Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner?

whichgod2I’m still reading Unchristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.  It’s not that I’m such a slow reader; it’s that I have other things to do.  Today, for instance, I have to write a sermon about Jesus taking on the scribes and Pharisees over the issue of ritual handwashing (Mark 7:1-23), a topic not completely unrelated to the way many outsiders view the religious traditions of Christians. 

Anyway, I thought I would give you a brief excerpt from Unchristian to keep the conversation going, because it’s a good one, and the comments I have received have been both thoughtful and provocative.  I hope you will add to the conversation by clicking the word comments at the bottom of this post and telling me what you think.

In the chapter on Christians being “too judgmental” David Kinnaman writes: “Have you ever heard the Christian mantra, ‘Hate the sin, but love the sinner’?  It is not a direct quote from the Bible, but it reflects the ideal most Christ followers embrace.  They would like to extend grace and love toward others (the sinner), while firmly rejecting those attitudes and behaviors that contradict God’s standards (the sin).  The problem is outsiders don’t think we are honest with ourselves.  One of our interviews was with Jeff, a twenty-five-year-old agnostic from Oklahoma.  He actually mentioned the catchphrase in the conversation: ‘Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is.  They hate the sin and the sinner.'” 

Kinnaman goes on to say, “If our primary fixation is on the sin, it is virtually impossible to demonstrate love to an individual.  Think of it: many outsiders, the broken people who need Jesus most, picture Christians as haters.”


What do you think?  Is Kinnaman right?  Do people outside the faith really think of us that way?

Are Christians “Too Political”?

religion_politics_articleI’m almost finished with the book Unchristian (some of you will be glad), but I wanted to share a quote from the chapter called “Too Political.”  According to co-authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons 75% of young adults outside the faith think that Christians are “overly motivated by a political agenda, that we pomote and represent politically conservative interests and issues, [and that] Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers” (p. 30).  Again, this may not be true of you or your church, but it’s the way 75% of young adults outside the faith perceive us. 

Do perceptions matter?  You bet they do.  And so, at the close of each chapter in the book, Kinnaman and Lyons have asked some well-known Christians to offer suggestions for how we might change the perceptions of young adults.  I was shocked by what Jim Wallis had to say:

Christians should be involved in politics.  The question isn’t “should we engage?” but “how?”  The conservative religious movement in America today has been corrupted.  Evangelicalism has been hijacked and usurped by partisan political forces.  Conservative religion is now being driven and dictated by secular, right-wing political forces.  So basically the conservative religious movement—or at least parts of it, the politicized part of it—has sold its soul to partisan politics (p. 179).

These are strong words, something Wallis (founder and executive director of Sojourners/Call to Renewal) has never shied away from.  But I have found myself thinking about them over the last 24 hours and wondering if he is right.  Did some political strategist do the math and realize that if he could get all the Christians in America to vote for his candidate he would win?  And then did he sit around wondering which issue would have the most potential for bringing Christians over to his side?  And then did he start telling us that his candidate was against abortion, which made us sympathetic (because, really, what Christian is going to be for abortion?).  And have politicians been using Christians to win elections ever since, by finding out what we are for or against and convincing us that their candidates are for or against the same things?  Wallis goes on to say:

Many young evangelicals see that this is just Republican politics masquerading as conservative religion.  When they observe this, they don’t like it.  And they are concerned that it could happen on the Left too—exactly what happened on the Right—the politiczing and corrupting of religion for the sake of political power.  That’s not what they want.

The young people I meet don’t want to go Left or Right.  They reject these narrow political orthodoxies.  They’re not happy with Christianity being either a list of things you shouldn’t do, or just about being nice.  They want to go deeper.  Young evangelicals really want their faith and lives to count for something.  They want their faith to somehow connect with changing the world…

“They want to go deeper,” Wallis says, which is what I would want for them and what I think Jesus would want, too.  When he taught his disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven he invited his disciples to join him in changing the world from what it was to what God had always dreamed it could be.  He is still inviting his disciples to do that.  How tragic would it be to confuse that vision of heaven on earth with only what can be achieved through the political processes of a fallen society?

These young people may be on to something…

The Rise and Fall of Gen-X Ministries

Here’s an interesting article on how some of the megachurches have tried to tailor worship for twentysomethings, and what they have learned as a result.  It’s another glimpse into the thinking, belief, and behavior of these young adults who are so precious to God but often uninterested in “going to church.”

I referenced this article in an earlier post (“When Cool Music Isn’t Enough“) but the online edition wasn’t yet available.  Now it is.

Read the article by clicking HERE.

