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All Things are Yours

"… whether Paul, Apollos, Cephas, the world, life, death, the present, or the future— all things are yours, but you are Christ's…" (I Cor 3)

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alienation and hostility

A Jew’s Perspective on Christian Perspectives on Jews

I’ve never really focused on this on my blog before, but I want to share my perspective as a Jew.   Yes – I am Jewish, and while no Jew in my life has ever asked me this question, Christians always seem to ask me so I guess for some reason Christians need to know that:  yes indeed, both my parents were Jewish.

I guess Christians ask that a lot because some live in areas of the country where they’ve never actually met someone who was Jewish; or, because in Christian circles someone is always “discovering” that some obscure great-great grandparent might have been Jewish because of some family rumor, it might be hard to believe that someone hanging out in the Christian community who claims to be Jewish might actually be really, truly Jewish — like, solidly both parents, and all the grandparents, had no question about the matter.

Actually, the reason no one would ask this in the Jewish community is because it is generally assumed no one wants to be there who isn’t actually Jewish, and even then, Judaism doesn’t actually require that both parents be Jewish for one to be a Jew.  Only one’s mom needs to be a Jew, or alternatively, one can be a Jew by choice and convert.   But this means that “when” I have children, they will be just as Jewish as me.  There’s no such thing in Judaism as “half-Jewish” or “partially Jewish;” one either is or isn’t, and thus my non-Jewish husband doesn’t really factor in to Jews accepting that my children are part of the tribe.  (But sadly, I know that *Christians* will constantly ask my kids their entire lives if *both* their parents were Jewish, as some sort of litmus test, and I just hope my children won’t get a complex over it that threatens their sense of identity as part of my people.)

bread with sliced avocado and salmon near basil mint on plate
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

The other question I get a lot from Christians is whether or not my family “raised” me “practicing” Judaism.   Again, this is an outsider’s question.   Every Jew practices Judaism in some way shape or form, however assimilated into Gentile culture they may be — whether that simply means eating bagels with Lox, and perhaps having a Chanukkah bush (read: Christmas tree) at Christmas, or celebrating three Jewish holidays a year with heartfelt conviction while eating a ham sandwich on the way home from the party, or really any level of more religious observance they might feel drawn to.  All Jews have a sense of connection not necessarily to the faith, but definitely a connection to our shared culture and history, even if it only goes back as recently as World War 2, which reinforces us a distinct people who shared in a common history of trauma. (Many traumas, in fact, as WW2 is not the only one.)

cloak-2027435_640A professed atheist who is addicted to dill pickles, with a dating profile on Jdate.com, might not be the image Christians have of what a practicing Jew looks like, because unfortunately many Christians’ image of what it means to be a practicing Jew comes from their reading of the New Testament mixed with some sort of caricature they’ve absorbed somewhere.  They are expecting Jews to be like the Pharisees of the Bible, walking around in long white robes, speaking in Hebrew, and blowing shofars.

And, the scarier Christians are the ones who have bought into some crazy conspiracy theory and think we control all the banks and the world, which is most certainly why I grew up needing the free school lunch program, couldn’t even afford to go on my senior class trip, nor the French class school trip like my Gentile classmates, and which is also why my impoverished father has been known to sardonically say, “Every Jew owns a bank…it must be true, people constantly say so.  I just want to know, where’s my bank?  Why don’t I have a bank?”  It’s also why so many Jewish Holocaust survivors live in abject poverty, and why thankfully there are even Christian organizations that want to help them out.

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Photo by Alexander Mils on Pexels.com

At any rate, over the years since believing in Jesus, I’ve actually I’ve experienced a whole spectrum of Christian viewpoints about Jews, a great deal of which seem to be detrimental to the Jews as people.  It’s time I would like to talk about what’s going on out there in the Christian world relative to my people — the people of my birth — and where I might humbly or perhaps not-so-humbly submit what I think needs to improve in the Christian worldview towards Jews.

