Don’t worry. This one is approved for all audiences.
Over my winter break (yes, I’m thirty-six and still have such things–though I do work full-time during them) I have been renewing my Certified Flight Instructor license via online testing. Truth be told, I haven’t flown in six years, but as I watch H- get older I am pretty sure that she will be my next student. So I keep my license in the event that, as ol’ Leo noted, “For once you have tasted flight…there you will long to return.” Plus, what kind of schmuck would I be for not teaching my daughter how to fly? Anyhow, that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to demonstrate how to use a current and trending event as the launching point for spreading the Gospel.
Current Event: Oprah seems to have reached a tipping point in her life. Will she run for president of the United States of America?
Launching point: Critics of Oprah have already pointed out that she is just a greedy celebrity, categorically the same as President Trump. One piece of evidence the critics cite is her recommendation and belief in the tactics of the best-seller The Secret, those tactics being positive thinking–often in opposition to medical science and other fruits of western civilization. Positive thinking, of course, is to the gracious non-believer exactly and only all that Christianity ever could be.
Spread the Gospel: Explore this Christianity-is-just-positive-thinking-like-The-Secret-and-therefore-unbelievable-too notion with the non-believer using James’ words. Here’s an example discussion.
Christian: So you don’t think positive thinking is the end-all-be-all, then?
Non-believer: Of course it isn’t. Go to the doctor if you’re sick for crying out loud.
Christian: You do know that Christianity does not believe in merely positive thinking, right?
Non-believer: Well, I know that there isn’t a god–no offense–and so all your praying and hoping is just helping you stay positive in this sometimes depressing life.
Christian: None taken. Here’s where I would like to have a moment to clarify something. Can I clarify something?
Christian: I don’t know your thoughts. And neither does the Bible tell me that I do. And vice-versa. We can’t read minds-
Christian: -but we can hear what each other says.
(Here’s the key move)
Christian: So this discussion isn’t really about positive thinking, is it?
Non-believer: I guess not.
Christian: To further evidence this, it was you, not me, who actually mentioned prayer first.
Non-believer: Ya got me. So what?
Christian: The question, then, at least in your mind–I know what I believe–is whether or not prayer is real. I’m not suggesting that I believe you or anyone else lies awake at night wondering this or even actively thinks about it often at all, but, at this moment, what appeared to be a question of positive thinking was actually a question of talking, a question of our tongue’s power. Agree?
Non-believer: I’m a bit lost and am not sure how to feel about how Oprah’s speech took us here, but yes, this is where we are.
Christian: We don’t have to keep talking about this. It’s heady and a bit deep, and I know you’re busy. Do you want to switch subjects?
Non-believer: No, I’ll hear you out.
Christian: Okay. You know and I know, basically everyone knows that human history includes this notion of praying, of talking, to beings that are not necessarily immediately in our presence or even claimed to be visible at all.
Non-believer: Sure. People used to believe and do a lot of other silly things too.
Christian: Some still do–like me–though I wouldn’t call it silly.
Christian: What I want to ask is, “Why don’t you think the tongue is powerful?”
Non-believer: I never said the tongue isn’t powerful?
Christian: You didn’t?
Christian: It’s okay. We’re talking about powerful things right now.
Non-believer: I didn’t say the tongue isn’t powerful.
Christian: Two thousand years ago Jesus’ brother James’ audience–if we can use James’ words to evidence his audience’s struggle–James’ audience seemed to think that since the tongue is so small it surely couldn’t be powerful. Unlike those primitive people, two thousand years later folks like you and me commonly say, “Ant’s are able to lift many, many times their own body weight,” alongside many other claims which scientific study has validated over time. So to us, it’s not even a question if small things are powerful. But then to James–not his audience–it wasn’t either. His claim was that the tongue was powerful, not that small things were powerful. He had no more trouble persuading his audience that small things were powerful than we have today. He simply said, “Look at the rudder on a ship if you’re unconvinced.” (Sidebar: If you’re waiting for the connection to the opening flying talk, planes have rudders. 🙂 )
Christian: Maybe now you can see why Jesus doesn’t seem to have written anything down.
Christian: Christianity is a big boys game. It couldn’t be any other way. Our tongues matter. You know this, I know this. What we say matters. So now, and you don’t have to answer me this instant, I want to ask you another question.
