“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
(John 13:34 – 35)
I recently finished reading David Kinnaman’s book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters. It is truly depressing. Kinnaman leads the Barna Group. His research leads him to some startling conclusions. He reports that in 1997 the general population in the US had a positive view of evangelical Christians – but 10 years later the general population had adopted a much more negative view of evangelical Christians. Kinnaman concludes that this is not a mere image problem for evangelicals in the US – there are substantive issues that are root causes of the shift in attitude. And the attitude has plummeted most severely among younger Americans.
What are the issues?
Well, young Americans do not like the Christian “swagger”; they believe that evangelicals “bark” and “bite” (in fact, many say they have experienced both bark and bite). US evangelicals are known more for what they are against than for what (or who) they are for. They feel that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, arrogant, anti-homosexual, politically right-wing, separatist folks. They are suspicious that evangelicals don’t really care about people as human beings – they only see a person as a project, as someone who needs to be convinced to think properly (to have their mind changed on a host of moral topics), and as someone to “get saved”. In essence, young Americans are not really “feeling the love” in their experiences with Christians and the church.
Wow, you say, “it is a good thing that we are Canadian then!” Well, I suppose we could assume that we are a kinder, gentler bunch than our cousins in the US, but the passion behind the response to the TWU law school application highlights the genuine fear of evangelicals that exists in our country, too. Is that fear totally rational? Of course not! Is it something to be concerned about? I believe so – for two reasons. First, while the charges against evangelicals will never be entirely fair, we need to admit that there is some substance to the accusations. And second, it ought to seriously grieve us that we are not known for what Jesus said believers would be known for – love for one another (our passage above).
In the upper room Jesus talked a lot about loving Him, obeying His commands, following the Spirit, serving each other, abiding in Him, and loving each other. It ought to concern us mightily that evangelicals are known for a whole host of the wrong things.
I love our current theme, “Amplify”. It reminds us that we are Great Commission people! However, we may want to remember as well that without love… well, we are simply generating a lot of noise and activity (at least that’s what Paul seems to indicate in I Corinthians 13). Jesus reminds us that we start first with the Great Commandment. Rodney Stark, in his The Rise of Christianity, claims that the early church grew not because Christians had political power, or lots of programs, or perfectly articulated systematic theology – but because they loved and treated women, slaves, orphans, the sick and the economically vulnerable better than everyone else did. They were known for what Jesus called them to be known for. And because they looked like Jesus, and lived out the fruit of the Spirit – their gospel influence was amplified.
It is my prayer that the EFCC will become so known as an authentic Great Commandment family of believers that our Great Commission effectiveness will be amplified!
Serving with you,