Archive | January, 2013

From YOUR perspective

31 Jan

Many of the conversations I have on the topics of faith and spirituality include the phrase “from my perspective.” Occasionally I’ll use it (and I’ll explain the best times to do so later in this post) but more often my conversation partner is reminding me that their thoughts are, essentially, theirs.

This practice is less an exercise in diplomacy and more frequently a (sometimes subconscious) tactical maneuver to reinforce the postmodern idea that we are not debating the nature of Truth and Reality but simply sharing the facts from within our own respective worldviews.

I have a problem with this type of conversation because while I’m interested in what they have to say (most of the time) I’m also interested in getting at reality and truth (if such things can be attained!) and so if I feel the conversation will be prolonged or if this is a habit of someone with whom I anticipate speaking frequently I’ll generally ask for the following concession:

Unless you’re going to represent a view that you don’t hold, don’t feel the need to qualify it by reminding me that it’s your particular view. Instead, take a stand and tell me how you think the world really is and I’ll do the same. We already know that our perspectives differ, so having acknowledged that let’s move forward and just do the stuff of reasoning together.

If your friend really does buy all the way in to postmodernism, then they won’t be able to agree to this – believing that our realities truly differ because of our perspectives. In this case, you have found your jumping off point! Focus your intellectual energies here until further notice (while occasionally testing the waters by asking if Jesus could possibly enter into multiple realities at the same time…woah).

The only time I “retreat to my tribe” by invoking perspective is over something where I can find no common ground with my friend. If we simply cannot find a starting point from which we can reason together – then it benefits me to at least say “Well, here is what Christians have traditionally believed about X – and it is also what I believe.” This serves to educate your friend without asking them to buy in to what you’re saying. It is also a more diplomatic way forward if for some reason your conversation is getting heated.

Ultimately, I want to be in conversation with folks who are willing to stand up and admit that they believe their beliefs without first retreating to their tribe.

Because the Bible says so! (Is not a great answer)

30 Jan
Lightning will totally strike you if you disagree - ITS THE BIBLE!

Lightning will totally strike you if you disagree – ITS THE BIBLE!

People really don’t like hearing “Because the Bible says so!” Granted, if you are a follower of Jesus it is still a compelling reason to do (or not do) something; but if you are not it tends to grate. This response is happening less and less as our culture becomes less and less familiar with the materiel presented in the Bible, but it still happens. I think it’s a bad answer; in fact I think you should tell people you don’t care whether or not they think the Bible is true. If you want, you can go so far as to tell them to assume that it’s not true. One thing they must grant you however, is that the original authors and audience believed it to be true.

This matters immensely and can help your evangelism. Be honest for a second about how effective it would be to answer “because the Bible says so” to someone who has serious questions about a moral issue like premarital sex or abortion if that person doesn’t already believe that the Bible is a reliable source of information. How much more so are they unlikely to be swayed by this answer when their question is “why should I believe in Jesus?” (If I don’t trust your book and the book tells about your Man then I won’t trust your Man).

There are two ways to convince someone the Bible is not only historically reliable (meaning it is an accurate representation of what the original authors wrote) but historically factual (the things it says are true).

The first way is to invite your friend to study the Gospels not as pure truth about the life of Jesus but as accurate descriptions of what Jesus’ earliest followers believed. You can explain that you believe they are true, but remind your friend that he needn’t adopt this position to read them and glean some truth. Now the ball is in the court of the Holy Spirit. Hopefully as your friend studies the life of Christ he will be convicted that He is the Son of God and put his faith in Him. At this point, he will accept the truth of the book which led him to this conclusion.

Our second approach is the more traditional apologetic route. Find out all the answers to your friend’s objections and respond one by one until there are no objections left and they are forced to admit that the Bible is an accurate and true source of information about both the physical (kings, geography, etc.) and non-physical (angels, miracles, etc.) world. This approach rarely (never?) works. It can often (and must) take us as far as convincing our friends that the Bible does accurately represent what early Christians taught and believed, but has little power to go further. Once you’ve made it that far, go to approach one and invite them to investigate what the earliest Christians found so compelling about Jesus.

So, if you’re tempted to point to the Bible and say “see, the answer is right here in black and white” check to see if your friend actually believes the Bible has anything worthwhile to say. If they don’t, suggest that you investigate Jesus before you go any further and let them read it as an interesting bit of ancient history. It’s hard to earnestly study Jesus for long without being captivated and acknowledging that he’s not only a historical reality but a present and future one as well.

Why not just eliminate Jesus and keep the positive message?

28 Jan

“I’m a supporter of religion. I figure, even if you take Jesus out of Christianity for example – you still have a positive message. What’s wrong with that?”

–          Agnostic guy who grew up Methodist, talking to me in an airport

What’s wrong with that? Tough question, but I’ll give it a shot. The main problem with erasing Jesus from Christian thought and assuming that a positive message remains is that it’s just false. The message that remains is: Try really hard to do the right thing and if you do then God will be pleased with you.

Without Jesus we must measure our lives against God's perfection.

Without Jesus we must measure our lives against God’s perfection.

Sound familiar? It should, because it’s every other religion in the world (although some substitute “You” for “God”). The message of moralism is “Do the right thing!” It resounds loudly and makes our world little more than a drawn out court procedure. Do enough good and you beat the charge, otherwise you’re guilty!

