I must confess, up front, that I am a bit shy, and am an introvert, and probably have a life-long inferiority complex, all of which means that I am more than a little uncomfortable when some religious zealot (however sincere and well-meaning they are) assaults me with his/her religious proposition. I say that, having also been my denominations director of the office of evangelism for a term, having taught evangelism as a visiting professor in a couple of seminaries, and having written books about it and given more lectures than I can count on the subject. After all, Paul did encourage his young disciple Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” I also am aware that the great commission, given by our Lord Jesus, is his mandate to his followers to “goa and make disciples.”

All of that means that I have had to come to grips with what Christ has mandated us to do, and with who I am, and with how I can become a contagious Christian, who wholesomely and fruitfully communicates the awesome message of Jesus Christ. It also means that I must be sensitive to the post-Christian culture in which we live, and with all of the persons who, in our current social and political scene, have hijacked the designation of ‘Christian’ or of ‘evangelical’ in an attempt to give credibility to their cause.

Maybe even more, it means that in my circle of associations in my neighborhood, or workplace, or school, as I encounter those who have built up anti-bodies against religion, and who see no use in churches, or religions (designated as ‘nones’), … that I have to seek to be and communicate my identification as a follower of Christ as winsomely as possible, and to pull down defenses that are so commonly present.

All that being so, let me pass along to my readers a few principles that I have found useful. First of all, Jesus taught us that as we live out his beatitudes (Sermon on the Mount) that people would see our good works and know that God was at work in our lives. Then he told his disciples that they were to love as he loved, and that people would know by our love that we were his disciples. Our faith is to be visible in our behavior. Which brings me to my own favorite text on this subject, which is from Peter’s second letter. It explains that we are to so live our lives among those outside of the faith, that when they see our good behavior they will be curious about what generates that hope within us, and will ask us a reason for that hope and that we should be prepared to give them a thoughtful answer with sensitivity and gentleness.

I like that.

That being so, when anyone asks me if or why I think or act such as I do, I have a stock ‘one-liner’ which I hand to them, and let them take it from there if they want. I will respond: “Yes, I am an incorrigible follower of the life and teachings of Jesus.” If they want to pick it up, that’s their decision. If they press it a bit further, I can ask them if they have ever read the primary sources/documents of the Christian faith (probably the first three gospels), and if they say they haven’t, I tell them they ought to look into them.

This also works in those unexpected conversations one gets into over coffee or at the corner pub. I want my life to be so contagious, so loving, so illustrative of God’s new creation, … that my conversation partners will ask questions, … and, surprisingly, it frequently does. But it is a principle with me to never assault somebody with a gospel proposition. Rather, I want to demonstrate the love of God in Christ. OK?


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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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