From Stand to Reason – some excellent tactical advice about how to have a conversation about spiritual topics with a non-Christian.
Here’s the setup:
I overheard a conversation on the airplane coming back from my vacation in Wisconsin. A Christian gentleman was vigorously sharing his faith with a gentleman in the seat directly behind me. There are some things we can learn, both good and bad, from what I overheard and take his effort—which was a good one—and channel it in a little bit more constructive direction.
So I am going to give you eight points of application.
And here are my favorites from his list:
3. Try to stay away from religious language, terminology, and religious affect. This person was very religious in his whole approach. I think this is hard for us as Christians because we are brought up in a Christian environment and it’s natural for us to talk this way, but it sounds weird to people outside of that environment. I think there are a lot of people who may be, in principle, interested in a bona fide, genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ but who are not interested in the Christian religion as they perceive it. This is where I think a lot of the emergent guys have a legitimate bone to pick with Evangelicalism. Let’s try not to sound like Bible-thumping fundamentalists if we can avoid it, even if that’s what we are, because there’s no need to sound that way if it puts people off. Find another way to communicate the message. Just talk in a straightforward manner. Be conscious of using religious language the other person may not understand or may think is strange. Avoid all of that so they can hear the message you’re trying to communicate.
4. Focus on the truth, not personal benefits of Christianity. I appreciated the gentleman’s approach in that he kept talking about truth. One person he was talking to said he liked reincarnation. The Christian man said that even if he liked reincarnation that that didn’t make it true if it’s not true. Liking something is not going to change reality. That’s a great point. He was focusing on the truth claims of Jesus. He wasn’t giving a bunch of promises. He wasn’t saying, “Jesus is my ice cream. He’s a great flavor. Try him to see if you like him, too.” Or, “Try Jesus because he’ll make your life so wonderful.” Focus on truth and not personal benefits.
5. Give evidence. This gentleman was giving all kinds of evidence for his seatmates to consider. Good for him! You should too. You know why? Because people in the Bible did, too. Jesus, Paul, Peter, all the Apostles. If you look at the details of how they communicated their faith they gave evidence for the truth of what they were saying about Jesus. In fact, if you want to get the content of the Gospel, one of the most famous passages for the articulation of the Gospel is the beginning of 1 Corinthian 15. Paul gives all kinds of evidence. It’s all right there as he is explaining the Gospel. We see that all through the New Testament. So give evidences. It’s appropriate. People do respond to that even in a postmodern age.
I remember that I was once working in Chicago, and after a particular good apologetics discussion with a team of engineers, I apologized to them all for being so conservative and confident that I was right. These guys all had MS and PhD degrees in computer science from top schools like Stanford, Purdue, U of I, NIU and Northwestern. I was worried that they would think that I was some sort of fundamentalist because I was so definite about what I believed. They said “you’re not a fundamentalist”. And I said, “but I am ultra-conservative in my theology!”. And they said “That’s ok – as long as you have considered different points of view and you have objective evidence, then somehow it doesn’t sound fundamentalist”.
I think that’s something that we need to work on. When Christianity is about truth, it’s open to investigation using public evidence. At work, I have explained the structure of DNA molecules in the office and had people rolling their chairs out of their cubicles to come and see me draw amino acid chains on a white board, and calculate the probabilities with a calculator. You can be a fundamentalist, without sounding like a fundamentalist. You just have to focus on public, testable evidence.
Make religion about truth – not personal preferences. They respect that way of talking. Don’t talk about your feelings or your spiritual experiences. They can’t test that. Talk to them about history and science. They CAN test that.