I mentioned in an earlier post that I’ve been reading and appreciating David Kinnaman’s unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. I thought I’d take an opportunity to pass on a few of the many interesting/alarming things that have particularly caught my attention so far.
In chapter three, “Hypocritical,” Kinnaman makes the point that there is very little difference in lifestyle among those claiming to be born-again Christians* and the rest of society:
When asked to identify their activities over the last thirty days, born-again believers were just as likely to bet or gamble, to visit a pornographic website, to take something that did not belong to them, to consult a medium or psychic, to physically fight or abuse someone, to have consumed enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk, to have used an illegal, non-prescription drug, to have said something to someone who wasn’t true, to have gotten back at someone for something he or she did, and to have said mean things behind another person’s back (47). \
In addition, of those outside the church who say they personally know at least one committed Christian, only 15% say those Christians demonstrate any significant difference in lifestyle from the norm.
For those who pay attention to such things, the above information isn’t exactly a new revelation. But Kinnaman notes the problem goes even deeper. Despite exhibiting behavior that is virtually indistinguishable from those around them, Christians list what Kinnaman terms “lifestyle” (i.e., “being good, doing the right thing, not sinning”) as the most commonly indicated (37%) priority of their personal faith. Not only is this sentiment, biblically speaking, putting the cart before the horse, but it also leads to a rather sobering reality. Kinnaman explains:
It’s not just our lifestyles that have gotten us into trouble; it’s the very way in which we convey the priorities of being a Christian. The most common message people hear from us is that Christianity is a religion of rules and regulations. They think of us as hypocritical because they are measuring us by our own standards (48).
And again, a few pages later:
Outsiders think of our moralizing, our condemnations, and our attempts to draw boundaries around everything. Even if these standards are accurate and biblical, they seem to be all we have to offer. And our lives are a poor advertisement for these standards. We have set the game board to register lifestyle points; then we are surprised to be trapped by our own mistakes. The truth is we have invited the hypocritical image (52).
And what is the remedy for all of this? Not only to Christians need to understand that moral change is the fruit of a transformed heart (not the other way around), but we also need to cultivate an appropriate transparency, i.e., freely but not flippantly “admitting what the Bible says about us: we are fallen people who desperately need God in our lives—every day” (55).
*As defined in the study, a “born-again” Christian is someone who “has made a personal commitment to Jesus that is still important and that the person believes he or she will go to heaven at death, because the person has confessed his or her sin and accepted Christ as Savior” (46). Kinnaman acknowledges the limitations of this description and talks later in the book about better ways to measure the depth of a person’s Christian commitment.