Here’s a wild idea:
There are better and worse ways to share one’s faith.
Not too controversial. Some pretty awful methods come to mind, such as the disruption of American soldiers’ funerals by the Westboro Baptist Church who’d like to make it clear that the soldier’s death was God punishing America for enshrining same-sex marriage into law. And history’s pages are bloodied from those on the wrong end of violent faith disseminations.
But, maybe it would be helpful to make clear why we find such things so repulsive. It is not merely the brutal, perverse, senseless nature of these acts, but that the perpetrator’s motivating belief/faith structure often seems to enjoin the opposite. To put to the sword someone who refuses to believe in Jesus flies in the face of a crucified Messiah. The dissonance is deeply unsettling.
So, there’s obviously something to the how.
The theological content of the message is not sufficient to morally justify certain methods for spreading the message.
Now, you might protest that the notion of “sharing one’s faith” has been hijacked by the verbal proclamation of a message with propositional content; the key takeaways for the receiver are pieces of theological doctrine or principles. Popular contenders are “God loves you”, “God wants relationship with you” and sometimes these are colored in with “Jesus died for your sins.” “You need to repent of your sins in order to receive forgiveness.” In other words, the common idea is that the goal is to have people adopt these ideas into their belief structure and then act on them - and what better way than to tell them?
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can think of a better way. How about “show them”?
After all, failing this better way was the main reason to object to the atrocious violations of the past. Yet, many modern, evangelistic efforts still view “belief adjustment” as the end goal.
If you are not with me so far, how about this? Compare these two paths: 1) believe x, now go seek out experiences of x. 2) offer an experience of x, allow the person space to infer x from a first-hand encounter.
Suppose ‘x’ is “God loves you.” The way I used to share my faith with people was to declare this truth - and I do think it’s true! But, it just wasn’t effective. I might have even tried to build my case by saying “look, what I am doing by sharing this fact with you right now is loving, because if I don’t you might end up in hell later.” Yeah. I was that guy.
But look at this other way. Create environments where people can experience God’s love for them. We could talk all day about ways to do that in winsome ways where the outcome is intrinsically good. Experiencing the love of God is good all on its own, regardless if it leads to belief-adjustment. If the experience proves to be instrumentally good as well, then what a neat bonus!
I’m by no means trying to suggest we can never have discussions with people about the theological content of our faith. There are definitely occasions where that is totally appropriate and encouraged. There’s certainly a bunch of that going on at OTT! What I am trying to do is to get us thinking about our priorities. Or even further, how can you actually create an environment where someone can experience God’s love for them in the midst of a theological conversation. There’s a posture of openness, acceptance, poise, and listening where someone might feel more heard and valued than they ever have. What a gift to give someone.
Tony and I share some fun anecdotes of how we used to share our faith and the ways we talk about it now. What if there was a way you could talk about matters of faith with anyone, regardless of background, that appealed to things they actually cared about? You’ll want to check this one out, either on Youtube or your favorite podcatcher.