They knew it was coming. They always did. A warning in small print on the invite read: During the evening there’ll be a short talk entitled: ‘Who is Jesus?’.
The theory looks a bit like this:
1) Tempt in your friends with the promise of fun.
2) Once they’ve enjoyed the pizza/music/picnic… BOOM! Hit them with a gospel talk. That way, having accepted said treats, social rules dictate that they cannot leave. Thus gospel summary reaches relevant targets,
3) Pat ourselves on the back for another successful event.
N.B. If friends appear pissed off, it’s only because we must expect hostility/offence – that’s from the Bible, duh. Remember, the spread of the gospel is more important than our reputations.
I realise that this kind of cynical chat probably makes it sound like I’m an anti-evangelical sort who thinks that we shouldn’t talk about Jesus in case it makes people feel uncomfortable. But actually, I’m unbelievably keen about telling people about the joyful and life-changing gospel. I pray for strangers in all-night chip shops. I am out and proud.
But here are some of my reservations* on the matter:
1) When we bribe our friends into hearing about Jesus, we don’t do him justice. It’s a bit like when you have to wrap the dog’s medicine in ham so he’ll take it. As if our faith is a weird and embarrassing relative who has come to visit, and we have to put on a BBQ to make it OK that our friends have to meet them. Are we talking about the same guy? Jesus is the bee’s knees, the cat’s pyjamas, the most incredible social and political radical the world has ever seen. He’s good news to the poor, freedom for the captives. We certainly don’t need to employ an awkward quiz at the student union bar to make him more digestible.
2) The lack of permission involved is neither gentle, nor respectful. “Being ready to give reason for our hope” is quite far away from assaulting our friends with a gospel summary they did not want or ask for. As someone on Twitter put it: “We spread Jesus by attraction, not by force or manipulation.”
3) The idea that the best way to tell your friends about your faith is to round them up and let someone else deliver it feels a bit disempowering. The reality is that spreading rumours of hope is not the preserve of the skilled speaker, or bright academic, or gifted evangelist. We can all have a go. It’s just life, right?
If that makes you nervous, or you don’t have the faith or the confidence, don’t beat yourself up about it. I reckon it’s 100 per cent OK to share with your friends that you’re doubtful and nervous and on a journey, or that you do have a faith but don’t know how to tell them about it, or are worried about what they’ll think. And if you don’t know why there’s suffering, and how it is some of the gospels don’t quite say the same thing, don’t bluff it, just say. If the gospel isn’t honest and liveable and earnest and human, it’s not particularly accessible either.
*also collected from some other good brains from around the kitchen table…