“If we maintain the open-mindedness of children, we challenge fixed ideas and established structures, including our own. We listen to people in other denominations and religions. We don’t find demons in those with whom we disagree. We don’t cozy up to people who mouth our jargon. If we are open, we rarely resort to either-or: either creation or evolution, liberty or law, sacred or secular, Beethoven or Madonna. We focus on both-and, fully aware that God’s truth cannot be imprisoned in a small definition. ” Brennan Manning
I have been surprised over the last several years, a time of personal spiritual awakening, of how wrong I’ve been on so many things! I was sure I had all the right answers and my theology was superior to everyone else’s. I spent too many years defending a belief system which, in effect, shut down conversation, learning and growing. Mostly my own. This can explain why Christians are most often labeled by non-Christians as “judgmental.” Instead of inviting others into our lives we live fearfully and guarded. In effect, we isolate ourselves from participating in God’s redemptive work in those whose lives intersect with our own stories. For the proclamation of the gospel often comes by how we move in the world and how we reflect Jesus in acts of genuine compassion, kindness and hospitality (Matt. 25:40). Learning to listen, be present, and available to one another and the Holy Spirit is the pretext for any such proclamation. It is not a program; it is part of everyday life.
So how do we proclaim the gospel to a world which thinks differently than we do? Listen. Ask for their story. Stop defending your position. Listen without judgment.
Evangelism used to use the question: “Do you know where you’d be if you died tonight?” It was often coercive. It was often pre-packaged. It was often unrelational. Perhaps today the question should be: “What if you knew you were going to live tomorrow, the next day, week, year, or decade? Who would you follow and what kind of person would you want to become?”
Maybe the task of evangelism is to validate their story and draw them into God’s greater story through our own lives.
What we need today is a “level-ground conversation”–a way of listening. “What do you think about Jesus?” “Tell me about your tat…” (Talk about a conversation starter!) Perhaps, then, conversation is not seen as a compromise, but an act of loving hospitality.