Friday, September 29, 2006

Sharing Faith

I sometimes wonder about how to go about sharing my faith. I mean, there are a lot of non-Christians here (as there are anywhere), but they are all nice, warm-hearted, and kind people that I genuinely care about. I want to share my faith with them (I suppose you could say I want to "witness," although I have an unexplained dislike for that word), but I want to be effective with it. Often times I think evangelicals can be too forceful with their faith, and therefore might ostracize, rather than attract, non-Christians to the church.

But how does one go about attracting people to the church? A few posts ago, in "Bad Few Days," I talked about how I sometimes thought it was unfair that God allowed me to be gay, because that has made it harder for me to be a good Christian and have a normal, happy life. I still haven't gotten over those feelings, but I have thought about how unfair life is for other people. I mean, at least I was raised in a stable, loving, Christian home. I had absolutely wonderful parents and siblings, and I was taught about the importance of Christ from a very early age. In short, I feel like I've been given Grade-A tools, yet my peers--many of whom weren't raised in Christian homes--were given sticks and stones, and yet we're supposed to build the same house.

Okay, that's a bad analogy, but it's still how I feel. How does one talk about God to someone who doesn't have the same background? This might sound bad, but the only reason I'm a Christian is because I was raised in a Christian home. Had I not been, why would I be attracted to the church? I, like many other gay men, would probably see Christians as a bunch of hate-filled hypocrites. Let's face it, our PR isn't that good sometimes, people.

There are many different levels of non-Christians at the school, of course. One, there are people who were born and raised into other faiths. They probably know as much about Christianity as I know about their faiths (and I don't know much), so how are Christians supposed to witness to them? If a Hindu or a Muslim started witnessing to me, I wouldn't budge an inch from my faith. Why would it be any different if I witnessed to a Hindu or Muslim?

Then there are atheists and agnostics. They at least acknowledge that they have thought about philosophy and the spiritual realm, but have decided that either A: There's nothing out there, or B: That whatever is out there, it doesn't need to be known or named. Based solely on observing the ones I've met, I think the main reason they don't like organized religion is that they feel they'd be having to give up their individuality if they worshipped a Creator. I can relate, but I wish I knew how I could express that relation.

Then there are those that are merely apathetic, who don't think about religion at all, though they may have been raised in a church of some sort.

Okay, I'm rambling. I guess what this is a post on is...shall I say "spiritual fairness?" It just doesn't seem fair to me, that I have been given all these "tools"--a Christian home, a church family, an endless parade of Sunday school teachers, Christian peers, etc.--which in turn helped me explore my own faith deeper and reach a personal relationship with Christ. And yet people who haven't been given the same tools--people who weren't raised in a Christian home or even a Christian country--are going to be judged on the same criteria as me. It doesn't seem right that an old Buddhist lady on a mountain in Tibet is not going to find salvation, when it wasn't her fault that she was never exposed to it.

I guess I could say that I'm toying around with a little Universalism (not Unitarian Universalism, mind you). I suppose it's the same paradox that C.S. Lewis once wrote about--to a certain effect, how do you reconcile having a standard of judgment, in which some people will go to Hell and others will go to Heaven, while at the same time realizing that the number of people throughout history who have heard the Gospel is a rather small number comparatively, and many of these people simply do not seem deserving of eternal separation from all that is good.

Until then, I'll simply let my opinions be known whenever I can. Hopefully I'll go about it tactfully. It's funny, who would've thought that the floor's candid gay guy and the floor's evangelical Christian would be the same guy?

25 comments:

tilts_at_windmills said...

Hey, I found your site through Willful Grace, and I think it's great. Anyway, imho, the best way to "witness" to people is to take it as a learning experience for both of you. Like you said, you probably don't know much more about your friends' beliefs than they do about yours, so ask them about it. Find out what they believe because you're genuinely interested (it sounds like you are) and they're bound to want know what you believe. Don't feel like you "failed" because someone's opinion hasn't changed at the end of a conversation--most people are committed enough to their world view that it won't change in twenty minutes, no matter what you say. You've gotten them to think about why they believe as they do, and you've also enriched your own faith by testing it against new ideas. I'm not a Christian, but talking to Christians (and people of all faiths) has been helpful in clarifying what I do believe. I'd guess it works in reverse, too.

