A Message to Unbelievers on “Keeping the Faith to Ourselves”

messageI hear it all the time. “It’s fine to believe what you believe – just keep it to yourself,” you say. “Faith should be a personal thing.”

Or the more crass version: “Religion is like a [male body part]. Any guy can have one, but once you start waving it in people’s faces, it becomes a problem.”

Noted actor Denzel Washington is a Christian. He has been praised in certain circles for not “wearing his faith on his sleeve”. Apparently people see this as a sign of maturity and restraint on Mr. Washington’s part, a demonstration of how religion should be lived.

If you are one of those people, I come to you in friendship. But I honestly must question how much you really know about our faith.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Imagine for a moment that you had terminal cancer, but nobody told you. Your doctor withheld the diagnosis. Your family didn’t call attention to the warning signs. Your friends said they “didn’t want to upset you”. Would you be grateful and appreciative?

I doubt it. You would be enraged, and rightfully so. The people around you would be guilty of malpractice (professionally) and betrayal (personally). It’d be a far worse evil than telling you the truth.

That’s a glimpse into a Christian’s worldview.

The conversation we should be having isn’t whether Christianity is annoying. The conversation we should be having is whether Christianity is what it claims to be – the cure to a terminal diagnosis of the soul.

I don’t know Mr. Washington or his practices in great detail, but I know that Jesus’ words leave little wiggle room. Evangelism is part and parcel of Christianity. It’s a faith with a built-in “share me” clause. A quiet Christianity is like an automobile without wheels – technically still an automobile, perhaps, but so deprived that it cannot function as one. If people are surprised to discover I’m a Christian, I haven’t run my race well.

Now, I’m all for civility in spreading the faith. Nothing in the Bible promotes promotes rudeness, hate, or self-righteousness as components of an effective Christian witness. 1 Peter 2:12 instructs believers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

I would also apologize to you, unbeliever, on behalf of Christians who treat the gospel as a weapon instead of a cure. Some believers are insecure about their faith – they attack you because they feel threatened by you. Their witness flows not from compassion but self-defense, and it shows in their words.

But be mindful, unbeliever, that none of this will make the real gospel pleasant to you.

It’s tricky separating the delivery of Christianity from its effects. Sure, you might be bugged because it’s being delivered inaccurately, angrily, or hypocritically. But you might also be bugged because it’s doing what it’s supposed to – dismissing humanity’s reaches for redemption as “short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), leaving us all in desperate need of a savior.

Of course you’re offended by that. Any self-reliant human soul would be. Many Christians are offended by that, if they’re honest, in the moments that expose their own lapses. We’re not above the call.

The only way for the gospel of Jesus Christ to ever be truly agreeable is to accept it.

So expect urgency from Christians. Look at it from our perspective. We’re taught to see our faith not as a clash of ideologies, but as a rescue mission. I have friends and loved ones who don’t want to hear this anymore. I respect them as best I can. But if your boat were sinking, would you expect the guys on the rescue chopper to be accomodating? It’s not even the right question. Total non sequitur. Persistence is what their jobs would dictate. And if you saw the same situation they did, you’d understand why.

The claims of Christianity are too great to responsibly ignore. You have to deal with them one way or another.

Either way, you should not be surprised by vocal Christians. We’re unlikely to march to your drum, because we don’t see ourselves on a playing field. We see ourselves as the excited recipients of a cure that puts cancer treatments to shame.

And we very much want you to know about it.

2 thoughts on “A Message to Unbelievers on “Keeping the Faith to Ourselves”

  1. I think what’s going on with non-Christians here (and with those of us who are “the wrong denomination”) is that pretty much everyone in American culture is aware of what Christians believe. Either they’ve already chosen to agree, or they’ve already decided we’re wrong.

    A lot of Christians act like what’s going on with non-Christians is that they’re completely unaware of what Christians believe, but if you just let them know they’ll go “ooooh, didn’t know that! Thanks!” (as though you just told them “yeah, there’s this new study showing sugar’s worse for you than fat”). Thing is, they already know what we believe. Every year on TV, I saw Moses part the Red Sea, Noah, Jesus born in a stable, Jesus die on the cross and come back, that whole deal. The story isn’t a mystery to anyone. Just like we all know Darth Vader is Luke’s father (whether we’ve seen the Star Wars trilogy or not!), we all here in America know that Christians believe Jesus died and came back. The thing that’s in dispute is whether it is fiction or non-fiction. That’s it.

    So to the non-Christian in your example, it’s not a doctor saying “you have cancer.” It’s a quack saying “you look really sick. I think your chi is out of alignment. Come on over my place, and we can get your chi re-aligned.” And they roll their eyes because “wow, did that guy really just use chi as if it were an actual medical thing?”

    Telling people about Jesus isn’t going to make someone suddenly believe he was a real person, that he was really the Messiah, that the miracles weren’t just made up because fantasy stories are cool, etc. I can tell someone all about Doctor Who, and that’s not going to result in anyone believing that Gallifrey and the Doctor are real! We humans are generally a little more skeptical than the aliens in Galaxy Quest.

    You have to do better than telling people a story and making threats about damnation. Don’t be the guy going “take my cure-all wonder drug for whatever ails you!” Be the guy going “sure, you feel fine, but wow I made this change and it turns out things can be even better!”

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    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mackenzie. I agree that the world generally knows our beliefs. What they don’t seem to know (and this was the thrust of my post) is why we’re so vocal about it. They seem to think that we should just state it once, then stop and and let them chew on it. And we should certainly be respectful. But if the situation is viewed not as an intellectual debate but as a rescue mission, it becomes easier to understand why Christians are chomping at the bit to evangelize (or should be) and why we’re willing to risk stepping on some toes in the process. It’s just a “put yourself in our shoes” exercise.

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