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Friday, January 27, 2012

The tension of "conversion-based" Christianity - Acts - pages 96-102

We've all met people who flaunt their faith with spiritual platitudes, bumper-sticker belligerence and demonstrations so demonstrative that people are "put off" in the worst way.  They make declarations of judgement and predictions of the future that make your palms sweaty as you set the drag on the conversational reel and let them take the line down stream.  Sometimes you just cut bait and check out of the conversation while they are still "making their point".  You nod your head and figure out your taxes while they pontificate about some religious matter that matters very little, or worse yet, matters very much but they're talking so loudly you can't even hear them.

I have a love hate relationship with "demonstrative" Christianity.  I've witnessed such abusive proselytization and evangelism that I don't want to be held guilty by association, and yet, I want to be expressive about my beliefs and proud of my faith in Christ.  I don't want to "hide it under a bushel" or be a city on a hill that is "hidden".  I want it to be seen, heard and felt.  But how do you do that in such a way as to not be the obnoxious and noxious fool with a bullhorn outside of a Toby Keith concert?  How can it somehow feel to others like you actually care about them, even if they don't convert?  How can it come across as a human interaction instead of a human transaction?  This is what I'm wondering about.

Toward the end of Acts, Paul has an interaction with King Agrippa that stood out to me:

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Acts 26:24-29
24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul's defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.” 
25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.
27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”  28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 
29 Paul replied, “Short time or long–I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” 

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This conversation between Paul and the powers that be is telling.  It pokes some holes in the argument that you're supposed to "witness without words" or "let your actions do the talking"...the mantras of "lifestyle evangelism".  Sort of like the quote that says, "Preach the gospel everywhere you go, if necessary, use words."  I will be the first to admit that this approach of "relational evangelism" is so refreshing in comparison to "bait and switch" surveys and "agenda driven" conversations that lead to a punchline or "Amway downline" of sorts.  There is nothing like feeling like you "got played" thinking the person was interested in you or listening to you only to find out that they had an angle all along and it was really about them and their desired destination.  Ugghhh!  NO, no way will I be like that!  NOOOOO!

But then, we must be careful not to let the pendulum swing too far over to the "wordless" evangelism approach because there is a time to "come out of the corner" with our Christianity.  We don't want our love for God to "escape people's notice" because we were covert operatives (covert converts).  This section of Scripture makes no bones about witnessing with boldness.  Boldness is different than Belligerence.

King Agrippa knew exactly what was going on.  He felt the pinch.  He acknowledged the pressure.  "Are you trying to persuade me to be a Christian?"  Paul could have answered in a real post-modern way like: "No, I'm just sharing my own story, dude.  I'm not trying to impose my belief system on you.  We all have our own narrative and it's more about the journey than the destination....blah, blah, blah..."  But he didn't.  He said straight up "Yeah, I am.  And not just you, but everyone else listening in on this conversation.  And I don't care if it's a short time or a long time, I want people to become what I am."  Whoa...this is boldness!  He doesn't care how long it takes, what it takes, who standing around listening in...he loves who he is and he wants other people to have his life.

When something is so real to you that you wish your life could be experienced by others, this is the contagion of sharing your faith.  If you are simply sharing a set of ideas or ideals, but you very obviously don't love your life, nor do others around you love being around your life, whatever you have to share becomes irrelevant.  The power of someone sharing their faith is when their beliefs match their emotions that match their words that match their life.  This is "evangelism".

Did you see the word King Agrippa used: "persuade".  This is what Paul was trying to do.

And persuasion is important.  It's different than using power plays and pressure points to get someone to do something.  The art of persuasion is a critical component to sharing our faith...it's nuanced and layered.

I needed to see this again today, because there is a ditch on both sides of the road, covert or overt.  And we need a fresh expression of bold faith that doesn't look like the "cheap tricks" of fanatics and dramatics.

God, teach us how to be bold for you, not just to be bold for you.



1 comment:

Cathy Dykstra said...

Love it! Came home for a minute, checked the computer and I'm back out in a minute. But wanted to let you know I like your blog today. Its hard to know how far to go in conversation sometimes. I think I can get away with being more direct if i am sensitive and respectful of what the other person is saying. Of course I have a somewhat warped view of myself so ..... :)