The question about the "old Buddhist lady" is the major reason my dad left the Catholic church as a teenager and never went back. He didn't believe a just God would damn his Jewish friends. So yes, I'm a nonbeliever raised by nonbelievers. You're right about people tending to follow the faith of their parents. Just be careful lumping "Christian" in with "stable and loving". Lots of non-Christians, like me, have wonderful families.

Sorry to write a novel, so last thing: I think you'd get a lot out of reading The Divine Comedy. Dante struggles throughout it with the fact that many people never have the chance to hear the gospel, but are still damned. The Divine Comedy had a huge influence on me in college, and I think for a Christian it would have even more to offer.

Irrational Entity said...

As an agnostic, I do not think there is a single way to go about witnessing effectively. The differences in experience, education, personality, and various other factors make each individual unique. Some are interested in belonging and a feeling of meaning while others will not be satisfied without studying a dozen philosophical treatises. Individuals also have different degrees of receptiveness. Obviously a devout, learned Muslim or Hindu will be unlikely to convert. However a person growing up as a “cultural Christian” with a vague hold on religion may be more open to discussion.

A personal touch is probably the best start. I have attended religious services when friends ask, but I would not bother with some stranger’s proposition. Being raised Christian, the usual arguments are unconvincing to me, even in churches with no problems regarding homosexual behavior, but a different person with a different perspective could be convinced. You can always ask; the worst most people will do is say, “No.”

As a quick side issue, what is your thinking on universalism? I delved into Christian universalism and later Unitarian Universalism, in part due to the writings of one of my favorite founders, John Adams.

Jay said...

Windmills: Welcome! You're right; most people are very open about their beliefs and conversations about faith aren't hard to come by. Such conversations are interesting and one can only hope that there's growth going on both sides.

Oh, and I know not all Christian families are stable, and I know that non-Christian families can be loving too. I was merely speaking of my own experiences.

I've wanted to read The Divine Comedy for a while, but it's just so hard to get recreational reading done in college! Heck, it's hard to get required reading done (textbooks aren't my cup of tea ;-)

Jay said...

Irrational: My delvings into universalism are merely the questions that I've raised here. I'm not a 100% universalist. There are some people (Hitler comes to mind) who seem worthy of eternal separation from God (note that I don't exactly take Hell to be a fire and brimstone sort of place. I believe it's just separation or perhaps annihilation/non-existence).

Like I said; I think that a just God will take situations and circumstances into account. He is all-knowing, after all. But of course these are just my opinions. They might be untrue, and there's really no way to know either way.

grace said...

Hey Jay!!! I was going to catch up on blog reading tomorrow...but just had to check in here with you before turning in for the night. I'm back online!!!! yay!!!

I know you don't have time right now...but...you need to read "The Last Word and the Word After That" by Brian McClaren. Very easy read and addresses exactly what you are speaking of here...in a narrative, story sort of genre. I read it this summer....Email me your address and I'll put it in the mail to you....I can bake you some cookies for a "care package" to go with it! :)
love ya!
pam(grace)

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I think the word witness has gotten a bad rap because it has been turned into a bludgeoning tool by many who believe they are Christians. Doesn't a witness tell what they have seen and heard? The disciples physically saw and heard and touched Jesus. Though I have not had the exact same experience as the apostles did, I too have "seen" and "heard" Jesus in my life. He has made changes in my behavior possible through his deliverance, he has healed me and my wife and others I know both physically and emotionally and he has placed a knowledge of himself deep inside my heart by his Holy Spirit. These things I have seen and heard may not be believed by others or they may be "explained" away through some "rational" thought process but I know what I know. When I show people I (and God) care about them by doing simple (and at times more complicated) act of love and mercy and justice for them, when they ask why, I tell them it is because Jesus has asked me to bless them because he loves them. I have heard it said that when sharing the Good News (and I think we have often perverted it into something not so good) it is like taking out a bottle of expensive perfume out and wafting it under the nose. It smells so wonderful. The person "asks for another whiff" by asking questions and participating in the discussion. At some point they will likely change the conversation or in some way make it known they don't want to hear more. Then it is time to "put the perfume away". It is a process that must be driven by the Holy Spirit. So many have witnessed like this, get up in their face and dump the whole bottle over their head. What a stink. Even expensive perfume in that volume would not be pretty. I think the Good News is also best shared in relationship with the person so they can see the integrity of the sharer during many facets of their life. They can see that the person is not perfect yet they should be able to see something different about them and that difference should be Jesus. Sorry about the long reply. I think your blog is a good witness to how you are processing your life with Jesus.

