This past week I’ve been listening to an excellent sermon series by Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta. The series is entitled “It’s Personal,” and in it he makes the case for why people should become Christians. In typical Andy Stanley fashion, he approaches the topic from a completely fresh perspective, and I want to share one particularly challenging illustration with you here.
Stanley began by explaining that if you ask an adult why they’re not a Christian, they’ll give you a lot of reasons, some being philosophical and others being more experiential. Generally the reasons are good ones that we should take seriously, but here’s the catch–If you can explain away all your friend’s obstacles to Christianity, they still won’t become a Christian. Or at the very least, it’s unlikely.
In his experience, Stanley found that most adults don’t become Christians by working through their objections. As long as Christianity remains an intellectual category, it will never be compelling enough to surrender their lives to.
To explain what he meant, Stanley used the illustration of marriage. Consider a single man who has a bunch of reasons for not getting married: It’s too expensive, it’s not a good time, what about all the other women he’ll miss out on dating, and look at how bad other marriages are today–why would he want that?
Then one day, this single man who is set in his single ways meets the woman of his dreams, and wouldn’t you know it? He wants to marry her! What happened to all of those obstacles? Does he suddenly have more money than before? No. Is he afraid of missing out on other women? Maybe a little, but not enough to let this one go. What about the other bad marriages he’s seen? He’s determined to make this work–it’s WORTH IT.
You see, it’s not that he worked through the obstacles. They simply became less important in the face of this new relationship. That doesn’t mean that the objections were not important ones and that they no longer matter. The single man who decides to get married must still be financially responsible, and he should still guard against the pitfalls that have ruined marriages around him. But those roadblocks have only become important considerations, not large enough to prevent him from moving forward.
And that’s how it is with God. Adults who become Christians don’t necessarily work through all of their objections–they simply meet Jesus, and suddenly their objections become less important. And like the single man who decides to marry, adult Christians don’t ignore the objections that plagued them for so long. They carry their doubts and concerns into their Christian faith, but the objections are no longer spiritual roadblocks. They are simply important considerations to be worked out in relationship with God.
What does all this mean for Christians? For me, this was very convicting. When someone objects to the Christian faith it is easy to go into debate mode and cast gentleness to the wind. I don’t bother being spiritually consistent as long as I’m right. While it’s not wrong to discuss a person’s objections to Christianity (Paul did this all the time in Scripture) Stanley’s words remind us that what is MOST important is that your discussion partner is encountering Christ along the way. You may be offering an air-tight argument, but if you’re a jerk about it then you’re missing the point. Non-Christians need to encounter Christ in us. Ultimately, that is what changes people.
If Christianity is about a personal God, then we shouldn’t get angry or confused when non-Christians stand unconvinced by our arguments. They simply haven’t met Jesus yet. By the way we love them, let’s make sure that they do.
Sharon, have you ever read much Kierkegaard?
I have not but my husband has and we have talked about him some–why do you ask?
I am listening to that series right now too… it’s awesome! Definitely challenged the way I think about witnessing. It’s not about “convincing” people, it’s about introducing them to a relationship with Jesus.
Yes exactly! Even though it’s important to know why you believe what you believe, you should always be shining Christ whenever you explain it.