What do those in the upcoming generation think of Christians, and of evangelicals in particular?
In the book Unchristian, to be published by Baker in October 2007, David Kinnaman presents the results of his research on this question. (Is this industrial espionage? Nothing so sinister. I was at a conference where Baker handed out a sample chapter to all attendees.) Kinnaman found that over 85 percent of those aged sixteen to twenty-nine think we are antihomosexual, judgmental and hypocritical. As Kinnaman says, “We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.”
Andy Crouch tells us that there are times when it is appropriate to condemn an aspect of culture (or religion). Jesus and the prophets both did it. Sometimes we need to do it too. (You will be able to read more of this in Andy’s book coming from IVP next year.)
But Jesus is not known primarily for what he was against. While many people have a negative impression of Christians, the same people have a very positive view of Jesus–and rightfully so.
The question for Christian publishers, then, is ” What role do we have to play in presenting the positive things Jesus and Christianity stand for?” Could we be known around the world for supporting human rights, fair trade, a healthy environment, multiethnic inclusiveness, freedom from slavery and sex trafficking, freedom of religion? If so, then when we have something to condemn, we will have the ethical capital to spend. We will have a credibility that will earn our right to be heard.
Five years ago Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times suggesting approvingly that evangelicals be counted among the new internationalists. Certainly statements and activities by many evangelicals on issues ranging from AIDS to the environment have helped that change in public perception in recent years. And evangelical publishers need to consider seriously how the whole gospel calls us to participate in this.