Reformed Articles

Talking With Unbelievers: Conversation Not Conversion

This post was originally published on this site

The following is an article written by my friend and student Alan Giles. He is a former Naval Officer and presently a pastor at Valley Center Community Church and a second-year student at Westminster Seminary California. He is blessed with a wife and four children.

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Evangelistic Judo

“Reformed evangelism.” I used to think this was an oxymoron, that Arminians ask people to choose, and that Calvinists let the Arminians do the work of the evangelists. I thought that the Calvinists would teach converts the doctrines of the faith once they have read their bible, left their Arminian church, and come to us for the real meat and potatoes of scripture. I am not saying those were correct assumptions, but these were the foundational assumptions from which I started for many years.

Then something happened. I began to question this set of assumptions. I began to ask God to give me a heart for those who have never tasted and seen the Kingdom of God. I began to intentionally build relationships with non-Christians, not for the sake of evangelizing them, but solely for the sake of getting to know them so that I could better pray for them and, perhaps, even someday, even minister to them.

What if our view of evangelism was not just about seeing conversions but about having conversations with non-Christians? Conversations that both reveal the idols of their heart (as well as ours), and help us know how to better pray for, and minister to them every day? By God’s grace, I have had the joy of putting this into practice quite a bit lately. Let me give you an example.

“You probably don’t…”
“You are probably offended by…”
“You probably wouldn’t ever…”

These are the types of questions I have begun to be asked by the non-Christians I am getting to know at a local club a joined. Typically, the final part of these questions reveals a view of me (and anyone else who claims to be a Christian) that says, “you are a Christian; therefore, you must be completely opposed to (fill in the blank).”

What I have found is that our response to these sorts of questions can either be the beginning of a new relationship or, tragically, the relationship before it has even begun.

IRL: In Real Life

Here is just one example from the other day.

Three others and I were cooling down and stretching after a particularly brutal workout. We were questioning our sanity for willingly subjecting ourselves to such medieval cruelty when I finished off my water and wondered aloud why I didn’t bring a second water bottle like I usually do.

“I’d let you use mine but I’m sure you don’t like my water bottle.”

“Why wouldn’t I like your water bottle, it looks like it holds water just like any other bottle. Plus, I’m thirsty, so if you’ve got extra and you’re willing to share I’ll gladly take some.”

“Yeah, but it is a ‘rainbow bottle’ doesn’t that bother you?”

“Why would a ‘rainbow bottle’ bother me? Does it have some sort of special ‘rainbow water’ in it?”

“No, but it is the symbol of the LGBTQ movement and you are a Christian. Aren’t you against LGBTQ people? Doesn’t the Bible say they are all going to hell?”

And now, as Sherlock Holmes says, the game is afoot. Behind this question lies a lifetime of experiences that have shaped not only that person’s positions but their view of me and the God I serve. Similarly, every assumption they have about me, as a Christian, has been shaped by their experiences with and perceptions of Christianity. This includes both good and bad experiences. This includes the person who has cut them off in traffic while displaying a Christian bumper sticker, the person who has proclaimed to be a Christian and then stepped over them in the workplace for the next promotion, and even the person who has lovingly, but mistakenly, told them that all roads lead to heaven.

Our Mission: To Change Perceptions

These are just their experiences. What about their perceptions?

  • “Christians hate the LGBTQ people.”
  • “Christians are opposed to the equality of women.”
  • “Christians used the Bible to justify crusades, slavery, and other atrocities.”

Here is the kicker: Their perceptions are typically based on extreme cases with which you and I would never associate. Nevertheless, these experiences and perceptions have shaped many people’s view of what a Christian is. Our mission, then, should we choose to acknowledge it, is to combat those false perceptions and to be a part of shaping new experiences. This takes a significant amount of time, perhaps much longer than we realize. We must not only give this process time but do everything we possibly can to keep the relationship moving along over that period of time, without compromising the life of holiness that God has called his people to. With this in mind, we go back to our original conversation.

