Over the years Philip Yancey has been one of my favorite authors. He has written books like The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s So Amazing About Grace, and Disappointment With God. I had the privilege of hearing him speak at the Re:Create Conference in February of 2012.
His topic at the conference was sharing the Gospel in a post-Christian, media-driven, success-oriented, beauty-worshiping world. The United States is rapidly becoming more and more like France. Yancey related that it is no longer at all effective to ask people: “If you were to die today, and Jesus would ask you ‘Why should I let you into my heaven,’ what would you say?” France is so far post-Christian that the question doesn’t make any sense. Instead, the question has been changed to: “Do you believe in God?”
The response to that question, more often than not, is: “What a fascinating question! I’ve never thought about that before.”
Sooner than we think (and in some places even now), that’ll be the question we will be asking post-Christian people here in the United States. We live in a time when what matters is how beautiful, how wealthy, and how successful people are. We live in a time when Kevin Garnett, a basketball player (read: entertainer), makes more money than the entire U.S. Congress combined.
And along comes Jesus (and His disciples) who say: The first shall be last. The top will be at the bottom. It’s not the rich, it’s the poor.
So how do we get across the message of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, to a people who treasure, value, and idolize beauty, wealth, and success? Yancey relates that the world won’t listen to the Christian message because of Christians. Unbelievers won’t listen, because, they say:
- You don’t listen to me.
- You judge me.
- Your faith confuses me.
- You tell me what’s wrong instead of making it right.
The message will never be heard by people who confront us with these statements unless we first love them. Think about how both Jesus and Paul first showed love to outcasts and then proclaimed to them the good news of the forgiveness of sins.
The message will never by heard by people who confront us with these statements unless we awaken the thirst that is present in people. Think about Jesus meeting the woman at the well in John 4. He doesn’t say to her, “Stop being thirsty.” You can’t stop desire. But Jesus says, “The water you’re drinking doesn’t satisfy, would you like to know a different kind of water?” He awakens a thirst (for forgiveness…see John 4) already in her.
The message will never be heard by people who confront us with these statements unless we live holy lives, lives that are different, lives that look less like the world and more like Jesus. We think the reason fruit is delicious is to please us. From the fruit’s perspective all it cares about is producing more fruit. When St. Paul talks about The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), we are reminded that one of the side benefits of “fruit” (things like goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness) is that it attracts people and it reproduces.
What we’re really talking about here is (shhh…don’t say it too loud) evangelism. Yancey offered up an interesting definition of that word. He said it’s “conveying the good news of life as it’s meant to be.”
In the end it’s about the grace and strength of the Word of God itself. But no one will ever listen to that Word unless they are loved, have an already-present thirst awakened in them, and see a holy life in us.