What Do Young People Really Think of Christians?

robert-pattinson-dossierIt’s been another good day at Richmond’s First Baptist Church.  I finished my sermon series from Ephesians called “Reading Other People’s Mail.”  Between services I visited one of the children’s Sunday school classes and told the story of Mary and Martha.  I went to lunch with the Bible Explorer’s class, a group of about forty active senior adults.  And then this evening I preached through all of Luke 15 at a retirement center on the South Side of Richmond.  I’m just settling into my big, comfortable chair now, thinking about what to do with the rest of the evening.

On the table beside my chair is that book called “Unchristian,” which I keep delving into when I have a minute to spare.  It’s fascinating, and it’s teaching me so much about what the younger generation thinks of Christianity.  I reported briefly on the chapter about hypocrisy in one of my recent posts, but since then I’ve read the chapters called “Get Saved!” “Antihomosexual,” and “Sheltered.”  I’m sure you can imagine what those are about.  Young people these days think that Christians are not so much interested in them as human beings, but only as “targets” for conversion.  Ninety percent of them think that Christians are “antihomosexual,” and this in a peer group that is enormously accepting of diversity.  Most of them think that Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality, so why would anyone want to be Christian?

Now, you and I know those things are not true, but how do we convince young people that they are not true?  In each chapter of the book David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons begin with the existing perception of Christians, but then follow it with a “new” perception—what they would like for young people to think about us.  Here they are:

Perception: Christians say one thing, but live something entirely different.
New Perception: Christians are transparent about their flaws and act first, talk second.

Perception: Christians are insincere and concerned only with converting others.
New Perception: Christians cultivate relationships and environments where others can be deeply transformed by God.

Perception: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians.
New Perception: Christians show compassion and love to all people, regardless of their lifestyle.

Perception: Christians are boring, unintelligent, old-fashioned, and out of touch with reality.
New Perception: Christians are engaged, informed, and offer sophisticated responses to the issues people face.

Perception: Christians are primarily motivated by a political agenda and promote right-wing politics.
New Perception: Christians are characterized by respecting people, thinking biblically, and finding solutions to complex issues.

Perception: Christians are prideful and quick to find fault with others.
New Perception: Christians show grace by finding the good in others and seeing their potential to be Christ followers.

Please note that these perceptions are based on thousands of interviews with young Americans and that the “New Perceptions” offered here are proposed by the authors, who would almost certainly describe themselves as conservative evangelicals.  These are not wild-eyed liberals who want to do away with traditional Christianity, but concerned Christians who understand that we are about to lose a whole generation.  How do we win them over?  We talk to them, we listen to them, we care about them, and over time—by the grace of God—they begin to think of us differently.

Anybody interested in doing that?

The Unchristian Website

For those of you who would like to continue the discussion started by my last post, or want to know more about the ideas presented in the book Unchristian, there is a website hosted by authors David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Type in your e-mail address and you can download summaries of their research on how young Americans perceive Christianity, a conversation with Chuck Colson on the dangers of a faith based on conversion alone, and a group discussion in which three pastors talk about homosexuality and the church. Check it out at:


Those Hateful, Judgmental, Hypocritical Christians

3d_unchristian_cover“Christianity has an image problem.”

That’s the first sentence in David Kinnaman’s book Unchristian: what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters (Baker Books, 2007).

Kinnaman is the president of the Barna Research Group, and he bases that conclusion on interviews conducted with thousands of young people across the country.  He notes that their responses are not only neutral, but in many cases negative.  Their complaints against Christianity—and the Christians and churches that have shaped their views—is that it is:

1. Hypocritical.  Outsiders consider us hypocritical—saying one thing and doing another—and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes.  They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate.  Christians think the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.

2. Too focused on getting converts.  Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them.  They feel like targets rather than people.  They question our motives when we try to help them “get saved,” despite the fact that many of them have already “tried” Jesus and experienced church before.

3. Antihomosexual.  Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians.  They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them. 

4. Sheltered.  Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality.  Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers.  We are not willing to deal with the grit and grime of people’s lives.

5. Too political.  Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.  Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.

6. Judgmental.  Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others.  They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people.  They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.

Kinnaman looks at each of these perceptions in depth over the next six chapters of his book, before concluding with a chapter on how we might make the move from unchristian to Christian: that is, how we might become more authentically Christian in order to change the perceptions of young people who think we are too political, hypocritical, sheltered, judgmental, conversion-happy, and antihomosexual. 

I haven’t finished the book yet, but the chapter on hypocrisy—just as an example—makes some good points.  Kinnaman says that, based on his research, there is shockingly little difference between the behavior of born-again Christians and everybody else.  And yet when you ask these Christians what their priorities are they say, “doing the right thing, being good, not sinning.”  I’m sure there are shining examples of virtue among us, but when we say that our priorities are doing the right thing, being good, and not sinning, and then do the wrong thing, behave badly, and sin freely—that’s hypocrisy. 

In what other ways might those young people be right about Christianity…and what will we do to change their perceptions?