It started off as an informal chat between two friends on a quiet Sunday afternoon. A colleague and I were several hours from home, teaching at a seminary during summer school. We decided to take a break and get something to drink. A local café seemed like an ideal setting. The waiter was in a jovial mood. While my friend and I got caught up on numerous subjects, we exchanged pleasantries with him for the full two hours that we sat in his section. He constantly ribbed us about settling the $2.50 bill before we tried to slip out! Finally, we paid, and as he handed me the change, he asked, “What do you guys do, anyway?”
We told him we were both professors of the Bible.
“Hey, that’s neat. I love to debate!” he exclaimed. He went on to recount the recent adventures of his university debating society in New Zealand. It seemed they did quite well. He then asked, “Have you ever debated whether Judas Iscariot should have been canonized?” (I must admit that my Protestant mind had never thought much about that one.) “Or how about whether Mary really had the choice to carry the baby Jesus to term?” (Not one of my top ten, either.)
The pause in his voice prompted me to comment, “It seems to me that you are someone who really wants to understand the truth.”
“Unquestionably,” he replied. And just as quickly he was off on another round of options to debate.
“No, that’s not what I mean,” I interjected. “What I meant is, where are you at in your spiritual journey?”
“You can’t ask that,” he said. “That just confuses the issues. You get into too many opinions and people get offended. I just like to debate.”
“But what about the historical aspect of these issues?” my colleague asked.
“No, that’s not important. You see, I’m Jewish. You and I, we come at issues differently. Here’s an example: I think Ernst Zundel has done a real service to the Jewish community by denying the Holocaust. He’s made us think about the story. That’s what it’s all about—telling the story. It’s not what happened that counts; it’s the story. You can’t forget the story.”
I could see he was becoming a little nervous about his other customers. The section was slowly filling up. I picked up the bill and waved it ever so slowly. “Interesting,” I said. “You didn’t treat the bill that way. You wanted me to pay exactly $2.50—not just anything I wanted to pretend I thought you might want me to pay. No fiction here!”
He looked at me, chagrined. As he slowly moved away, he muttered, “Never thought about it that way before.”
Explaining God’s Truth in Diverse, Urban Societies
In our increasingly urban, diverse society, how can God’s people explain his truth? The very orientation to truth, to history, and to the meaning of life is in a state of constant flux. In our situations today, it seems people think that nothing can be known for certain, that history is devoid of any sense of direction, and that all truth is relative. Any sense that some things are right and others wrong seemed to collapse with II World War.
How can we handle this dilemma when sharing the truth of the gospel?
In a study called the Harvard Negotiation Project, several principles and ideas are put forth for international peace negotiations and business corporations for the resolution of conflicts. I have found that the same ideas are easily applicable in communicating the truth of our faith.
A little book called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In1 formulates four of these principles of negotiating. I think they could also help people to say “yes” to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Below are the four principles:
Make a distinction between the person and the ideas he or she promotes. It would have been very easy to laugh at the ideas of our waiter or to say, “Your ideas are wrong. You can’t believe that.” Sharing the good news means we must make the distinction between the person God created and the notions he or she believes. The tone of the voice and the words we choose are a good indication that we are making the distinction.
Make it easy for people to change their opinions on subjects. Nobody likes to admit that they are wrong or that what they have believed for twenty or thirty years is no longer valid. We may win the “argument” that certain truths are essential to life, but so polarize the person that there will be no further dialogue about the good news. In today’s climate of evangelism we need to slow down and make sure we understand the person’s point of view.
Do not take a combative posture as you dialogue with people. This principle is the logical extension of the first two ideas. As we articulate God’s truth, without compromise, it is not necessary to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Rather, we can create a climate of uncertainty in the other person’s foundation for his or her ideas. We need to make Christianity attractive as an alternative way to live and to think in a very uncertain world.
Tell your own story as an example of someone who changed his or her mind. Your testimony of a changed life is a marvellous tool to help the other person see that Christianity is relevant.
Today’s cities have abandoned the story that Jesus offers life for all. But God has sent you and me into our cities to offer God’s “Yes.”
By the power of the Spirit of Jesus, we have an unprecedented opportunity to live and share this good news with our urban neighbours.
1. Fisher, Roger and William Ury. 1991. New York: Penguin Group.