This isn’t a positive message at all because history (humanity’s and mine as well) bears out our inability to even come close to being good people over the long haul. Thankfully, there is more – it’s the Gospel and Grace of Jesus which invites us in all our brokenness to humbly acknowledge that truth about ourselves and repent. He pays the penalty for our wickedness and gives us His righteousness, allowing us to once again be in unbroken relationship with God. That’s a positive message.

Relationship evangelism…

25 Jan

In my last post I gave a quick explanation and diagnosis of “Contact evangelism” and today I’ll address Relationship (or friendship) evangelism. The basic idea is simple: through the lens of your relationship your friend will see your commitment to God and this will give you opportunities to share your faith in a way that feels asked-for and not forced. Also, because you’ve been such a terrific friend they are more likely to see the truth of the Gospel because you’ve been living it out!

On paper, this is an awesome way to do life! In practice, it rarely happens. Too often our churches and ministries leave Christians unequipped and unmotivated to initiate and navigate serious spiritual conversations with folks who have doubts. I’m not talking about the Dawkins’ and Harris’ of the world, but the average classmate, colleague, or family member who doesn’t believe and isn’t sure why they should.

My bestie totally agreed to come to church with me! OMG!

My bestie totally agreed to come to church with me! OMG!

Instead we see scores of Christians (mis)quoting St. Francis by claiming to “share the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” The historicity of the quote aside, (feel free to research it on your own!) it’s just bad logic. If Christ is THE WORD, and Paul says the message must be preached for people to receive it, then how can we expect an unexplained deed (however Christ-centered) to make sense to someone?

If we are to truly leverage our friendships for the Kingdom (which I believe we must) then it requires bold invitation, thoughtful prayer, honest dialogue, and persistence. We should respect our friends who make it clear they are not interested while at the same time continuing to care for their souls and looking for opportunities to play the role of the sower.

A general checklist for doing relational evangelism should look like this:

1)      Do I pray regularly for ____

2)      Does he know I’m a Christian?

3)      Have I asked about his spiritual background?

4)      Have I spent time with him on “neutral ground” (bowling, shopping, etc.)?

5)      Have I invited him to something (bible study, church, etc.)?

6)      If yes to (5) did I follow up? If no, have I initiated a conversation about his disinterest?

7)      If you keep doing (1), (4), and (5) then the answer of how to do (6) will become apparent and you will make progress. Yay.

The Verdict

As is often the case, there is no “winner.” Any method of sharing the faith is a good one if it is done at the prompting of God in sincerity and good character. Contact evangelists often miss out on the “contact” portion: they make initial contact and start evangelizing but rarely connect with the people who are listening to them. Relational evangelists often forget about the evangelism part after their first defeat (no, I’m not interested in coming to church) and decide to spiritually break up by thinking “let’s just be friends.”

We have a higher calling and a higher purpose. We need not force Jesus on anyone or try to argue them into submission for he stands at the door and knocks. Our job is to tactfully speak up on His behalf when we have the opportunity and to love despite circumstance. When in doubt, double your efforts in prayer!

Contact evangelism…

23 Jan

A friend recently commented on one of my posts asking for my thoughts on relational evangelism vs. contact evangelism. If you’re new to the game – relational means sharing your faith to people with whom you are already in relationship. You might develop the relationship slowly and be more subtle, or you might be very direct and invitational, or somewhere in between. They key thing is: these are people you know. Contact evangelism (I have NO IDEA where this term came from??) essentially means going up to strangers and talking to them with the intention of sharing the Gospel.

Contact evangelism is not very en vogue, and comes under scrutiny these days for both sincerity (“you’re just trying to preach at me”) and effectiveness (“no one really gets saved from a random conversation!”) If you’ve read my post “Before you call me a jerk” you know that I think sharing the message of Jesus Christ is the best possible thing one human can do for another – so the sincerity charge` fails, even if I AM just initiating the conversation with the hopes of sharing the Gospel. From an effectiveness standpoint, it’s true that I hear very few stories of sidewalk conversions that last – it’s also true that I’ve heard of some. If there are any brothers and sisters who have come to a saving relationship with Jesus through contact evangelism then we should not abandon it.

I know it's cold out here man, but you should still hear this.

I know it’s cold out here man, but you should still hear this.

This is especially true when we consider the benefits! For starters, doing contact evangelism will put butterflies in your stomach. This is often a good sign that you are taking a significant risk for the Kingdom. Too frequently we allow ourselves to go unchallenged! Go talk to a stranger and you will have an encounter that challenges you. Second, this is an opportunity to grow as an evangelist in general. There are only so many objections to Jesus – and if you have conversations with folks who hold them you’ll be more prepared to answer the same objection in the future. I consider the majority of my contact evangelism batting practice for significant conversations with friends and family, or for speaking engagements. (Of course, it’s better than batting practice because you could hit a homerun that actually matters!) Lastly, there is no way to tell how your conversation will impact someone. You are doing a good and important thing if you represent the Gospel truthfully and in good character. Even if the person doesn’t repent, it is fully possible that they will remember pieces of your conversation or even ask a Christian friend why this strange thing happened to them.

I feel that regularly starting conversations with strangers (as you feel lead by God) is a good spiritual discipline and will yield fruit for you and the person with whom you speak. (For some Biblical examples that could be considered Contact evangelism read John 4, Acts 8 and Acts 10)

Coming next: I’ll assess Relationship evangelism and declare a winner!

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