Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme
GOOD FAITH: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme. By David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2016. 288 pages. $19.99.
Good Faith is the second book by David Kinnaman of the Barna Group and Gabe Lyons. It was published ten years after their first book unChristian. From the first chapter, this book aims to address the questions, “What does the future hold for people of faith when people perceive Christians as irrelevant and extreme? In what ways can faith be a force for good in society? How can people of faith contribute to a world that, more and more, believes religion is bad?” (p. 12).
The book does answer those questions. The future looks more hostile, faith can be good in society via its ongoing mercy-care and gospel proclamation, and Christians can contribute to this world by holding firm to their confession and convictions while striving to live peaceably with all.
Unsurprisingly, this book is full of statistical data. On its website, the Barna Group identifies itself as “the firm [that] is widely considered to be a leading research organization focused on the intersection of faith and culture.” I cannot speak to their research methodology, but the Barna Group is typically cited authoritatively by church and media alike, so I have no reason to dispute the data provided in this book.
The data is used in a helpful way. That is, the data is subservient to Christ, not the other way around. From the outset, Kinnaman and Lyons convincingly show that America does increasingly view religion—any religion—as “extreme” and “irrelevant.” This forces “good faith” Christians to be more intentional and prepared in their interactions with the world.
The way forward centers on good, yet difficult, conversations around those areas that people identify as “extreme” and “irrelevant” characteristics of Christianity. The book focuses on four areas: (1) Neighborliness and intolerance in public life. (2) Relationships. (3) Sexual ethics. (4) Church and religion. Each area has multiple chapters devoted to it and is spangled with personal anecdotes from Kinnaman and Lyons’s life accompanied by the wealth of data they’ve accrued over the years. It makes for a compelling and easy read.
There are a lot of commendable aspects of this book. I’ll focus on two of them.
The first is that this book does not present the reader with false hope. Kinnaman and Lyons are not delusional. They are not suggesting that if Christians could just be nicer and more winsome and more engaging than the world would like us more and everything will turn around. They know how the world treated Jesus, and they know what Jesus said about the world treating his disciples. On page 18 they write, “It’s not enough to be nice . . . it’s no long sufficient for Christians to be winsome. Being winsome is not bad. It’s good. But aiming for niceness as our ultimate goal can give us a false sense of making a difference . . . Nice doesn’t overcome the perception that Christians are crazy.” The world will hate us, no matter how nice we are. That’s not an excuse to jettison winsomeness for belligerence, but it does call us to be winsome while remaining unwavering in our confession and convictions.
The second commendable aspect of this book is its appeal for Christians to admit their failures. This is by no means a major thrust of the book, but it is there. The church should be the leaders of the world in this activity. After all, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. There are plenty of sins to confess. It’s of no use to scream about the speck in someone else’s eye without removing the plank from your own. Has the church always been a place of grace for those who have had abortions, have same-sex attractions, and have suffered unspeakable racial injustice? No. The church has, at times, been too slow to speak and act, and complicit in abuse and shame. Instead of saying, “yeah but” as justification for the Christian’s sins of commission and omission, we should confess our sins, and God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
My greatest critique about this book is that it is intimidating. Some of the anecdotes that are used include the time the authors met with President Barack Obama, the time they were invited to Oprah Winfrey’s house after a private showing of her film Believe, or the time they scheduled a racial dialogue meeting at a governor’s mansion. I don’t rub shoulders with that class of people. I spend far more time with women who need nurses to spoon-feed them applesauce everyday than I do with the mayor of my community: population 95. I guess, I don’t see myself having a conversation in the White House anytime soon. These anecdotes made it easy for me to disengage as though they weren’t talking to the average pewsitter and pastor, but instead to Christian personalities of burgeoning fame.
My critique, however, is no reason to avoid the book. Like most books, it helps to know what the book is. This book isn’t Lutheran. It isn’t an exposition on Law and Gospel or sacramental theology. It confesses Jesus as Lord without getting into many examples on that front. This is a book about engaging culture. It reads like it. I suspect most readers of this book already know a lot about Jesus, and if these readers want to learn more about Jesus, I wouldn’t direct them to Kinnaman and Lyons. Not because Kinnaman and Lyons are ignorant of Christ and his teachings, but because that’s not what they’ve set out to do. We live in an ever-changing culture, and if you want to learn a little something about that, Good Faith is a great place to start. The book is helpful and insightful on the cultural front. So read the book sooner rather than later, because ten years from now, Kinnaman and Lyons will need to write another book, as Good Faith will be dated in the same way that unChristian is now dated.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.