do you eat with sinners?

May 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm 28 comments

dinnerRecently attended a church small group meeting, focused on evangelism.

The meeting included a nice prayer during worship, “Oh God, please be our rock and our protection in this time when our government is coming against all that we believe in.” I then prayed, “Oh God, thank you for all President Obama is doing to mend the problems caused by the last administration.” OK, I didn’t really say that…

We watched an evangelism course video. I imagine the content was similar to evangelism programs in other conservative evangelical churches. Make friends with people, be humble, overcome fears, preach the gospel rather than only demonstrating a Christian example. The lesson was on “becoming a friend of sinners.” I felt like I have a lot of experience in that, being apostate and all myself.

At one point the speaker asked, “When was the last time you ate dinner with a sinner?” He then qualified that he meant “unbeliever” or “the lost,” because “we are all sinners.” I wonder why he used “sinners” in the first place then. I have to think it is because that is really the thought process going on, separating the world into “sinners” and “saved”. My wife answered, “Tonight, I had dinner with my sinning, unbelieving husband.” OK, she didn’t really say that, but she could have been thinking it! We exchanged smiles a few times through the message, so she seems to have a peace with my not being on board with the content.

There was a part where Christians in the video were interviewed and asked why it was difficult for them to interact with sinners. They looked extremely uncomfortable. Some of the answers were, “not enough time, uncomfortable with people with a different life style, all my time is spent with Christians.” I would say it is difficult because they really want to be friends with them and not be forced to alienate them with their religion. Or maybe that was just me when I was a Christian.

The speaker asked why people “don’t want to be around us.” He said that people were friends with Jesus because he accepted them, so we should too. He then asked, “Why aren’t people more upset with us? Because after all, that is why Jesus was killed.” The answer is because we compromise and don’t tell people the truth about God’s wrath, because we do not want to offend folks. It seemed schizophrenic, do people want to be around Christians or don’t they? You can’t have it both ways to make two different points in your talk.

We were asked to write names down of people we could “reach out to” (meaning preach to), like friends, co-workers, classmates, people we once knew, etc. I thought that was too easy, I have lots of friends who are sinners. I just wrote down the names of everyone who comments here. Just kidding.

Overall, it was a relatively easy meeting to attend, but I ended up not sleeping well, feeling anxious, and I think the meeting was a part of it. It is stressful to listen to a large amount of material I don’t believe, looking to fit it into a cognitive framework I can understand, where I disagree or don’t and why. There are good reasons for learning opposing view points, but the intellect needs a break too.

So that’s a little insight into evangelism for those of you who have not lived it. Probably an unpleasant reminder for some. There is a great web site HERE about the alpha evangelism course, by someone who writes in great detail about what it is like to be evangelized in those meetings. The posts are quite long, but worth at least a quick read. They are insightful and funny, other-side-of-the-pond wit. I used to help out with Alpha meetings, so I read them with a lot of interest.

Advertisements

Entry filed under: church, evangelism.

The Christians and the Pagans my god! what have I done?

28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  May 6, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    Does this mean I’m going to have to go to meetings like this once I marry my believing fiance? ;-)

  • 2. atimetorend  |  May 6, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Oh boy Mike, I hope you don’t have to! Or if you do, that you have the freedom to speak your mind. I mostly keep my mouth shut, but when I do talk, I have a feeling that everyone is eying me with suspicion, though I am probably imagining that. My wife is starting to be content to go by herself, phew…

  • 3. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  May 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Well, she’s totally accepting of my non belief, and I’m out to all my friends, so I can speak my mind if I wish. It shouldn’t be too bad. ;-)

  • 4. Lorena  |  May 6, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I just wrote down the names of everyone who comments here. Just kidding.

    Ha, ha… I was already hand-sweeping the sweat off of my forehead when I read, “Just kidding.”

    Look at the bright side, listening to the shit gives you blog material. Sometimes I think I should go just for that :-)

  • 5. Lorena  |  May 6, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Monolith

    Go here, watch the video, and read my comment. ‘Nuff said.

  • 6. atimetorend  |  May 6, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    True Lorena, if you can cope with the stress. I actually wrote down that prayer during the worship time, trying not to look conspicuous taking notes!

  • 7. Lorena  |  May 6, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    Why is word press not taking blogger links?

    The link is
    http://superstitionfree.blogspot.com/2009/05/pat-robertson-gives-advice.html

  • 8. TitforTat  |  May 6, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Well I think if you boys grew some Cajones you wouldnt have to worry about joining the flock. OOPS did I say that, nope, just my alter ego, you know the sinner guy. ;)

  • 9. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  May 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks, Lorena. Good advice. Fortunately my fiance is not involved in any church. She just has a basic belief in God and just happens to be a Christian, sort of by default. She and I agree on social and political issues, on pretty much everything, but the existence of God. I think we’ll be ok.

