Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Politics of Proselytization

A good post over on the Christianity Today blog about proselytization from an evangelical perspective. Read both the Mouw and Guthrie pieces linked to get a sense of the variety of thinking about proselytizing among evangelicals.

I am one of those (I think) rare liberal Christians who believes strongly in evangelism. I think, as I said in my message today, that Jesus has something important to share with the world. There are people who are looking for what Jesus has to say; there are people looking for what Christian communities have to offer. I don't really understand the fear among liberals about evangelism. If we don't think our understanding of Jesus is worth sharing then what is good about the good news.

On the other hand I have no interest in trying to convert those who are convicted adherents to other religious expressions, be they Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or Atheist (and yes, Atheism is a faith expression). If people have found a spiritual path that works for them then that is o.k. with me. I am comfortable sharing with them my convictions and listening to them do the same.

But there are people who are looking for the Jesus I know. Some of them were once conservative Christians who can no longer believe the things they once believed about Jesus. Some are coming from no faith tradition but are looking for a spiritual community. Some are weary of the culture wars or the political wars and are looking for a way of peace, both inner and outer. I am more than happy to share with them what I know about Jesus. I am more than happy to help them find a non-threatening space where they can listen, learn, share, and figure things out for themselves.

I also think that one of the very best things about my anabaptist and COB heritage is the belief that the very best form of evangelism is service and the way we live our lives. If we concentrate on serving others and living our lives in a manner consistent with the way of Jesus, our lives will speak. Some will ask why it is we do what we do. Then we can talk about Jesus. There is absolutely no need to be spending time or money on foreign mission to convert the "heathen" Muslims or anyone else. It does far more harm than good.

About all of this I have very strong convictions. One of the weary mis-truths spouted by some conservatives is that liberals are "anything goes" people. It isn't true of any of the liberal Christians I know. It is true, however, that we often haven't done a very good job of thinking about why we might want to share our strong convictions in a way that is both respectful and engaging.

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