Sunday, June 22, 2008

Post-Regent post 2

In our final day of class we talked about how in closed countries we must be sensitive and make the most of opportunities to talk about Jesus with people of other faiths but recognise the danger we put ourselves and them in when we do so. We then went on to talk about being sensitive to those around us in Western countries who get offended when we seek to talk to them about Christianity.

I think that we have been tricked into thinking that as western Christians we live in closed countries when we in fact do not. A class mate shared how his non-Christians friends have said how they 'do not appreciate it' when he talks to them about Jesus. He, myself and others find ourselves at a loss with how to respond to this because we don't want to offend people.

I cannot speak for anyone else but there have been times when I have attempted to theologically justify not talking about my faith by saying that I do not want my persistence to create a barrier to that person exploring Christianity when 'they are ready'. Other times we act as though if we talked about Jesus the authorities would descend and bad things would happen. We retreat into the hope that if we do enough good things as Christians we will somehow earn the right to be heard (see previous post on pluralism) about Jesus.

I, and I suspect many others, have allowed myself to be tricked by the idea that we should not talk about Jesus unless invited to. As if we were living in a closed country.

But the simple truth is that we do not live in closed countries where it is illegal to talk about Jesus (that time may come but it has not come yet). The honest reason is it suits me to hide behind the fact that I should only talk about Jesus when invited to because I fear that if I instigate the conversation and maybe persevere over a number of conversations the person I am talking to will no longer be my friend or like me. Or 'worse' they may publicly reject me and turn others against me too. Or to put it another way, on some horrible level inside it is more important to me that people like me than that it is that I talk to them honestly about my faith.

Another part of the reason is that I have been tricked into believing the lie that it is intolerant and thereby impolite/socially unacceptable to say that Christianity is right and that other religions are wrong and if I do say either of these things then people will see me as a arrogant.

So much of this is flawed in obvious and less-obvious ways.

To start at the beginning: if it is okay for someone to say to me that they "do not appreciate me" talking about Jesus then it is okay for me to say in return that I do not appreciate them putting a huge area of my life in a category that is out of bounds (but I admit that this would only be fair response if I am regularly talking about how my faith relates to my life and the world in general. It would not be fair if I am only ever talking about the other persons 'need' of Jesus). To be honest, are our non-Christian friends really friends if the center of our existence is not allowed to be talked about?

Secondly, how on earth am I going to know when a person is 'ready' to explore Christianity?!? I completely accept that the Holy Spirit giving us nudges towards certain people but we have got to be more proactive than that. The book of Acts (13:42, 44, 45, 48; 14:1; 17:17) and the history of Christianity is full of people taking the initiative and persevering and people responding in a number of different ways. Sure, we need to be wise and know when to let it go but I know that if I am honest I generally back down because I am ready to end the conversation and have the person still like me rather than because it is time for the conversation to end (and maybe picked up again in the future).

Thirdly, we do need to accept that people are going to reject us for being Christians (John 15:18, 19). I want to be liked and the idea of being rejected is something I fear. I do not know why this causes me (and maybe you) so much trouble, but I suspect it is because I revere what others think of me more than I revere God. The example of the apostles in Acts 5 humbles me greatly. Sure, we need to be sure that it is Jesus that is the offense and not us but these days we are so caught up in being good (and as I have said in previous posts, we should be known as good people) that I don't think we need to worry too much about that just yet. We should worry more about whether we have even mentioned Jesus at all!

Fourthly, we need to correctly understand what tolerance means. I did a quick check on definitions (1, 2, 3) and they all talk about the acceptance or recognizing and respecting of differing views, not accepting that all views are equally right. We can respect differing views without agreeing with them. It is not arrogant or intolerant for me to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that I disagree with atheists, Muslims, Hindus Buddhists etc. over who Jesus is. We do not all believe the same things about him so therefore we cannot all be right. People who accuse us of being intolerant are the ones who are actually being intolerant! They are pretty much saying that you can hold any view providing you agree that everyone else could also be right. That is not tolerance it is confusion.

I must end on a personally frustrating, but honest, note. I was thinking of all the above as I flew home and got chatting with the person on the plane next to me and she asked me about what I had been studying about world religions whilst at Regent college. I am ashamed to admit that I realised after the conversation that what was foremost in my mind was how to answer her question in a way that would leave her thinking good of me. I was with a colleague at a public meeting a couple of months back and she was asked the question "you don't actually try and convert students do you?" to which she replied "yes". We chatted afterwards as to how awkward we feel saying that (in retrospect I think some of the awkwardness comes from some of the negative connotations that come with the word convert but that would take more words I have gone on long enough already). I long to be able to give an honest, gracious answer without being swayed by fear. What I am writing here is far from what I practise but it is something that with God's grace I want to strive to towards beginning to practise.

1 comment:

tommo39 said...

It's great how you're always honest James.

I find it too easy to forget that some people might persecute me for stating what I believe, but many may respect me for it too. Simply for stating it and standing by it.

I wonder how many Muslims would hesitate to say that what they believe is better than what others believe. Yes, Muslims do get a lot of persecution, but they have my respect for being open about what they think, and a lot of other people's too I suspect. Why shouldn't we be like that?