I would propose to you that “evangelism” in its traditional sense (i.e. the pesky door-knockers or extravagantly charismatic televangelists) needs to die a horrible death, if it hasn’t already. The fact is, we live in a country where the Bible and Jesus are simply engrained in the fabric of our cultural awareness. Granted, there are some militantly-atheistic factions at work in society nowadays whose avowed aim is to stamp out religion in all its forms from our culture’s sphere of influence, but let’s be honest, most of them are just bitter schoolchildren who resent all the beatings they took from harsh nuns. They still have the knowledge, even if they refuse to acknowledge its value. What it really boils down to is both sides being willing to have an honest, open-minded discussion. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with non-religious types have essentially boiled down to one question: “What do you get out of it?” Or, more importantly, “Why do I have to live my life according to your religious system when my own method of living has gotten me this far in life, and I’m much happier without the handcuffs of do’s and don’ts?”
This question seriously merits some assessment, because for years I have found myself at a loss as to how to formulate a lucid answer. The problem is not that I reap no benefits from my faith, it’s simply that when explaining those benefits to a person with little to no context for my faith, they can’t be expected to adequately understand them, or even give them due consideration without dismissing them as irrational nonsense. The thing is, those of us who understand what it is to follow Christ have experienced many supernatural events and received many seemingly-irrational directions into our lives, only to follow them and discover that they were in fact part of a brilliant larger plan that we ourselves could never in our wildest dreams have thought up. Trying to articulate that to someone who categorically rejects the existence of the supernatural, however, leaves us at a virtual impasse. Because I can’t really expound on the supernatural benefits of my faith until later in our talks, let’s start by addressing the pragmatic benefits of my faith in Christ:
1. I have more friends than you. There is a lot to be said for the value of community. While I’m sure that most non-believers have happy lives that are full of meaningful friendships, the fact is that I interact with over a hundred people on any given Sunday who know me personally and on some level care about my personal life. Some of the people I have met through the context of church have become life-saving brothers and sisters, whom I would also gladly lay down my life or material resources for.
2. I have a non-destructive coping mechanism for life’s issues. Life, as I’m sure you’re all aware, can be unpleasant at times. While I can’t pretend that my problems aren’t serious, or that they are erased as if by magic after I pray and read my Bible, I DO gain from my faith a sense that life’s issues are temporary, and that regardless of the hardships I encounter, there is a greater good at work in my life which will come to fruition if I can just hang on a little longer.
3. I have a decision-making tool that allows me to approach any given situation in life with some measure of equilibrium. While one could argue that there are numerous situations in life that are not explicitly covered by Biblical text, the wisdom the Bible provides me informs every important decision I make in life. When faced with complex or difficult choices in life, I turn to prayer and Bible reading to glean some kind of insight which might shed light on my situation. When praying and waiting for God’s direction, I very often receive answers, sometimes from unexpected places. This brings me to number 4…
4. I see and experience amazing things all the time. I have seen people’s lives transformed. I’ve watched people overcome drug and alcohol addictions, I have seen medical healings that defied science and reason, and I have experienced what some would call “coincidences” that were so totally uncanny that they could only be described as either hilarious or terrifying. When faced with monumental decisions in life, I have sometimes prayed and received a timely word from a Christian friend who had no idea what I was considering, or on a couple occasions, even something as fortuitous as a Jones soda cap has given me the slightest nudge in the right direction after I’d been praying to God for weeks for guidance on a particular issue. God has unequivocally made himself known in some of my most dire situations in life, sometimes by means so subtle it’s almost imperceptible, at other times so obvious it defies any other explanation.
If you’re a non-Christian and still reading this, you are much braver than many of those I’ve talked to over the years. When I tell someone that the primary joys of my faith are the ability to hear from God, and to experience supernatural peace in spite of seemingly horrible circumstances, most non-Christians check out right then and there. I never even get a chance to talk about how I have experienced overwhelming grace and forgiveness as a result of confessing my worst sins and finding out that I’m loved not because of what I have or haven’t done, but simply because of who I am. A personal encounter with God is not something I can articulate in words, but I guarantee you that when you experience it, you will know. Even though I can’t tell you with words what my faith really means to me, the fact remains that I have to try. We all do.
When pastors talk of evangelism and everyone begins shifting uncomfortably in their seats, I’m forced to remind myself of a video that I’m about to share with you. First, some background: For those of you who haven’t seen the movie Schindler’s List, it’s about a German factory owner during World War II who used his factory and his status as a member of the Nazi party to save hundreds of Jews from being sent off to concentration camps. He hired Jewish families to work in his factory, and because he made materials that were crucial to the German war effort, his workers were protected from being rounded up and sent to their deaths. Schindler used every last dime from his factory business to continually smuggle Jews out of ghettos and give them jobs working for him. At the end of the film, he’s forced to flee as the Allied army approaches, and he leaves Germany broke and on the lam. The following scene takes place as he’s saying goodbye to his workers for the last time.
There are people whom we all interact with on a daily basis who are headed for an eternity which is worse than a Nazi concentration camp. My prayer for those of you who believe the truth of the Bible is that you will not come to the end of your life and say to yourself, as Schindler did, “I could have saved one more person!”
That is why we are called to share. That is why we are willing to have the awkward conversations with our friends and acquaintances, because if we truly believe that our faith is real, how could we hold back from trying to change even one more person’s life?