I met a born-again Christian yesterday while making a return visit. It was the young man’s dad. I actually hadn’t expected to meet my return visit because I knew he just stopped in there from time to time and lived somewhere else, but the initial conversation had been very fine and we were just driving by the house.
Our track record of pleasant conversations with evangelicals is not good. Usually we feel obliged to pick out something that they are doing wrong and start a fight over it—not with that goal, of course, but usually with that result. And if we don’t do it to them, then they do it to us. Start rattling on about the paradise and they will cut you short with a line or two about the rapture.
I used to fall into this pattern as much as anyone, but in recent years, after decades of life—in other words, it’s about time!—I have come across a new way. In this new way, I do not try to find something of his to poke holes in, and since I didn’t, he did. You know, getting all squirrelly-like, as though to say, “Oh, no, we are not the same. Don’t try to pretend that we are.”
As soon as I saw it going that way, I did what I was so very slow to learn to do. He was not an unfriendly guy, and I had already responded to his announcement that he was a born-again Christian: “That almost makes it better—it means we speak the same language. You have regard for the Bible and probably know it as well as me.”
It starts things out on a good foot, but still he feels obliged to point out how no way are we the same. I beat him to it. “Look, we are both trying to follow the Word, but we are doing it differently. You think we are doing it wrong and we think you are doing it wrong. But we are both doing it—that’s the point—and we live in a world where most people aren’t doing it at all.” Instantly we were on the same side. There was a little chat about keeping the faith amidst a world that rejects it.
I asked him if he was one of those persons who believed in the rapture and he said that he was. Yes, I know where that verse comes from, I told him. We see it a little differently, and I referred to the Lord’s Prayer that I knew he knew so well but nobody else does today. ‘Yes, God has it all together up in heaven. I mean, I suppose he does (glancing upwards) but it sure isn’t that way on earth, and it won’t be until—he joined me in saying the last words—“thy kingdom comes.” So we look forward to living forever on the earth, most of us, sort of like that camping trip you took and you relaxed so much that you said “I wish this would never end” only in this case it won’t.
That’s about all you can do on a single call and I have no plans to come back unless the spirit impromptu grabs me when I am driving right by again and it probably won’t. I count it successful. Hear each other out, be mutually respectful, and maybe either party will think the other guy’s hope intriguing enough to investigate more. In this case, there was no sign of that. We talked about his front porch awning—my companion brought that up—it was a sturdy piece that had served him well over the years and it was just the ticket during hot summer days of blazing sun. There were some people who bought the screens and other attachments that came with it, he allowed, but he was content just with the awning itself.
His son, while very conversant, had not struck me as particularly religious, I recalled of him, and I did not say it so as to rub his nose in, “but mine is!” No, I said mine isn’t either—it’s not a slam-dunk that kids will follow the faith. Of course, he loves his son, as I do mine, and he observed that ‘it is so strange—children raised in the same house with same parents and same values, yet some take to it and others do not.’ Now you take his daughter, he pointed out, who had latched right on, and I said that was true of my daughter as well.
So we built a bridge. Who knows if he will cross over it someday, my companion and I chatted afterwards, or, from his point of view, If I will cross it his way. One thing that is clear—he will respect us for our ministry—maybe even compare it to whatever he is or is not doing himself. “Preach the good news in all the inhabited earth—go and make disciples” is not a mission statement that will register approval with everyone, but I know it will with him.
Of course, you don’t say that unless he is trying to put you down for it, and this fellow certainly was not. You don’t give any appearance of boasting or being full of yourself. There was even a recommendation once that seemed to step over the line on this. Our website had reached a certain milestone in number of languages translated into—it is over 1000 now—we were sort of proud of it at the time and the recommendation was to bring that up along with the question: “Do you know why we do it?” I never liked the approach and I never tried it.
I accompanied someone who did, though. “Do you know why we do it?” he asked. His return visit said: “What! Do you think I’m a trained chimp? Of course I do! You want to reach people!” That’s why I never used it.
That’s not to say I don’t mention the website, though. On the contrary, I usually do (though not to this fellow—it didn’t occur to me) I usually mention the languages, too, only I supply the reason, rather than try to extract it from the householder. If you are serious about preaching the good news worldwide, of course you are going to have such a website as soon as the technology exists. It would almost be religious malpractice not to.