There was this great meme I saw recently that portrayed Christians who evangelize to a polar bear chasing a guy around his car. It’s funny because most of us have encountered Christians who want to “push their religion down your throat,” who don’t seem to really care about you as a person, just that you believe in their God. And so we laugh at the meme, and remind ourselves that we don’t want to be the crazy, proselytizing Christian.
Then you have this quote Jim shared Sunday by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame), by no means a Christian:
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me along and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?
“I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
And of course what he says makes sense. It’s quite logical: If I know something that could save your life, but decide not to tell you about it for fear of what you or others might think of me, I’m selfish at the very least, if not hateful.
So which is it? Do we don our inner polar bear or not?
One way we could explain the “discord” between the previous two examples would be to say that it comes down to methods of evangelism: get to know someone first; care genuinely about all aspects of their life, not just their eternal destiny; remember that you can’t change someone’s heart on your own (only God can), so talk to God about the person as much as you talk to the person about God, etc. And all of this is very important to remember.
But that’s not where I want to go here, because for those of us who are Christians and know that we have a responsibility to evangelize, I don’t think “methods of evangelism” is our biggest holdup. I think the reason we don’t evangelize (the reason I don’t evangelize) very well or often, is because there’s a disconnect between what we say we believe and what we actually believe.
Jim preached on Jude verse 23 on Sunday: “save others by snatching them out of the fire.” Do I really believe that those who don’t trust in Jesus are destined for eternal fire? I say I do, but by and large, my actions say otherwise. Which makes me wonder how deeply I really believe this.
Which makes me thankful that we preach through the Bible and that I’m forced to confront these areas where I stray. I am thankful that through the Bible, God calls me to believe things that I would never believe on my own. Perhaps ironically, it’s one of the reasons I find the Bible believable, because it keeps me from creating the god of my own liking and image, and calls me to worship the God who is beyond my understanding and explanation.
So what do we do when we find a disconnect in what we claim to believe and how we act? We do two things at once: we press into what we claim to believe, the view of reality that God has given us in the Bible, AND we make like Nike and “just do it.” While what we believe affects how we act, the reverse is also true. Making it a habit of sharing the good news of Jesus with people will help confirm our belief that this is good news for ALL people, not just something that works for me.
The truth and significance of the gospel has been given to us as a gift. We can’t take any credit for discovering it; our eyes were merely opened to it’s glory, and our need for it, by God. Far from being proud and self-serving, sharing this gospel with others is a humble and loving response to what God has done for us. It is to love and give glory to God, and to love and care for the welfare of others.
Which, it should go without saying, means the menacing, life-threatening polar bear is a poor comparison for the evangelizing Christian.