I wrote about evangelism in my last post, and I want to continue the discussion today. At this point in history, living as we do in a post-Christian culture, we must understand that we enter into most evangelistic conversations with a deficit. Certainly most people will not have a positive view of Christianity (and even less so of Christians), but fewer and fewer will even have a neutral view. We are starting in a hole, I am sorry to say. We will be called to account for the actions of some who profess Christ (whether truly saved or not), political views we may or may not hold, and what many will consider to be regressive, bigoted, and intolerant beliefs. (Thank God the Spirit changes hearts, because otherwise it would be a hopeless and fruitless endeavor!)
So what can we do? What steps would wisdom have us take to narrow the deficit? Here are a few brief and under-formulated thoughts.
- Watch your tone. Quite frankly, many Christians today engage in tone-deaf evangelism, which closes doors that otherwise might remain open. How do we think the conversation will go when we barrel in with exclamations of righteousness and judgment to someone who already views Christians as hateful and homophobic? The conversation is over before it began, and this person has had no opportunity to learn of God’s love and beauty (and now cares even less about his holiness!).
- Ask more questions. We need to ask more questions for two reasons. First, it disarms our interlocutor. It shows that we’re willing to engage in dialogues instead of diatribes. Second, it allows us to know where the other person is. This is important because, unfortunately, most of our evangelistic “pitches” answer questions that no one is asking anymore. As a fine example, because no one feels guilty for breaking God’s moral law anymore, no one cares how Christ can remove that guilt. That’s not the right place to start!
- Say you’re sorry. This might be a hard one for some of us, because we’d rather be right than righteous, but I think it is absolutely necessary. The church has behaved abominably in many ways. Our culture knows that. It costs us nothing to acknowledge it honestly. (We’re all sinners, after all.) We may not be able to own wrongdoing personally when speaking of, say, Ravi Zacharias’ horrific crimes, but we can express sorrow and regret to someone who is rightly horrified by them. Why wouldn’t we say, “I’m just so sorry that we have often not lived up to the standard Jesus set for us, and have given ourselves to evil instead of good”? That simple statement just may soften an otherwise hard heart in God’s wondrous providence and grace. I can recall hearing a story of an American evangelist speaking to a man from Germany who had lived through the bombing of Dresden. Although he wasn’t even alive at the time, he said, “Has anyone ever apologized for that? If not, I just want you to know how sorry I am that you had to suffer that injustice.” The apology opened the door to a fruitful conversation about the things that matter most.