Non-believer: What’s that?
Christian: It’s the same question Jesus asked long ago. Before his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus was teaching about the so-called “Son of Man” and his listeners were offering various names as to who the different and competing groups of the time suspected this person to be. As the answers came in, none of the answers were “Jesus” or “you.” Then Jesus narrows his question and says, ‘Who do you say that I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” To which Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” So I’m asking you, out loud, with my tongue, “Who do you say Jesus was?”
Non-believer: (Go. Find out for yourself what he or she says. Their answer may surprise you.)
When I was at the school house for my MH-53 Pavelow training, there was a moment when a young flight-engineer-in-training was lacking confidence and as such his performance was suffering. The instructor–knowing full well both that these moments are pivotal in men’s careers and that he has the responsibility to keep unsafe and unqualified aircrew out of the aircraft–broke down the situation simply. He told the young man, “Confidence is the direct result of knowledge. You need more knowledge. You need to study more.”
There is a fairly low-flying film called The Legend of 1900. It is a story about a virtuoso pianist who was born on and never leaves a ship that crosses the Atlantic Ocean back and forth repeatedly. There is a scene at the end of the movie where a passenger tells the virtuoso about a time when he looked out at the sea from land and heard the sea say, “Life. Life is immense.”
A friend asked if I could explain why Christians are having a hard time being brave enough to tell others that they are Christians. By my thinking there are a few reasons. First, it is very possible that some Christians are honestly unsure if they are Christians. The result being that they aren’t ready to broadcast their beliefs because they know they can’t defend them–and we all know that they will be asked to defend them. Second, some Christians know that they’re Christians without a doubt. But their life circumstances have led to them also not being confident or in the mood to defend their beliefs. Add to this that a result of unbelief is the belief that Christians are fools. The Apostle Paul mentions this. Naturally, nobody wants to be called a fool and then appear to be one when they can’t defend why they are not foolish at all. Third, Christianity is immense. It is practiced the world over and with great diversity outside of a few central tenets. I have grown up in the religion since kindergarten at a private christian school and even I didn’t learn this until last semester during a master’s program. I’m well-read for a lay-person, if that. I’m comfortable in public as a Christian because it takes about two topics for the average person to concede that their diet consists of hours of daily television brainwashing and mine doesn’t. When I talk to a Christian with a healthy diet of television, I become uncomfortable and I’ve seen that consequently make them uncomfortable. I’m sure the same is true for when they realize that their brainwashed-by-television self isn’t much different than the non-christian brainwashed-by-television self that questions their beliefs.
In my apologetics class the other day I asked if the professor had any evidence of certain settings being more favorable to winning converts. (He didn’t.) But then my mind started racing. There we were, about 30ish students and the professor. We’re all academically strong individuals. And we’re motivated. Additionally, we know that manipulation and real-deal cults that brainwash folks into membership exist. Yet we wouldn’t employ those tactics to increase membership–far from it. All we’re asking for non-believers to do is consider it–simply consider it. For example, during my undergraduate program the value of being able to argue from both sides of an issue was instilled in me. There are very few non-believers who are able to even defend Christianity for the sake of argument. The reason they should want to is simply Pascal’s wager. What exactly is lost for test-driving Christianity? Friends? They aren’t your friends if they’d un-friend you for believing–and visa-versa. Family? Money? There are plenty of wealthy believers. Time? What? Independence? Enslavement to sin?
Christian confidence, just like any other confidence, begins and ends with knowledge. It always has and always will.
My daughter’s school, and many others in town it seems, just formally celebrated completing 100 days of school as if America is a third-world country that is excited to finally have formal education. When I picked her up she had a sticker on that said, “I have completed 100 Days of School!” With such an upside-down public education system, it’s surprising that there are any Christians left in America.
For those rusty on theological terms, when Christians use the word apologetics, they intend to communicate its root sense which is “to defend”, not in our common sense of admitting fault. Be that as it may, my question to any readers with time and energy is, “What is a Christian?”
In other words, (and I asked this in class just now) “What does conversion look like? How can I measure whether I have defended Christianity? What am I selling? What are people rejecting or ignoring?”