For a while there, if you wanted to sell books to Christians you just needed to write one that explains what non-Christian people think about church people. In UnChristian, Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons break the news to evangelicals that Christians are seen as too political and being anti-homosexual. Jim and Casper Go to Church is an atheist’s commentary as he visits some of America’s more influential churches. They Like Jesus But Not The Church is the result of Dan Kimball’s interviews of several people from his community about what the Church looks like from the outside. I’m not against these books. In fact, their content has provided many of us with more authoritative data in support of our warnings to those who are entrenched in the traditional structures.A few years ago, I wrote a post about how non-Christians don’t hate us, they nothing us; and that’s actually worse.
Nevertheless, someone else’s stories will only get us so far. We cannot depend on Jim, Casper, Dan, Dave, or Gabe as our only insight into the mind of unbelievers around us. It’s our job to know what they’re thinking. To be self-aware enough to know how we come across to them. This is the work of the missionary- to effortfully know the people in our communities well enough to know what they think about Jesus, and then to do what we can to challenge their wrong assumptions and walk them through the offense of the gospel.
But rather than see ourselves as Calebs and Joshuas, we’re content to pay strangers to be our spies. Rather than exposing ourselves to what shapes peoples’ thinking, we build our apologetics around what others tell us that non-Christians think. Like a grade-school cheating ring, we’re content to let Mark Driscoll read The Shack for us, and for some other guy to Break the DaVinci Code on our behalf. And don’t even get me started on those of us who depend on daily indoctrination by talk radio propaganda to tell us what “they” think about “us.” Allow someone else to do your homework for you for long enough, and you lose the skills you were meant to learn in the first place.
Without access to real connection to faithful Christians, outsiders are left to outsource their “research” of Christianity. In our absence, they learn what they think they know about us from the haters, celebrities, clowns, and extremists who speak on our behalf.
The only way to truly know the people in our communities is to spend time with them. To move beyond the stereotypes and caricatures and into real interaction that allows dialog and love. If you really want to know what “they” think of “us,” you have to ask (and listen).