GOOD FAITH: BEING A CHRISTIAN WHEN SOCIETY THINKS YOU'RE IRRELEVANT AND EXTREME
By: David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
Publisher: Baker Books (2016)
ISBN-10: 0801013178 ISBN-13: 978-0801013171
The publisher’s blurb for this book summarizes its importance in two short sentences: “You are no longer part of the majority. Your response will shape the future of Christianity in America.” This appraisal accurately reflects the situation for Christians today in many parts of the Western world. Increasingly viewed as irrelevant at best and extreme at worst, even believers in traditionally “Christian” countries are being marginalized, pressured, and even persecuted as society around them moves further away from Christian values and beliefs.
This is the situation carefully analyzed by David Kinnaman, president of the leading research and communications company, Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons, founder of the Christian education and mobilization community “Q.” It is the second collaboration between the two authors and they work well together – producing a seamless and well-written study that deserves your attention.
In Part I of Good Faith, “Understanding our Times,” the authors demonstrate the extent to which many non-Christians now feel that the Christian Faith is irrelevant and even extreme. The authors do not particularly analyze how this situation has come about, but, as they say: “Something — a backlash against religion’s worst sins, a political climate that wants to stamp out religion in public life, the popular rise of atheism, amplified access to polarizing points of view, something — is making it increasingly difficult to practice faith in our society.”
The conclusions reached by Kinnaman and Lyons about public perception of Christians and Christianity are backed up by extensive research and polling, and the findings are alarming to say the least. As the authors point out: “This is not just a feeling. When one-third of college-aged adults want nothing to do with religion, and 59 percent of Christian young adults drop out of church at some point in their twenties, it’s the new reality on the ground.”
When we see how many people in society reject and even resent any thought of religion, such statistics become frighteningly understandable. As the authors state, Christians have long tried to just be nice as the current trend against Christianity has developed, but it has not helped. Even the most careful balance of conviction and civility cannot help when what one person sees as an expression of faith is seen by another as an expression of folly. As this situation worsens, Christianity is rapidly becoming a minority religion in traditionally Christian countries.
But, disturbing as this situation is, there is hope. In Part II of Good Faith, “Living Good Faith,” the authors remind us that “Christianity has managed to survive and thrive as a minority religion countless times throughout history — and does so in many places around the world today.” We just have to handle the situation well if we are to slow the trend and eventually reverse it.
Based on their research and biblical reflection, the authors identify three “ingredients” that must characterize the Church’s mission in contemporary America: How well we love + What we believe + How we live. Together, they say, these three ingredients result in Good Faith at the individual and societal levels. Interestingly, these three ingredients mesh quite closely with the apostle Paul’s timeless triad of qualities - faith, hope, and love (1 Corinithians 13:13). As they say themselves:
“Good faith starts with loving God and loving others ...The next ingredient of good faith is biblical orthodoxy. What we believe matters … When we don’t have a coherent pattern of living, one that expresses both good love and good belief, we lack confidence that faith matters in the world and feel incapable of bringing love and orthodoxy to bear on everyday life.”
These three factors clearly interlock with biblical love and faith, and even, to some extent, hope (“confidence that faith matters”), but the authors’ plan is no simple homily on the Pauline triad. Kinnaman and Lyons provide inspiring, yet practical approaches to improving how well we love, believe, and live in ways that can have a true impact on the lives of others as well as in our own lives. Some of the suggestions Good Faith makes are basic, but others have profound possibilities and all are worth employing as tools for personal growth and societal interaction – in ways which are neither irrelevant nor extreme.
In Part III, “The Church and Our Future,” the authors develop the point of the entire book in expounding the idea that: “The Christian community is called to be a counterculture for the common good.” That counterculture is based to a large degree on the rejection of the supremacy of the self in our own lives, and in leading others away from it also: “We should lead people not only to convert to Jesus but also to de-convert from the religion of self.”
In saying this, the authors touch on a central part of the origin of the problem they so ably describe in the book’s first chapters. It is no coincidence that the individuals who comprise society move further from the way of Christianity as they move endlessly closer toward love and fascination with themselves. Good Faith shows some of the ways we can help lead them, and ourselves, back.