Saturday, July 2, 2011

Out of touch?

Are we Christians out of touch?

In a survey of 16-29 year old American’s, two questions in particular disturbed me. When asked to indicate what phrases describe present day Christianity, 72% of outsiders (non church-goers) said Christianity was “out of touch with reality” and 70% said it was "insensitive to others”. By contrast, only 32% of church-goers said Christianity was out of touch and 29% said it was insensitive.

I know enough about surveys to take these numbers with a grain of salt. The questions might be biased; those surveyed might not be a statistically valid representation of the group.

I also know enough about the world we live in and the message of the Bible to know that a high percentage of “outsiders” will claim Christianity is out of touch with reality, in part because their view of reality and God’s view of reality are vastly different.

And, I know enough of the world’s standards that the definition of “tolerance” has changed to mean we must not only accept the person, we must condone their lifestyle. So, if we take a stand against a lifestyle, some may label us “insensitive”.

Even with these disclaimers, though, I think we can learn something from the numbers. Within the church, we need to be aware of real issues in our world and address them within the context of the Scriptures. We should be aware that “outsiders” really do see us differently than we see ourselves. And we should take those perceptions seriously.

Here’s just one example. About the same time I read about the survey above, I just happened to read of another disturbing survey. This second survey reports that only 6% of women in America (not limited to Christians) between the ages of 18 and 23 in a dating relationship are not having sex. Six out of every one hundred. Assuming the statistics are even close to valid (and I think they are!), if we ignore the sexualized world that confronts us, and if we don’t deal with this world honestly and openly, we are out of touch. We teach, correctly, to “flee immorality” and to abstain from sex until marriage. But, do we honestly help people – the 18-23 year olds inside the church - to deal with the artificial reality of the world that confronts them while challenging them to live out God’s reality? Do we help them live like the 6%, or do we just assume they'll make the right choice?

Do we look for ways to influence the world for the better; to change the artificial reality; to show the world that its “reality” is artificial, no matter what moral issue is addressed? I can't answer for the church at large. But I want to. I want the world to see that Christianity really does make a difference.

As we deal with the issues of the world, how do we respond to people who disagree with us, or with people who need help? That’s the heart of the second issue – insensitivity. Of course, some will always see Christianity as “insensitive” because we cannot condone certain behaviors or because we don’t respond the way they think we should. Regardless, we can always deal graciously with those “outside” the church (or inside the church, for that matter). I recall a young man who once lived a gay lifestyle saying he couldn’t start listening to the words of Christ seriously until someone started loving him with the love of Christ. As our culture slides further into a post-Christian culture, let’s make sure that if people are offended by us or believe we are “insensitive,” we have not given them any real basis for their conclusion. Let’s exhibit the love of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see the reality of Christ through His people.

(Sources: The first survey was reported in The Hole in Our Gospel, by Richard Stearns. He, in turn was citing data reported in UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. The second survey was reported in Premarital Sex in America by Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker)

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