Jay said...

Grace: Glad to see you back online! I'll e-mail you soon.

Inheritor: I like the perfume analogy. The last thing I want to do is pour the whole bottle over people's heads. I want people to be able to see Jesus at work in my life through my actions and my personality--which means I need to keep watch on my actions and personality, to make sure that they are reflecting Jesus (at least most of the time). Thanks for the advice, and I don't mind long replies at all.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I think the reflecting Jesus at least most of the time is one of the more difficult aspects of the Christian life here on earth. Of course we can't do it at all without the Holy Spirit but even so I know I tend to get in the way of his work often enough. Blessings upon your week.

Jay said...

^ Amen to that. That reminded me of a quote by Alice Cooper (wait, you'll see where I'm going with this!)

"It's the most rebellious thing I've ever done. Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that's a tough call. That's real rebellion." -- Alice Cooper

No one said living according to the Spirit would be easy. And if Alice Cooper can be a born-again Christian, what's stopping anybody? (You do know who Alice Cooper is, right? ;-)

Norm! said...

Hey Jay,

I agree with the other commenters. Contrary to what many evanglical marketers may say, there's no successful seven-step plan to 'win souls' for God. Sharing your faith is simply about sharing part of your self with others. It's not about marketing church or Christianity. Jesus' 'witnessing' plan seemed to involve sharing meals and discussing faith to those who expressed an interest.

I admit I was a little irked by your view of everyone as either Christians or non-Christians. I know you don't intend to be offensive, but it sounds like a devisive way to view the world ('You're with with us or against us'). I'm probably projecting my own baggage onto the "non-Christian" phrase. (My grandma first description about a person was whether or not they were a Christian -- as if that was some kind of seal of approval).

Instead viewing non-Christians as potential converts, view them as simply fellow people who are on their own spiritual journeys -- which may or may not coincide with yours.

Jay said...

^ That IS how I view non-Christians. I don't view them as potential converts at all (though there's always hope ;-) You really don't get to see me in action on a day-to-day basis. I usually DON'T talk about my faith too much. I certainly don't force it on anybody, and I think I have a rather wide circle of friends.

The point of my post wasn't really HOW to witness. It was mainly just a reflection on how life doesn't seem fair at times. I DON'T think that it's "You're with us or against us." If you read my post carefully, you'll see that I'm trying to find a way around that.

When it comes to witnessing, I guess you could say that I'm just concerned about some people, especially my friends that are openly hostile towards religion (like a friend of mine who left me a note after I invited him to church. He was trying to be funny, but he wrote "I will go to church and take communion because I like the idea of eating your God." :/

Norm! said...

LOL: "I will go to church and take communion because I like the idea of eating your God."

Please forgive me if I misunderstand your faith. I admit that I'm projecting some of my own assumptions about conservative Christianity onto you.

Like you, I also can't reconcile Christianity's claim of Jesus being the one true Son of God with the ideal of a loving, universal God who would not condemn people for choosing the wrong brand of religion. I know some Christians dismiss this conflict as a mystery of the faith or take a CS Lewis-like approach believing in a not-so-bad hell (heck?). What disturbing are the Christians/fundamentalists who don't see the conflict and accept the idea of a loving/damning God.

Personally, I believe most faiths are based on some truth and that Jesus' message is about creating God's kingdom in our lives today -- rather than worrying about the afterlife or the end of the world. While I admit I'm biased toward Christianity and ignorantly believe it to a truer faith, I can't say my agnostic or Muslim family/friends have less truer faiths. And I certainly don't believe God is going to damn them to some fantasy-like hell.

