To be in, but not of, the world is a commonly heard admonition among Christians. Continuing with my exploration of the chief points made in UnChristian, the authors find that many young people perceive the church as not only sheltered from the real world, but separated from the mysterious and awe-inspiring God of the Bible. In the first instance, they perceive that Christians are neither intellectual nor culture-shapers, but rather people who huddle in enclaves and denounce outsiders. In the second instance, they describe the Christian services they have attended as frequently boring and devoid of spiritual vitality.
Of course, the so-called Christians who answered this survey aren't really Christians, and can therefore be disregarded. As for the non-Christians, well, they're biased against Christianity from the start, so we can ignore them too.
Just thought I'd go ahead and write a basic script for a number of comments that will follow this post. Feel free to copy and paste the above to save yourselves time.
But back to the book. A man I respect a great deal, Mike Metzger of the Clapham Institute, captures the challenge facing Christians quite nicely:
"...if you only practice purity apart from proximity to culture, you inevitably become pietistic, separatist, and conceited. If you live in close proximity to the culture without also living in a holy manner, you become indistinguishable from fallen culture and useless in God's kingdom."
I used to think it was less perilous to my soul to err on the former side -- if I only interact with Christians, and only read approved Christian books, and only listen to approved Christian music, and so on, then I'll be less likely to sin. Now I'm not so sure. I'm thinking of how Christ spoke to the Pharisees versus the prostitutes.
Perhaps what is most biting about this section of UnChristian is that non-Christians perceive something that many Christians I know have felt, which is a lack of spiritual richness. The remedy may be something non-believers won't like, such as a deeper focus on scriptures, and more reverence in church services. But perhaps they would like these changes very much. Perhaps the watered-down, "I'm Okay, You're Okay" sermon is a turn-off to the non-believer after all, despite the good intentions of those who deliver it. I suppose that's something for church leaders to work out. Most likely there is no one best formula, for the Lord calls us through a variety of means, none of which have any power without his work.
Regardless, it's distressing that instead of deriding Christian services as weird, or over the top, or sheer lunacy, non-believers call them boring and uninspired. Even if they were simply bent on saying something unkind, wouldn't it better that they call us crazy than irrelevant?
Editor's note: See Tony's other three posts in this series, "Anti-homosexual Christianity" "Hypocritical Christianity" and "Target-shooting Christianity," as well as his column in the Jan. 26 issue of WORLD, "Going negative."