How Much Do You Have to Hate Someone to Not Proselytize?
- Monday, July 19, 2010
It seemed to be an important reminder. I sense among some that the primary goal is to "get" culture and participate with it to be seen as current. But once we find ourselves in positions of cultural influence, or having created needed cultural bridges, then what? Historically, the most transformational of cultural revolutionaries did not merely understand or penetrate culture — they sought to redeem those in it. And wisely so. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn observed, "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart. ... It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person."
The irony of our day is that never before has a generation of Christians — particularly young Christian leaders — cared more about connecting with their culture for the sake of Christ. The dilemma is that many are connecting, but once the connection is made, the gospel itself seems lost in translation. Or perhaps more accurately, lost in transmission. We must never forget that we relate to culture for a reason — its redemption. Many of us have lamented the loss of a whole gospel — meaning its reduction to nothing more than salvation for the world to come, overlooking the need to reach out to the poor and homeless, the AIDS infected and the victim of injustice. How tragic if we went from one half of the gospel to another half and never seized its whole transforming, revolutionary intent for the whole world.
The Gift of a Bible
Now some might think, But what if I turn them off? What if they react negatively? This seems to be the arresting fear of our day. Those actually engaged in the effort are among the first to witness to its spurious assumptions. Most people — even the most hardened of skeptics — respond positively to a winsome and compelling witness. Penn Jillette is the talkative half of Penn and Teller, the Las Vegas comedy-illusion team, now with their own program on cable TV. Penn is an outspoken atheist. But he posted a video blog on his personal website about a man who gave him a Bible, which has much to teach Christians:
At the end of the show ... we go out and we talk to folks, ... sign an occasional autograph and shake hands. ... [T]here was one guy waiting over to the side ... [a]nd he walked over to me and he said, "I was here last night at the show, and I saw the show and I liked the show. ..."
He was very complimentary. ... And then he said, "I brought this for you," and he handed me a Gideon pocket edition. I thought it said from the New Testament. ... And he said, "I wrote in the front of it, and I wanted you to have this. I'm kind of proselytizing."
And then he said, "I'm a businessman. I'm sane. I'm not crazy." And he looked me right in the eye and did all of this. And it was really wonderful. I believe he knew that I was an atheist. But he was not defensive. ... He was really kind and nice and sane and looked me in the eyes and talked to me, and then gave me this Bible.
And 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 is a heaven and hell and that people could be going to hell ... How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize?
How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? And that's all I want to say.
Perhaps, that's all we need to hear.
Dr. James Emery White, a frequent contributor at Christianity.com, is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He also serves as professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Read more at his blog here.
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