For the past several years, since I started to take seriously why people believe what they believe (and more relevant to this post, why they don’t), I’ve been convinced that a very large number of people do not outright reject Christianity or some other faith, they simply don’t find the time in their lives to acquaint themselves with it in a serious way. Reasons for such indifference probably range from general busyness to disgust with those they encounter who call themselves religious. Reading Scot McKnight’s blog today, I ran across a sentence that caught my attention and affirms my theory of faith “rejection” as outlined above. The author of the article described her “rejection” of faith as cultural/familial. She really didn’t give it much thought except to assume that Christianity was just like all the caricatures her favorite authors had made it out to be. Here’s a quote from that blurb by Megan Hodder from the Catholic Herald:
My friendships with practising Catholics finally convinced me that I had to make a decision.
Megan’s testimony in this single sentence is huge for anyone looking to gain understanding on why a skeptic might come to faith as well as how we as the body of Christ might participate in this process or at least catalyze it to a point of decision.
Megan’s testimony shows the importance of relationships. From this single sentence we see that Megan, though a skeptical atheist, had friends who were “practicing Catholics”. This must mean that these people of faith did not cower or shy away from one of the most basic forms of human decency: Friendship. They seemingly did not attempt to “convert” Megan before befriending her. Instead, she called them her friends before she believed in their god. This to me takes a lot of pressure off of those Christians who beat themselves up over lacking boldness or being outspoken (usually for the sake of being outspoken, not necessarily to share the love of Jesus with their neighbor). So for Megan, the first step toward faith was to encounter friendly people of faith.
The next thing we learn from Megan’s testimony is that she knew these people to be Catholics, so those of us who want to simply “live” our faith without identifying ourselves with Jesus appear to be out of luck. We must find ways to make known our allegiance to Jesus authentically and naturally. I believe one reason many Christians struggle to do this stems from our insistence that we are essentially right and those who are non-believers are wrong. If drawing a line in the sand and separating our friends and acquaintances into “faith” categories is where we start when we seek to make known our faith in Christ, it’s not going to come off well to our unbelieving onlookers. We must illustrate our faith in unapologetic exuberance for Christ, not in exuberance for our “rightness”. We must tell his story first, and when our story come into play, we must bring it in with humility. So be strategic and creative in how you identify yourself as a Christian.
Another descriptor Megan uses in talking about her friends is that they were not just Catholics in name. She describes them as “practicing”. This means they were not just telling Megan about Jesus, but they were acting on their beliefs in tangible enough ways that Megan could not help but notice. This likely means that the frequency with which Megan’s Catholic friends were acting in faith was substantial. After all, doing good works is possible for anyone, regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof. Something about her Catholic friends, however, was different. Perhaps it was their joy in “doing” their faith.
Next, Megan says that the above combination of friendship and faithful action actually “convinced” her to make a decision. A couple of points:
- Megan does not mention anything about her friends’ arguments in convincing her. That does not mean they didn’t argue well or present points of view to her to explore. But she does not mention such arguments as a main reason for her belief.
- The second point is that her observation of all of these things brought about her need to make a decision. This is crucial and really the main point to our evangelistic efforts. Megan decided that on the basis of what she had observed from people she had grown to know, like, and trust that even though her upbringing and culture told her to remain largely ignorant about Christianity and to “reject” it, she needed to make a decision. Now this is not the sort of decision we Christians think of when we hear the word. This particular decision did not come about easily, nor did it come about as the result of manipulation. This decision came about because for Megan, it made no sense to continue along in indifferent “rejection”.
Again, as Christians, this “formula for conversion” comes with less pressure than we can imagine. We will not in a lasting sense argue or manipulate someone to living faith, but in our relationships, our loving actions identified with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ very well could convince unbelieving onlookers to consider Christ in a serious manner. Is this a sure-fire way to gain “conversions”? Maybe…maybe not, but I do believe this model is biblical and follows Jesus’ methods in his discipling of his closest and most impactful followers. When we do the harder work of relationship building and modeling, we create opportunities to share the Gospel in a meaningful and credible way. This is our call.
I can’t help but think of 1 Peter 2:12…