Today’s question/comment comes from Stevie. She wrote: “Sharon’s recent question which started, “when asked about my religion…..” made me think. It made me wonder why I dislike it so much when someone asks me about my faith, especially the question, “Are you a Christian?”. My relationship with God is so personal to me. To me, a question such as that is as intrusive as any other question about my personal life. I could never be part of a faith community where “spreading the Word” is important. Is it part of my introverted personality…that part of me that makes the number of people I get close to small? Is it because I feel judgment from those who have asked me that because my relationship with God is different from theirs? I wonder.”
There are so many different levels of Stevie’s question/comment. I will pick out just a few threads and speak to them. Then I will invite others to share their insights as well.
Let me start by affirming two things you said in your comment. First, I do think an individual’s personality plays a role in how comfortable she or he is in talking about one’s faith. Extroverts will certainly be much more likely to talk about things – including faith – than introverts.
This leads me to the second thing you mentioned that I wanted to affirm. The fact that our approach toward evangelism is related to our approach to others things in life as well. Some people are prone to talk publicly about a variety of things: their favorite sports team; their favorite political candidate or political party; their favorite movie or television show; or their favorite recipe. Others keep such things to themselves.
While some might think of the ability to talk about things openly as a matter of introversion or extraversion, this issue is larger than that. For some extraverts were raised to believe not to talk about controversial or “unpleasant” things with others while some introverts were raised to believe that a self-respecting person ought to stand up for her or his beliefs. I believe this second matter is more a matter of style and background.
Before I get to the two primary theological points I wanted to discuss in regard to Stevie’s comments, there is one final thing that makes talking about our faith so hard in these times. Starting in the early 1980’s, white Evangelical Christians began to play a HUUUUUUUUUUGE role in American politics. Who can forget the rise of Jerry Falwell’s ironically named Moral Majority (I say “ironically named” because many Christians felt their group was neither).
This group of Christians spoke in very specific ways about a variety of issues. As a result, they gave Americans the impression that if a person said they were Christian, it meant the person was anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigrant, anti-people of other faiths, anti-fill in the blank. As a result of their political actions, hundreds of thousands of Progressive Christians stopped talking openly about their faith for fear that others would assume they held these political positions as well.
I want to move beyond these first three areas that deal with social matters, however, and talk a little bit about theology.
There are two aspects of a person’s theology that helps dictate how much – and in what ways – a person talks about their theology.
The first is the person’s view of what some Christians would call salvation.
There are some Christians who believe that only those who profess a personal faith in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will be saved (meaning, they will go to heaven and live eternally with God and their loved ones). Those of a different faith – or no faith – will spend eternity in eternal damnation.
Obviously, folks who hold this theological view have a HUGE drive to talk about their faith as often – and as loudly as possible – because they believe the eternal well being of others depends on it. They believe in a theological position known as “limited atonement” (i.e. God’s work through Jesus reaches only those who accept or believe in Jesus in a particular way).
Some think these folks are driven by ego or arrogance: trying to win the world over to their “position” or “side”. While there certainly are some individuals in this camp who fit that description, not all of these folks do. Many are motivated by a genuine love for others (and a deep-seeded fear about the future of their loved ones).
Sadly, many think this is the only viable Christian theology. It’s not. There are many Christians who believe in a form of universalism. This means that God’s love is so great that it not only encompasses those who love God but embraces those of other faiths and no faith as well. This belief system is often referred to as “universal atonement” – meaning that God’s work through Jesus fundamentally affected God’s relationship with all of humanity (not just those who view Jesus in a particular way).
Universalists, as you might suspect, have a very different understanding of their loved ones present and future. They are not worried about their loved ones being damned to hell. Instead, they are at peace knowing everyone rests in God’s love and care. One of the challenges of a universalist perspective, I should add, is that it can lead to a tremendous sense of complacency toward those folks who are physically and spiritually hurting – if we are not careful.
I bring this up to say our theology (whether we subscribe, for instance, to a belief in “limited” or “unconditional atonement”) has an even bigger influence on how compelled we are to talk about our faith.
The second theological matter that affects our drive to talk about faith has to do with whether or not we are a creedal Christians.
Creedal Christians are those folks who participate in traditions that tell us there are specific beliefs an individual must learn and internalize. A sort of curriculum to master, if you will.
For creedal Christians, evangelism comes relatively easy because it is very clear exactly what an individual is to share. These beliefs are in Scripture and the historic Christian creeds alone. These folks often have a few Scriptures memorized that they will refer to – and a few talking points – that lead virtually all of their faith-based conversations to the same place.
Non-creedal Christians don’t have the luxury of having things spelled out for them. While many read Scripture carefully and prayerfully – and know what beliefs are considered “orthodox” as defined by the historic creeds – their primary spiritual focus is on the truth which resonates with their soul. In addition to Scripture and teaching, non-creedal Christians consider things like their personal experiences and what reason (something many believe to be a gift from God and NOT a threat to one’s faith) tells them in embracing their faith.
Because of the role that personal experience and reason plays, non-Creedal Christians can be much more reluctant to talk about their faith with others. They are humble and realize their personal experiences – and their set of learnings – could very well be different than the individual they are speaking with. They don’t want to discount the other person – so they are more likely to not share their faith perspective.
So do these theological pieces mean that evangelical and/or creedal Christians are the only ones who could and/or should share their faith openly?
Absolutely not! My passion as a universalist, non-creedal Christian pastor is to give people in my faith community the tools they need to feel more comfortable talking about their faith.
I hope to help people realize that we CAN talk about our faith more easily when we realize our opportunities to talk about our faith are motivated by a joy and excitement about sharing our experience of God’s universal love (not fear in talking about God’s impending judgment or a heavy sense of obligation to evangelize in order to punch our ticket to heaven).
We can also more easily talk about matters of faith when we realize all we are doing is sharing our experience and perspective about God in a way that invites others to do the same. We don’t have to worry about misquoting a piece of prepared Scripture or forgetting a sub-point of a prefabricated set of talking points that were written by someone else.
Those are just a few thoughts Stevie’s question/comment raise for me (he says as he types his 1,432nd word). What do Stevie’s remarks raise for you?