Book Review - unChristian by Kinnaman & Lyons

This book summarizes and comments on some research the Barna organization recently did on a really interesting question: what does the younger, unchurched generation think about Christians and Christianity?

Now, why even ask that question? After all, serious Christians have generally been getting used to the idea that the broader American culture is becoming increasingly secularized. So perhaps one would fully expect that a survey such as this would turn up some negative impressions. Interestingly though, the researchers didn't find a predictable list of longstanding impressions. What they found is that many younger Americans (29 years of age and under) have developed sharply negative views of Christianity just in the past decade or so, and that this shift is too pronounced to ignore.

I first heard of this research project about 2 years ago while the book was still being written. Lyons, who initiated the project in the first place, shared some of the survey results with the 2006 Centurions class which I was part of. Even then the results caught my attention. In generations past most non-religious Americans would be likely to describe Christians using labels like "decent," "hard working," "honest" or "moral." For instance, in the case of a young applying for a job, coming from a devoutly religious family likely would be seen as a positive statement about his character and work ethic. The associations were generally positive.

No more. Now, the most popular labels were things like "judgmental," "anti-homosexual," "out of touch," and "too political." In fact, at least 7 of the top 10 labels were negative.

As a Christian, do those labels make you feel defensive? They did to me. I'll confess that my first thoughts were a bit reactionary. For example, in response to the judgmental label I thought "Of course we seem judgmental to this culture. After all most Americans are pretty strong relativists and Christians believe in absolute truth. But that's not the same as being judgmental - the culture is wrong about us." And so on for every negative impression. Well, I still think believing in truth isn't the same as being judgmental. But as I kept reading I discovered that that wasn't their issue. Many times people had good reasons for thinking Christians are judgmental... because sometimes we are.

[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector...'" (Luke 18:9-11)

How often have I been one of those people to whom Jesus addressed this parable? Have I ever trusted in myself that I am righteous, and treated others with contempt? Sure, if I'm honest. And even when I succeed in not being such a person, the temptation is ever present.

The Bible instructs Jesus-followers to pay close attention to the way in which we interact with those outside the faith: "Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt..." (Colossians 4:5-6). You know salt: not enough and food is bleh... too much and you just killed a good meal. You have to pay close attention when you pour salt. So it is when a Christian pours the grace and truth of Jesus into the world around him.

I think this kind of introspection is a good thing. It's worth pausing at regular intervals in life and doing some self-evaluation with respect to how effective my demonstration of Jesus' grace and truth are. Are people ever offended by my Christian life? If not, I may not be following Jesus enough. But if they are, another question arises: are they offended because I'm like Jesus, or because I've allowed myself to become arrogant? The former is a divine calling. The latter is sin - sin the Bible warns us against.

I encourage Christian readers to pick up a copy of unChristian, and think through the balance between grace and truth in how we live our lives.


Ken said...


If you keep adding books I need to check out, I may never get any work done or do anything social again!

As I watch the A's lose to Kansas City (freakin' Kansas City!), your post has once again gotten me to think. It is also well timed as Amy and I discuss matters of faith.

I understand where people can come up with negative images for Christians. Some of it is well-deserved, some of it is not. The key is balance. While it is good to make judgments, being judgmental can be dangerous if not hypocritical.

For me, I believe it is my faith that enables my tolerance of the world around me. Unfortunately, too many so-called Christians believe they are in a position to play judge and jury in situations where they will not be the final arbiter. Only God is capable of making these judgements. Isn't the line "judge not, lest ye be judged?

Anyway, that's my thought as Oakland is now loosing 5-1 to the bloody Royals.

Matt Guerino said...

See, that's the difference between you and me right there: though I spent the first 14 years of my life in Oaktown and my white elephant allegiance runs deep, I NEVER watch the A's. I just can't take the punishment! Oh, wait... I'm a Cal fan. Never mind.

There does seem to be an interesting, and tough, balance to strike. As you say, it's good to make judgments, but not be judgmental. The former is using the brain in a healthy way. The latter is an inexcusable attitude of superiority.

Interestingly I find many people increasingly prone to think that even having views of what's right and wrong constitutes judgmentalism, which it doesn't. Christians have to judge between right & wrong. After all, we follow a guy who ended up brutally executed for refusing to back down on his identity as the Son of God.

Still, it's fascinating to watch Jesus and the Apostles deal with hurting, broken people. They were gracious, speaking the truth in love and binding up physical and emotional wounds wherever they could. "You follow me..." I preached a sermon about all this a few weekends ago, and we've had some good conversations about it as a church.

Oh, and today is happy day: this month it's Costa Rica and Fair Trade. No gloating, just celebrating!!

Ken said...


I seem to go for the hard luck teams. After all, I am originally from Buffalo. And congratulations on this month's shipment.

Agreed. There is a difference between making a judgment call and making a decision between right and wrong.

Keds and I have been meeting with various men of the cloth as we struggle with questions of faith and raising our family (I've posted an update on my blog). Everyone has made it clear that a choice needs to be made, and that it will leave our children better off for it. Not all decisions and judgments are black and white. Rather, there are shades of gray and you just need to pull the trigger.

Anyway, enjoy you coffee. Have you found a new favorite yet?

Tim KC6QLV said...


Thanks for this weeks Blog, I must agree with Ken: ( I am A's, Raider and 49er fan.) lived in the Bay Area (Hayward) all my life. Trying to keep up on the reading. Judgemental? Ya I would say we all are to ome degree it's hard trying not to. Sometimes I have to think twice before acting, "What would Christ do in this situation?"

I work For Fedex Express as a courier (Float)@LVKA (pleasanton) LAST WEEK I delivered 28 CAL BEAR FOOTBALL SEASON TICKETS to EAST CASTRO VALLEY RESIDENTIAL AREA, YOUR OLD NEIGHBORHOOD!! GO BEARS!!! 28 stops in 2 1/2 hrs Just over 10 to 12 stops /hr
I am amazed how many CAL BEAR FANS in SUCH A SMALL AREA LIKE CAstro Valley.

Tim :)

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