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Peter Beck Christian Blog and Commentary

Walking a Mile in Their Shoes

  • Peter Beck
    Peter serves as assistant professor of religion at Charleston Southern University where he teaches church history and theology. While serving as senior pastor in Louisville, Ky., he completed his PhD in historic theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His dissertation, The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer, is soon to be published. He, his wife Melanie, and their two kids, Alex (12) and Karis (7), live near Charleston, SC. Peter's goal for his teaching and writing ministries is "love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:5).
  • 2009 Oct 07
  • Comments

I've always enjoyed visiting historical sites, even as a kid. A quiet stroll around the battlefield at Gettysburg is both sobering and eye opening. To see how close the combatants stood, to realize the peril they faced on Little Round Top, to view the rudimentary medical equipment employed to save their lives teaches a powerful lesson about the frailty of human life and the magnitude of the events that July so long ago.

 

This past summer I spent two weeks in Europe walking the cobbled streets of the Reformation. I stood in the church where Luther preached on justification. I saw the cell where he translated the Bible into German. I visited Zwingli's Zurich, Bucer's Strasbourg, and Calvin's Geneva. Though these are thoroughly modern cities, the lives of great saints echo down the narrow avenues of time.*

 

To glimpse into the past, into those lives, even for a short time, changes the way you read history. It alters your impression of the men and their moment.

 

Likewise, as Christians we encounter people in our daily lives who are unlike us in so many ways. They don't go to church. They don't see the world in the same way as we do. At times, they even speak a different language even when they're speaking in English.

 

These differences make our evangelistic task all the more difficult. How do you convince someone of the value of church when they've never been in one? How do you avoid conflict when you agree on very little? How do you explain the meaning of Christ's death on the cross when they don't understand the concepts of sin or justification? Is it any wonder that we so often do such a poor job communicating the beauty of the gospel?

 

The problem is compounded by the fact that many Christians don't recognize the problem. Just as some insist on talking louder and slower when trying to speak with a non-English speaker, Christians often get frustrated when talking with non-believers, falling into simple repetition of the same facts that weren't comprehended the first time or, worse, getting mad and simply walking away.

 

What we need to do is put ourselves in their shoes.

 

No, I'm not advocating going to their bars or casinos or living a lifestyle antithetical to the Christian walk. I'm not suggesting that we adopt their methods of entertainment and sanctify them for church use. There's a difference between contextualization and capitulation.

 

I am saying that we need to come out of our Christian ghettoes occasionally and try looking at life through the eyes of the lost. We need to appreciate their lives, understand their predicaments, and address their very real concerns. And, we need to do it in a way that communicates the gospel clearly and effectively.

 

My proposal is nothing new. Jesus went to Samaria. He met with the woman by the well (in public, by the way, to dispel ancient prejudices and potential rumors). He addressed her needs. He acknowledged her concerns. He showed her the eternal relevance of the gospel.

 

Paul did the same thing in Athens. He studied the Athenians' religious beliefs. He identified their spiritual concerns. He spoke to them using their own poetry. He presented the gospel.

 

Today, missionaries all over the world do the same thing. They enter the culture. They seek to understand the culture. They engage the culture on its own terms, in its own language. They hope to change that culture through the power of the gospel.

 

In all three cases - Jesus, Paul, and missionaries - three priorities are repeated: a heartfelt desire to share the love of God with those living outside of it; a sincere belief that one must know their counterpart in order to communicate with them; and, a strong conviction that only God through the power of the gospel can change lives.

 

Do you know the lost people that surround you? Do you know their concerns? Do you understand where they're coming from? Do you feel their pain? Do you have the ability to explain the gospel clearly in terms they can understand?

 

If not, maybe it's time to lace on their sneakers and walk a mile in their shoes. Doing so will give you a new understanding of their situation, a profound look into their lives. Plus, you may just prove to them that you care. After all, Christ did this for you.

 

*NOTE: I'll be returning to Europe again next summer with a group of students and interested Christians for the same purpose. If you're interested, let me know and I can tell you more about it.