    I haven’t seen Pat Robertson recently, he’s looking pretty old.

  • 10. wowy  |  May 7, 2009 at 7:05 am

    what a pitty there’s those “just kidding” in it!

  • 11. wowy  |  May 7, 2009 at 7:07 am

    and those “didn’t really say that”….

  • 12. atimetorend  |  May 7, 2009 at 7:31 am

    wowy, yes, I feel the same way! I am trying to be more sincere and open with people, a fault of mine, need bigger cajones…

    Here is a blog entry from someone better at that than I am:
    http://notreallyalice.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/bible-study-the-day-after/

  • 13. wowy  |  May 7, 2009 at 8:01 am

    didn’t want to say you weren’t courageous enough… just imagined how it would have been….

    though, I myself sometimes wish I were more open and sincere about what I really think and what makes me angry. Often, I live with this attitude “It’s OK to have doubts about Christianity. But I don’t want to burden anyone else with it. I’ll just keep it for myself”. But that attitude of smiling and agreeing on the surface can have drawbacks. I sometimes think that if I would just name my problems I have with Christianity more directly (and also would voice them towards Christians), this would have two effects:

    1. I would feel better and more relaxed and happier

    2. It could actually help my reconciliation with the Christian faith (why? If I just keep silent about what makes me angry and what makes me doubt those doubts will seem bigger and more threatening than when they come out in public)

    …but that’s just some thoughts. I actually think part of what’s so good about blogging is that you can speak out more easily…

  • 14. atimetorend  |  May 7, 2009 at 8:10 am

    wowy, I went through that for years. When I first started expressing doubts to Christian friends it was very liberating and I really got a lot of support.

    When my doubts became severe, the most typical reaction was like, “Wow, I feel the same way sometimes!” From a few people anyway.

    Outright unbelief is different though. I don’t have the common ground of faith to work through things with people. And they don’t have much to say that reaches me. “Just trust, have faith like a child, God will reach you,” kind of comments. When really that is all well and good, but if the bible isn’t what I thought it was, or what they think it is, the conversation has to take place on a different cognitive level.

    But I still want to be more open with people, even if they just see me as an unreachable apostate and don’t know what to say to me.

    I see faith two ways, one a set of cognitive beliefs based on the factuality of the bible. I don’t have that any more. And the second, “just faith,” believing with no evidence. I see “just faith,” as either something you have or you don’t. I don’t have that either, but don’t see it as something to worry a great deal about.

  • 15. atimetorend  |  May 7, 2009 at 8:12 am

    wowy, one more thing,
    Yes, I was concerned about burdening others with my doubts, but not sharing those things became untenable for me. But it is hard if the context for the conversations you are having is in the church, because I think there is a certain amount of agreeing to basic principles, beliefs, to be part of the church. I want to be respective of that committment. Outside of church meetings,etc, I think it is another matter.

  • 16. TitforTat  |  May 7, 2009 at 8:43 am

    attr

    I see one of the problems of having an organized faith is that when you lose the ability(proof) to make it work, you then have to throw the whole concept of G-d(creator) out. Thats a bummer.

  • 17. atimetorend  |  May 7, 2009 at 9:00 am

    TfT, I partly agree, that has been my personal experience, but I know it isn’t the experience of everyone. I don’t know one *has* to throw out the whole concept of God, but it is difficult for me to do otherwise.

    The conservative Christianity part means that once you do not agree with the core beliefs, you’re out. Even if you are not out and out relationally expelled (though some are), you are essentially outside the faith, as they consider the faith to be.

    I know a number of people who have left conservative Christianity behind, but still adhere to an orthodox Christian faith. There are a number of authors out there, not conservative Christian, but not liberal either, still orthodox, who are willing to accept the evidences against the traditional “proofs” of Christianity as real. See Peter Enns, Kenton Sparks, exploring our matrix blog, etc.

    My theory is that those people grew up in Christianity, so when the faith they knew isn’t provable, they still have that to fall back on. For me, when the faith I knew wasn’t provable, my default was the agnostic intellectualism I grew up in. Which feels fine to me, fits me like a custom tailored suit. And I still have the freedom to explore concepts of G-d to the degree I want to.

  • 18. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  May 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

    This is a great discussion. I know several people who didn’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater when they rejected Christianity. Some adopted other faiths, some sort of made their own. I think some people just sense something greater than themselves in the universe and are more comfortable naming it God. Its once we start dogmatizing things we can not possibly know that we get into trouble and start killing infidels.

