Converting Non-Christians

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend of mine who was not a Christian and it went like this:

“Hey dude, how’s our friendship going?”

“fine….. why?)

“Good. Well have I told you about the good news of Jesus Christ?”

(friend rolls eyes)

“You see…. I love you too much to much to watch you rot in hell for eternity because you went to second base with your girlfriend in junior high. Listen nobody is perfect….. especially you. God can still save you.”

(laughs) “You’re a dick.”

I love my friends. I have Christian ones. Non-Christian ones. Gay ones, straight ones. Black ones, white ones. I’m friends with humans, I’m friends with dogs. I love my friends. I also love Jesus more and what I love about Jesus is how he treats human beings.

About a year ago I was sitting at a Barnes and Noble reading a book. A guy with a Bible in his hand came up and started talking to me. He asked me about a book I was reading and told him it was a Philosophical book on the problems of evil and justice. He asked me if I believed in God, so I said with a condescending smile “no.” After asking me why not, I continued my web of lies saying I grew up a Christian and renounced God and religion on the count of logic. I said religion and God is a fabricated belief system that human beings give to themselves to give their life meaning and purpose. I told him I studied theology and found that God was merely a system of the mind, with no real existential value. The guy stood up and replied “unless you repent of your sins and re-find your faith in God, you’re going to burn in hell.” I remember sitting there thinking “Wow, that guy did not care about me, my story or anything I had to say.” This was not my experience of Jesus.

The woman caught in adultery is a famous story in the Bible. The Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus. The Pharisees, trying to trap Jesus asked him what to do with her. In his typical brilliant way Jesus said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” After the Pharisees had left, Jesus stood up and asked her “Where are they? Has anyone condemned you?” She says no. Then Jesus says “neither do I. Leave your life of sin.”

Richard Rohr commentates on this passage wonderfully when he makes this observation:

“the woman caught in adultery is a good example of Jesus giving people the “gift of guilt.” He said two things to her: “I do not condemn you” (shame is not the answer) and “Go and sin no more” (take ownership of yourself and then you can change).”

It seems to me and my own experiences, that evangelism or inter-faith dialogue is so often filled with shame. We Christians want to maintain hierarchy over others. We make statements that give us the power. I’m going to heaven. You’re going to hell. I am right. You’re wrong. Rather, if we treat each other like human beings, like Jesus did, we don’t need to play those shame games. We don’t need to make people feel inadequate, less than human (shame).

Donald Miller makes a brilliant human observation when he says this “”Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself.” Sometimes, people need to watch us love God before they can love God. Sometimes, people need to watch us love them, before they can love themselves. Before they can let God love them. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The spirit that causes renewal, rebirth. Rebirth and renewal will never be found in shame. It will be found in letting God love them and taking responsibility for their own lives. This is our job as Christians. To love others and serve others. If we love others and are there to help them take that responsibility, this is true evangelism.

Are we there to love them without an agenda?

Are we there to help them observe their pain?

Are we there to help them carry the burden of that responsibility?

I haven’t lead anyone into “the sinners:” prayer in a long time but I know that antagonizing others for not being “one of us” isn’t revealing the kingdom to anyone.

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8 thoughts on “Converting Non-Christians

  1. Carmel says:

    Mike: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you… for putting into words what I feel in my heart nearly everytime I’m sitting in a bible class or other ‘Christian’ setting and the subject of saving souls comes up.
    “We make statements that give us the power. I’m going to heaven. You’re going to hell. I am right. You’re wrong. Rather, if we treat each other like human beings, like Jesus did…” shows a divine love that only the Holy Spirit can move through. ~ blessings!

  2. right on, man. love it.
    but what is the place of educating yourself, so if you’re talking about God, and they have the same ideas about God being a system and so on, that you have something to say? should we just love them, or how do apologetics/preparation/education fit in? I guess it depends on the circumstance. Showing God’s love and grace needs to come first.

  3. delhiboy says:

    Yes. I have had many conversations with ‘messengers’ who have told me where I am going to end up if I don’t accept a savior. So, this is very candid, honest and refreshing commentary. Thank you.

    My take –

    If you think I am lost in the dark (an approach taken by many evangelists), and you point your flashlight ‘in my face’, I will just close my eyes instinctively and look away.

  4. adam says:

    Why bring up Heaven and Hell at all?

  5. John R says:

    Great post, I had a similar experience in a Dunn Brothers a while back and was dealt with a similar way. I’m still baffled by the lack of love and compassion, and abundance of fear and shame when our conflicting views were discovered.
    Wonderful quote – “Rebirth and renewal will never be found in shame. It will be found in letting God love them and taking responsibility for their own lives. This is our job as Christians.” You better be making this stuff into a book!

  6. Gavin P says:

    There are a lot of Christians out there that preach the word of God but don’t live it. It is refreshing to see you Mike be the light onto the world. Your are living through Jesus while others are living through the Bible.

    It is people like you Mike and John Shelby Spong, N T Wright, among others that help keep Jesus close to me. The God I was taught as a youngster teared my up inside. I thought I was walking on eggshells with God and Jesus. I remember pleading to God for answers most nights in high school receiving no responses at all. So I said F it I’m outta here if your not going to speak to me (I had answers that I needed answers to).

    So I went on a spiritual journey after high school to find God and what a wonderful journey it was. Seeing God from many perspectives. It was a 15 year journey (I will not ramble on about here) but finally ending up as a Zen practitioner. A few years back it accrued to me, 15 years ago God did answer my pray, God allowed me to go out and find God myself instead of somebody telling me who God was. God spoke to my heart, it was not as if I were picking and choosing what to let in. No, it was opening my heart and allowing God in.

    I was born into a Christian community, my circle of influence was Christian and nothing more. When Christianity the only thing I knew was not working God open the door to other possibilities.

    I now walk with Jesus everyday….

    This is my Gatha on ‘Converting Non-Christians’

    To hell they are
    Heaven is for us
    In the end
    East meets west
    The beginning is found
    A tree is still green
    In heaven or hell

    Reading your blogs Mike and seeing everybody’s responses to them is delightful… you are all Buddha’s to be….

  7. Wendy Fehr says:

    C.S. Lewis said something to the effect that, in every interaction we have with another person, we are either helping that person move toward heaven or helping them move toward hell. I think the only way we can move people toward heaven is to meet them where they are at – essentially bring Christ to where they are. In my life, it wasn’t regarding an issue of faith per se, but I did see God send someone to reach me where I was – it was the only solution that would have worked. I’ve told the story about that time in my life in the hopes of reaching others where they are at.

  8. David says:

    Good topic, Mike. I believe the gentleman who accosted you believed very much in the “rightness” of what he was doing. First-Half of life thinkers are more comfortable making judgments and applying those judgments to others, rather than building their own relationship with God. I remember a time in the not-so-distant past when I would have done something like our would-be-converter, and usually with negative results. Reading the gospels, it seems many of the folks Jesus testifies to, come up to him rather than vice-versa. In a sense reacting (either positively or negatively) to his beautifully-lived life. In my own struggles with (introverted) evangelism, I’ve tended to rely on developing relationships and seeing where the Spirit leads me. It may seem slower to my ego, but I’ve found that anything my ego whines about it usually a good thing.

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