Thursday, January 22, 2009

The First Threshold

I have been preaching on the Great Commission this month and a book I am reading has given me a lot of food for thought. Don Everts and Doug Schaupp are both staff members with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship working as “missionaries to the college campus.” Their book, “I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus,” describes what they have experienced about how people born after (about) 1975 journey towards faith in Christ.

The authors describe ‘postmoderns’ as “more experiential than propositional in their connection to truth, more communal than individualistic, valuing authenticity over theory, and understanding struggle more than naïve certainty.” In the course of their work with college students and their interview of hundreds of 20-something Christians, the authors discovered that while each individual’s path to faith was a unique mystery, their collective paths had surprising similarities. Indeed, Everts and Schaupp identify five “thresholds” which people have to cross in their journey. I am going to write about these five thresholds over the coming weeks because I think they describe MANY peoples’ journey to faith, not just young peoples.’

Threshold #1: From distrust to trust. Somewhere along the line, the person has to learn to trust a Christian. This happens when the Christian does not push an aggressive evangelistic agenda but simply offers his or her friendship unconditionally. To many young people especially, say the authors, “religion is suspect, church is weird, and Christians are hypocrites. Relationships, genuine friendships, are our currency.” The authors note that this is the way of Jesus. “Jesus leaned in toward people, asked them to ‘come and see’ his life, went to their wedding parties. He took on flesh and pitched a tent among people. He incarnated.”

Last summer I approached a guy I had occasional contact with and invited him to have a cup of coffee so I could talk to him about “spiritual things.” He knew I was a preacher and he was clearly wary, but he agreed. We met a few days later and I told him that God had put a burden on my heart for him and I wanted to share my Christian faith with him. He was very perplexed by this (“Why me?”) but agreed that at our next meeting I could walk him through a short Bible study. We spent the rest of that first get-together just talking and getting to know one another.

I took him through that short Bible study and he had lots of questions. He confided that he has always been skeptical about the miracle stories in the Bible. He clearly wasn’t even close to being able to give his life to Christ. I told him that I would not pressure him, would do my best to answer his questions, and was going to be his friend whether he became a Christian or not. He is a fine person and I meant it. I hope I would have meant it even if he were not a fine person.

We have met a couple of times since and we continue to talk through some of his doubts and questions. We also chat about what is going on in our lives (it helps that we are about the same age). When I asked him recently if we could get together again, he said, “I don’t have anything new to share with you.” I told him that’s okay; let’s just get together and catch up. I am learning that the Great Commission is not about making people a “project.” It often starts simply by offering a hand of friendship in Christian love.


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