The other book I just read and that I’d strongly recommend for small group study is unChristian, by David Kinnaman. In fact, I think it would be a great study for immediately after studying The Shack.
This is from the Publisher’s Weekly review —
Kinnaman, president of the Barna Institute, was inspired to write this book when Lyons (of the Fermi Project) commissioned him to do extensive research on what young Americans think about Christianity.Lyons had a gut-level sense that something was desperately wrong, and three years of research paints exactly that picture. Mosaics and Busters (the generations that include late teens to early 30-somethings) believe Christians are judgmental, antihomosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered.
Rather than simply try to do a PR face-lift, Kinnaman looks at ways in which churches’ activities actually may have been unchristian and encourages a return to a more biblical Christianity, a faith that not only focuses on holiness but also loves, accepts and works to understand the world around it.
The reason I’m so keen on this book is that it’s just plain right. Every negative perception of the church is based on a negative reality — not that all Christians or all churches are guilty of these things — but in my experience, the negative perceptions are dead on. The book finds that we are perceived as and in fact guilty of being —
- too political
Does anyone care to argue to the contrary?
So the question isn’t how to improve our image — it’s how to improve who we are. And one way to do that is to sit down with the evidence of our sin and talk about it. Small groups are a great place to do this.
The website for the book offers a free small group discussion guide for download. The book itself also includes discussion questions. However, I think the change in attitude that the book calls for requires more than chatting through four discussion questions per chapter. For example, while you may come to understand that our treatment of homosexuals has been wrong, it’s hardly obvious how to do better. A proper small group curriculum has to offer very concrete guidance for not only a change in attitude (which the book handles very well) but also how to act going forward (which the books discusses but not thoroughly).
Here are some ideas —
* Study The Shack first, because one reason we are guilty of these sins is we have a false image of God. If we see God as judgmental, antihomosexual, etc., we feel justified in acting the same way. However, if we see God as gracious beyond our ability to comprehend, perhaps we can learn to be a little more gracious toward those outside the church.
* Supplement the study of some of the more difficult topics with other material. For example, before leading a discussion on the church’s attitude toward homosexuals, review the series on the topic: Letter to Gay Man in the Churches of Christ and the materials referred to in those posts.
As to the relationship of politics and Christianity, consider these posts on The Political Church.
I think the group leader has to bring enough resources to the discussion so that the group does more than become sensitive to the problem. Once we learn where we’ve been wrong, we need to be taught how to do better — and it’s difficult to make the transition because, historically, there’s been very little truly scriptural teaching from the pulpits or in the classrooms on many of these topics. In fact, I came to my own conclusions with great difficulty.
And so, it’s a difficult series of lessons because the sins are so deeply rooted in the church’s culture. We are often blind to how we come across, and making the necessary changes will require great humility — and a lot of study on how to do better.
But the research makes plain that if the church doesn’t repent of these sins and do much better, we have no chance of reaching young people with the gospel. The problem is so severe that we are already in numerical decline — and the problem will get much worse if we don’t change.
Therefore, this is one of those truly important books that just has to be read and studied — which is why I’m not blogging through the book. There’s no substitute for reading it for yourself — and then doing what you can to be sure your congregation takes up the study on a congregation-wide basis, either through small groups or Bible classes.
It’s time for us to change.