Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Review of UnChristian: What works well

(Part 4 in a series)

There are some things to like about UnChristian, things that help account for its popularity and wide reception in the Evangelical Christian community.

To begin with, Kinnaman and Lyons ask an interesting question. I suppose that just like any individual wants to know what others think of them, so does any organization or institution. Furthermore, as they argue, this knowledge may have practical applications in advancing the mission of the institution.

More generally, it gets Christians thinking about how the world perceives them and how their behavior might affect this. There are various lines of theory in sociology that emphasize how we understand ourselves as being affected by how we perceive others understanding us. This book fits right into this approach, so it makes sense that we would ask such questions in understanding who we are as a group. It also warns that our bad behavior can come back to haunt us as it is incorporated into general attitudes about us.

UnChristian generates six specific stereotypes about Christians that they found--hypocritical, focused on conversion, antihomosexual, sheltered, too political, and judgmental. While I'm not sure that I would take Kinnaman and Lyon's conclusions about these stereotypes as far as they do, it seems reasonable to place these particular issues would make a short list of modern concerns about Christians and Christianity.

Finally, they intersperse writings from some very wise Christian leaders through the book. These are great, and they could stand on their own, without the data provided by Kinnaman and Lyons. For example, Mark Batterson, of National Christian Church, writes about being an apolitical church located in Washington D.C. (p. 174). This very day in the news, James Dobson called out Barak Obama for pushing a "distorting the Bible" and offering a "fruitcake interpretation" of the Constitution. I've got to tell you, I think there's a lot more wisdom in Batterson's approach than Dobson's.

Next: Critiquing research on Christianity

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