unChristian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. . .And Why It Matters

by David Kinnaman

Paperback, 2012





Based on research conducted on 16- to 29-year-old non-believers, and featuring responses from a vast array of Christian leaders, shows how modern society perceives Christians and explores what can be done to reverse those negative perceptions.


Baker Books (2012), Edition: Illustrated, 256 pages

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½ (110 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member tymfos
Unchristian is based on the Barna Institute’s detailed research among young adults about their primary perceptions of Christianity -- which are primarily negative. Sandwiched between introductory and concluding chapters, the book provides 1 chapter for each of the following perceptions (chapter
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titles in bold, portions in parentheses are my words, clarifying points I think he was trying to make): Hypocritical; “Get Saved” (viewing people only as potential targets for conversion); Antihomosexual (often in an obsessive and hateful way); Sheltered (isolationist; not open to those who are different from ourselves); Too Political (too cozy with political power structures); Judgmental (and very quick to judge those who appear different from us.) He asserts that Christians are turning people off from their message in droves by failing to act on basic principles that Jesus taught and lived by – particularly the commandment to love others as God has loved us (unconditionally), and the most foundational principle of grace. To often, the church’s behavior is UNChristian.

Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would be surprised by these results; they’ve been my critique of the Church, especially in some of its more conservative branches, for much of my life. My husband is a pastor; I’ve worked in various capacities of church ministries, and I’ve been frustrated by the lack of love and grace often displayed in the name of God by many of those who claim to follow Jesus. (I’ve also seen tremendous love and grace, but that is not the face that the Church – especially the more aggressive expressions of it – often shows to the world.)

It’s worth noting that this book is by, for, and about the more conservative forms of Christianity. Kinnaman focuses on those whom he defines as Born Again Christians, and particularly that more conservative subset that he defines as Evangelicals, of which he is a part. Since different Christians may define these terms differently (my own tradition defines itself as Evangelical, but with a totally different take on the word than is prevalent today), I suppose it makes sense to have working definitions in place for the book. (I did get the feeling that Kinnaman felt that only Evangelicals – as he defined them – were fully living the Christian life.) The conservative focus, of course, influences how he recommends addressing the issues uncovered by his findings.

I think this book makes a lot of valid points, and it’s obvious from the research that there are a lot of folks who need to take notice. I may quibble with some details of his solutions and theology, but the basic finding is spot on: for the sake of the Gospel, Christians must observe more faithfully the commands to “love neighbor as self” and “judge not lest you be judged.” These are commands where we all fall short and, thus, have no standing to judge others because they are different from ourselves.
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LibraryThing member schatzi
First off, let me disclose that I am an atheist. But before I was an atheist, I was a member of a very conservative, evangelical Christian church for years. Considering how religious the area I currently live in is, this is not a good thing to be. To detail my bad experiences with Christians would
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take a book of its own; to be brief, I have been threatened with physical violence more than once, mocked, ridiculed, insulted, ignored, and generally hated - all by True Christians(tm).

So, when I found this book by chance while searching for Dawkins, I was a little floored. Christians who actually believe that they aren't perfect? No way!

There's no doubt that this book is written more for Christians than "outsiders" like me. However, as an "outsider," I found it fairly interesting. The writing style was dull at times, and I found myself skipping over most of the graphs since the statistics were all cited in the text anyway.

In theory, there's some good advice in here for Christians. I don't know about anyone else, but I'd certainly have a more pleasant experience in life if I could go to grocery store without a True Christian(tm) telling me that the world would be a better place if I never be born since I'm an atheist, or go into McDonald's without a True Christian(tm) throwing a bible at me (both events really happened, by the way).

Still, sometimes the book seems painfully naive. Maybe it's just the area I live in, but I just don't see Christians being widely known as loving, accepting people...ever. That is definitely not my personal experience, and when the author was detailing some of his hoped-for perceptions of Christians, I felt like laughing. And then I felt bad for wanting to laugh at him.

There were some really problematic parts for this outsider, though. The author mentions teaching people how to think, which in this context, just made me think of brainwashing.

