Wednesday, September 13, 2006

I recently struck up an e-mail correspondence with my aunt, Robbi. Upon finding out that I was a Christian, she said "please do not try to convert me."

Should I honor her request?


Ben said...

Considering I'm a miserable failure as an evangelist, I don't feel qualified to offer my opinion. But, as you well know, that's never stopped me before.

It sounds to me like sending an e-mail titled "Repent!" and containing the 4 (5?) spiritual laws would not get the message through to her. In that sense, you should honor her request.

But that doesn't mean you should (a) avoid taking a personal, loving interest in her and (b) talk openly and freely about your faith. My problem is that I get uncomfortable talking about my faith and I soften and fudge on the implications of Christianity when discussing it with my non-Christian friends. Don't do what I do. But I think if you are unashamed about your relationship with Christ and loving to your aunt...and praying and following Christ's lead....then I think that's still an attempt to convert her (that is to show her the Gospel). In that sense you should not honor her request.

All easier said than done and I'm hypocritical for telling you to do this when I don't do it.

I'd be very curious to hear if anybody totally disagrees with me.

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

I like what Ben had to say. I think it's mostly right on, but there's a bit of undeserved self-judgment maybe, and perhaps a candid admission of not quite understanding personal evangelism.

First of all, it is an easy request to comply with, to "not try to convert" the aunt. Why? Because we humans do not convert anyone to Jesus Christ, even if we are "professional" evangelists. It's important to remove this phrase from one's active vocabulary: "I am out to convert you."

Second, and this is from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, we do not proselytize. We evangelize. The first is not a possibility, the second is not an option. Again, we cannot convert anyone (proselytize), and we cannot refrain from reflecting the reality of the Master whom we follow on to others (evangelize). If we are following the Lord Jesus Christ, if He is our Master in spirit and truth (not in mere words), then we are walking gospels, whether we witness verbally or not. So, you see, if Kenny is going to have a personal relationship with his aunt at all, consisting of actions and shared activities, as well as verbal exchanges, everything he says and does (and presumably thinks, since he thinks before speaking or doing) is going to be an incarnation of the gospel, that is, an "evangelismós" (Greek, "announcement of good news") falling on the person of his aunt. She has no more possibility of evading this than she has of staying dry in a thunderstorm without an umbrella. Kenny can respect her wishes not be talked to about "religion" very easily, not even be talked to about "Jesus" (who is the end of religion), but if he relates to her at all, as the man in Christ that he is, she cannot fail to see Jesus in front of her, in him. Then it will be her choice to not resist, and let the Word of God gradually wear down the self-protectionist walls she has put up, until she asks him to tell her about Jesus; or to resist, and it better be quick, so she doesn't have to endure his unself-conscious, good natured and affirmative behaviour towards her.

And that's what evangelism is. We don't have to bear the burden of slaying the infidel in our unbelieving neighbours by passing out Chick tracts, or the spiritual laws, etc. They already know the "bad news." All we have to do is BE the good news, and wherever we pass among them, we will plant the seed of the good news, and leave it to God to give the increase.

What do you think of that?

Jeff said...

As a non-Christian who has often found myself in the position of your aunt (ask Ben about our long, drawn-out e-mail debate in college), I agree with Ben and Romanos - the direct approach is often not the best. People must come to their own spiritual conclusions.

It is, however, incumbent upon you to present her with your favored option. This doesn't mean shoving a Bible in her face - it means that, if the subject of religion comes up (and in my experience, it will in the course of any interpersonal relationship), to discuss it frankly. Too many people hide their Christianity around people like your aunt or me. This is not what we ask for - we merely ask that you respect our point of view while you carry out your mission.

A caveat. As a Jew, I realize that to non-Jews I represent not only myself but Judaism as a whole. So it is with Christians around non-Christians. To your aunt, you now represent all of Christianity. It is for this reason that you must be very careful to act in a way that casts your faith in a positive light, for if people have a negative view of Christianity, how will anyone ever convert?

Ρωμανος ~ Romanós said...

Thank you, Jeff, for your perceptive words. As I was reading your comment, part of my mind was seeing you as a co-religionist, I mean, as a Greek Orthodox. Your ideas and style of expression seem Orthodox. Anyway, then I'm not surprised that you are a Jew, as the Eastern Christian's ways with God are more Judaic than Western. I especially liked how you expressed it, "to non-Jews I represent not only myself but Judaism as a whole." This is exactly what I was getting at. Thank you. Axios!