The Mushy Middle series: on culture

… a series of posts on politics, church life, culture, theology-discipleship, and ministry

It seems that it’s not only the mushy middle in politics and church life that are being pushed out, but also the mushy middle in culture.  Our culture in the western world was satisfied with the way they receive news in the form of newspaper and television media.  They took in whatever the television news media dished out as unbiased news. Young people of post-moderns do not buy this today.  All news are biased.  Younger generations want their news personalized to suit their taste and interests.  With the news media of iPods, smart phones and Internet, they are able to receive exactly the type of news they want. They can filter out news they are not interested in watching or reading.  When I read news today, I rarely read from a physical newspaper.  I either get my news from the Internet or have it sent to me via email.  I go directly to the category of news I want to read or watch, e.g., world, technology, health, etc.

When young people shop, they rarely go to big department stores to buy all their items. Department stores tried to cater to everyone’s needs. This was wishy-washy and is the mushy middle.  It is not sexy, and is no longer the way to shop.  Department stores are increasingly in danger of shutting down.  Young people prefer to shop at specialized stores that only offer blue jeans, cell phones, women’s or baby clothing, sporting equipment, running shoes (not everything). Big department stores are even attempting to divide their floor space into specialized sections so that they look similar to small specialty stores.  My point in this post is this.  The mushy middle in culture also seems to be in the process of being pushed out.  Today’s youth and post-modern culture want to receive whatever they consume in specialized formats.

UnChristian: Change the Perception

UnChristian: Change the Perception (DVD)
Publisher: Baker Books
ISBN: 9780801003172

Based on Barna Group’s research on 16 to 29 year-olds, here’s how people outside the established church perceive Christians:

91%  anti-homosexual
87%  judgmental
85%  hypocritical
78%  old fashioned
75%  too involved with politics
72%  out of touch with reality
70%  insensitive to others

The presentation of their data is rather stinging to traditional conservative evangelicals, including myself.  Based on my own perception of myself, I would never say these things about myself or about some of Christians I personally know or have befriended.  Self-perception of oneself can be powerfully self-deceptive.  Have we deceived ourselves into thinking that we are loving, compassionate, kind and open-minded? Perhaps.  Whether we agree with our own perception or not, this is how the world outside our Christian bubble  perceives us.  Many of the older generations might not see Christians this way, but the younger ones do, so there has been a shift of perception of Christianity.

[added] What seems to be absent in this DVD was any attempt to address the concerns of Christians who hold to a traditional view of heterosexual marriage.  We have to try to soften, and even reverse, the pejorative terms used against those of us who hold to a traditional view of marriage; terms like: homophobic, intolerant, discriminatory, or hate-filled.  We are none of these things; we are loving Christian people who love all people.  There are some Christians who are ignorant and unwise, and who will say the most stupid things that further negative stereotypes rather than change the negative perception to positive ones.

Some people on the outside feel that Christianity is no longer like Jesus intended.  They may like Jesus as a figure/person but they don’t necessarily view Christians in nearly as good of a light as they would in Jesus.  Well, that’s a little more comforting, but I wouldn’t allow that to let us get too comfortable.  There’s lot of work we Christians need to change our image.  The church might return to the pre-Constantine era soon than we think.  If we do not diagnose the problems occurring within our Christian bubble, we will soon find ourselves on the outside of society within one or two generations.  If that took place, we will hurt even more.  So let’s do something today before it’s too late.

The UnChristian curriculum includes a DVD and a small study guide.  The creators of this want to inform the church “what a new generation really thinks about Christianity…and why it matters.”  They want to change the way Christ-followers perceive themselves.  We tend to see ourselves in a positive light, but those outside of the church have a different perception.  That is the thrust of this DVD presentation.

There is also a book co-authored by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons.   This DVD with study guide is part of a series of four categories of DVDs: Culture, Future, Church, and Gospel.  They each take the basic format of four group meetings:  18-minute video talk on the topic, 2) a Fermi Short which is a 5000 word essay to be read ahead of time; 3) a video expression that models the theme, and 4) suggestions for a Culture Shaping Project. Other study guides in this curriculum include:

  • Influence Culture
  • Create the Future
  • Find the Good
  • Unchristian: Change the Perception

The model it takes is based on the Society Room model, which is now simply called Q, which encourages people to participate in group meetings of learning and discussion.  The leader facilitates the group discussion and plays the DVD rather than just talks. In the small booklet provided with the DVD, there are questions for the leader to ask the small group in his/her facilitation of each of the four meetings, which might include a dinner.  This format kind of reminds me a little of the way Alpha group is done.  The leader is encouraged to create conversation, cause people to do some critical thinking, influence and to take action.

By having a group of concerned Christ-followers from your church or fellowship watch this DVD “unchristian: change the perception”, we might be able to take a few first steps to learn about ourselves and see our own problem (or put in positive spin, to see our current situation as a problem).

I would recommend Q for all concerned Christians and church groups. It will definitely make us more self-aware.  Believe me, as Christ-followers, we need to be more self-aware.  Otherwise, we may lose an entire generation of twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. They are already entire generations missing in many of our churches. We need to turn this tide around before it’s too late.

I wish to thank the good people at Baker Books for sending me a copy to review.