It is interesting that you are contemplating universalism. I'm not sure what the disinction is between a universalist and unitarian universalist. I attended a UU church for about a year while I was trying to figure out my faith. I liked the church-like aspects and respect for all faiths. Eventually though, I felt the services to be a little too vague and abstract.

Again, sorry I didn't mean to portray you as a bible-thumping evangelical. Thanks for clarifying.

Jay said...

No prob, Norm. Universalism is a theological philosophy/idea. If I'm not mistaken, there once was an official Universalist Church, but it joined with the Unitarian Church to become UU.

Basically, universalism (I'll put a little "u" on it to make the distinction) is the idea that all souls will eventually be sanctified and enter heaven. This could mean that they spend some time in a hell-like purgatory or are saved outright at death. Not sure if I agree with universalism or not, but I wouldn't call myself a strict evangelical. The Bible, after all, says that people will be judged on their "deeds," not necessarily on whether they responded to the Gospel or not.

In Him,
Jay

Tin Man said...

I could talk about this subject all day . . . but I won't. I did notice a couple of things in your post that made me raise an eyebrow. I know this is a blog and there is only so much energy and effort that goes into writing a blog so I hope you will take my comments in the same light. For one thing, you mentioned in a couple of places something to the effect of "attracting people to church". I don't think this is what witnessing is. I know you know this but I will say it anyway--What sets Christianity apart from all other religions is that it is not based on a set of "teachings" or "beliefs". The central claim is not an "it" it is a "he". The He being Jesus Christ. Witnessing is revealing to others the relationship you have with the person of Christ and the relationship they have with him whether they know about it or not. As far as "spiritual fairness", well that is a whole different topic. I think the problem with answering questions like this has to do with our "bottom-line" thinking. I agree with Grace. You need to check out McClaren's book. Keep up the good work!

Irrational Entity said...

The strains of unitarianism and universalism in the United States have a complex history. Many Unitarian, as opposed to Trinitarian, groups existed; I already mentioned John Adams who joined a Congregationalist turned Unitarian church. Universalists held conventions in Philadelphia and New England in 1790 and 1792 respectively and are the first major attempt at denominational organization to the best of my knowledge. Other groups form later such as the American Unitarian Association and Universalistic General Convention. The UGC became the Universalist Church of American in 1942, and the AUA and UCA merged in 1961 to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. While Unitarian and Universalist churches hold Christian roots, the more recent variants have moved towards a more nebulous conception. So concludes my history lesson for the day.

Jay said...

Tin Man: I actually struggled over the word to use there. "Attraction" really wasn't what I meant. I supposed I meant to say is that Christians do have a bad stereotype about them: that we're bigoted, non-thinking, hateful people. Hey, if you read the comments on a lot of Christian/conservative blogs, you'd get the same impression. I just want to somehow break that stereotype.

Irrational: Thanks for the history lesson! It was very interesting and informative.

Tin Man said...

"Attraction" is not neccessarily what caught my attention. It was the word "church". Are we attracting people to church, or are we attracting people to Christ?

I hate that stereotype by the way. I would say that you are well on your way to changing it.

Jay said...

Oh. Of course I meant to say Christ, but this kind of starts a "chicken and the egg" argument. Which comes first? Does one become a part of a Christian community and through that community learn of Christ, or does one find Christ and then join the community to expand their relationship with Him?

Whew! So many theological questions, so little time. Sometimes I feel that I think about faith too much, and don't do enough with it. I think I need to find my way back to that simple, child-like faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 19:13-15. Hopefully I am breaking some stereotypes along the way. Hopefully we all are.

Brian said...

Hi.

I can't remember how I found your site. I probably started at Ex-Gay Watch.

Anyway, your thoughts about Universalism intrigued me. If you want to explore the topic further, here's a really good book:

The Inescapable Love of God, by Thomas Talbott.

Justin Grice said...

You should read Mark Cahill's book One Thing You Can't Do in Heaven. Go to Mark Cahill's website to get it. He'll even send it to you for free.

Corby said...

