Who you’re speaking with matters…

27 Jun

I’ve alluded to this before – but it’s worth explaining myself so I’ll cover a few reasons why it is important to know your audience in conversation with someone who doesn’t believe. Several exist but two leap out to me.

What do they care about?

Every person you speak with actually does care about something. A large number will not care about faith, God, spirituality etc. but they have something that matters to them. Listening as they speak and trying to discern what matters will help you as you frame the importance of the Gospel.

Additionally, knowing that your friend is very concerned with truth and ultimate things will lead you down a very different path than if he is more or less just getting by and doesn’t consider much outside of his own sphere of influence and experience. For example, a friend of mine who loves the poor and cares for the marginalized would be interested in what Jesus had to say about people in those segments of society while my friend who is mostly interested in sports and drinking wouldn’t really care.

What do they find convincing?

I began thinking about this because I realized how much I enjoyed being able to discuss different scriptures when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door. Those folks believe in the Bible (although they carry with them an erroneous translation) so it’s easy to make headway. However, my Muslim friend or my friend who is an atheist will not respect the Bible as authoritative. I can point out what it says, but to them it is a historical document with questionable reliability. It is not my job to ask them to treat it otherwise, that comes on the other side of trusting Jesus. Instead I need to listen to them and ask questions about what types of things are convincing.

Personally I find the historical case for the Resurrection (made by Mike Licona, N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas among others) a practical and strong way to reason with folks who don’t agree about who Jesus really is. I also enjoy having conversations about the nature of moral truth (if such a thing even exists, and if so where it came from) with folks who claim no belief in any transcendent power. Your friend will let you know what types of things stick and what seems trivial, your job is to listen and present those things clearly and with compassion.

For the purposes of consolidation (and by way of oversimplification) you can think of people in three broad categories based on their worldview commitments.

1)      Non-Christian Religious worldview – this includes anyone who considers themselves a believer/follower of any faith that isn’t historical Christianity. These folks care about God/Spirituality and have made some sort of decision about what is true. It will be important to remember that your conversations will be probing at the deepest levels of identity and belief so it is vital to be sensitive and respectful. They are convinced by the power of a worldview to explain the human condition and make real sense of the world we live in.

2)      Secular/Naturalistic/Materialistic worldview – these folks have considered the “God hypothesis” and found that it lacks convincing evidence. Generally folks in this category can be subdivided into two groups: those who have chosen this after freshman psychology/sociology/biology and those who have thought deeply about ultimate things. In general they care about humanity, justice and truth. They are convinced by tangible evidence and logical rationalization. (Note, this doesn’t mean “proofs” per se and could be simply a functional healthy Christian community that invites this person in).

3)      The apathetic – this isn’t to say they don’t have a worldview commitment, we all do. These folks simply haven’t spent much time considering what their ultimate beliefs are. Often when pressed they will cop to some sort of belief in God, but it is so far removed from their conscious decision making that it might as well not exist. Generally it is hard to have a fruitful conversation unless it is initiated by the other person.

Please note that the above categories are broad generalizations meant to help you begin thinking about what type of worldview commitments your friends may have so that your spiritual conversations can be more fruitful. They are not meant to be definitive or all encompassing in any way, so try not to shove your friends value and belief systems into a box.

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