The Bible is weird.
Perhaps due to familiarity, Christians are generally unfazed by the many strange aspects contained from Genesis to Revelation. Every word in the Bible is divinely inspired and entirely true…but, let’s face it, the Bible is still pretty strange.
Snakes and donkeys talk, people walk on water, people come back from the dead, people live to be over 900 years old, and a man gets swallowed by a big fish and lives to tell the tale. If this was in a novel, we might think it sounded pretty far-fetched and overly fantastical.
Beyond these strange quirks, there are also some truly difficult dilemmas in scripture. That the notoriously thorny “Problem of Evil” can be explained on a philosophical level is of little comfort to those impacted most by such evil (as C. S. Lewis discovered). To the Christian, God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the great Flood are a testament to his perfect righteousness. To the unbeliever, such narratives understandably appear barbaric. To the Christian, the existence of Hell is a natural result of God’s holiness. To the unbeliever, the punishment of eternal Hell is an act of unfathomable pettiness. To the Christian, the Holy Trinity is an example of God’s “otherness” that is far beyond human comprehension. To the unbeliever, the trinity is illogical nonsense. Christians say “divine mystery!” Unbelievers hear “Christian cop-out!” And…like…were there T-Rex on Noah’s ark?
The Bible is a complicated book. It should not surprise us, then, that many unbelievers have a difficult time accepting or believing it. Unbelievers deserve honest answers to their difficult questions and objections to God. They deserve patience and understanding. After all, the Church is not called to go into all the nations and get conversion decisions. The Church is called to make disciples, and discipleship is a messy and gradual process.
A Simple Gospel for Complicated People
Part of the amazing legacy of Billy Graham is that he presented the Gospel in such a way that even a child could understand it. He demonstrated that the Gospel is beautiful in its simplicity—people have a sin problem and God has the loving remedy for it. Everything else is secondary to this simple “old time” story. While the Gospel message is beautifully simple, people are not.
In education today, there is an understanding that there are different learning styles—visual, aural, kinesthetic—and that students are wired differently and thus need different stimulation to learn effectively. In evangelism, however, we too often embrace a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all formula. If we share our emotional testimony and the listener does not make a decision then and there, we shrug and conclude that they’re “just not ready yet.”
An atheist with genuine philosophical objections to Christianity, however, may not be moved by an emotional testimony. On the other hand, a skeptic with an emotional grudge against God (perhaps due to the loss of a loved one to cancer) may not respond to the intellectual “free will defense” for the existence of evil. The church can ill-afford to take a McDonalds approach to discipleship because—unlike those soggy, thin burgers—no two people are alike.
People-Driven, Not Method Driven
Some unbelievers stand on the precipice of belief and require little more than a simple 5-minute “ABC’s of becoming a Christian” spiel to take the plunge. Others require a lot more. In our culture of instant gratification, are we willing to make the long-term investment?
There is a level of superficial spirituality in the mindset, “I just show up and let God do the rest!” Indeed, without the activity of the Holy Spirit our words are empty. It is Christ alone, not clever human rhetoric, that saves souls. God is the power, and we are but a vehicle for His divine activity. However, this does not mean that we don’t have any part to play. The Bible teaches that Christians must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
When we restrict ourselves to just one evangelistic approach—our testimony, the “Roman Road”, the ABCs—or embrace a “just wing it and leave it to God” mindset, we may actually be revealing that we are more focused on our own comfort level than on truly reaching a lost and messed-up world full of unique and complicated individuals.
The Gospel is unchanging, but that does not mean our presentation of it should be as well. The Church should never water down or tinker with the simple and timeless Gospel message in a vain effort to make it somehow more palpable for non-believers. At the same time, we should be willing and ready to meet unbelievers on their terms and in their comfort zone, even if to do so takes us out of our own. The world doesn’t need any more Christian clichés, programs, or methods. What it desperately needs is an army of Christians willing to do whatever it takes to roll up their sleeves, get dirty, and crawl alongside unbelievers, through the sludge, and right up to the very threshold of belief, where their loving heavenly father is waiting to welcome them home.