I am sure you don’t like my water bottle… it is a ‘rainbow bottle…’ it is the symbol of the LGBTQ movement and you are a Christian.”

Remember, I have a goal in mind. How can I better pray for and minister to my new friends? I know where they want to see this conversation go. If anything, they might even be looking for a reason to write me off as soon as possible, to place me into the category of, “Just like every other Christian” but I am not willing to go there yet. I am not willing to let this relationship end before it begins. I want to pray for and minister to these men and women for as long as God will let me. To do so, I need to keep getting to know them, as well as let them keep getting to know me.

The Response

Why do you assume I am against LGBTQ people just because I am a Christian? I certainly have opinions on things, just like anyone else, but that is not what I choose to focus on. I am just as interested in how we have all arrived at the conclusions we have come to more than anything else. I know that I have arrived at all sorts of conclusions, but I am always going backward, retracing my steps, and seeing how I got to where I am.

What is more, I am always interested to hear not just the views of others, but more importantly, how they arrived at the conclusions they have reached. And I am always willing to change if I’ve started from incorrect assumptions or a shaky foundation. I truly am willing to change my positions if I can be shown that they are based on false premises.
I would assume you have reasonably well thought through positions when it comes to, not just LGBTQ, but all sorts of other social and political topics. I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. But more than just hearing about what your views are, I am really interested in finding out how you arrived at your conclusions.
I believe that you have a story to tell and that the story of your life will tell me more about who you are than just the positions you hold. I know that’s true for me. The positions I hold have all been shaped by something or someone. My life has been one long dramatic tale. And the drama of my life has led to the doctrines I hold. I think that’s true for all of us.

So let’s do this. Let’s all grab breakfast one morning after a workout so I can hear more about what a day in your life is like. That would mean a lot more to me than focusing on what differences we may or may not have between us. Maybe we can go to the cafe down the street sometime, so I can hear more about your story. I’ll even buy you all breakfast.

The Result

I have found that this response usually brings a certain silence to the room. I have not given them ammunition against me. In fact, I have done the opposite: extended an invitation to learn more about them, get to know their story, and to try to see the world through their eyes. Further, it is a genuine invitation. I truly want to get to know them, hear their stories, and learn what it’s like to live a day in their life. Once again, remember my goal. I want to know how to best pray for and minister to them for as long as God will allow me to. Do I want them to know Christ and him crucified? Absolutely. Will that take time? It took me a long time.

Do I have different beliefs than they do? Yes. That much is obvious. Am I willing to let our differences be the reason we can no longer continue to get to know each other? No. In fact, I am counting on our differences being the catalyst for many more conversations. And that is exactly what I need. More conversations. Because every conversation, every encounter, every piece of information gleaned, is a new window into their soul. A new way to pray for them. I new potential opportunity to point them to Jesus.

Today, I have learned how to pray for this group a little better. They are clearly put a bit on the defensive simply by my presence. They are associating Christianity with political and social differences. They are associating me with someone who hates a certain people group. But the Kingdom of God is not a political kingdom. And the Kingdom of God has more to do with love than hate.

The Kingdom of God does not have party lines. Here there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, Scythian or barbarian. Here there is one people, bound by love, but my new friends do not know this yet, so I need to pray that God would reveal these things to them. It is a privilege to be a part of that process for as long as He allows me to.

My beliefs have been shaped by scripture. My new friends do not trust the bible. I suspect that they will be shocked once they actually start reading it. They think the bible says LGBTQ people are all going to hell. I know that the bible says we are all, apart from Christ, headed towards eternal damnation, no matter what our sexual preference was before our regeneration.

The Process

For now, I need to keep praying for my new friends. I need to continue to find ways to love and encourage them. I need to keep gaining more and more insight into their lives so I can better pray for them and serve them.

This is the process. My hope and prayer is that it is the beginning of a lifetime of discipleship, the beginning of them getting to know who Jesus is and beginning to hear His calling on their life. What a privileged position we have. Christ has granted us to be in the front row, watching Christ break in, bring light into darkness, order into chaos, and replace a heart of stone with that of flesh.