I have indicated a number of times over the past months that my spiritual life has been in flux. Over the past couple of years I have developed a distorted, or handicapped view of my relationship to Christ, though I don’t fully understand how that happened, other than complacency on my part. My relationship to Christ shifted from something meaningful and tangible to something lifeless and academic. Instead of seeking Him through prayer and community, I participated in a number of rules and religious activities.
And it feels really good to recognize this and realize that this isn’t the way the christian life is supposed to be lived. I’m not called to check off boxes as I complete a spiritual obstacle course, none of us are. We’re called to life in Him.
And through this realization my theology has begun to shift. It feels uncomfortable to say that, because on some level it is an admission that I no longer have all of the answers. What I mean is, for a long time I have had an understanding of what it means to be a christian, and what it means to be part of a church, etc. And now, while I still understand what it means to be a christian, I’m struggling with what life in the world is supposed to look like for a christian.
I know, I know. This is huge. And intimidating. But it is also incredibly freeing. Let me break it down into some smaller steps though. Its going to take some time, so this will probably span a number of blog entries. First, I’ll tackle evangelism, because this is the largest shift that I’ve felt, and a lot of the other topics will build on this.
But before I get there, a quick note about what I mean when I say theology. I looked up the definition of the word, and the closest to my meaning is ‘a distinctive body of theological opinion’, which is really no help at all. For the purposes of this article, I mean a collection of beliefs about who God is, how we as individuals relate to Him and how we relate to the world around us.
Now on to evangelism, as promised. I have been a christian for most of my life. And all this time I have never been excited about evangelizing. It feels too much like sales. I have even been taught to ask for a statement of faith a couple of times. That just gives me the creeps, it’s not the way to treat people. I hate it when someone tries to sell me something, and I don’t want to sell anyone else anything. And, because of telemarketers and spam and shifty car salesmen, most people in the western hemisphere are no longer willing to be sold anything.
The people that annoy me the most are the ones that shout about heaven and hell, eternal damnation, seeing the light, and on and on. I don’t want to be associated with that. Last month I ran into this guy standing on a busy intersection two days in a row. He went on and on about his past sins, and how he could help everyone else give up their sinful lifestyle. What a jerk! First, it’s a huge assumption to presume that anyone hearing him believes that they’re sinful. And second, supposing they do believe that, why on earth would they accept that this one loud, arrogant individual would have any answers for them? He asked me if I was sure that I’m going to heaven. I didn’t want anything to do with whatever conversation came from that question, so I walked off without a word.
If I were in the process of questioning my faith, or working through my thoughts on Jesus, this guy would have given me a strong push in the other direction. And if I already had a bone to pick with evangelicals, he would have only added fuel to my fire.
But there is also something deeper than that at work. In sharing the gospel, many christians are seeking affirmation of the choices and beliefs, in the same way that you might tell another about your favorite band or TV show in hopes that they’ll think your taste is hip. This is more subtle, but no less true. Donald Miller has written a fair amount on this topic in his book Searching for God Knows What.
Having said all of that, I do believe that all christians are called to share their faith. So then, what is this supposed to look like? Not to be trite, I think it has more to do with ‘sharing your faith’ than making a sales pitch. Conversations about Jesus should be just that, conversations with give and take, questions on both sides, and the freedom to walk away from the conversation at any point with no hard feelings. No one is right, no one is wrong, its a free exchange of ideas.
Okay fine, but what if no one comes to faith this way? If we aren’t out in the world bringing people to faith, then who will be Jesus’ closer? That’s the whole point, in one simple question, right there. No one.
As followers of Christ, we are compelled to share our faith. But we are not in the business of saving or condemning souls. Put simply, the fate of others’ hearts is not our concern. Jesus makes this clear in his teaching. Twice in Luke 13 he tells His followers not to worry about the sins of others, but rather to focus on their own salvation. And again at the end John 21, when Peter asks him a direct question about the fate of one of his followers, Jesus’ response is, “what business is that of yours? You worry about you!”
The takeaway from all of this is that as christians we need to be sharing our faith. And that’s the end of it. God can take it from there.
I’ve just started reading Foolishness to the Greeks by Lesslie Newbigin, which is on the topic of missions in modern western culture. I’m sure that I’ll have more thoughts on this in the future. But my next blog entry on theology will be about interactions with church and other believers. If my thoughts about evangelism are accurate, then they will have a direct effect on how we as christians relate to one another.
Questions and comments are strongly encouraged. In a way, the questions and comments that this post prompts are more important than the point I’m trying to make. By talking with one another and asking questions, we all benefit and grow.