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Can You Really Just Bring Up ‘Jesus’ Out of the Blue?

It’s a little dicey to bring up Jesus straight out of the blue, yet that’s what my #3 talk assignment has me doing. On the other hand, everyone has heard the name and everyone holds him in good light, even those not religious. Mark Twain was well-known to be atheist. His writings savage churches and Christian teachings. “There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing and predatory … ours is a terrible religion,” he says.

Yet he never had an unkind word to say about Jesus. Quite the opposite. “If Christ were here, there is one thing he would not be – a Christian,” he wrote, so that it becomes plain that he has no beef with Jesus, maybe not even with God, but with those who claim to follow Jesus. They don’t do it very well. “There has only been one true Christian,” he also writes. “They caught and killed him—early.”

So he’s not likely to disagree with Bible verses acknowledging that people are exactly that way, such as Titus 1:16–

They publicly declare that they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.”

or that it should intensify during the “last days” when “critical times hard to deal with” will be here. After that horrendously long list of negative attributes said to characterize people of the woeful time, Paul adds that they “have a form of godly devotion, but prove false to its power.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5) Pious though they may be, it doesn’t translate into good conduct.

The point is that with the right introduction you ought to be able to talk about Jesus even to those turned off by religion. So I work up the following, of which the first few lines are more or less word for word:

After a brief greeting, “it’s not for me to stay but a minute or two—you’ve got things to do. People don’t get along very well with each other today. Life would be better if they did. I want to read you a Bible verse on that theme—you tell me what you think—and I’m gone. Good idea?” It’s surprising how many people will say yes to that—I mean, it’s very clear that you’re not going to stay more than a moment or so. You cannot renege on that pledge.

If they say no, then I leave with them a tract linking to the website—any of them will do, since it is the website that is the featured object. Most will take it. Some don’t. I even like to point to how the drop-down box will fetch that site into 1000 different languages and that if one is serious about declaring the Bible message worldwide, of course they will have such a tool—it would almost be negligence not to.

When the person agrees to hear a verse, I will choose any that furthers that aim—of teaching people to get along. Almost anything from the Sermon on the Mount will do, for example. In this case, my assignment sticks me with a verse that would normally not be my go-to verse: Matthew 16:16, on how Peter identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Hopefully I can make it work. It’s important to recognize that people aren’t paying overly close attention to your specific words anyway—they are trying to figure out whether you are too weird to talk to or whether it might be safe to converse a little bit.

I read the verse, with maybe a sentence or two afterwards as to why I chose it, and then observe that is all I wanted to do—to put that thought on the table. “The next move is up to you, and you don’t have to make one.” If he doesn’t, I take my leave. I never act as though it will be hard to make me leave. I act as though it will be hard to make me stay.

If he indicates he’s open to entertaining the thought a little, often I start up a video for him. I never ask to do it. I tell him as it starts that he doesn’t have to listen to it all—“if it gets boring, just say so and I’ll shut it down.” Asking to do it is almost like asking to read a scripture—why would anyone do that? Some householders interpret that as a major escalation, whereas it is no more an escalation than a mechanic pulling out a wrench. Would you be shocked it one did that?

But I can’t play my video in the assigned talk—it’s not in the script. I also have to “respond to an objection common in our territory.” Hmm. I wrack my brain.

Are there any? Have I ever heard of one? For a while they were calling these “viewpoints” and not “objections,” but now, for whatever reason, they have gone back to “objections.” Maybe people objected to viewpoints.

Finally after hours and hours of thought, I come up with one. The householder can say that he has his own religion! Yes! That has happened. Why did I not think of that before? I model the rest of the talk from a recent experience of an evangelical who raised exactly that—um—viewpoint.

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