"Christianity has an image problem," claim the authors of unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters (Baker). In interviews with hundreds of 16- to 29-year-olds, coauthors Gabe Lyons and Barna Group president David Kinnaman discovered that nearly half of unchurched young Americans hold a bad impression of evangelical believers. They are especially bothered by, among other things, evangelicals' conservative political activism, hypocrisy, anti-homosexuality, and judgmentalism. The writers then explain how Christians can turn their image around.

It says a great deal about our age when a book that frames these weighty issues as an "image problem" gets so much press—and a good image too, apparently. Image is everything in our culture, but to analyze the problem in marketing terms will likely lead to superficial solutions. Christians are wise to wonder what non-Christians think of them; apologetics is about answering the criticisms, fair or not, of the secular world. Still, one wonders if, as books like this inadvertently imply, a church's response should be to mold itself around the complaints of the culture. We mustn't forget that Friedrich Schleiermacher's attempt to address the "cultured despisers" of his day was ultimately a theological disaster for the church.

That being said, the authors do provide a glimpse into a group we often do not take the trouble to really listen to. While we think we're standing for righteousness, we often come across as judgmental. While we think we're trying to apply Christian ethics to the social scene, it comes across as mere politics. While we think we're paragons of virtue, others see deep moral flaws in us. These are not merely image problems, ...

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December 2007

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