If the Christians don’t have a reason for taking Christianity seriously, do non-Christians? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
I’ve been writing this week about reaching the youth and making the case that youth need a reason to be Christian. At this point, it’s mainly been asking how can we keep those that are in the fold, inside the fold? While we want to keep them in, we must remember that Christianity is an evangelistic faith and we also want to get others to come inside and trust in Christ.
Now we have a problem. If we can’t give our youth a good reason to come to investigate Christianity, why on Earth should we expect that their non-Christian peers would do the same thing? If we’re wanting to draw others in to a church service, how will we do it by giving them what they can get elsewhere? How will we also do it if we tell them that they can’t get any more what they get elsewhere?
Let’s consider some aspects of what we’re telling a young person to believe if they believe in Christianity and some things we’re telling them to do as well.
We’re telling them to believe in miracles, what their friends would call “superstition.”
We’re telling them to “trust an ancient book.”
We’re telling them that it is important to be a good person.
We’re telling them that a man rose from the dead years ago.
We’re telling them that some behaviors are wrong and being a Christian means that they will say so. This will include behaviors deemed acceptable today such as sexual behaviors including homosexuality and pre-marital sex.
We’re in turn also telling them that they are to abstain from such behaviors which would mean taking the stance of chastity until marriage and if they’re virgins now, keeping that virginity until marriage.
We’re telling them to give up Sunday mornings and Sunday nights and quite possibly Wednesday nights.
We’re telling them to be honorable in their studies at school and avoid shortcuts like cheating.
We’re telling them that they could have limitations on not listening to the same music or watching the same TV shows or movies that their peers are enjoying.
Ultimately, we’re telling them to die to themselves and realize that they are not #1.
Now on the face of it, if you were told you had to do all of those things, you would want some serious reason to do them all. You don’t want to do that kind of activity just because someone tells you to do so, especially if you’re a young person who is probably more than happy to rebel against authority.
This is hard enough to do if you’re a Christian. How much harder will it be if you’re a non-Christian?
So what are we going to do to get them interested?
Some have said we need to change the system. We need to make Christianity relevant. These are the ones that constantly say we have to adapt to the culture.
Now in some ways, it’s fine to adapt. Most of us would not have a huge problem with using a powerpoint presentation. We all use the internet today in our evangelistic efforts and use cell phones, drive to churches with air conditioning, etc.
What do we not change? We don’t change our principles. We don’t change our claims. We don’t change our morality. Those have to stay the same. We can change how we present them, but we dare not tone down on Christianity. Keep in mind the early church did not do that. They came out with the most controversial message of all that went totally against their society, and they ended up conquering the Roman Empire in a few centuries on the weight of the message.
Still, this doesn’t say how we’re going to get non-Christian youth investigating Christianity. Here are my suggestions.
First, let the youth do the work. Our young people in the church have the potential to be evangelistic. They just need to have the tools so that they can do the job. Right now, Christian youth are on the defensive. The opposite worldview is assumed to be true and the Christians always have the burden. Let’s change that. Let’s have it that the other side is on the defensive. In saying this, I’m not saying Christians have no burden to prove their claims. They do. The reality is anyone who is making any claim has a burden to demonstrate that claim.
When we do this, then the non-Christians will want to avoid looking like the fool in the eyes of their peers. Consider the way it is with a bully. Suppose there’s someone in the school who has a following because he’s supposedly the toughest guy around and he gets his way by force. Then in comes a white knight figure who happens to be a black belt and catches said bully picking on someone who can’t defend themselves. Our white knight steps in and before too long, everyone knows this bully is no longer the toughest guy around. Which way does the respect go now?
Now suppose in another case that there is an atheist at the school who is known for embarrassing Christians. He’s the one that makes none of the Christians want to share their faith because word will get around to him and he’ll come and embarrass them with his questions. This time, our white knight is equipped with apologetics and sound scholarship. Off our hero goes sharing his faith and here comes the atheist to put him in his place, as has always happened.
Except this time it doesn’t! Our hero knows enough about the faith that our atheist is left stammering for answers and not knowing what to say. This also with all of his entourage watching. In fact, before too long, the Christians in the school are watching also. What are they learning? The dog is all bark and no bite. They are also getting the idea of “I want to be able to do that!” If they do indeed decide to go and learn like that, then they are the next white knights. This presents a problem for the atheist community at the school.
What do they do? Well they have to study! They have no choice! They’ve already been humiliated so they have to be prepared for next time. What happens if they consistently keep losing because our Christians keep studying and learning more and more? Here are some options.
They will just simply be quiet. This is a fine option to have as a result. The Christians are free to evangelize and the non-Christians say nothing. Their silence is a testimony to the ability of the Christians to speak intellectually, just as our silence is a testimony to the atheists of our inability to speak intellectually when not equipped.
The other option is that they will become Christians themselves. Now this could in many ways be the least likely, but if they’re really honest investigators, then we can expect that they will study the claims and find that it is indeed the case that Jesus rose from the dead and our Sauls will become Pauls.
Second suggestion. Hold debates at churches and other Christian groups. Lee Strobel has talked about the time a debate was arranged between William Lane Craig and Frank Zindler at Willow Creek Community Church. What was the result? This huge megachurch was packed. Traffic had to be directed and there were jams within about a mile radius of the church. People were rushing to get into the church. (As Strobel says, when was the last time you saw people running into a church?) Radio stations across the country were carrying the debate live. Some stations even had commentators! (The atheist just delivers a jab and the Christian counters with an uppercut!)