  • 19. Lorena  |  May 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

    I don’t know one *has* to throw out the whole concept of God, but it is difficult for me to do otherwise.

    The problem I found in trying to keep the Creator concept going was that the many pagans I met were as dogmatic, naive, superstitious, and religious as the church-going Christians. The beliefs changed a little bit, but the way they went about it was the same.

    Worse yet, at least Christians have a Bible that they follow. The others believe anything that any motivational speaker tells them. Frankly, I rarely met an intelligent, successful, “normal” person in the pagan circles. They resembled the extraterrestrial fanatics in that they were the in-the-fringes-of-society kind of people (odd, poor, etc) with all kinds of claims of grandeur and power–or just delusional.

  • 20. TitforTat  |  May 7, 2009 at 10:07 am

    Lorena

    As far as “Normal” goes, you might like this joke.

    “They had a meeting for functional families and only 2 showed up, they were both in Denial”

    Im curious though, why does the idea of creator have to have any kind of doctrine or theology attached to it. I like the idea of Mystery, it keeps me searching, which in turn leads me more into community(communion) with others.

  • 21. Lorena  |  May 7, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I like the idea of Mystery, it keeps me searching

    Sure, I don’t criticize you for liking mystery. But, personally, I like to only spend time on things I consider worthwhile. The “God” mystery isn’t enticing enough for me.

    I suppose I like projects with chances of success. For instance, why should I try woodwork? I would cut myself all the time and my chances of mastering the skill are microscopical. I prefer sewing, a much more attainable goal.

    In short, I don’t pursue the idea of God because it is a hopeless affair. Never saw any evidence of it in 40+ years of life and I doubt that I will ever see any. Too lazy to bother, I guess.

    As for normal, I guess normal means dysfunctional yet with some degree of common sense in them. I’m hard press to find someone in the pagan circles I frequented who showed any interest for anything rational. The ones I met lived in their own little world where everybody believed the lies. It felt as if someone could have said “that’s yellow,” and all shut down their brains and declared the blue thing to be yellow. Bizarre.

  • 22. wowy  |  May 7, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    wow, this thread is moving fast….

    ……yes, I agree. What is true is: How much sense it makes to speak out depends on how much common ground you have. If common ground has all vanished, then being open is nothing else than being provocative for its own sake……

    I like the thought that where you arrive after leaving (conservative) christianity depends on where you’ve been before

  • 23. atimetorend  |  May 7, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    If common ground has all vanished, then being open is nothing else than being provocative for its own sake……

    Yes, well said. I don’t want to be provocative that way. So I am left trying to find common ground in the conversation, but that can be misleading to others, who are assuming then that I share the same beliefs with them. And if I am misleading, it is unprofitable, because I am not building any sort of meaningful relationships, just being there and pretending I am someone I am not.

  • 24. Temaskian  |  May 8, 2009 at 3:40 am

    “Yes, well said. I don’t want to be provocative that way. So I am left trying to find common ground in the conversation, but that can be misleading to others, who are assuming then that I share the same beliefs with them. And if I am misleading, it is unprofitable, because I am not building any sort of meaningful relationships, just being there and pretending I am someone I am not.”

    It’s a bit of a conundrum, isn’t it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. I’m quite sure some of us feel exactly the same way.

    This is how I think: there’s no need for an atheist to be provocative, unless he wants to. For christians, to be provocative is a command by their Lord and Saviour. And yet they don’t do it. Not all the time, anyway, thank God.

    I’m glad my wife doesn’t go to church anymore, just like me. After all that we’ve been through together, she can see through the hypocrisies of the church just as clearly as I can. In fact, in some ways, even more clearly than I can. (I tend to give people benefit of the doubt.) Just that she still believes in God.

  • 25. DagoodS  |  May 8, 2009 at 10:36 am

    I do not envy you in this situation. I recall those last few church attendings and how it became ever-increasingly painful.

    Admittedly, I have reached a point where I probably WOULD have spoken up. I might have asked, “Do you REALLY want to know? Do you want to know what a non-believer thinks of Christians, and interacting with Christians? Do you want to talk to an unbeliever, or do you want to talk to another Christian about unbelievers?

    “Do you know what they do before they manufacture a product? They first ask people what they want. They do market research—talking to the people who would actually use the product. Rather than make mini-vans in ways the scientists think Soccer moms would want—they go directly to the soccer moms themselves. After years of making cars and trucks and vans and mini-vans in ways they thought people wanted—they finally wised up and rather than guessing, started asking.

    “Do you know what they found out? Cup-holders. Women wanted more cup-holders. Here engineers with Ph.D.’s were cleverly thumping themselves on the back for increasing the mileage by reducing the drag on the gas-tank cover, thinking everyone would be so happy, when what they wanted was cup-holders. A place to put everyone’s cup after dashing through McDonald’s between soccer and dance.

