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Why Christians Should Have More Non-Christian Friends

If you are a white, evangelical millennial in America, the fewer non-Christian friends you have, the less likely you are to abide by traditional Christian convictions. That was the conclusion of a paper presented at last month’s American Political Science Association Annual Meeting by three researchers from the Public Religion Research Institute.

As Napp Nazworth of the Christian Post reports:

Young white Evangelicals whose social networks mostly included people like them were the most likely to depart from older Evangelicals on cultural issues while young Evangelicals with more diverse social networks were more likely to hold views similar to older Evangelicals. In other words, the more embedded Millennial Evangelicals are in the Evangelical subculture and the less interaction they have with non-Evangelicals, the more likely they are to demonstrate attitudes diverging from their elders.

Why might this be so?

The authors suggest that, “Evangelicals with more exposure to the Evangelical subculture are reacting negatively to that subculture.” In part this may be true. Constantly listening to “Christian” (in the subcultural sense of the word) music or watching “Christian” movies could be enough to drive anyone crazy. How so? Mostly, I think, because they feel fake and cosmetically beautified—Thomas Kinkade-esque.

Over at Patheos’ Christ and Pop Culture blog, Nick Rynerson writes:

The Christian subculture is safe. As I write this I am sitting in a coffee shop that is a young evangelical hub in my city. Everybody looks kind of docile and I am sure that there is a lot of deep, edifying conversation going on around me. But it’s a bubble, safe and free of any brooding, angst and loneliness. Not that the feelings of brooding, angst, loneliness aren’t there, but they are not expressed. It seems as if American evangelicals are trying to hide a deep dark secret: that they sin.

This isn’t completely true, but there is certainly a tendency among Christians to act like we have it all together. Shouldn’t we always be happy? If I’m Christian enough, shouldn’t I be able to avoid brokenness? These are modern heresies that are clearly apparent in Christian subculture. And young people are turned off because this narrative isn’t an accurate expression of the broken world that they are experiencing.

Furthermore, redemption isn’t as meaningful if you are not willing to talk about real brokenness. This is why authors like John Steinbeck, Flannery O’Connor, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky are so powerful. They are not afraid of showing the brutal ugliness of sin.

“Redemption isn’t as meaningful if you are not willing to talk about real brokenness.”

So, there are serious deficiencies with the Christian subculture. But why can’t we just make the changes that need to be made, while still remaining in that culture? Why is it important that we engage with non-Christians in an intentional and intimate way?

Part of the answer is that non-Christians experience brokenness in a different, more pronounced way. They don’t have the ultimate hope of God’s sovereignty and love in the midst of painful circumstances. Miserable things happen, and they are forced to cope with it themselves. They can try to depend on other people, but will inevitably be let down.

I sometimes selfishly wish that I had not grown up in the church. I would have tried to do life on my own, and sooner or later would have failed. And when I hit rock bottom, perhaps I would have experienced more deeply the sweet, newfound love of God.

Of course, I don’t actually wish that was case. I am eternally grateful for how I was brought up. The faith that my parents and others helped kindle in me is priceless. But exposing ourselves to the secular world and forging close friendships with non-Christians might help us better appreciate the bright hope and precious faith that we can easily take for granted.

  • theriddles

    It’s because Christianity is not a subculture. It’s mission to save the world. If you aren’t doing the mission, it should come as no surprise, that you have your own mission in mind.

  • JDGastyne

    Tyler, great article. You can add Walker Percy to the list with O’Connor, Steinbeck, & Dostoevsky. I’m almost finished reading Steven Garber’s “Visions of Vocation” and I would highly recommend it to you, too. John-Jay-esque discussion of “Common Grace for the Common Good” — how to love and work for change in a broken world.

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