The Mission of God and the Missional Church: Sent to Proclaim the Good News, Part 4

Part 10 of series:
The Mission of God and the Missional Church

In my last post I mentioned that my college friend Lance, who was so free in talking about his Christian faith, didn’t have the knowledge to satisfy his friends’ inquisitiveness and criticisms. So he asked me and our mutual friend John to meet with his friends’ for an open forum on Christianity. They would bring all of their questions and objections, and we’d try to answer them.

Currier House at Harvard University, my college dorm. Bill Gates once lived there, but he dropped out of Harvard. Too bad, if he stayed in school he might have been successful.

John, Lance, and I were nervous when the night came for the “big discussion.” At first we were afraid that no one would show up to talk. But as the living room of Lance’s suite began to fill with eager questioners and agnostic doubters, John and I soon became fearful that we wouldn’t be able to handle the questions put to us. Perhaps we’d let Lance down, not to mention the Lord!

As the discussion began, John and I were doing pretty well explaining some of the details of Christianity. Mostly it was the usual stuff: How can there be only one way to God? How can a good God allow suffering? But then one student named Chet raised an objection to what we were doing there. It was the first time I heard a line that has since become so common in our society.

“It’s just fine with me if you want to believe all this stuff about Jesus. I really don’t worry about that,” Chet began. “But I am offended by your idea that you should tell me about it. You’re implying that you are right and I am wrong. You’re assuming that you have something I don’t have. That’s pretty arrogant. And it’s not very friendly. So you can be Christians. But please don’t tell me about it or try to convert me.”

This man gave expression to the second reason many Christians hesitate to talk about Jesus with others. In our postmodern culture, we have the freedom to believe just about anything (supposedly). You can believe that wearing a crystal will give you inner peace, or that you receive guidance from the spirit of Barbie, and that’s fine. You can make up your own religion if you want. But try to get others to accept your beliefs? Now that’s a different story. That’s perceived as arrogant, politically-incorrect, and downright obnoxious. And who wants to be any of these things? So, many of us hide our faith in Christ because we don’t want to offend. (Ironically, these days, many atheists are the most vehement proselytizers of all.)

Not only was Chet’s objection a new and challenging one for me, but it seemed to torpedo the whole discussion we were having with Lance’s friends. If Chet was correct, then John and I weren’t being good neighbors in our effort to share the good news of Jesus.

In the silent seconds – which seemed like hours – following Chet’s comment, I prayed quietly for God’s help. I could have said, “I’m not sure how to answer your question. I’ll need to think about it for a while.” But I hoped to come up with a more compelling answer, especially with so many folks gathered to hear. As I prayed, I received a gift from the Holy Spirit, a way of responding to Chet that would satisfy his concern and keep the discussion rolling. I had one of those experiences promised in Scripture, which are so common among Christians who share their faith. The Holy Spirit empowered me for bearing witness to Jesus.

“Chet,” I began, “I think I understand your point of view. But I want to try and explain why my sharing Christ with you is actually the most friendly and caring thing I can do. Suppose I saw a great movie, one of the best I had ever seen. If I told you about the movie and recommended that you see it, would you be offended?”

“No,” Chet responded. “That would be fine. This sort of thing happens all the time.”

“So, even though I would imply that you were missing out on something, that there was some lack in your life until you saw the film, it would be OK to tell you the ‘good news’ about the movie?”

“Yes, in that case it would be OK. But that’s not the same as recommending your religion.”

“I agree, but let’s keep on going. Now, suppose I discovered the ultimate cure for cancer. And suppose that you had cancer and were undergoing chemotherapy. As your friend, should I tell you about my discovery, even if I implied that your chemotherapy treatment was not the best?”

“Of course! If you didn’t tell me about your discovery, you’d be a real jerk!”

“Suppose I knew that you had cancer, but you didn’t know it. Should I tell you what I know, even if you don’t like to hear it.”

“Definitely. That would be the only right thing to do.”

“Well, then, you can understand why I want to tell you about Jesus. Whether I’m right or wrong, I think Jesus is the best thing in the whole world. Infinitely better than any movie. I also think that we are all victims of sin, something far worse than cancer, and that Jesus alone can heal us. So, knowing Jesus is more important than being cured of cancer, in my opinion. Of course I could be wrong in my beliefs, but, given the fact that I believe them, how can I not tell you?”

“I guess if you didn’t talk about Jesus,” Chet concluded, “then you’d be a real jerk! You sort of have to do it.” (Actually, Chet used a word other than “jerk,” but it’s not the sort of word I print in my PG rated blog.)

“Then you understand the bind I’m in right now,” I said. “You don’t want me to talk to you about my faith. And I don’t want to offend you or insult you in any way. But I truly believe that being a Christian is the best kind of life there is. I am convinced that through Jesus you can have a deep, permanent relationship with God and be part of God’s restoration of the whole world. If I didn’t tell you this, I would be withholding from you the best news I know. If I kept silent, then you could rightly accuse me of being unloving and unkind – or even a jerk!”

Chet and the others seemed satisfied with this answer. The discussion continued long into the night as John and I shared honestly what we believed and what we had experienced about Jesus. Though you might never find yourself in a college dorm room full of questioners and skeptics, you will discover a delightful freedom to “proclaim the good news” when you open your heart and mind to those around you. Just be honest! And remember, Jesus promises to be with you always, through the Spirit who dwells within you to encourage and to empower you. Sometimes you will come up with an amazing answer to a hard question. But don’t pat yourself on the back. You didn’t make it up. It was a gift from the Holy Spirit.

  • TomB

    Dear Mark:

    Thanks for the story and idea.  Very helpful.

    Thank the Lord for His Spirit!

    Tom

  • C. Ehrlich

    I can understand the motivation to evangelize, but I think I can also understand why many people, at least in certain contexts, find it objectionable.  I find this easiest to understand when it is children or youth who are the targets of proselytization.  If an atheist group began employing the same tactics used by evangelical churches to proselytize young people in the community I suspect they’d be quickly run out of many towns.  Think of the rock concerts, the weekend retreats, and the entertaining “youth groups”–all of which are frequently designed by professional ministers to get Christian kids to bring their non-Christian friends to these events, where adult counselors and leaders await the perfect opportunities to convert them. 

    How should we think of such practices?


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