Answering the Wrong Question to the Wrong Person

Sometimes I put answers on “Answers.com”. I saw the following question:

How do Thinking Christians persuade modern men that it is necessary to shed blood to atone for sin that it is necessary for Jesus to die in order to reconcile men to God?

It is possible that this is a loaded question… implying that Christians are really unthinking. I remember years decades ago a person posing the question on the RELIGION FORUM of COMPUSERVE, “Why do many Christians worship on Sunday (1st day) rather than Saturday (7th day)?” I gave what I considered a fairly detailed and thoughtful answer. Then the person who asked the question responded with: “Well, I find people who worship on the 7th day to be more spiritual.” That suggests to me that the person wasn’t really asking the question to find an answer, but to pose a complaint. Ultimately I Peter 3:15 suggests that we should try our best to answer questions:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

I see key points here:

1.  Everyone. While the Bible may give caution about answering fools, it seems best here to not be quick to judge the character or motive of a person, but do one’s best to inform regardless.

2.  Reason. It’s not just faith. God made us to be reasoning beings. As such, we share our faith, in part, by sharing our reasoning.

3.  Gentleness and respect. Going back to the Golden Rule, We answer others as we would want others to answer us.

Returning to the question above regarding blood sacrifice, someone had given the following answer:

The necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus to reconcile men to God is and has always been the key central doctrine of all forms of Christianity having an orthodox theology. Anything else is heresy.

I do not believe you can persuade anyone of this that chooses to believe otherwise. This may be one of those things that must be revealed to a person by the Holy Spirit, not by human persuasion.

 

I feel the answer given was inadequate. First of all, it made no attempt to answer the question… it answered a different question. Second, it made no attempt to consider the intended audience. Ultimately, the “answer” given is that the blood sacrifice of Christ is true and anyone who says otherwise is a heretic. Not much of an answer. I added my own answer:

We do not know what God HAD to do to reconcile Us to Himself. We know from the Bible what He DID do. The Bible says that “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.” However, since that is true because God made the rules, it is, perhaps, possible that a different system could have been made.  The question would be then, “Why do it that way?”

1.  Cross-culturally, there seems to be a recognition of guilt, shame, unworthiness… one could say “sin.” It appears to be, perhaps not universal but very common, that blood sacrifice and blood covenants are recognized worldwide as needed to appease and make peace. Even “modern man” tends to identify death as the ultimate justice (or poetic justice) for actions that are unconscionable. Whether that is hardwired into our beings, or if it is deeply ingrained in our cultural histories, blood sacrifice on some level has always “made sense.”

2.  On a less cultural, more personal, level, we seek a God (or divine power) that is good, that is powerful, that is caring. Yet we live in a world that is not good, that seems to be out of control, and is heartless. How does one reconcile this. Throughout history, there have been many attempts by many groups to come up with an answer to this. However, the Biblical answer is that we live in a world of evil and chaos, despite a Good, Powerful, and Caring God. This, however,  is a temporary state, not God’s intention for a permanent condition. The point that reconciles the two seemingly contradictory points is that God is powerful and at work to reconcile all things. He has chosen to identify with us, to suffer with us, and to sacrifice for us. In so doing, He shows His goodness and care.

 

Is this a better answer? I don’t know– you decide. But it, at least, TRIES to answer the question asked for the intended audience. Of course, I don’t believe anyone can be persuaded. But one can attempt to answer with gentleness and respect regarding the hope that is within us.

Dale Carnegie and the Gospel

My dad used to like to say “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This bit of wisdom is something lost on Christians often. It seems to me that many of us

Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955

have been seduced by the false promises of argument. My son, Joel, was on the debate team at his University, and was quite good at it. Debate gave him quite a bit of confidence in speaking in front of people. It also helped him research and understand issues. It further helped him to gain an understanding of the art of logical persuasion. However, it did not teach him, really, how to change people’s minds. Issues are emotionally laden and argument/apologetics tends to be cognitively laden (or at least verbally laden).

