Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington
Perception of Christianity

Perception of Christianity in One Word


This is the time of year when “one-word” posts begin appearing. You may be familiar with them—you may even select one word for yourself as a focus for the new year. It’s something I began doing a few years ago.

But this post is not about a word for the year. It’s about other words. Words people who are not Christians use to describe those who are.

My interest was piqued when I saw this Twitter post:

“NON-CHRISTIANS: respond with ONE word. what do you associate with Christianity? just one word, any word.”

In five days, the author received more than 19,000 comments, almost 4,000 retweets, and more than 7,000 “likes.”

The responses were overwhelmingly negative. But the reason for their negativity is what struck me. Many of the comments recounted hatred, judgment, and even abuse from Christians—whether family, acquaintances, coworkers, or strangers. Their responses broke my heart.

One Christian noted, “What’s super fascinating to me is that most people define *Christianity* by what they’ve seen from Christians rather than what they’ve seen from Jesus.” The comment echoed my own initial thoughts.

But the person who wrote the original post countered with, “i mean.. i’ve never seen Jesus. all people have to go on is what people say and do in his name, so.. here we are!” (I quoted it just as she wrote it.)

She’s right. William J. Toms once said, “Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some person ever reads.” The Twitter comments appear to support his observation; comments reflecting a perception of Christianity that is sadly both negative, and in many cases, well-deserved.

My heart aches at the “Jesus” nonbelievers see in many of us these days. Confrontational, demanding our rights, accusatory. Most of all, I’m amazed when we’re judgmental toward nonbelievers who behave like nonbelievers. Without the Holy Spirit to free them from slavery to sin, why should we expect anything else? And as the apostle Paul noted, apart from Jesus Christ, we were no different (I Cor. 6:11).

Surely there’s a way for us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) in a way that does not compromise what we believe, yet communicates compassion for those who don’t know better. And we can do that without condoning unbiblical behavior. But sadly, “hate the sin, love the sinner” has morphed into a cliché dripping with condescension, instead of a reminder to show the love of Christ to those who are slaves to their sinful nature.

Yet, when we cut through the trite smugness, we discover a kernel of truth. After all, isn’t this what our heavenly Father did for us? He hated sin so much so that He was willing to have His Son die on our behalf to pay its penalty. And He loved sinners so much so that He offers this payment as a gift that needs only to be accepted.

My heart’s cry in the coming year is that if others take offense at my Christian beliefs, their offense is a reaction to the gospel itself rather than my own failure to live according to what I claim to believe. May our lives stimulate descriptions of Christianity and Christians to include words such as humble, gracious, loving, patient, joyful, and kind.  Whether they realize it or not, the world is desperate to see the light of Christ shining in the darkness. It’s not enough for the Church, as an institution, to do good deeds, if Christians, as individuals, present a different picture of the Jesus we love . . . and who loves them. We can change their perception of Christianity, one person, and one word, at a time.

Will you join me in this endeavor in 2021?


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  1. Sue

    Ava, this is such an enlightening and challenging blog post. I want my heart’s cry to be the same: that people see the love, humility, grace, kindness and joy of Jesus that is in my heart, soul, mouth and mind.

  2. Angela Van Etten

    I will savor this post for the whole year. Thank you.

  3. Demeshia Gassaway

    My prayer throughout 2020 and now for 2021 (and beyond) is for The Spirit of God to correct then preserve the witness of Christ through HIS BODY. We are to be LIGHT yet, many perceive us to not only be in darkness but spreading it. I pray that we who confess Jesus as Lord, ALL live and love in a way that reflects our allegiance to such a Living and Loving God.

    God bless you Ava and all faithful ministers and witnesses as you press on.

    See you on other side, Glory to HIS NAME.

  4. Jessica Brodie

    I often hear people would go to church “but for the people.” Many consider Christians to be boring, judgmental, holier than thou, etc. That breaks my heart for a lot of reasons… including because it can be true. There’s that bumper sticker I see around: “Christians aren’t perfect, just saved.” It’s true. I pray I can be open and loving to others and draw them to Jesus and the church rather than push them away. I pray every day to be more like Christ.

  5. Janice D. Green

    As with all of your posts, this is so right on! We Christians need to take closer examinations of our own lives so that we can better represent Christ to the world before we can expect the world to look to the real Jesus.

  6. Yvonne Morgan

    I have heard and seen this kind of response over the last few years and it breaks my heart. We are giving Christianity a bad name. Once, I asked a waitress about this situation. She told me that she hated working Sunday’s because the church crowd was so stingy. We need to be the most loving, generous people on earth.

  7. Melissa Henderson

    Yes, let’s speak the truth in love. The way we express our belief through words and actions can be a blessing to others. When we use our words wisely, God’s love has the ability to shine.

  8. Melinda Viergever Inman

    Ava, this is a great “pep talk” for the beginning of the year, stating clearly how we should approach it as a Christian. It is sad that so many of us give a bad name to our faith. This year has been especially difficult, and at times, each of us has probably not been our best selves. I remember one night when I was so upset by the response of a political candidate in a debate that I didn’t know if I could even pray for that person or speak of them respectfully. I stated my struggle right on Facebook, and a fellow believer popped into the conversation, reminding me of a verse that I know to be true regarding prayer. Her words grounded me again in the Word, helping me to keep hold of my convictions, and turning my heart toward prayer for that individual. During times of difficulty like this, I believe we can help one another to walk more closely with the Lord with loving reminders and gentle words. It was a great help to me in that moment. A Christ-like life is our goal, and encouragement along the way helps us to walk that road.

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