A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant when two guys told me they were in town for an evangelism conference. They told me they were there because there was a world-renowned evangelist who was sharing his resources on how to convert others and start salvation revivals. They left the restaurant, and then came back. When they returned, they came up to me and told me they had a “word” from the Lord. They said that because Minneapolis has such a high homosexual population, that I was going to be a resource of God’s wrath for those homosexuals who didn’t repent and convert to Christianity. Who does that?
I believe in a personal conversion experience. I believe there was a moment in which I was saved. I believe in these things so much, that I believe that I need them every day. When I look at Jesus, he would tell people that their faith had saved them. I think there is eternal salvation, but this doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is talking about. Jewish culture believed in a communal salvation. When we read Paul talk about salvation in Romans, it’s always those who are being saved (implying continual salvation). This is why every single day, I need God to convert me to be more like him. Everyday, I need God to save me from my personality flaws, my dehumanizing habits, and save me from how I hurt the world. I believe that people who need to convert others, like the guys I met a few weeks ago, are themselves the least converted. When I look at the people who are most effective in their working with God to bring new life to others, they themselves are able to do it, not because they have the right words or formulas, but because they have so much life. They change others, because they themselves have been changed. I believe that transformed people transform people. They are their message.
Miroslav Volf wrote these rules for converting others in his book Allah:
1. Witness to others only if you are prepared to let them witness to you.
2. Witness to others in the way you think others should witness to you.
To Flesh these out Volf says we submit to the following:
1. It is wrong to coerce others to accept faith; the recipients have to be able to receive or reject faith in freedom, rather than be forced to cave in under the pressure of a superior power.
2. It is wrong to bribe or seduce others to embrace faith; the faith has to be offered as valuable and attractive in itself, rather than on the account of its “packaging” or the extrinsic rewards associated with it (money or status).
3. It is wrong to compare the best practices of one’s own faith with the worst of the other faith.
There is a certain narcissism when we tell others that they have to convert to not only our religion, but our way of our religion. Like the guys I met, this isn’t the first time that I met Evangelicals who have done things like this (though most I know wouldn’t do this). However, this requires a radical humility and generosity. This means we can’t scare people into heaven with the threat of hell. Being a Christian isn’t about us getting people saved (only God can do that) but us being present to the reconciling work of God. This is the work of loving and serving our neighbors. This work, works towards peace, justice, and hope. This was the life of Jesus. Are we trying to get people into heaven, or heaven into people? As Gandhi famously said, “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” I don’t think converting to Christianity would be a struggle for the world if the Church looked like Christ.