It’s never easy to start a conversation that may end up in disagreement, especially when it comes to matters of faith. How can we do it in a respectful way? JACKIE HWANG relates her experience of sharing the gospel with those with different religious views.
You might have heard of the Great Commission which tells us to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18–20). This is Jesus’ command to share the gospel with those who do not know Him. For some of us, this command may be difficult because we don’t know how to engage with friends who already have different religious views from ours.
I vividly remember the time in secondary school when, in response to my history teacher’s critique of Christianity,
THE EVERYDAY ENCOUNTERS OF GOD’S GOODNESS ARE USUALLY THE MOST RELATABLE AND CONVINCING.
I defended my faith, something that led to my classmates making fun of me. At the time, I felt embarrassed and confused. Later, in my university days, there was another awkward encounter when my Jewish friend, with a smirk, turned down my invitation to a Christian event. You may have had similar experiences of feeling at a loss for words with friends who have different religious views from yours. So how are we supposed to share the gospel when it seems so difficult to talk to them about the Christian faith?
START WITH A CONVERSATION
Looking back at these two episodes, I would probably say to my younger self, “Be patient about sharing the gospel. Start first with a conversation about other things.” We see that Jesus did this in His encounter with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1–42). He started the conversation with a request for a drink of water, which led to a deeper discussion, and only then did Jesus talk to her about spiritual topics. In the same way, we can slowly work toward a level of understanding and trust with others that makes it possible to talk about deeper things such as our belief in God.
You can start simply by talking with your friend about things you have in common. In one of your conversations, you may find a natural point to share about God. It could be an experience where God has answered a prayer or something tangible that they can relate to. It doesn’t have to be a miraculous event or a well-rehearsed gospel presentation. The everyday encounters of God’s goodness are usually the most relatable and convincing.
BE WILLING TO LISTEN
Another thing that I would tell my younger self would be to listen to the different religious views out there and think about how to connect them to God’s truth. The Bible story that offers us a good example of this approach is found in Acts 17:16–34. In this passage, Paul engaged the Greek philosophers at Athens using their own religion. What he did was, in taking notice of their worship of an “unknown God”, he used this void in their religious belief to proclaim to them the true God of heaven and earth.
What Paul did may seem too difficult for us, since after all, Paul was well trained in religious ideas and a great missionary. However, the lesson we can take from Paul is to start by listening to our friends talk about what they believe. If we are willing to listen, we can understand their belief systems better.
A simple way to start could be to ask and listen to why and how they celebrate certain religious holidays or engage in certain practices. This may not lead to any gospel sharing, but it would build a “gospel bridge” — a connection to talk to friends about religious matters even though you have different views.
As you learn about the religious views of others, think about which aspects are similar to or different from our faith. It could be that you realise there are things about Christianity that confuse you, and it might be necessary to consult a pastor or Christian leader who knows more. But you will slowly build up the knowledge needed to have meaningful conversations with friends about different religious views. Eventually, you will develop a comfort level in knowing how to find an entry point for the gospel. And it all starts with the act of listening to them.
BE CONFIDENT BUT NOT JUDGMENTAL
Returning to my experience when my classmates mocked my Christian faith, I would also tell my younger self to remain confident in my Christian faith but not be judgmental or too defensive toward others who disagree. Having a wrong attitude will erect barriers for conversations with people who have different views. At the same time, my faith does not need to crumble under their criticism.
In the two Bible stories mentioned above (John 4:1–42; Acts 17:16–34), both Jesus and Paul confidently shared the gospel with those who believed differently without being judgmental or defensive, even when some rejected their message. Jesus and Paul offer us good examples of how to stand firm in our faith without becoming hostile toward those who believe differently.
It is important to keep this principle in mind especially when you face the more controversial issues for which the Christian position is called into question. These could be questions on the validity of Bible,
HAVING A WRONG ATTITUDE WILL ERECT BARRIERS FOR CONVERSATIONS WITH PEOPLE WHO HAVE DIFFERENT VIEWS.
the Christian position on LGBTQ+, or the ethics of abortion. Remember that you can agree to disagree whilst remaining clear about what you stand for and being respectful of others’ different views.
LET YOUR LIFE SPEAK
Finally, the way we live often speaks louder than our words. Authenticity matters! It is important that we live out godly lives which are consistent with the gospel message that we want to share with others. Note that this is not a holier-than-thou or no-room-for-error life. Rather, the point is to live honestly with our shortcomings, to be humble about our need to depend on God, to be sincere in the words we speak, and to be compassionate to the weak as God is.
If we can live a life where God’s transformation in us is visible to our friends, our lives will speak about the authenticity of our faith better than any convincing arguments we use. So, living a God-centred life is our witness. Therefore, combining a credible witness with our willingness to listen, to enter into conversations, and to not be judgmental in presenting our positions will be a winsome approach to engage our friends who have different religious views from us.