What I’ve seen is that the Christian pendulum has two extreme ends of its swing, including at one end a church with theology that is completely enamored with the idea of “Jewishness” and Jews, and on the other end, a theology engendering a distaste for everything Jewish and a desire to erase even the idea of Jewishness itself.

These two positions in many ways are diametrically opposed, but, something they both have in common is that they are viewpoints that dehumanize Jews and replace Jews with an idealism that is uniquely concerned with Christian interests and concerns, to the disregard of Jews themselves.  I’ll explain more of what I mean as I go along.

Adoration of all things Jewish

guitar-4008341_640First, there is the side of the church that is absolutely in love with anything about Jews and the modern nation of Israel.   Often, I and probably most Jews don’t generally mind this so much — on one hand, it’s so much better to have people enchanted with our culture and peoplehood and religious practices than to have them hating us, barring us from employment, and even wanting to kill us for no reason, as so often in history things have gone for us with Christians.

But there is a problem here even so: as believers in Jesus fall in love with Jewish things, they often fall in love with their distinctly Christian IDEA of Jews and Jewish things, more than the actual Jewish people around them.  For one thing, the Christian “love of Israel” is often oversimplified; way oversimplified, beyond the reality and complexity of how Jews themselves even relate to the complex politics and ideas in the region. It’s as if Christians don’t realize that Israel is a democracy with as much or more diversity in political opinions than Americans have about America, and that debates are had from many different JEWISH perspectives about Israel’s policies in region.  Christians for instance often don’t realize that there are entire cities INSIDE Israel (not in Palestinian held areas) that are filled with Israelis who are Arab, part of the fabric of the nation of Israel since 1948, who even sometimes even serve in the Israeli military.  Nor do they realize that Jews themselves protest other Jews settling in sensitive areas in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, nor that there are kibbutzim where Jews and Arabs live together in a shared life.  There is a lack of understanding of the history and variety of opinions Israel has about what it means to be a modern Jewish state.

But beyond politics: one time here in the USA, I was at a new Bible study where I didn’t know most of the people and I hadn’t said much during the meeting.  At the end of the meeting, an older gentleman whom I hadn’t yet met came up to me and without introducing himself or even asking my name, asked me point-blank, “What are you?”   Now I could have taken this many different ways, but experience told me it was likely that he had noticed my olive skin, and fairly pronounced nose, and other physical features unlike most people in this predominantly Germanic neighborhood, and that his question was aimed at uncovering my ethnicity.   I found the question, though, as it was posed, to be literally dehumanizing.   So as I responded with an, “Excuse me?” and he repeated the question, “What are you?” emphatically,  I just replied, “I’m human.”  The man smiled and said, “Yes, but I mean, what ARE you?”   To which I again replied that I was indeed human.  This went back and forth with a few iterations to which I just kept replying with the word “human.”

Now what I found the MOST bothersome was not the man and his questions, although they were rude and I was hoping he would realize his rudeness at some point by my resistance to answering his question — but what really bothered me was the response of my Christian friend who brought me.   She could have chosen to stay on the sidelines, or, to politely introduce me and the man to each other, but when she sensed what this guy was asking, she instantly replied to him on my behalf, “She’s Jewish.”   I still did not know this man’s name, nor why he presumed to need to know my ethnic background, and I also felt incredibly objectified by the friend I came with who somehow didn’t understand that my privacy was worth keeping, and my humanity was worth fighting for, instead  divulging without my permission to an inappropriately curious voyeur what my exotic middle eastern appearance said about my ancestry.  (And by the way, my completely Jewish grandmother had naturally blonde hair and blue eyes!   Stereotypes are not reality!)

But there are lots of little examples:

  • I’ve been in prayer meetings where Christians were weeping over their sins as a people towards Jews, only to find out it was a mere religious exercise which while Jews were the hot topic, when I introduced myself as a Jew to extend forgiveness and they had zero interest in talking with me as an actual person.
  • I’ve been cursed out by Christians in debates on the internet, that, when somehow the debate brought up the topic of my Jewishness, the perpetrator immediately started saying, “Why didn’t you tell me you were Jewish?  I don’t want to be cursed by cursing a Jew!” As if treating me like a person worthy of kindness and honor wasn’t important unless he knew I was Jewish.
  •  I’ve had people tell others that I was Jewish and had their friends come up to me asking if they could be friends with me because “I’ve never been friends with a Jew before but I really want to be.”
  • In my hippy lifestyle when I decided not to shave my legs and armpits in a revolt against “the system” oppressing women with requiring women to remove body hair, I’ve been asked if the reason I didn’t shave was because I was Jewish.  (Uh, no…are all hippies Jews?)
  • There was an older widow who told me she was “waiting for her Boaz” to remarry, and when I asked what she meant, she told me God had promised her she’d marry a Jew, which, while I found it strange and objectifying, I still introduced her to a Jewish single guy friend in her age bracket, and then she took me aside and told me she meant a RICH Jew.
  • And, I’ve had a non-Jewish roommate that I felt saw me as a person until I came home one day to her and her friends in our living room, and as soon as I walked through the door, she announced, “This is Heather, my Jewish roommate,” as if somehow that was vital information that one must know before simply knowing me as another person.   Like, why???  When I protested that she would never introduce a black friend like that, she defended herself saying that with a black person, it was too obvious to need to say anything.
  • I’ve been told I need to move to Israel to fulfill Bible prophecy.   Yet God was calling me to go to other nations as a missionary.

Maybe none of these examples seem particularly poignant if you haven’t experienced them, but what they all have in common is that in some corners, there is such a fascination and infatuation with Jews as a concept, that an actual Jewish person is not really “seen” but rather entirely objectified; is not known as a person or even as a fellow believer in Christ who happens to be Jewish, as much as “this Jew I know.”  To this extent, the love and fascination with Jews actually turns into racism — just, a nicer, less dangerous form of racism that happens to be a little harder to explain.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 4.39.03 AMAnd ultimately, it ends up with cultural assimilation, where Christians are all claiming to have a Jewish great-grandparent (no offense to those who truly have one) and everyone dresses in stuff they think Jews would wear so they can dance and blow shofars the way they think Jews would do so….and they try to keep Torah with a total disregard for thousands of years of careful debate about how it might best be kept, because a verse or two about how Jesus had an issue with some tradition or another — and ultimately, their eagerness to connect with Jewish things ends them up in a position of trying to replace Jews themselves; with their own version of what they think Jewishness is.

The icing on the cake of course is that most of these folks also believe all Jews should immigrate to Israel, to fulfill their vision to have two-thirds of us killed in some great Armageddon so Jesus can come back.   It’s such a great vision for our future, and for our children’s future.  I can’t wait.  But of course, there are other movements in the church to be concerned about.

On the other hand: the “JEWS DON’T ACTUALLY EXIST” teaching.

Screen Shot 2019-07-09 at 4.31.19 AMThis one is the extreme opposite of the folks who are in love with all things Jewish.  In this side of the church, the teaching that the church is the REAL Israel dominates.   According to this side of the church, Jews disqualified themselves from being Jews 2000 years ago by not believing in Jesus.   Then God destroyed the Jewish temple in 70AD, thus ending Judaism.   The church is what God’s plan landed on as He rejected the Jewish people and instead chose the church.  Therefore, aside from Christians being a new Israel, there is no such thing as Jew today as God “ended” that whole covenant in 70AD.

Now, for every lie, there is a little bit of truth.   Here’s the truth of the matter: the Israel of the Bible was a nation that represented something that God wanted to do more fully in Jesus Christ and those who would believe in Him.   There is something valid about understanding that the Earthly nation of Israel was not the fulness of God’s plan for a people, and that the body of Christ is a spiritual “Israel” .

But here’s where the problem is, if it isn’t already obvious:  You can’t just erase an entire people group, their contribution to your faith, and their history, just because the way you’ve calculated things in your theology says you can.

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No one would ever go up to a Native American and say, “Native Americans aren’t in the Bible, therefore, according to my theology, you’re not a Native American.”   This is about as valid as saying, “My theology says Jews no longer exist, that God has no special place in his covenant for Jews anymore, and therefore, there’s no such things as Jews.”

Yet these people act like this is the case.   They ignore an entire people group which has mostly shared DNA for the past 2000 years.   (They are also very fond of a theory that says a race of people called Khazars all converted and became Jews, to try to prove erroneously that there is no genetic connection of modern Jews to ancient Jews.  Even if it were true, which DNA says is not true, it wouldn’t matter anyway, because Jewishness is more than just DNA.  But the DNA link does mean that there is a people who share ethnicity with one another through thousands of years of intermarriage.)

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Auschewitz Concentration Camp

They ignore that a group of people has a shared heritage, shared culture, shared humor and ideas, a shared Bible that they have copied over and over for two millennia, and that they have suffered together at the hands of mostly Christians for the greater part of those two millennia.  They ignore the fact that there is a people with a shared story, language, practices, food, history, trauma, homeland, and to some extent or another, belief system.

I’ll upset my Jew-loving audience who is sure the modern Jew is a fulfillment of Bible prophesy, by saying to the Jew-dismissing Christian audience what they need to hear:

It doesn’t matter one iota if prophesy is already fulfilled, nor that God instituted a new Covenant, ended the old, nor even if it would be true that He rejected the Jews from being His people — none of these things change the fact that there is a group of people on the Earth right now, descended by blood, history, culture, and religion from those people God wrote the whole Bible story about, whether or not you think God is finished with them, even today, and even if there would be nothing spiritual about the whole situation, Jews are still a viable people regardless of whether or not the Bible is done with Jews or not.

Ultimately, Jews today are not a theological fact for you as much as a fact of present reality and a historical fact — we are here, and we’re not going to stop being a people just because your misinterpretation of our Holy Book and our Prophet and Messiah says so.  The problem is, you’ve confused your theories and theology with actuality.

We don’t have to theologically “count” for you as “true Jews” for us to be Jews nonetheless.  Jews in the Bible might have been defined by God’s covenant to Abraham and Moses, but even if everything Biblical about us would belong to the past, it’s still a shared history — and today’s Jews are still a people even if they are less defined by Biblical markers. Whether we are descended via DNA or simply culture and tradition, it is immaterial — the Israel according to the flesh still lives, not to compete with the Israel of the Spirit, but to constantly reflect a God who is merciful and faithful who does not utterly destroy even if His plan does not depend on us anymore. God did not wipe Jews off the planet, as much as I’ve overheard some of you saying that Hitler was sent by God to do so in your insane need for your theology to make sense.   The fact that Jews still exist, and a nation called Israel has been resurrected may not be any sort of Bible prophesy in your measurement, but it doesn’t have to be.

 We don’t have to fulfill Bible prophesy to be real.  We don’t have to fit somewhere in your understanding of covenants to be a people who have a history with God that we pass on to our children today.  

We are yet a people.  We didn’t disappear in 70AD; we just went into hiding.  And as much as you are Irish, or you are German, or you are whatever it is you might want to be, American, Australian, Canadian, whatever — well we are a people. Sorry to inform you, but as much as you want to, you can’t just Bible that away.

rain passing through at clearing in the woodsRomans 11:17-18 “Now if some branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others to share in the nourishment of the olive root, do not boast over those branches. If you do, remember this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

 

 

SO WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE THINGS?

Well this post is very long.   But if I could ask Christians — just treat us as people.  Interesting people, people who you may or may not want to learn from, but please stop trying to be us.   Please stop treating us as an artifact to stare at, rather than your brothers and sisters in humanity, and sometimes even in your faith.

vitrage-2127736_640And please stop coming up with theologies where you tell us what our place is to be in your version of the world — I guarantee you, we won’t fit your box for us, anymore than anyone made in the image of God does.  We won’t be pawns in your theological games, my apologies, but it must be said.   In the end, try loving us.   Show us a real Jesus, not the one you’ve held up as you’ve hurt us through the centuries.   Make us want what you have — if you indeed really have Him — and welcome us with open arms in the covenant our own Messiah made with us.  While we don’t run the world, and we don’t generally own banks — we do have treasures to share with you if you get to know us, for real, as people, and generally, we really want to know you too.

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Evangelism and Genuinely Liking People

Forget apologetics.   Forget signs and wonders.   If you really want to excel at evangelism, there is one golden key worth more than all the others – LIKE the people you are reaching out to with Jesus.   Since we often get really messed up with doublespeak when we talk about what it means to “love”, I’d like to submit that the real issue is whether or not we LIKE “them.”   In general*, we can’t bring people to Jesus that we don’t like.

What is evangelism, first of all?

A student of Greek will quickly explain that evangelism involves sharing good news, being an ambassador, etc etc.   And that’s all good and true.  Evangelism is part of our kingdom role of being priests and kings.   Malachi talks about one of the jobs of a priest:

“True instruction was in his mouth and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. 7“For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 2:6-7)

Sharing the knowledge of God both with believers and nonbelievers is incredibly important and is our honored role in the Kingdom.   I’ve heard people often quote, St. Francis in saying, “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.”  But the reality is that words will always be necessary.   We are to help people UNDERSTAND things about God, and share knowledge.

BUT –  if our view of evangelism is just about TELLING people something, shoving a sign or a track or a well-rehearsed message at someone, I don’t think we’re going to get very far with real humans with that approach.   At least, I never saw much come of my own efforts at evangelism when I approached people with that mindset.  Evangelicalism for a long time has I think based much of its lifeless attempts at sharing the good news with people on a misapplication of one verse:

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”Isaiah 55:11

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.44.25 AMThis verse is often used to justify completely violating or at completely impersonal attempts at sharing Christ with people.   Under this mindset, all that matters is making people hear words.   It doesn’t matter if the message comes to them in any real understandable form, or if it has any personal connection to them… simply shouting at them is good enough, for God will make any words we shove at them “not return void.”   Though an explanation of why that’s a bad way to read that verse is well beyond the scope of this blog post, that’s not what this verse meant when it was written, and I don’t think its what it means for us today.

LEARNING A DIFFERENT WAY

My relationship with being an emissary of the gospel really started to change a few decades back when I stopped trying to be a “good witness”  (which is evangelicalism-speak for “hiding all your sins and faults from nonbelievers in order to supposedly attract them with the perfection of your life now that you are a believer in Jesus”) and instead let a non-Christian friend see me “for real,” as I shared with him the depths of the depression I was in, as well as my intense struggles with God at that time.   When he suddenly up and decided that Christ was real and he wanted in on the Kingdom when I was contemplating how best to hurt myself, I started realizing that my first “convert” was teaching me something about how Christ makes Himself known to people – and it wasn’t by me being fake and seemingly having it all together in front of non-believers.

I also started learning that it wasn’t about shoving impersonal sentences at people that supposedly were “the Word of God that won’t return void” to them.   Some wise person shared with me that every person in existence is already in a relationship with God, and that He has been dancing with them their entire lives, carefully cultivating a conversation with them.   I started to understand that my job as an evangelist was not to plod on into that conversation like a bull in a China shop, but to respect it – and to learn to peer into how God has already been engaging with that person, and that person with God – and to enter appropriately into THAT conversation.   children-1426769_640Just as the Holy Spirit is one who “comes alongside and helps” I started to see my job as a colaborer with Christ by the Holy Spirit, agreeing with the Holy Spirit in coming alongside a person being drawn to Christ, rather than coming at them.  Good evangelism is midwifery, and while some babies are born on their own, much of the time someone helps the baby along.

But how does one come “alongside” the process, already in progress, of the Father drawing someone to His Son Jesus?  This is where I would say that there is no replacement for GENUINELY LIKING the people one is trying to reach.

Liking People is the Opposite of Alienating Them

It’s almost too obvious to write about, but people don’t generally want to hear what someone has to say when they sense hostility coming at them from the speaker.  Instead, most humans put up walls, and get defensive.   This is why standing on a street corner holding a sign and shouting, “The end is near!  Repent or burn!” is probably one of the worst images that our society has of Christians…and of evangelism.   It would take an extraordinarily humble person to want to subject themselves to learning from someone who approaches them full of condemnation and hostility.

wall-1436752_640But an even more subtle form of hostility that Christians present to nonbelievers comes from an “us/them” perspective.  If we walk into a relationship with an us/them mindset means it we carry a type of “alienation” to the relationship with nonbelievers before we’ve even started.  It puts a wall up between oneself and one’s target or uh, “victim” because us/them is a form of alienation already in play.  Most of us have experienced this: when you have an “us/them” perspective in your approach to someone, they will feel like a project to you – and the person will eventually sense they are a project in the evangelist’s eyes as well.    If you manage to convince the person that being a project is ideal, and a spiritual thing, then you might be able to bring them to the point of becoming your disciple where the project mentality can continue even past the point of their conversion.   But generally people feel a bit creeped out at being someone’s project.

Incarnation

Ideally, evangelism should be “incarnational.”    Incarnational has at times been a Christian buzzword, but it’s a good one.   It means that neither of these two above things are in play – there is no hostility, and there is no us/them mentality.   “Incarnational” describes what God did when He put on human flesh and became one of us.   It sparkles; there is a closeness about it, a warmth where the one who is incarnated is identifiable and now as one of those he or she has now become.  They are tangible and relatable as “one of us” now to the culture they have stepped into.  In fact, we don’t just share a message, we become the message, as the apostle Paul wrote:

“It is clear that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…”  2 Cor 3:3

In order to BE the letter, we need to be able to be known, to be seen.   This is true even with all our messiness; the point is that as we relate to God and He relates to us, our history with Him marks us and writes something into our souls.   And this is available for those we walk with to read.  This is Christ incarnated into us, even as we are incarnated into someone else’s world.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 12.03.50 PMBut uniquely, all the gifts and beauty of the realm from which the incarnated one has come are brought into the realm of the society and reality in which she or he is now involved…and those gifts are offered for the taking in a very personal, connected way.   Someone who is incarnated brings their pre-incarnated identity into their incarnation.   But incarnation is a position “in the middle” of where they are coming from and what they are stepping into; for the person who has been incarnated takes on the identity of the people he or she steps into to become, as well as the flavor, the struggles, the atmosphere and rhythm and likeness of them as well.

INCARNATION SETS US UP FOR CONNECTED SYMPATHY

As all of humanity was made in God’s image, it was because He wrote, as it were, a prophecy in human flesh of Himself which was waiting for fulfillment: we were made in His image, so that at the right time, He could come to us in our own image.    And thus He did.  And there were many reasons for this, many specific benefits and necessities, one of which was so He would know what is like to be us….so that He could fully relate to who we are and what we go through.

The writer of Hebrews captures this in Hebrews 4:15 –
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet was without sin.”

And this is INTENSELY important.   It brings us back to my opening point about LIKING those we want to reach.   For too many years the type of Christianity I was in treated Christians as “real” people while nonbelievers weren’t worth really knowing or being friends with.   They were simply objects to be captured.   But as I kept trying to keep in step with the Spirit and how He was moving in someone’s heart and life, I found those people becoming real to me in a way that makes me now ashamed to admit how I treated people as evangelistic objects.   When we like someone, we get to see them as a real person, valuable and truly worth being connected to, and having real friendship with.   And we find ways to sympathize with what they are going through.   If we can’t sympathize with the things keeping someone from seeing Christ clearly, we’re not going to reach them very easily.   Examples:

ATHEISTS

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There was a time when “the four corners of the Earth” was taken literally by the church (in fact, some people still take it literally.)

I love to reach agnostics and atheists.  Why?   Because I genuinely ENJOY atheists and agnostics.   I tend to think of atheists as one of God’s gifts to the church.   When the church tries to make theology that is inhumane, or nonsensical, sometimes it takes a bunch of atheists to bring us to our senses.   This doesn’t mean that every criticism or critique a nonbeliever makes will turn out to be valid.   But I love the fact that these guys challenge us when we get too lost in the clouds with stuff that just doesn’t make sense.

I also can relate really well to these folks because I know what it is like to be unable to believe in something, even when I wanted to.  My own testimony involved coming from a place of unbelief, struggling really hard to find out if there was “anything out there” and having a really hard time taking a leap of faith to find out.   Some Christians would never believe how many atheists and agnostics have told me they really WISH they could believe in something – or that if “Someone” were there, they really wish they could know that.  And especially for those folks, I get it.

And when I hear people bash atheists as if they are somehow deliberately in rebellion against God, that there is something ugly and hateful about someone honest enough about their doubts as to say, “I don’t know if God is real” or, “I’m pretty sure he isn’t there”, it really upsets me.   I would rush to most atheists defense in a moment, because many of them are intensely truth-hungry people that I just want to help them find how to truly find Him, and the army of rancorous Christians shouting at them about how horrid they supposedly are sure doesn’t help.

Screenshot 2017-05-23 at 11.15.48 AMYou’re not going to win an atheist or agnostic to Christ by telling them that God doesn’t care about how they try to be a moral person; they were never being moral for the sake of God anyway.   You’re not going to draw them in by telling them by telling them that without God they have no basis for ethics or morality, because they know you’re wrong.  Quoting at them from a completely different context out of the book of psalms the verse, “The fool says in his heart there is no God,” just affirms to them that you hate them, that you call them a fool, and you’re quoting at them from a book they can’t relate to anyway. Again, all you’re doing is putting up that wall of alienation and hostility for them that Christ died to take down.   And that is the opposite of the incarnation.  And besides, Jesus gave dire warnings about calling someone a fool.

We can win atheists and agnostics to Christ by putting ourselves in their shoes, being honest with ourselves about our own doubts and difficulties at times walking in faith.   We empathize with them by being a real friend and letting them see our real struggles – and victories – with Christ.   We sympathize with them by walking with them through their questions about God, being honest about not having all the answers for them, while appreciating these people for who they are and what they bring into our lives, and how God is using them before they even know Him.    We show Him to them by just being who you are in a real way, talking about Him and His truth in authentic contextual ways that are real to our lives, and giving them all the room in the world to do the same – knowing that a real God is lighting the way forward for you and them together to figure it out.

MUSLIMS
quran-1719546_640One of the surest ways NOT to draw Muslims to Christ is to have all sorts of ideas about them.   I continually run across evangelicals that think they’ve got the “Muslim thing” figured out because they’ve learned about a half dozen ugly statements from the Koran about hating infidels or something.  They also tend to approach those verses in the Koran the way Christians approach their own Bibles – not realizing that Muslims may have their own reasons for approaching those texts differently (just as Christians have their own reasons for approaching Deuteronomy differently than nonbelievers often assume they do.)   But none of that really is the point anyway – you can’t learn a culture just by studying some of its documents ; you learn a culture by hanging out with people.

