Un-Christian

UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . .and Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Baker Books (Grand Rapids, Mich., 2007). 256 pp., $14.99. 

This reviewer lives in what is often referred to as the buckle of the Bible Belt. Here in southern Missouri, Catholics are only 5-6 percent of the population. They live within a Protestant fundamentalist or evangelical milieu, and many of them absorb this cultural phenomenon with all the consequences which flow from it. 

In an attempt to understand this Protestant fundamentalist or evangelical culture, this reviewer read UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . .and Why It Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Based on a study by the Barna Group, this work claims, “Christianity has an image problem.” 

While the book is about the image problem of Protestant fundamentalism or evangelicism, it is not hard to make applications of its contents to Catholicism, especially with the two primary generations that were studied: “Mosaics,” those born between 1984 and 2002, and “Busters,” those born between 1965 and 1983. 

Kinnaman and Lyons discovered six broad themes from their research with “outsiders,” ages 16 to 29, those who have lost much of their respect for the Christian faith. The authors write that “nearly two out of every five young outsiders claim to have a ‘bad impression of present-day Christianity.’” They add, “Beyond this, one-third of young outsiders said that Christianity represents a negative image with which they would not want to be associated.” 

Kinnaman and Lyons discovered that “outsiders direct their skepticism toward all things Christian: the faith itself, the people who profess it, the Bible, and Jesus Christ.” They write, “Disdain for evangelicals among the younger set is overwhelming and definitive.” Later they add, “One of the surprising insights from our research is that the growing hostility toward Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers.” 

Six broad themes or negative images of Christianity are presented in UnChristian. First, hypocritical. The authors state, “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.” 

Second, outsiders think Christians are “too focused on getting converts,” wondering if Christians “genuinely care about them.” The writers state, “They feel like targets rather than people.” 

The third theme is “antihomosexual.” Kinnaman and Lyons explain, “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.” 

Fourth, the authors discovered that outsiders think that Christians are “old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality.” The word they use is “sheltered.” 

Fifth, “too political.” Outsiders think Christians “are overly motivated by a political agenda, that [they] promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues.” “Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.” 

Sixth, outsiders consider Christians “judgmental.” Kinnaman and Lyons explain, “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.” Each chapter in the book explores one of these six critical perceptions. TP

Father Boyer, a priest for 35 years, is the author of 31 books primarily in the areas of biblical and liturgical spirituality as well as numerous articles in various magazines, including The Priest, for which he wrote Homily Backgrounds 1987-1993. He teaches part-time in the Religious Studies Department of Missouri State University, Springfield, Mo.