Hi. Came across your site as a random google search but wanted to just add a couple of thoughts. Successful witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ with others and then leaving the results to God. One of the most effective tools for witnessing is your personal testimony. Think of it as sharing with someone what your life was like before you knew Christ, how you came to put your trust in Him and how your life has changed since then. One thing to remeber though is to always give the person you are sharing with the opportunity to invite Christ into their lives.
One of the most effective ways I have found to initiate a spiritual discussion is through what I call the 2 eternal life questions: the first is something like "If you died tonight, do you know without a doubt that you would go to heaven?" The answer to that just gives me some idea what the person I am sharing with thinks about spiritual thinks. The second question is "Lets say that happened and you were standing before God and He asked you 'Why should I let you into heaven?' What would you tell Him?" Most people will answer with some form of "I am a pretty good person; I try to live by what the Bible says..." Basically they are saying that they work really hard to do what God wants them to do. This opens the door to showing them that the Bible tells us that it is not our good works or deeds that save us but rather God's grace and our faith in that grace (Eph. 2:8-9). If they are interested, I go on to show them that while God loves good works and obedience, they are the wrong payment for our sins which separate us from Him (Rom 3:23, 6:23). If they are still interested, I will show them that God paid the payment for our sins through Jesus death on the cross and resurrection (Rom 5:8) and that He adopts those who put their trust in that to become His children (John 1:12). Finally, I will ask them if that is something they would like to do and if they say yes, I show them that all they have to do is to invite Jesus to be their Lord (let Jesus will be their will) and Saviour (saved from eternal separation from God in Hell) and Jesus promised He would come into their lives (Rev 3:20). Finally, I share some of God's promises with them (Heb 13:5 - I will never leave you nor forsake you - meaning they only ever have to invite Him in once and 1 John 5:11-13 - saying that if they have the Son in them - they do according to Rev 3:20 - then they also have eternal life in heaven with God). I find those assurance promises very powerful.
One thing to remember is that when you witness to anyone, do it on the basis of God's promises in His Word which can never change rather than on the basis of feelings which will change moment by moment.

naturgesetz said...

Well Jay, it's your fault that I'm commenting on such an old post. You have it in that list of "must reads" and you tell us we can comment on the old stuff as well as the new.

So, a propos "fairness," I like to say that salvation is not a theology test. I like to say it about the various positions Christians take, but I also think it applies to the question of the Buddhist lady. I believe that the fact that God wants all to be saved, as St. Paul tells us, means that he supplies whatever grace is necessary for anyone to decide for him. We can think of it as the grace to desire to acknowledge, honor, and do the will of the divine. Or we can think of it as the grace to do the right thing in one's own situation. The one who accepts the grace he is given will be saved, since all grace comes through the saving action of Jesus Christ.

What happens at death can be depicted in (at least) two ways: 1.) God reviews the person's life and judges whether the person sincerely tried to live by the grace he was given and repented of his sins or 2.) the person comes before God and either recognizes the one he has been desiring all his life without knowing who he was and enters heaven, or sees one whom he does not desire and departs for hell.

Pure speculation, of course, but I think we can give the Buddhist a chance, based on scripture, without going universalist.

Jay said...

Don't feel bad about commenting on an old post! I usually try to comment even when someone comments on an old post (if they say anything I feel needs a response, of course; sometimes they don't).

I do agree that grace is bigger than we could expect, and that we can give the completely isolated unbelievers a chance. No doubt. I'm a Calvinist now (I wasn't when I first posted this), so I've come to terms with a lot of these questions, but I'm not too hardcore... I do leave room open for possibilities that I can't comprehend.

If anything, I just have faith that God's will and reasoning is beyond my own, and His decisions (I suppose I could say his election), is going to be all right in the end. I know it will be for me!

TRiG said...

If a Hindu or a Muslim started witnessing to me, I wouldn't budge an inch from my faith.

That's predetermined, is it? I think I respect you a little less.

You might want to consider the theist's guide to converting atheists. It's relevant.

TRiG.

Grace said...

Jay,

I have just discovered your blog this evening.. WOW.....

I really could spend a very long time reading about your life and your views.

Just..... wow.

God bless :)

Grace