It has been my privilege to address college students all over the world, usually as one defending the Christian worldview. These events typically attract large numbers of atheists. I like that. I find talking to people who disagree with me much more stimulating than those gatherings that feel a bit too much like a political party convention…
… Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it…
… Christians must be willing to listen to other perspectives while testing their own beliefs against them — above all, as the apostle Peter tells us, “with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
These are excerpts from Larry Alex Taunton’s article in The Atlantic last week, ‘Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity.‘
I’m dedicating it to all Christians (especially Ghanaian ones) who fail to engage with people who hold different beliefs than them in the name of not being ‘unevenly yoked’. I encourage you to read this article, think about it, read it again, share it with your friends and then actually start engaging with non-Christians the way that you are supposed to.
Question: when is the last time you engaged with non-believers at all, much less with “with gentleness and respect”?
I ask because I encounter too many (young) Ghanaian Christians who either:
a. Do not associate themselves at all with ‘sinners’ but rather mingle only with fellow Christians.
This really makes no sense to me. Jesus didn’t say anything about preaching to the converted. The article has this brilliant quote about how much you must hate someone if you think they are doomed to hell but you keep the message to yourself.
I actually heard an argument from one such Christian recently in which he criticized another Christian for ministering to prostitutes. This struck me as weird, seeing as Jesus himself rolled with prostitutes… and – for that matter – with all other manner of people deemed outcasts by society at the time (lepers and gentiles, for example). He did not roll with the holy people of his time: the Pharisees and Saducees that some Ghanaian Christians so easily vilify, casting the first stone without first looking at the log in their own eye.
Who are Ghana’s social outcasts today? People who are mentally-ill, homosexual, atheists, prostitutes… These are the people that Jesus would be engaging with if he was in Ghana today. He wouldn’t be up in church, giving sermons, preaching to the already-converted.
If Jesus not only rolled with but attracted social outcasts, then I don’t understand what your problem is.
Don’t presume: engage. Get to know why people believe what they believe. Don’t just assume they are lost, worldly souls. By the measure of your own faith, such thinking isn’t even Christian.
In my experience, however stupid someone’s actions may seem, it is always smart to assume that that person is not stupid but is doing what they do for some reason that seems logical to them. Working on that assumption, I work my way backwards and try to think what would compel me to think, say or do whatever it is that that person is thinking, saying or doing.
To my mind, that is what it means not to judge, and I honestly think that if more of us (Christian or not) tried it, Ghanaians would understand each other better and treat each other better. On the other hand, if you are treating people with intolerance and judgment – making them feel persecuted, silenced and judged by everyone around them – then you are creating what is ultimately a non-Christian society that does not reflect the principles of Love upon which the faith (especially The New Testament) is supposedly founded.
The other thing young Ghanaian Christians do (linked to all the above) is…
b. Try engaging with non-Christians, but with a sense of judgment.
My thoughts on this particular type of Christian are already well-documented.
I’m neither Christian nor Atheist, but I live in a country in which Christianity (and Christian culture) is regularly forced down my throat by people who ironically seem to think that they are the ones under attack. I think they believe this is because they have blindly imbibed the perspective of Christians in the West, where Christianity is under attack.
Ghanaian Christians don’t know how good they have it. Over here, Christians ‘run tings’. In fact, they run everything.
You live in a country where there is little separation between church and State. No self-proclaimed atheist could ever run for Presidency here. Rather, our late President proudly described himself as a Christian and sought counsel from a Nigerian pastor. Pastors here have more posters than musicians and film stars combined. Religious issues become national issues here (and vice versa). You don’t need TV channels dedicated to Christian content, because half the content on national television is Christian content (especially on the national channel: GTV). Regular shops and stalls are named things like ‘My Redeemer Liveth Hair Salon’…
Don’t talk to me about being under attack from ‘the forces of secularism’. The forces of Christianity here are just as strong, if not stronger.
My point is that, if you are going to try and spread the Good News (and your faith dictates that you should), do so not only by understanding and grappling with your own faith (which is harder than some of you seem to think), but also by at least attempting to understand and grapple with other people’s ideas, faith and beliefs.
I have a vested interest in raising the standard of Christian attempts at conversion. Not only will it make my life easier, but it is actually fun and informative engaging with people who do not speak to you like you are somehow mildly slow.
If I am going to be forced to engage with Christianity on an almost day-to-day basis, I would prefer to be engaged by Christians who know what they are talking about, rather than by automatons who simply regurgitate Bible quotes without putting them in context; without being able to comprehend the idea that not everyone considers the Bible the absolute truth; or without – at the very least – knowing as much about their own faith as an infidel like me.
Please read that article, people. It will help.