At our church meeting yesterday we watched a video clip from the organisation Evangelism Explosion about why many Christians don’t share their faith. I’ve been thinking about this over the last 24 hours and have a few thoughts. Here’s the video:
My first reaction is a cultural one, that it’s interesting how in American culture, stopping to think for 1-2 seconds before answering a (in this case very deep and complex) question is seen as a weakness and a sign that you have no idea of how to answer! The lack of room for pausing to think in a conversation is something that I think is even more extreme here than in the UK, and something I’m trying to adapt to!
But that’s not the main point of the video, which is that many Christians really struggle to share their faith. Why do you think that is?
I’ve been thinking (I’ve had 24 hours so far, which is a lot longer than those in the video…!) about how in our post-enlightenment culture faith has been relegated to the private or spiritual realm where it isn’t supposed to affect what happens in the everyday physical world (other than providing comfort and maybe hope for after we die). As a result in our churches we have emphasised the individual and personal relationship with God more than the call to live out his kingdom values in the physical world. This, combined with the Protestant emphasis on salvation by faith and not by good works, has led to faith having little influence on most of our lives, with the main external identifying mark of Christians in Western culture being that they “go to church”.
Our culture says that religion is private, and it is quite happy for us to be religious in our own private way. Christianity says no, following Jesus isn’t just a private thing, it’s for the whole world and everyone can have new life through believing in Jesus. The problem for Western Christians is often that with our words we are saying that Jesus is for everyone, for the whole of life and not just a private personal belief, but with our actions we are saying that actually for us Christianity is just a private thing, something we believe in church on a Sunday but doesn’t affect the way we use our time or our money or the relationships we invest in for the rest of the week.
The problem then comes when we try to witness in a world where genuineness and authenticity are increasingly valued, and hypocrisy is seen as the last major sin. I dare not witness to how God has turned the world upside-down and that his kingdom means release for the oppressed and a future and a hope for all people, because my life is communicating that the faith I’m sharing is just about me, God and maybe a private hope for when I die. I feel embarrassed to talk about God and the dynamic revolutionary truth of his good news, because it seems to make little difference in my life. Suddenly my witness has to be merely about personal faith and the private benefits of following Jesus.
This is in great contrast to Peter, Paul and Stephen in the book of Acts whose main focus in sharing with non-believers is not just on their private faith or their personal hope, but on what God has done, is doing and will do in the history of the world. When talking with Jews they recount God working through the history of Israel, with the death and resurrection of Jesus being the dramatic climax of the story, meaning that God was with his people. When talking with non-Jews they speak about how Jesus’ death and resurrection show that the God who created the whole world is more powerful than man-made idols, and that he is now with humanity and will put things right with the world through Jesus. They could boldly proclaim what God had done and what that meant, calling on people to turn to God, because their lives showed that they really believed it. They could speak of more than a private faith that helps them through life because their willingness to give up everything and die for the gospel was evidence that God really was bringing about a new kingdom that transformed every aspect of life in the present, with the sure hope in the future of resurrection as part of the new creation for all who believe in him.
Maybe if I tried to do what I could to support people living in poverty, if I spent my money based on the needs of others rather than my own desires, if I cared enough to stop and talk with the homeless people on the side of the road, if I looked after God’s good creation and worked to preserve it, maybe then I might feel more able to tell about the God who created the world, who gave everything up for his people, and who more than anything wants us to know and love him.
Why do I struggle to share my faith? In one sense I am always sharing my faith, witnessing to what I really believe (or don’t believe) by the life that I live and the priorities that I have. I think I’ll always find it difficult to talk about God redeeming, renewing and transforming the world, making a way for all people to know and love him, if I don’t believe it enough to make a real difference in my life.
I think that’s how I would have answered the question, if the interviewer had allowed me 24 hours to think about it…! What about you?