A friend of mine bought me a ticket for a Dodgers vs. Giants game in LA, knowing what a big Giants fan I was. I went alone, sitting in the bleachers. About a dozen neck-tatted oil-workers sat around me, clearly enjoying the game as an after-party to their booze fest in the parking lot.
After years of abuse, I had learned not to wear my Giants gear in the bleachers, though, as a compromise, I intentionally avoided the color blue. Even so, the oil-workers assumed I was a Dodger fan, and I didn’t argue them. Whenever the Dodgers got a hit, I cheered and high-fived everybody. When the Giants got a hit, I sat on my hands. Well, until all of the oil-workers ended up in Dodger prison in the seventh inning for general thuggery.
When it comes to being a Christian in a diverse, postmodern world, a lot of us feel the way I felt in Dodger Stadium. We don’t want to wear our Jesus Saves T-shirts to work, but we’ll wear a cross underneath our uniforms. We feel a pressure to obey the Great Commission under the shadow of God’s judgment, but when we get in a situation where we have an opportunity to share our faith, for whatever reason, we hesitate.
Maybe we’re afraid of sounding stupid, claiming to be part of the invisible kingdom of a virgin-born God-man who was resurrected in the first century. Maybe we don’t want to be laughed at or gossiped about or avoided. Maybe we don’t really understand it, or don’t know how to say it.
An easy way to avoid this problem is to build a Christian bio-dome, cutting yourself off from the world. Hey, the Bible says to keep ourselves clear of worldly passions and philosophies, right? Isolation is the best way.
But it also says to take the good news into the all the world, to always be ready to answer for the hope that is in you, whether you have the spiritual gift of evangelism or not. If we really believe that we have the answers, how can we let our fears and ignorance get in the way?
Maybe these three simple considerations can help take some of the pressure off.
Romans 1 seems to claim that Creation itself is enough to prove the existence of God and that, for whatever reason, people reject this clear evidence and speculate new options for themselves (evolution, Big Bang, etc.) that are more convenient to their worldly lifestyles and the avoidance of judgment. Personally, I don’t think Paul was talking about each individual person, but about humanity in general, specifically in regard to the Fall and its consequences.
When we assume that people are consciously rejecting God, and only Christians are brave enough to embrace the truth, we lose our ability to speak reasonably to people of other faiths and opinions.
I was especially aware of this while watching God’s Not Dead. The main antagonist seemed to defy God based purely on scientific logic, but later we discover that he used to believe in God, but felt snubbed so he resorted to “speculations.” Of course, he ends up with a dramatic, God-ordained deathbed experience, so . . . that works out. You’ll notice that there are no reasonable unbelievers in that movie. All the Christians are generous, wise and level-headed, while all the unbelievers are frantic, hardened skeptics with a grudge.
If you want to reach a person, you should treat them like a valid human being, not a potential convert.
Try this exercise: What would it take for a Mormon to really reach you? Think about it.
My answer: Take off the uniforms and nametags. Get off those creepy bikes. Put your Mormon Bibles away. Let me see how your faith gives you solutions that I don’t have. Help me understand why you believe Joseph Smith truly received a revelation from God, and why I should pay attention to his claims. Also, listen to what I believe without thinking of how to deflect my ideas or twist them back around to yours. If we can’t have a reasonable conversation without practiced formulas, holy books or reasonable evidence, I’m locking my door.
#2: GET OFF SCRIPT
When Paul spoke to Jews, he used the Jewish Scriptures. When he spoke to Greeks, he used philosophy. I think it’s important for Christians to know who they’re talking to.
Conversations about faith should be as natural as conversations about baseball or music or child raising. In non-religious conversations, people still have different allegiances and approaches, but they don’t feel the same pressure to convert. I don’t enjoy talking casually to my insurance agent, assuming that the motive behind his friendly smile is to boost his numbers and pad his pockets.
When it comes to evangelism, we have these rigid formulas that help our logic of presentation, but can also come off as unnatural and formulaic, a sure conversation killer. How about this? Rather than trying to force a person to confess that they are a sinner, in order to stimulate guilt, in order to present a solution, we simply let the conversation play out naturally. This means getting off script. Getting off script means knowing the material, and being able to improvise if necessary.
I like the way N.T. Wright puts it in “Surprised by Hope.”
The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun.
#3: LET IT LIVE
Wright goes on to say:
Doesn’t this seem laughable? Well it would be if it wasn’t happening. But if a church is actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if its cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community—then suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense.
If we don’t understand it and don’t live it, what right do we have to proclaim it? Maybe we should hold off on evangelism until the gospel has taken root in our hearts. Maybe we should wait until people start asking, as Peter suggests in his “always be ready” passage, or John in his “let your light so shine,” passage. We’re not just presenting a philosophy, we’re presenting a life, a reality.
Because the gospel is a relational reality, it should not rely exclusively on logic and formulas. Apologetics is helpful, but we are talking about peacemaking between God and man, not convincing people to vote Republican. God needs to be an integral part of this.
Pray for your unbelieving friends. Trust God to initiate conversations in a natural, organic way. If God is not involved, you don’t want to be either. It’s his body, his business.
Jesus calls his Father the Lord of the Harvest, sending out his laborers. Like good laborers, we shouldn’t feel the full burden of the harvest. We should simply do what we can with the tools and opportunities we are given, trusting the Lord for the results. It is not our harvest.
Evangelism is never easy, but to approach others with respect, a reasonable argument and a reliance on God can go a long way toward letting the good news impact the people around you. Don’t force it. Live it.