Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Get the gospel in there"

A week or so ago I was talking to a Christian friend about my job and he asked me “what do you say when people say ‘so you’re science teacher and a Christian?’ ”. I said that I hadn’t faced that situation yet, but that I’d probably throw it back in their face with something like ‘yeah, aren’t you?’ or ‘yes, it makes more sense to me than anything else’. My point was that I’d try to make them explain why they thought the two might be inconsistent and then try to answer their queries.

My friend then made some sort of comment along the lines of “and then you’d swing it round to get the gospel in there”. What he meant was that he’d expect me, as a Christian, to manoeuvre the conversation to a point where I can hit my colleague with “God-loves-you-so-much-he-sent-Jesus-to-die-for-you”. At the time I let it pass, but it really grated with me. I have a problem with the idea that the aim of every conversation should be to talk about Jesus’ death on the cross.

Why can I not have an intellectual discussion about science and religion without trying to turn it into a preach? And who is to say that my colleague would not encounter God through that conversation, without any mention of Jesus?

The standard ‘four-point gospel’ or ‘two ways to live’ seem like very narrow views of the gospel. What about the good news of God’s love expressed through his creating and maintaining of the world, something that would flow far more naturally from a discussion of science and religion? Or what about bringing my views on abortion to a prep-room discussion, without discussing Jesus? Or trying to explain God’s love in the midst of reports of another natural disaster? There may be times to explain what I believe about Jesus, and what his crucifixion and resurrection were all about, but I don’t think I should be trying to bring that into every conversation.

I can think of little that would put me off God more than some Christian who tried to twist every conversation into a preach about my sin and Jesus death.

This approach also has overtones of seeing colleagues as projects to be worked on rather than people to be loved. The main command of God is to love, not to preach or convert. Sometimes (rarely) loving someone will involve telling them about what Jesus was all about (e.g. four-point gospel, though personally I’m not fan of that). More often it will be nothing like that. It will be helping them out with a task, giving them a gift, listening to their concerns. “Love is a verb”.

When it does come to ‘converting’, it’s about helping people move closer to God. We’re not called to make converts, but disciples – and disciples keep learning. They don’t just step across a line and stop, they charge right across the line and keep running. Therefore Christians should be focused on where they and others are going rather than where they are now. It’s not about getting a confession of faith, or repeating a prayer. It’s just about helping people understand what God is like and what he’s done (and that is not limited to the cross, though it includes it).

The central point of a person’s walk with God may not be the point when they say they believe (I didn’t even have this moment!), but the point they first experienced someone giving them something for nothing, or when they stood on top of a mountain and saw the beauty of creation, or the time they went to church at Christmas and were challenged with a different thought about baby Jesus, or even when they lie on their death-bed and look back on God’s faithfulness.

So if I’m asked how I can be a Christian and a scientist, I probably won’t mention Jesus, and I might not even mention my God. I might just explain how I see no contradiction between science and religion, or I might describe my worldview of the natural and the supernatural. But that might be exactly what my colleague needs. They may have been preached Jesus at dozens of times and know all the theory but have hit a stumbling block with science. Then surely helping them past that would be much more appropriate than hitting them with two ways to live again. Our conversations should be natural and our lives focused on expressing God’s love in all sorts of ways. And we shouldn’t narrow down God’s work to a three day period 2000 years ago.

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