You can read the Koran from cover to cover 1000 times and still understand next to nothing about muslims, because to some degree, it doesn’t matter what a holy book says – it matters how the people who believe in it interpret it and live it out (or don’t live it out.)  There are many, many cultural things that affect how any particular Muslim will view themselves as a Muslim, and view the teachings of the Koran.  There are various nationalities, various sects in those nationalities, various levels of commitment, various understandings of how to interpret the Koran, and there is folk Islam with its own sets of beliefs.   There are militant Muslims, there are devout yet peaceful Muslims, there are disinterested Muslims and disaffected Muslims.   And just as there are many different cultures of Christians (nominal Catholics, Bible banging Baptists, serious Catholics, liberal Baptists) there are many many different categories, movements, and personalities of Muslims.

But no matter what, one can’t LIKE a Muslim without hanging out with him or her and really getting to know them.  As long as Christians regard Muslims as “the enemy” rather than approaching them as their next best friend, one will never have the privilege of getting to be part of their Islamic friends’ exploration of their own prophet, Isa (Jesus).

kid-1077793_640But this requires learning to LIKE Muslims.   I have found that practicing Muslims are inspiring in their adoration and love for God.  Their reverence and awe for Him are beautiful, the way they seek to involve Allah (and even Christian Arabs call God, Allah) in everyday life puts many Christians to shame.   One thing that seems to be fairly universal however is the importance placed on hospitality; if you can let yourself be invited in, the value of hospitality in this culture in many cases completely transcends any anti-Christian sentiment you might fear your Muslim friend might hold towards you.   Muslims tend to value their guests very highly, and its a great way to get to know them and learn all the things there are to like about them.

And as far as sympathizing goes; I know what it is like to have a works’ mindset in approaching God, and I think many Christians have at some point in their relationship with God a similar experience from which to relate to Muslim religious experience.   Instead of judging devout Muslims for approaching God with a works mindset, I find myself being reminded of how I’ve struggled with the same thing, both before and after knowing Christ.   And many Muslims are not necessarily even approaching God that way either – it’s important to get to know what is actually going on in the lives of one’s friends.

On the flip side, I’ve met young Muslims so in rebellion against the teaching of their parents that they were taking steps with their lives that the God who cares for them would not want them to take.   Sometimes sharing my own sins and stupid decisions and how “Allah knows best” (Allah is just the Arabic word for God) is the best way I know how to help a Muslim-culture friend care about knowing God – and Jesus – when everything about God seems irrelevant to them.

WHOEVER IT IS, LIKE THEM

The main point is, we will be most effective with the people we like enough to truly relate to them, and probably be completely ineffective with people who we are only sharing Christ with as some sort of a duty, or some sort of niche on our Christian-y belts.   I’m also not writing this to give folks an excuse to shrug off reaching out to people they don’t LIKE or don’t GET.     But instead, I’m writing this as an encouragement and a challenge to the church to stop making ourselves “feel good” by how we can look down on those “foolish, God-hating Atheists”, or those “evil satanic Muslims.”

Joshua and Caleb set themselves apart from the other men who “spied out the land” of Canaan because they liked the land they saw, and they thought it was a good land that God was ready to give them.   The other spies looked at the land as being too full of strongholds for their trouble.   Likewise, do we approach people like they are cherished and beloved by God, and that the things keeping them from Christ are not that big of a deal?  Do we find them delightful and enjoyable and know they are a hair’s breadth away from the Kingdom, and that God is near them?  Or do we put up walls of fear and hostility that just don’t need to be there, which alienate us from them and them from us, ultimately cutting us off from our inheritance and the blessing of walking in Kingdom relationship with them?

We’re called like Jesus to love and serve people, and one of the biggest differences from serving someone from a place of superiority verses authentic incarnationality comes down to one thing: Do we authentically like them?  If not, I do think it’s worth asking God to show us how.

 

* Footnote from first paragraph:   I say, “in general” because, heck, God can do anything and when God is really moving in someone’s life, they may not need much human involvement at all – whether you or I hate them or like them may be completely immaterial.   But in most cases, we’re talking about the actual action of evangelism here, where we are the tour guides taking someone by the hand and showing them all the sights along the way and leading up to an encounter with the cross and the resurrected Christ.)

 

 

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