Home > Church, Faith > Preaching to the Choir

Preaching to the Choir

I started blogging through the book of Matthew this year, reading and ruminating on who exactly this Jesus person is who showed up out of nowhere on the planet and conducted a whirlwind ministry of healing, spiritual teaching, controversy and subversion, then died publicly and miserably, coming alive again a few days later and thus launching a massive worldwide spiritual and sociological movement (which has also unfortunately veered into the political and the violent, among other regrettable mutations.) The blog isn’t public, so don’t waste your time googling it; it’s more an electronic journal of my journey through the narrative with as much of an unbiased approach as I can humanly muster. I’m too early in the book for any verdicts, though perhaps I’ll cross post some of my thoughts here sometime.

One thing that’s struck me about this approach is the freshness of encountering this narrative from somewhat of an outsider’s perspective. It’s an easy thing for me to interact with the Bible through the lens of contemporary Christian culture, from the inside, as I’ve spent most of my life in it. But it’s also easy because contemporary Christian culture tends to speak from the inside to those on the inside. We’ve gotten much better in recent decades, at least many circles of Christianity, at broadening our scope and speaking and acting inclusively, or more specifically with broader regard for other perspectives and value systems. At least I think so. But I also think that Christians are still by and large perceived by others as speaking a message from the inside either to those on the inside, or those they hope will be on the inside. I read an article recently on Jim Henderson, a Christian and former pastor who conducted interviews with atheists on Christianity and church services trying to find out how we all come across.

“Many Evangelicals “are obsessed with conversion,” he says, and always speak of non-Christians as “lost.” The interviews show Christians immersed in their own culture and how that sounds to the people they approach.”…”Christians for quite some time have been creating events and trying to draw people into our little box, and we call that ‘outreach,’ ” he says. “This is an exciting opportunity – people are opening, listening, and seeking out spiritual things.”

It’s that sort of opportunity that has intrigued me lately. I don’t have a whole lot of personal stock in how a particular church service comes across perhaps, but what do people think of Jesus who don’t follow him? I can cite all sorts of popular Christian rationality as to why the Bible is the inspired word of God, and Jesus is the Son of God, and while on the one hand I don’t disbelieve them, on the other hand I wonder again how much is insider speak, and how they come across. I’ve had many engaging and enjoyable conversations about faith and the meaning of life (among other savory topics) with an atheist friend over the last few years which has also helped to whet my appetite for more conversations of this sort. When I look further though it seems this combination of civility and honesty is hard to come by in discussions about faith and religion. I could easily link to some examples but to do that would essentially be inviting you to waste your time. There is no scarcity of loud pontifications from both sides, with carefully constructed arguments and rebuttals, but even those that stick to intellectual and rational lines of thought and refrain from outright dismissal and name-calling still come across to me as lacking something essential – namely the faculty of listening and addressing the opposite perspective with respect for its own terms, or discovering perhaps what those terms are. This is the fundamental disconnect I’ve observed in most debates and arguments around faith.

Perhaps my conversations with my friend have spoiled me, but I have yet to find constructive dialogs of this kind on the web – not a string of message deliveries by agenda-pushers but conversations with open terms and a disposition towards listening and learning. I think like Jim Henderson and his conversation partners we all would benefit from getting to know someone from the other side.

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