarification items:
- Perceptions are not formed in a vacuum or based on limited exposure.
- People's impressions ahve been forged through a wide range of inputs: experience at churches... and relationships.
- The "secular" media certainly do affect how outsiders view Chrsitianity, but less than you might think.
- Painful encounters with the faith also have a strong influence on what a person thinks of Christianity.
- Being hurt by Christianity is far more common among the young than among the older outsiders.
Here are some statistics from chapter 4 that add to this:
- ...more than 4 out of every 5 have gone to a Christian church at soem time in their life (82 percent). Most of these attended for at least 3 months.
- Two-thirds of nonChrsitians (65%) said they have had conversations in the last year with a Christian friend about their faith views.
- More than half (53%) said they have been specifically approached in the past few years about becoming a Christian.
Then a concluding statement (at least in my mind):
These are not perceptions derived in a vacuum or from seeing Christians negatively portrayed in the media. Most outsiders have grown up around Christians; many have given the "Jesus thing" a thorough test drive; a majority have tried churches and found them desperately lacking relevance. [p. 77]
This was one of my greatest frustrations in 1999 when I arrived at the campus of the University of Michigan as a campus pastor of a church I later led. I remember coming and hearing from a lot of on-campus Christians that UofM students were hostile to Christianity. As I began to get to know students, have coffee shop or book-store conversations, what I began to find was that this simply wasn't true. Sure, there were some hold-overs from another generation... some professors that clearly had an agenda against Christians. However, most people were actually wide open to our faith when presented in a winsome, non-hostile, and conversational way. What most people I met were reacting against was a close-minded Christianity that was more of a monologue than dialogue, more of a force feeding than leading people to living water, or even comparing different types of spiritual food fairly. It was hard a couple times when I had to say to someone, "Actually, they weren't rejecting your faith, they were rejecting you. You acted totally inappropriately." This is partly what Kinnaman is getting at in Chapter 4, "Get Saved." People aren't so much reacting spiritual against the faith we're presenting, but against our presentation of it and our way of living it as well as the way we treat our fellow humanity in the process. In this way, I've always loved Colossians 4:5-6:
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
That pretty well says it.
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