Today’s question comes from Stevie. She writes: “One of the things that attracted me to Catholicism was that they don’t proselytize. I can’t remember the correct word, but the phrase is, “We (teach by example, my words), we don’t intrude.” With HONEST and HUMBLE respect for faiths that do, it confuses me. My belief in God is such a powerful and personal thing. It has not one thing to do with anything anyone has told me. I have a family member who spent years spreading God’s word to nonbelievers. What I don’t get is … if someone doesn’t believe in God, what will reading the Bible mean to them? Does the promise of Grace change them? I ramble—-maybe it’s not as clear as I thought. Your thoughts, please.”
Thanks for the inquiry. Let’s see if I can chew on it a little and invite others into the conversation.
The first part of your question raises two age-old questions about evangelism: what it evangelism, and how does an individual go about engaging in it if she or he so desires.
At its most basic level, evangelism involves an openness to sharing one’s faith. Some folks (and some traditions/denominations) are comfortable talking about their faith; other folks (and other traditions/denominations) are less comfortable talking about their faith.
Where it gets tricky is how one goes about doing that.
Some folks define “faith” in regard to a specific set of doctrines, creeds, or belief statements. When it comes to sharing their faith, folks in this first camp tend to emphasize sharing a specific set of statements. They will often have a laundry list of Scriptures prepared in advance to quote, and have a specific agenda in mind. The goal, for instance, might be to get the individual with whom they are speaking to give a specific answer at the end of their conversation (i.e. answer yes to the question, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior”).
That’s one way of evangelizing or sharing one’s faith.
Another way to approach evangelism is to focus not so much on a specific set of beliefs but on one’s own personal experience of God. Folks who take this approach typically don’t have a presentation prepared in advance nor an expected outcome. They simply share from their heart and create room for the other person to respond as they see fit. That includes room for the other individual to end the conversation or change the subject.
As to your question about sharing what the Bible says with individuals who don’t read the Bible or value its insights, I don’t think that is the most helpful way to engage someone. I believe it’s most helpful to talk with individuals using a common frame of reference or experience.
In regard to your second question – “does the promise of grace change them?” – I certainly believe God’s grace can be active in any and everyone’s life. Having been raised a Methodist, I loved how John Wesley (the founder of the Methodist movement) talked about prevenient grace – or the grace that comes before an individual can even recognize or appreciate it. I believe that grace would draw me to use methods of communication that could be appreciated/valued by both parties involved in the conversation.
Those are my thoughts on the questions. How about you? What are you thinking?