Christianity is like… “The Titanic – a ship about to sink but unaware of its fate.” “A powerful amplifier being undermined by poor wiring and weak speakers.” “A pack of domesticated cats that look like they are thinking deep thoughts but are just waiting for their next meal.” “An ostrich with its head in the sand.” “A hobby that diverts people’s attention.” Those are images shared by young outsiders in Chapter 6 of UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity… And Why It Really Matters entitled “Sheltered”.
An idea that was commonly communicated to David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (the authors) is that Christians are sheltered. That perception was shared in a variety of ways:
- “Christians are out-of-tune, this reputation of being sheltered gives the impression that we are antiquated.”
- “Christianity seems dull, flat, and lifeless… lacking spiritual vitality and mystery.”
- “Christianity insulates people from thinking… the perception is that Christians are not thinkers.”
- “Christians live in their own world… we seem aloof and insulated.”
The authors find this conclusion surprising for several reasons:
- “Jesus is the legitimate path to the dynamic spiritual world that exists beyond our five senses.”
- “Christianity offers a sophisticated, livable response to the nature of the world and how we “work” as humans.”
- “This is a relatively recent development in history… considering all of the contributions that Christians have made in the fields of education, government, literature, music, art, medicine, science, and social justice.”
There are several reasons why a “sheltered” faith is unappealing to Busters and Mosaics:
- “Trained to believe they have control over just about everything and expecting to participate in reality, young people don’t resonate with a vision of cloistered Christianity.”
- The “thrive on unexpected experiences and enjoy searching for new sources of input. Their lives consist of an eclectic patchwork of diversity, perspectives, friendships and passions.”
- Exposure and access to more philosophies and ideas about life which they can get at a faster pace than any other generation in history.
- One of the most “protected” generations (car seats, air bags, etc.)… “Overprotection seems to fuel their willingness to defy the ‘safe life.'”
- They resist simplistic answers to questions that they have.
- They also believe that humans can not understand the spiritual world with its mystery and complexity.
- Their perspectives about the world around them are complex, not neat and tidy.
- They desire diversity. They like spending time with people who don’t share “their take on life.”
Because of the intense challenges that Busters and Mosaics face, a sheltered faith seems out of touch.
- They have grown up in a social setting more violent than their parents.
- Family structures have changed dramatically.
- More likely to have accessed pornography, engage in pre-marital sex, and to have had multiple sex partners.
- Increased experience with substance abuse.
- Profanity has become a normal part of self expression and conversation.
- Nearly half say they are trying to find a few good friends even though relationships are central to this generation.
- More likely to seek revenge or gossip than older adults.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds.
How to get past this perception?
- We need to engage young outsiders, and not shut them out when we see “moral compromises.” God works best when lives are messy and out-of-whack.. We have to get beyond our Christian “bubble”. That may mean less time in church activities (which are good) so we can spend more time with outsiders that we know.
- Accept responsibility – Jesus gave us a responsibility to engage our world, (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
- We can not be fearful and allow that fear to lead us to barricade ourselves against real and perceived threats. Perfect love drives out fear, (1 John 4:18).
- We need not be offended. Being offended is the wrong response to the challenges young outsiders face. The authors ask, “How can we be offended when outsiders are living out their true nature? Would we be that different if it were not for God’s grace?”
- We need to help the desperate. “God wants to use us in the gritty and raw places of people’s lives, but our usefulness is hindered if we are more concerned about our protection from sin than the effects of sin in the lives of others.”
- Be prepared. We need to continue with our own spiritual growth so we can be agents of transformation.
- Keep a balance – we need to have proximity without compromising purity, or as Jesus put it… we need to be in the world, but not of it, (John 17:14-18).
All in all, Christians can not have a fortress mentality with young outsiders. We must engage, we must seek to understand, and we must help those in crisis. The cross of Christ should compel us to engage.
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