It’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?