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The Barna Group exists to provide statistical information to Christian churches and ministries,
to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States. We accomplish these outcomes by providing vision, information, strategy, evaluation and resources.
After extensive recent research the group’s president, David Kinnaman, wrote a book on the largely negative take on Christianity by “outsiders,” especially younger ones, that is growing in our culture.
Christianity has an image problem … You may be astonished … how the negative perceptions that your friends, neighbors, and colleagues have of Christianity will shape your life and our culture in the years to come.
Kinnaman says the negative perceptions really are quite negative,
are widely spread, and – worst of all – are often based on personal experience. That is, the complaints against us are often because people have actually had a lot of experience with us. And as a result, “they” don’t trust us, and “they” don’t want to be like us.
Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults,
have little trust in the Christian faith,
and esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders.
Seems to me we should have known that by now. Many of us have known it.
But often the American religious lifestyle insulates people from their friends and neighbors – so it takes a long formal research project for “insiders” to discover how they – we – are misrepresenting God and the Gospel. Still, we are responsible.
… we are accountable when our actions and attitudes — misrepresenting a holy, just, and loving God — have pushed outsiders away. Often Christianity’s negative image reflects real problems, issues that Christians need to own and be acountable to change.
Kinnaman does not accept the idea that they just misperceive us.
They are often seeing what is really there. He speaks of
… a church infatuated with itself. We discovered that many Christians have lost their heart for those outside the faith.
That REALLY does not sound like Jesus’ approach to things! But if we sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” won’t that fix it? Well, we do sing it, and lots of folks are not feeling the love.
This is a very serious situation.
How can we in good conscience insist that people join us while so many of them see pretty clearly what’s really going on?
We tell ourselves that really we’re ok and eventually we hope to clean up our act a bit. But they’d better join us – or else.
Jesus said “you will know them by their fruit.”
What kind of fruit are we producing? What does that say about our roots? Jesus also indicated that you cannot harvest peaches from bull thistles – or vice versa.
What can we do about it? Well, one thing for sure – we have to get better input. I think we really need to read the Gospels a whole lot more than most of us do. After all, that’s the story of the Jesus we claim to believe in, worship, and follow.
And we need to listen to people who are explaining what’s really going on – like, apparently, David Kinnaman. We can add to that list a lot of other folks. Two I will recommend are Dallas Willard and Brian McLaren.
II Corinthians 13:5
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.
[Kinnaman quotes are from chapter 1 of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity – and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Baker Books, 2007.]
Here’s more, from a Barna website article (Feb 2008) by Kinnaman:
People are expressing more hostility, doubt, frustration and skepticism toward Christianity – and this is particularly true among young people. Their perceptions of Christians are filled with images of judgmentalism, hypocritical lifestyles and political activism. They also believe Christians have singled out homosexuality above all other sins. They conclude that Christianity is old-fashioned, boring and unintelligent, and that Christians are insincere and too focused on getting converts. The followers of the Prince of Peace are thought to be unable to live peaceably among others.
In fact, one of the most common reactions that young people have about the faith is that present-day Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended. This is where we initially came upon the term “unChristian.” In our research with young people, they kept saying things like, “Christians go about things in an unChristian manner.” “They have forgotten the point of what it means to be a Christian.” “The faith has gotten off track with the teachings of Jesus.”
See some more from Kinnaman’s book.
You mentioned the “Rapture”. I don’t remember Jesus ever talking about the “Rapture”. I thought that was something added about 300 years ago as part of some ministers ramblings. Besides, I could never love a god that promotes killing other humans and killing animals “just for sport”.
Intelligent article and thoughtful comment by Wyoming.
Image problem? How about values loss?
“Mt 5:13 -“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men. ”
How many sermons have I heard (way back when church was more biblical) about salt making the world thirsty for more?
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. ”
Here’s where it hits the bottom: Just who on the earth is going to glorify God because Americans are fighting among themselves, finger-pointing at each other about legalities such as abortion, gay issues, when they turn their back to the evil that all their government’s secret services is wreaking upon the world?
A church who unquestioningly bellies up to a table enriched by a government that supplies weapons to 92% of the armed conflicts on earth, and usually both sides?
Do you have any idea where the money comes from? Because the rest of the world does. It comes from the malign doings of the enormous, imperial military apparatus and in particular, the secret services who “defend *American interests*” overseas.
But no, not a quibble from the clergy about that, just to raise up with trumpets as Christians throw stones at non-believers in America.
This kind of villainy is what is enriching the US collective table in the now well-known sight of the entire earth, and instead of any grief coming from the core church, Christians seek to criminalize “undesirables” within their own society?
Excuse me, how does THAT function as “salt?”
Oh, it’s just politics, is it, when an Iraqi Mom’s child gets their head blown off courtesy US tax $$$, but it’s a patriotic horror when our own children die? (And BTW, for the 99% of those who are in the armed services and have never been in ground combat, most of those killed in war are NOT soldiers. My husband, a bronze star eleven bravo NAM vet, had to bury dead children by the hundreds.)
Ah, but these “holy wars” are served up as “Christian righteousness?” And the world is supposed to drool and thirst for more, as if encountering the flavor of salt????
Sorry for going Jeremiad on you here, but this kind of stuff is NOT salt and NOT light. Nobody but the Christian self-righteous are having any of it either.
The US church has become, in great measure, the church of fear. Fear, by which wars and armies and guns are praised.
How dare people render their concept of such an otiose, smug diety as related to the teachings of Jesus, such a deity as could need human war doings to “force him to begin the rapture.”
Forget trusting in God, eh? “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition?” Is that salt and light, now?
Damn that false image of God! Look up “otiose” everyone please, for this is exactly the image of your deity, you who trust in war as your expression of Christianity.