Another part that bothered me was one of the "guest" speakers at the end of the chapters mentioning that he's never met a Christian who wanted a theocracy and that Christians don't really want one in place. In a book supposed to be full of statistics and data, this personal observation was out of place and unsubstantiated. I've met several Christians who want a Christian theocracy established in the United States, for example. The author himself spent a good deal of time talking in the "politics" chapter about how Christians apparently want laws based on "biblical principles," which is hedging closer to a theocracy. I'm also puzzled by how so many Christians decry governmental interference but are also in favor of "nanny laws" regulating moral behavior (the book discussed anti-gay laws briefly and how many Christians support them).

Also, a lot of people who most likely think of themselves as Christians (Catholics, Mormons, pro-choice Christians, gay Christians, etc) will find that they're dismissed as "outsiders" just like me, the atheist.

The author tends to have a martyr complex in some parts of the book, and some of his phrasing really rubbed me the wrong way. At least he did note that many non-Christians are more versed in the bible than Christians; I can't tell you how many times I've been able to outquote Christians trying to convert my heathen self back into the fold.

And the fact that their statistics vary so much in the span of just a decade seems troublesome.

Still, I think this book is a good first step. I'd love for some of the True Christians(tm) around here to read it.
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LibraryThing member thornton37814
A thought-provoking look at how the church is viewed by outsiders. It will challenge readers to examine whether they are responding to our culture as Jesus would have responded.
LibraryThing member wvlibrarydude
A good read on the perception of Christians in society by other Christians and more importantly those who are not Christian. The main perceptions is of a people that are hypocritical, anti-homosexual, sheltered from the real world, too political, judgmental of others, and only concerned with
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getting people saved. The most interesting part of the research was that each of these perceptions were based on real interaction with Christians and many times warranted.

Ins response to the findngs, the author and many Christian leaders (Colson, Stanley, Warren and others) called the church to radically change. To be the ones that reach out in love to everyone, to care for the sick and dying, those afflicted with aids, help the poor and needy, and just live out Christ's calling.
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LibraryThing member jaygheiser
VERY stimulating read. Functionally, this is the research to back up the intuitive impressions that Casper and Jim had. Makes a very compelling case that young people, under 40, are highly different than even Baby Boomers, and they have radically different expectations, and radically different
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impressions about Christianity. Between a study conducted in 1995, and work done from 04-07, this demographic turned 180 degrees from having generally positive thoughts about Christianity to significantly negative thoughts.

Elizabeth has always said that I'm more of a Gen-Xer than a Boomer. I found myself constantly in synch with the description of the 2 younger cohorts, the Busters and Mosaic. I don't trust authority, I'm highly attuned to hidden agendas, and I think evangelical Christianity has an unfortunate tendency to engage in hypocrosy.
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LibraryThing member lbudd
This book is written by the president of the Barna Research group and is the result of conversations that they've had with people inside and outside of the church since 2004. The research substantiates what we're all feeling -- and the anectodal evidence that Dan Kimball has captured in "They Like
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Jesus but not the Church." At the end of each section, people from around the country respond. I've found it helpful to hear what various churches and pastors (All Soul's Fellowship in Georgi, Imago Dei in Portland) are trying to do to counteract the negative image that Christians have in America.
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LibraryThing member tyroeternal
I thought this was a good book, and an enjoyable read, despite the stats based focus. It is frustrating to hear all of the bad experiences due to Christians who do not act as they should. Knowing that there are times where I may have caused some to dislike the church is humiliating.
There are
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definitely hard times ahead for the church as public opinion begins to grow against it.
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LibraryThing member nirrad
I thought this had a lot of thought provoking insights as to how Christians are seen and a ways to start changing now.
LibraryThing member rickynicholes
Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, old-fashioned, too political, out of touch with reality, insensitive to others, and boring - that is what people outside of Christianity think of the church, in that order. This isn't necessarily what those same people would say about Jesus, just the
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people who claim to follow him. And as a follower of Jesus, this is some sobering truth.