The quote from my dad is from a longer quote by Dale Carnegie:

Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  -Dale Carnegie

Christianity is not about arguing people into heaven. First, of course, salvation is the act of the Holy Spirit not an act of our will. Second, to the extent that it is us and not God, it is an act of the will, not an act of cognition. As such, it is heavily tied to emotion, culture, and personal paradigm.

Consider another quote by Dale Carnegie:

In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ, but emphasize the things which we agree. Keep emphasizing that you are both striving for the same end and our only difference is one of method and not of purpose. Remember the other man may be totally wrong, but he doesn’t think so. Don’t condemn him, any fool can do that. Try to understand him.   -Dale Carnegie

Emphasizing differences tends to tell the other person why they SHOULD NOT agree with you or change their own mind.

Rather, demonstrating kindness and God’s love is more likely to inspire change. After all, Proclamation of the Gospel is likely to be given little attention unless there is first Demonstration of the Gospel. Taking a third quote:

Here’s a fable about the sun and the wind. They quarreled about which was the stronger, and the wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off faster than you can.” So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado, but the harder it blew the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him. Finally, the wind calmed down and gave up. The sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. He mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind, “gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.” Friendliness and appreciation can make people change their minds more readily than storming at them can. -Dale Carnegie

NOTE: All of these quotes are from the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I actually enjoy the book despite it coming from the (often odious) self-help section of bookstores. But if you don’t want to read it yourself, look at the collection of quotes and lists compiled in THIS WEBSITE. Try reading them from the standpoint of an evangelizer.

 

Aristides for Today

ícone bizantino representando Santo Aristides ...
Aristides of Athens. Image via Wikipedia

Many years ago, an aunt of mine died. At her funeral, the pastor of her church got up to speak. He chose that time to provide a number of scientific “proofs” of Christianity. Back then I was a nuclear engineer so I was somewhat comfortable with the natural sciences. I knew that much of what the pastor said was extremely shaky.  I was a bit embarrassed because an uncle of mine was in attendance who was a self-described atheist and seemed to feel that Christianity was an ignorant set of fables.

I spoke with my uncle, and he suggested that the funeral sermon was targeting him (almost certainly correct) but made no comment about the inaccuracies. It occurred to me that he did not find the sermon strange because it simply reinforced his belief in the illogical and anti-scientific nature of Christianity and Christians (such as those he would see on TV).

It did get me thinking that it would be helpful for Christians to have role models who can address the concerns of the intellectual (or at least educated). While I think it is more important that a Christian be godly, loving, and kind, the need exists for someone who can express Christianity in terms that the educated can appreciate.

Consider a spectrum of apologetic presentations.

<Evangelism> ——————————————- <Apologetics>

At one end is Evangelism, where the purpose is to express Christianity in a way that unbelievers can be led to see the need for a change of allegiance. At the other end is Apologetics, where the (primary) purpose is to express Christianity in a way that believers can be led to remain true to the faith. Some think that apologetics is for evangelism… but few are “argued” into salvation.

But what about a middle ground between these two which deals with both Christians and Non-Christians, but is not necessarily dealing with classic evangelism or a classic apologetics against apostasy? Not everyone appreciates a bumper sticker Christianity. “Letting Go, Letting God” for some creates more questions than answers. “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it” does not satisfy and causes some to question the intermediary steps in this logic.

Since I am not always too good at clever names, I would like to suggest calling the middle ground the “Safe Zone”.

<Evangelism> —————<Save Zone>—————— <Apologetics>

The “Safe Zone” to me is apologetics that expresses Christianity in a way that unbelievers understand that they can safely become a Christian (even if not ready yet to do so) without being foolish. It is also a place where Christians can feel safe that being a Christian does not mean (as stated by Mark Twain regarding faith) “believing what you know ain’t so.”

