June 4th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
The second reason why we need to hear the message of Titus is because we as evangelical Christians desperately need to close the credibility gap.
I trust everyone is aware of the fact that evangelicals have what one might call a ‘public relations’ problem, a problem with our image, with how we’re perceived. The recent study by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, has underscored this point sufficiently enough. As you are doubtless aware, the word on the street is that evangelicals are hypocrites. And, of course, in some cases, as I think we would all agree, the charge of hypocrisy is entirely (albeit regrettably) justified.
However, let me say plainly that I don’t believe our chief problem is hypocrisy. Rather, it’s credibility. At least my experience has been that for the vast majority of us evangelicals, our problem isn’t that we say one thing and then knowingly do another (i.e., hypocrisy). Instead, it’s that we say one thing and then unwittingly fail to let that shape the rest of our life; thus, we create a credibility gap between our professed convictions and our actual practice.
To use a metaphor: we don’t have a heart problem, but a circulation problem. It’s not that our heart isn’t pumping blood as it ought; it’s just that the blood doesn’t seem consistently to reach the extremities of our daily lives. Hence, our credibility problem. For we leave outsiders who observe our lives with that niggling question in their mind: “Do they really believe what they’re preaching, since it doesn’t really seem to penetrate the practicalities of their daily life? It’s as if they’re peddling a soda they themselves don’t really enjoy drinking?”
Despite the air of cynicism toward religion that pervades our culture, people are nevertheless surprisingly willing to give credit to a person who actually lives by his or her convictions, almost regardless of what those convictions are! In this day and age of virtual-this and virtual-that, where everything is accessible, but nothing is real, we’re increasingly hungry for just that: something real, something authentic, something credible, something – indeed, someone – believable, someone who actually practices his or her own convictions.
Here’s where the book of Titus comes in. For it is written to help the believers on the island of Crete, and the church of Jesus Christ ever after, to address this issue of credibility in the eyes of outsiders. For the burden of the argument of the book is that we are to devote ourselves to good works for the sake of outsiders, in order to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10) and thus commend the gospel in and through a life of holiness and godliness and gospel-centered consistency.
November 13th, 2008 — Ministry, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
Am I unChristian? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over recently, especially in light of some recent reading I’ve been doing in a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, Unchristian. The subtitle clues you in to where the book is headed: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. What the authors have provided is the results of extensive polling research of perceptions of Christianity by ‘outsiders,’ those who do not identify themselves as Christian.
Through their research, they identify six broad themes or common points of skepticism raised by outsiders (here I’m quoting from pages 29-30):
- Hypocritical. 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 that the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.
- Too focused on getting converts. Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. They feel like targets rather than people. They question our motives when we try to help them ‘get saved,’ despite the fact that many of them have already ‘tried’ Jesus and experience church before.
- Antihomosexual. 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.
- Sheltered. Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality. Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers.
- Too political. Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues. Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.
- Judgmental. 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.
As they note earlier in the book:
“Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and [little] esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders” (p. 11).
Unfortunately, however, this is not just the sketch outsiders would provide; many young adults within the church would provide the same sketch.
“Among young adults who participate regularly in a Christian church, many share some of the same negative perceptions as outsiders. For instance, four out of five young churchgoers say that Christianity is antihomosexual; half describe it as judgmental, too involved in politics, hypocritical, and confusing; one-third believe their faith is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality; and one quarter of young Christians believe it is boring and insensitive to others. These are significant proportions of young people in Christian churches who raise objections to the motivation, attitudes, and image of modern Christianity” (p. 34, emphasis original).
This is all pretty sobering stuff, isn’t it?
My response, as a self-identifying Christian?
- Repentance – turning away from attitudes and actions that might unnecessarily perpetuate negative perceptions that detract from the beauty and truth of the Gospel.
- Prayer – praying that God would indeed so fill me with a knowledge of his saving will in Christ Jesus that I would in turn “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [I] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [me] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:10-12).
- Courage – courage to continue to bear witness to the “grace and truth” of the Gospel (John 1:17), courage to “declare the praises of him who called [me] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9), courage to continue to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4), courage to go “outside the camp, bearing the disgrace [Jesus] bore” (Hebrews 13:13).