In the chapter titled Antihomosexual, they boldly and plainly state that Christians have often responded in un-christian ways. This is followed by examples pointed out by outsiders such as "Christians believe events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina are God's judgment on homosexuals."
And the statistics should have us examining hypocrisy as well with statements like "Born agains are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than divorce: 4 out of 5 say that homosexual relations between two consenting adults should be illegal." They then get into the root of the problem by pointing out that "the outsiders we interviewed explained that most Christians seem to spend little energy on actually getting to know homosexuals or what happens in the lives of those who have some type of same-sex encounter or attraction." I think that in regards to the Christian church, its response to the homosexual community is about the ugliest. I'm so thankful for the information about it because it allows me to better understand the hurt caused by my brothers and sisters, done to my brothers and sisters.

I didn't grow up in the church, so I think it's easier for me to see what it looks like from the outside looking in - and that is exactly the perspective that David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons were researching. For the Christian church, just like any organization, it is difficult to get a clear idea of what it would be like for someone else to experience you. Not only do we have insider information as to why things are done or not done, but our view is skewed because it is personal. And, sometimes we're just messing up. The Fermi Project and the Barna Institute have collaborated to bring 3 years of research together to illuminate these difficult facts. Instead of using this knowledge to revamp the Christian church's image or defend it's honor, unChristian addresses it and strives to fix the root of the problem: we haven't been acting like Jesus.

I liked this book a lot. I have a great concern for how Christians treat those outside of the church and am always looking for ways I can live like I'm following Jesus more authentically. I encourage you to go check it out for yourself at the unChristian website where you can download the Too Political chapter for free.
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LibraryThing member katieloucks
It takes me a while to read some non-fiction, like this, but it was amazing!!!!!
LibraryThing member PuddinTame
I was raised as a Christian, but I've been an atheist for more than 40 years; yes I am waaay out of the age range that Kinnaman is studying. I still agree with a great deal of what they say. I will add one idea from a blog that I found interesting. The author asked if churches are designed for
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extroverts, and introverts felt left out.

I've read this book twice, years apart. My first piece of advice is to read a hard copy. The ebook version doesn't have the formatting that the paper version has, and it gets a bit confusing. I couldn't tell when I had left the parts that Kinnaman wrote and got into the comments by other authors until I got to their names.

What I like about this is the authors' willingness to actually pay attention to what other people think, and the statistical analysis that reduces the tendency to let wishful thinking and personal opinions override what is actually being said. The opinions of others that he scatters throughout the book don't mean as much.

The one problem that I have is that it is not always clear of whom Kinnaman is speaking. His main focus is on Evangelicals as he defines them, and he is good enough to define them. On the other hand, when he is defining who are outsiders, he speaks of "other unchurched adults who are not born-again Christians." How about people who consider themselves to be Christian and go to church but are not born-again? That must amount to millions of people, and would include almost all of the Christians that I know personally.

When he says that 8 out of 10 students participate in their church in their teenage years, but 6 of those 8 leave, is he talking of all self-identified Christian churches or just Evangelicals? If the former, is there any variation according to the type of Christianity? We outsiders have noticed that Christian apologists often switch between referring to the 2+ billion people world-wide who profess to be Christians, and the people that they consider to be "real" Christians, which ever is most convenient to the argument that they want to make.

Kinnaman has noted that Christians are often surprised by the claim that they are perceived as self-righteous and judgemental, and apparently were quite angry with him for saying so, but most of the non-Christians I know laugh in disbelief that they were surprised.

In sum, very interesting, if not always as informative as it might be.
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LibraryThing member broreb
Should be required reading for ALL Christians. David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons examine what young adults think about Christians and, as a consequence, Christianity and Jesus Himself. The research is negative, definitive, and, most alarming, often accurate. The bottom
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line is that young people have negative views about Christians because, in many cases, Christians live "UnChristian" lives. Unlike many books based on extensive research, this book flows very smoothly and is not a series of charts and numbers thrown together. The research is used more as a means of providing evidence for the assertions. WARNING: If you are comfortable in your Christian life and do not wish to be afflicted, challenged, and motivation to live like Jesus, do not read this book.
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LibraryThing member gwhittick
A useful book, but from a UK perspective it is culturally distant in some respects from the culture in which we operate, and some of the insights are now a little dated. It is, however, a provocative and challenging read to anyone who is concerned with bringing the good news of Jesus into a culture
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that really doesn't know him. It is also a challenge for Christians to get off our hobby horses and get on with loving one another and those around us, and demonstrating the life-changing power of Jesus to this world.
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