When I was in college, at Cedarville, there were many Christian professors… they all were… it was a requirement. It was nice, but there was the fear that Christian education may exist only in an academic ghetto within a broader educational structure. Then I went to SUNY at Buffalo where it seemed to be (to me at least) a distinctly anti-Christian environment. After that I was in the Navy where Christians were present, but not particularly successful. Finally, I attended Old Dominion University. I enjoyed it, in part, because there were many capable and successful Christian professors that lived out their faith and worldview in a secular academic environment. To me, it set up a safe zone. I knew that being a Christian did not necessitate turning off my mind.

I definitely believe we need people today who can express Christianity in a way that builds this safe zone. In the early 2nd century, there was a man in Athens named Aristides. He was a Christian and a Greek statesman. Supposedly, he went around Athens in the garb of a Greek Philosopher. He wrote an apology to the Roman emperor around 125AD. It expressed an understanding of the Christian faith in a way to make it more intelligible to the Roman leader (some Romans thought that Christians were incestuous, atheistic, and cannibalistic because of poor representations of this faith). We don’t know how successful or unsuccessful it was with the Emperor, but it had a strong impact on Christians. His basic arguments were recycled in the Medieval Christian fiction, Barlaam and Josaphat. Even today it can be useful to understand an extremely early perception of orthodox Christian faith within the framework of Greek politics and philosophy.

I think we need more Christians like Aristides today. We have loud Christians, we have energetic Christians, we have loving Christians (though not enough), but we also need thoughtful and reflective Christians creating a safe zone where Christians and non-Christians can find Christianity expressed well. There are some who attempt this, but the numbers are too few.

In Praise of Ignorance (?)

Giotto - The Seven Virtues - Faith
“Faith” from The Seven Virtues, by Giotto.  Image via Wikipedia

I love a good quote.  This is good because it makes one think.

“When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever says he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal. ”  “An Old Galician, as quoted by Czeslaw Milosz

In Christian missions, there is the temptation to know everything. After all, if we are attempting to show that someone is wrong and should change their mind, it seems counterproductive to admit ignorance. I have met people from other religions who absolutely refuse to say “I don’t know” or express any sort of doubt about anything. It has occurred to me how unappealing that attitude is. I would love to say that Christians I have met don’t do this… but it is not true.

As Christians we should be quick to say “I don’t know” to, frankly, many questions. There are a few reasons for this.

1.  It is intellectually honest. We are finite beings, in information, time, and space. To suggest otherwise is simply not true.

2.  It is appealing. To never admit ignorance or mistake is hubris… a sin. Titus 2:10 tells us to adorn the doctrine of God.  I Peter 3:15 suggests that our sharing the gospel should be done with humility and reverence. In other words, we cannot say that we have done our job in sharing the gospel simply by being accurate. Our attitude matters.

3.  It admits to the process. We are to study and to grow in knowledge and faith. To claim to know everything is to claim no room for growth and learning. I knew a person from Christian-based cult who claimed to fully understand everything in the Bible. Not much point to talk to someone who has already decided that she knows all there is to know. A friend of mine (more into apologetics than myself) pointed out to her some rather obvious misunderstandings she had with Scripture. Of course, nothing really happened. She knew everything so if she was wrong, she would already know it, correct?

4.  Doubt relates well with faith. If we think we know all things, we don’t leave a lot of room for faith. Faith is empowered by our recognition of our finiteness… our limitations. We are called to be followers of Christ, but why should we follow Him if we already know exactly what we are supposed to do and where we are supposed to go?  Embracing a bit of doubt opens us up to to embracing faith.

5.  It points to our role as a Witness for Christ. Our role in this world is primarily defined as witnesses. A witness describes what he has experienced and has personal knowledge of. A good witness tells “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” A good witness does not pretend to know more than he knows. In fact, when a witness does act as if he knows more than he really knows, it taints his whole testimony.

Willingness to admit there are things we don’t know, adds veracity to the statements about what we know. It is reminiscent of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. When questioned by authorities, he focused on his own personal knowledge and let the others draw their own conclusions.

You may not agree with these thoughts. That is okay. I could be wrong.