Returning to our final few posts in this series, this week John Leonard encourages us to lean into talking about other people’s religious beliefs rather than shying away. He wants to persuade us that it will greatly help, not hinder, our evangelism and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. You be the judge if he’s right:
Most of us don’t speak to people of other faiths because we don’t know what to say to them. We don’t know what they believe so we’re afraid we won’t be able to answer their questions. Perhaps you have a friend of another faith, and you’ve been saying to yourself that you’re going to learn about her faith so that you can talk with her intelligently. The problem is that you’ve never gotten around to it.
A better way is not to read the book, but to ask your friend to explain her religion, why she believes it, and what it does for her. Tell her that you’ve always been interested in understanding what her religion teaches and want to compare it with Christian teaching. This is better than reading a book because people who say they’re from a particular faith may neither know nor believe the teachings of their own faith. There are many people whose faith is a cultural commitment rather than a religious one.
By having your friends tell you what they believe, you’ll find out what their real religious commitments are. It’s good to read about someone’s religion, but it’s better if you let them tell you about it. That way you’re not trying to tell them what they’re supposed to believe. People are committed to religion for all kinds of reasons. Don’t assume that because someone identifies themselves as being part of a particular religion they believe, or even know, what their own religion teaches.
Evangelism isn’t a game of chess or checkers, in fact, it’s not an us vs. them anything…
Too often, Christians set up us-versus-them confrontations. When this happens, both sides dig in and there is little room for movement on either side. To speak to people of other faiths you need a different approach. The arguments and proofs against other religions sound convincing to us, but I have never convinced a Mormon that Joseph Smith never found any golden tablet or a Muslim that Mohammad did not receive a book from heaven. Attacking someone’s religion, even if they don’t believe it themselves, doesn’t help them convert; it just closes down the conversation.
An us-versus-them approach with Muslims is like playing checkers with all the pieces pushed to the center of the board—there are no moves. Everyone is blocked. With Hindus and Buddhists, it’s as if you’re playing checkers and they’re playing chess on the same board. If you tell them their rules are wrong, they’ll respond, “You don’t know the game!” People are people first! Instead of thinking of people as different from you because of their religious beliefs, understand that they are in many ways like you. They have many of the same hopes, dreams, and fears. Instead of us-versus-them, we should see ourselves on the same side of the table, talking about how we and our friends are facing problems and difficulties in life. Your attitude and respectful listening will set an example. Before too long they will ask you how you deal with those issues. This will give you the opportunity to share the hope that is the gospel.
Some practical matters, including patience, when talking to people of other faiths…
Instead of dealing with the most devout, look for those who are slipping out the back door of their religion or cult. Look for those who have a spiritual hunger, but are not satisfied with what their religion offers them. How do you find these people? Not with the us-versus-them approach. You find them by being interested in them and by talking to them about spiritual things. When they know you’re really listening, you’ll be surprised at what they tell you.
When you share with those from other religions, be prepared for a long conversation over many months. It normally took Muslims who studied the Bible with us six to eighteen months to believe in Christ. As already shared in chapter seven, it took one secular Hindu woman four years to confess faith in Christ. Don’t be discouraged by the amount of time it is taking. Remember, you are already discipling the person to Christ. There are many questions to be answered, many objections to be dealt with, and much to learn. Don’t get discouraged if the person you’re dealing with decides to study his own religion as well. This is usually a good sign because he’s probably seriously considering becoming a follower of Christ. Most converts from other religions pass through this stage at one time or another.
There is also a two-step process in conversion from another religion. The first is believing what Christianity teaches. This may take place fairly soon in the process. At least they may reach a point where they don’t doubt the truth of Christianity. For most people, the most difficult step is not believing but converting—changing their identity and community. Remember, they usually are not just leaving a set of beliefs, but leaving family and the way they have always viewed themselves. For many people Christianity may be more appealing than their own religion, but they cannot even consider changing because they belong to another faith community. Therefore, people of other religions not only need to be told about Christianity—they need to experience it. They need to find a new family in which they feel completely at home. Instead of talking to them individually about the Christian faith, let them experience what grace is like in community.
Dreams are one of the most common reasons Muslims convert to Christianity. When Muslims have dreams about Jesus, they start looking for someone to tell them about him. There are people from all kinds of faiths and backgrounds who are reading the Bible in secret. And there are people praying to God, asking him to send someone to them who can help them answer the questions they’re asking. These are the people you should ask the Lord to bring across your path.
Questions for Thought of Discussion:
1. When you meet people or get to know people of other faiths, are you more likely to shy away from talking about religion or are you excited to dig in? Why or why not? If you are excited is it because you want to get to know their religious commitments better or because you want to win an intellectual chess match? If you tend to shy away, how does Leonard’s excerpt help you think about that?
2. When you read this post, who came to mind in your life…what person of another faith did you picture? Could you set up a time to talk and ask them about their religious commitments and have a friendly, casual conversation about their beliefs and yours?