    “Sadly, it has been my experience many Christians are the same way. As Christians we talked with each other as to what the non-believer wanted, needed, desired, and was like. But we never talked to the non-believer. Never genuinely listened; much preferred avoiding the conversations entirely. We sat in small groups, much like this one, with each of us talking with other Christians about ‘them.’ You know—‘THEM’—people who don’t believe the way we do.

    “So ask yourself. Which do you prefer? Don’t answer out loud—you know the real answer in your heart. Do you want to talk about non-believers? Or do you want to talk to non-believers?

    “Be very careful, here. Because if you really want to talk to non-believers, REALLY mean that, I know where I can round some up. Are you ready to hear what they have to say? To hear all these years you have spent 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for twenty years on designing a better gas-cover hasn’t made a dent, because they want cup-holders? Are you ready to hear what they actually think of Christians?

    “If you’re going to listen to them and NOT be willing to change, then frankly it is a waste of time. Keep making gas-covers and be content in the belief what you are doing is what they want. I warn you—what you would hear you would not like and you would not change. My suggestion would be to not.”

  • 26. atimetorend  |  May 8, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Those crazy fundamentalist automotive engineers: “You think you want cup holders, but that is only because you have been deceived by seeking creature comforts. I can tell you what you really> need, a better gas cover… Dammit, I don’t care what you want because I know what you need!”

    Christians are too committed to the concept that they are set apart and different from others to be able to listen to what unbelievers have to say and ascribe to it any validity. Too committed to convincing themselves that what they have is real, and that others need it.

    Not that they wouldn’t want to listen, but it is only to be able to correct the other person’s perspective.

    And yes, it would be good to say just that in a meeting as you said.

  • 27. freestyleroadtrip  |  May 13, 2009 at 12:12 am

    “We watched an evangelism course video. I imagine the content was similar to evangelism programs in other conservative evangelical churches. Make friends with people, be humble, overcome fears, preach the gospel rather than only demonstrating a Christian example. The lesson was on “becoming a friend of sinners.” (ATTR)

    This is elitist and arrogant and to be honest, deceptive. To befriend someone just so you can hopefully impose your truth eventually on them while denying theirs is just not right.

    I grew up in a pastor’s home in the Nazarene church. Fairly fundamentalist. My grandpa was also a preacher in the elite leadership of the church. All of my extended family is either a pastor, Nazarene college instructor, or married to one of the above. I am the lone outlier. I know of the evangelism of which you speak. I have come to see much of systematic theology as a human convention that is largely designed as a behavioral modification system. After all, churches are run like businesses and to maintain operation the masses have to fall in line so that the bottom line is always improving. No church board or pastoral staff would say this is behind what they do. Of course, God is behind it. After all, they are doing God’s work. But the structure of the church demands it. I don’t want to know God from out of that system. I want to know God in the way God wants me to know God. I had to get out of that system where you are always going to get system answers no matter how honest your questions. No matter how earnest your search. I’m glad we have found each other. I think our experiences are similar from what I have read thus far although, as you have said, I have fallen back to a stripped down Christianity while you have fallen back to agnosticism. Both still searching though.

  • 28. atimetorend  |  May 13, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Facinating insights from behind the scenes FRT.

    “I have come to see much of systematic theology as a human convention that is largely designed as a behavioral modification system.”

    I think of systematic theology as an artifice to tell people what they should think. It was enlightening to me to read amazon reviews for Grudem’s systematic theology and realize that there are other systematic theologies out there. Catholics have their own, and it is different from Grudem’s. People in my church took that book SO seriously, and now it looks so preposterous to me, to take the disparate writings that are the canonized bible and say you can draw a systematic theology out of them. Crazy.

    “After all, churches are run like businesses and to maintain operation the masses have to fall in line so that the bottom line is always improving. No church board or pastoral staff would say this is behind what they do. Of course, God is behind it. After all, they are doing God’s work.”

    Interesting, and I’ve never seen the behind the scenes in that either. I believe the pastors in my experiences honestly believe that God is behind it. But it is kind of circular thinking. God ordains this this church structure, therefore we need the money to support it, therefore we need more people, therefore God ordains getting more people, because God ordained this church structure… Couple that with the overall emphasis on “getting people saved,” and you have a something like a vicious cycle.

Leave a Reply

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 )

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 20 other followers

Recent Posts

current and recent reads

read:
not much

reading:
Russell Shorto: Descartes' Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict between Faith and Reason

to read:
???

I support Kiva.org

Kiva - loans that change lives

Categories

wordpress visitor

%d bloggers like this: