I recently read a line that caught my attention. One person said of another, “God looks good on you.”
The context made it clear that it wasn’t meant to say that God looked on them in a favorable way, as in God’s attitude or spirit toward them, but that when people looked on their life, it made God look good.
I’m not sure I’ve heard it put quite that way.
But I like it.
God should look good on us to others. God looked good on Jesus. I’ve always marveled at how Jesus could proclaim absolute truth without compromise to those far from God, and then have those very people invite him to their parties.
But as I wrote in my latest book, The Rise of the Nones, we’re not quite pulling off the Jesus thing.
Many of those outside of the Christian faith think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind – that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be. We’re seen as hyper-political, out of touch, pushy in our beliefs, and arrogant. And the biggest perceptions of all are that we are homophobic, hypocritical and judgmental. Simply put, in the minds of many, modern-day Christianity no longer seems Christian.
In a video that’s been viewed nearly a million times on YouTube, songwriter and comedian Tim Minchin asks a Sydney, Australia audience, “Are you up for a...sing?”
Minchin begins to sing, “I love Jesus, I love Jesus.” Prompting the audience to join him, “Who do you love? Sing it!” Soon the whole crowd is involved, singing “I love Jesus, I love Jesus.” Then Minchin changes the lyrics: “I love Jesus, I hate faggots, I love Jesus, I hate faggots.”
The crowd stops singing along.
Minchin looks up from his guitar as if he doesn’t understand the nature of the problem. “What happened? I just lost you there,” he says. After a halfhearted attempt to get the group singing again, he gives up. “Ah, well,” he shrugs. “Maybe these are ideas best shared in churches.”
Much of that image has been earned. We’ve acted in ways, talked in ways, lived in ways, that have stolen from God’s reputation. All this, and more, has flowed from the research of Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman on how people view the Church and people in it.
Here’s the heart of what they’ve found; among young American “outsiders,” the following words or phrases were offered as possible descriptors of Christianity, and the number who affirmed their accuracy:
- Antihomosexual (91%)
- Judgmental (87%)
- Hypocritical (85%)
- Old-fashioned (78%)
- Too involved in politics (75%)
- Out of touch with reality (72%)
- Insensitive to others (70%)
- Boring (68%)
- Not accepting of other faiths (64%)
- Confusing (61%)
I commissioned a similar study that went to those who were unchurched and asked them a simple question: How did the church and those inside it lose you? I first published the research, done in coordination with the Barna Research Group (which also conducted the research for UnChristian) in my book Rethinking the Church. Comparing the two studies is interesting.
In my own earlier research, the unchurched gave the following reasons for abandoning the church:
- There is no value in attending (74%)
- Churches have too many problems (61%)
- I do not have the time (48%)
- I am simply not interested (42%)
- Churches ask for money too frequently (40%)
- Church services are usually boring (36%)
- Christian churches hold no relevance for the way I live (34%)
- I do not believe in God, or I am unsure that God exists (12%)
Such findings pointed to a culture that was saying, “God, yes; Church, no.” Now, research shows the deepening crisis, for it points to a culture that says “God, perhaps; Christianity and Christians, no.” The idea of even considering church is seemingly off the table.
It’s easy to get discouraged by such results. But perhaps the answer is simpler than we imagine. Maybe all it takes,
…is having God start to look good on us again.
James Emery White
James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (Baker).
James Emery White, Rethinking the Church, Revised and Expanded Edition (Baker).
Click here to watch the Minchin video. See also Dan Savage, “What God Wants,” The New York Times Book Review, April 14, 2013.
David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007). See also, “Christianity’s Image Problem” by David Van Biema, Time, Tuesday, October 2, 2007, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. You can also find out more information about the upcoming 2015 Church and Culture Conference. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.