Thinking Out Loud

October 10, 2017

The Question to Ask: A Gauge to Measuring Understanding

Filed under: Christianity, doctrine, evangelism — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 am

Longtime readers here may recognize the story I’m about to tell, which I shared here 3½ years ago, though this is a complete rewrite.

I love hanging out in the religious books section at larger bookstores like Barnes and Noble or Chapters in Canada. You’ll see people — especially in cities where there are no longer Christian bookstores — looking at books and Bibles and are sometimes perplexed as they pick up a copy of something the store shelved in what they see as the catch-all category of Christianity. If it’s not going to come across as creepy, I’ll let them know that I work in the field or offer a comment on what they’re holding at a particular moment. (“That’s a great book, I just finished it.” or “If you’re interested in that subject, I know a better book that you might enjoy.”)

But one day I had a guy totally turn the tables on me. He let me know, rather arrogantly, that he had a Doctorate in Divinity and it was his intention to set the agenda for the rest of the conversation. I decided to simply roll with it and see what I could learn from him.

“When did you become a Christian?” he asked.

Growing up in church, by age 6 I knew the need to pray the prayer, or make a decision or accept Jesus, but I think that my faith solidified more at age 17. Depending on when and where you catch me, you might get a slightly different answer. The mercies of God are new every morning and hopefully each and every day I am reaffirming my commitment to follow and walk under Christ’s Lordship.

“How did you become a Christian?” he continued.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it. Other times I’ll talk about the pastor of the church I attended throughout my teens, who would ask people to raise their hands if they wanted to be “included in the closing prayer” and how in prayer we ask God to include us under the covering the Cross provided.

But then he went for the third and final question.

“How does someone become a Christian?” he asked.

In a way I had already answered this, For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.) But beyond receiving the offer of salvation, I am giving myself to live for him and serve him. I defer decision-making to what is according to how he desires for me to live on his terms and not my own…

…I think this particular question can be really central to conversations we have with people both inside and outside the fold. In other words, while this can be useful in the context in which he spoke with me, it would also make a great opening a question for your next small group meeting. “How does one become a Christian?”

My guess is you would hear a variety of responses even from your closest church friends.


An extra thought to consider: Just because he had a graduate degree in Divinity does not in any respect guarantee that he himself was what some would call saved. There are a number of people taking advanced education programs for whom doctrine and theology are merely academic exercises. I always want to ask these people why bother to study something at a distance that is not a living reality in their lives, but I don’t want to presume too much, or ignore the possibility that God is still at work in their lives, inching them closer to the thing which fascinates their intellect. 

This story could have easily been different had I chosen to turn the tables on him and inquire as to his personal spirituality. Perhaps I was intimidated or perhaps I was confident in the moment that he really knew Christ and really cared. But a discussion like this can go either way. Noel Paul Stookey told a story where a young kid came up to him after a concert and started a conversation that would change his life forever.

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Your Response (Value-Added Comments Only)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: