Of all the topics we discuss on this blog, there’s hardly any that could evoke feelings quite like those that come from that one simple instruction.
Christians typically feel guilt, fear, inadequacy, and that squirming sense of wondering what business they have poking their noses into other people’s lives.
Unbelievers, the witnessed-to, are likely to feel the squirming sense of wondering what makes Christians think they have any business poking their nose into other people’s lives — that, plus the discomfort of feeling like they’re being made a project, being put down, being talked at, … and on and on it goes.
Could the two sides have anything in common? Yes, definitely: and if I could distill it down to one phrase, it’s treating one another as fellow human beings, and the difficulty we have with that sometimes. Why can’t spiritual conversations happen naturally? Doug Pollock says they can, and in God Space, he shows how.
… And Why They Don’t Have To Be That Way
The key is caring, listening, wondering, being open to the other person’s ideas, and being open about ourselves with them as well when the invitation is given.
Now at this point I’m going to introduce half of a disclaimer. My next several paragraphs are terribly inadequate because … (read on for the rest of that sentence, coming later).
Caring Enough To Listen
Doug is the only apologetics conference speaker I know of who gives atheists the floor for extended periods. It’s no gimmick. He does it so that Christians can hear what they have to say, and so they can know that — at least for once — they’re being heard. He hosted a discussion of that sort at a conference I attended recently in Columbus. The four of us — Doug, his two atheist guest, and I — went out for lunch the next day. I had a professional connection with one of his guests, and we’ve met once since then to talk shop. We’ll do it again, next time we’re in range (it’s about an hour and a half drive to get together).
Now some Christians might ask, “Why do we need to listen to unbelievers?” — which is (pardon me) a stupid question, but sometimes I hear it anyway. The first reason I would give is because they’re fellow human beings who have something to share. I learned a lot in that professionally-oriented conversation, I can tell you that. The second reason is because God loves us all, and he’s called us to love them, and one of the best things you can do for another person is to listen to them. I mean listen genuinely, of course. It’s hard to do that on a blog, as I alluded to here, among other places. It takes a face-to-face relationship to do it well. The third reason is that they’re a lot more likely to listen to what we have to say about Jesus Christ and eternal life if we listen to what they have to say about themselves and their beliefs.
And if that’s not enough, there’s Jesus’ example. He was the great question-asker of all time. Sure, Socrates was famous for it. He asked questions to bring out ideas and contradictions. Jesus did that, too; but where he really shone above all others was his interest in the person he was talking to. His questions reached into both heart and mind. More often than not, he expressed his care for people by asking and listening.
Learning How to Listen
Most Christians wouldn’t ask that not-too-bright question; they know the reasons already. Still most of us still aren’t very good at it, which I put down to not knowing how to ask and to listen. Doug covers that well, with examples. He focuses on wondering, as in, “I wonder if anyone has ever tried to share Christ with you before? What was that experience like?” Or, “I understand you believe [x] about reality; I wonder how that’s working for you?” The idea here, of course, is to let the person answer. What I mean to say is, if this is just a technique, it stinks; if it’s expressing genuine human interest, that’s on the right track.
So does this mean we never share what we believe? By no means! If you’re interested in what someone else believes, chances are he or she will ask you what you believe. Or if you ask them a “how is this working for you?” question, that could easily open the door for a response like, “have you considered whether there might be a better way?” Although he does not try to make this book into an apologetics/worldview resource, Doug emphasizes knowing what we believe and why we believe it, so we can be equipped to help others understand what they believe, why they believe it, and (of course this is my conviction, and also his) why the Christian faith is the far better way.
Why You’ll Want To Read This Book
Now for the rest of that disclaimer: … because they’re much too analytical and dry, compared to the way Doug wrote this book. I can’t help it; it’s just that Doug’s a whole lot better story teller than I am.
It’s a book of explanations; it’s a book of stories. It’s a book of surprising discoveries. It’s a fun book to read, to make your own discoveries in it.
And the principles Doug expresses are really fun to put into practice. Christians, have you ever felt ill at ease sharing your faith? Skeptics/seekers/atheists, have you ever felt like someone was forcing their faith on you? You don’t have to. Spiritual conversations can happen naturally.
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