Do you think that got people talking? Do you think that got people curious? Note that some people came to the meeting that night atheists and left Christians. Atheist readers might be thinking they weren’t true atheists to begin with. Let’s keep this in mind. Atheists came to church! Atheists were interested in a debate on Christianity.
And if you think atheists aren’t interested in this, what are you doing on the internet exactly that you’re missing this?
Most churches can’t afford to have Bill Craig and Frank Zindler come to debate and most might not have the room, but they do have room for some debates. I am quite sure wherever you live, there is an atheist. (I am unfortunately not as sure that there is a Christian apologist.) If you have an apologist in the area and they’re willing, let there be a local debate. Announce to the populace that in the future, there will be a debate on atheism vs. Christianity and set a date and get the word out. Have it be on a time when more people are prone to come and watch what happens.
Rest assured, you will get people talking. Local papers will often include stories about this in their news in the area and if that’s online, there will also be comments discussing the debate. In these cases, it forces people to interact with Christianity.
Third, teach controversial classes. Let it be known to non-Christians that you’ll be teaching on topics that will be controversial and inviting non-Christians to come and give their challenges. Have a class on homosexual behavior. Have a class on why Jesus it he only way. Have a class discussing the problems of the new atheism. Have a class showing why Bart Ehrman is wrong on the Bible. Have a class showing why Mormonism is a cult.
Look at it this way. If you were a non-Christian, would you be interested in hearing that you were being invited to “Bible Study.” I don’t think so. After all, consider these options. “I can either go out with my girlfriend on Wednesday night where I have a good chance of getting laid, or I can go to Bible Study. Which one will I choose?”
If you were a non-Christian, which would you choose? The choice is obvious. (Considering how many Bible Studies go today, some Christians might want to spend the night with the girlfriend at the movies instead even if they had no intentions of having sex. After all, how many times do you hear about people really enjoying going to church?)
This is also why pastors need to talk on controversial topics. Your congregation has heard several times about being a good people. Christians are to be good people, but Christianity is not about ethics alone. It’s a claim that Jesus is the king of this world.
With that claim comes ramifications. Let’s consider them for young people. Jesus is Lord. What does that say about what someone can do with their boyfriend or girlfriend? Jesus is Lord. What does that say about how one should study for a test? Jesus is Lord. What does that say about the music you listen to and the movies and TV shows you watch? Jesus is Lord. What does that say about applying for a college or choosing a career?
Adults in the congregation have issues too! Jesus is Lord. What does that say about how I am to treat my spouse? Jesus is Lord. What does that say about what I do with my finances? Jesus is Lord. What does that say about the kind of employee I am. Jesus is Lord. What does that say about how I raise my children?
Then are the moral issues. What does that say about how I vote? What does that say about my view on the unborn? What does that say about the question of homosexual behavior? What does that say about how one handles the environmental movement today? What does that say about how one handles the question of war today? What does that say about economic policy?
Recently at our own church, shortly after DOMA, we went to the service and our pastor suddenly started talking about our national conscience and what it means when a nation forgets God. He never mentioned DOMA directly that I recall, but the message surely had that in the background. I can assure you it was a message that I was sitting up and taking notice of. Normally when I hear a message in a church it’s “Been there. Done that.” Before too long, I’m more interested in thinking about the book I’m reading or a game I can play when I get home or what I’ll be having for lunch. After hearing this message, I was greatly desirous to see what would be said in part two of the sermon next week.
I strongly suspect I was not alone.
Preachers. Please. Give your congregation something that they are not used to hearing. Don’t give them just the talk about how to be a good person. That’s application only. Give them the theology behind it. Give your church real doctrine. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. Doctrine is not the enemy. If we don’t have doctrine, we don’t have anything to preach! We have to give some message out there after all.
If you say “Well I might drive some people away” then keep in mind so did Jesus. Who did He drive away? Those who weren’t ready to make a real commitment. Who were left behind? Those who were. If you preach these kinds of messages, who will be left behind? Those ready to make a real commitment and with that real commitment will come real action.
I would rather have 10 people who were really committed than to have 1,000 who were so-so.
We won’t get people interested until we change the tide, and the tide won’t change naturally. It will require that we act. It will require that we step outside of our comfort zone. Christianity shouldn’t make us comfortable anyway. We’re talking about the rule of God over us all. This is the rule of God that confronts us all in our sinful natures. God coming and making a claim on our lives ought to make us all uncomfortable, Christian or not Christian. As a Christian, I certainly don’t get comfort at the thought that I have to go through a molding process to be who I need to be. That’s painful to have to look at myself and see sinful tendencies that I need to have eliminated. I’m glad for the end result, but the process is not enjoyable! A wife can look forward to having a baby of her own, but the process of giving birth to that new life is not one she looks forward to with pleasure.
We must remember that we are in a war and it is one we cannot afford to lose. What is the price? Mothers and fathers. I want you to hear these words. The stakes in this game are your children. If you were playing a poker game, before you decided you’d go all in, you’d want to make sure you had a winning hand. You don’t want to bet everything on a bad hand.
What are you willing to bet your own children on?
And if you’re not a parent, perhaps even staying single, what will you bet the future of your world on? What will you bet your friends’ children on? What will you bet your own life on? Do you want it to be what you get in the churches now, or do you want it to be a robust faith with strong intellectual defenses? Do you want to wager your money in a fight on a black belt or a white belt who has really strong passion?
You know the answer to that.
Act accordingly. This game has no reset button.