This is an article from the May-June 2012 issue: Celebrating 200 Years of Mission Society Sending

Religion-Bashing or Faith-Sowing

Here in the U.S., we are in our once-every-four-year presidential election cycle. Just hearing some of the back-and-forth makes me wonder if our “system” really does work as well as it used to. I’ve previously noted in this column that much of the campaigning is negative—candidates bash the other person’s position. I’ve talked about how we tend to do that with our theological arguments. But today I was considering how this kind of approach impacts how we share our faith.

Do we believe that we must put down another person’s religion or beliefs in order to convince them of the gospel? Do we need to say, directly or indirectly: “my Christianity is better than your xyz?” It may make us feel better to be “right,” but just as often this other person also thinks he is “right,” so it shuts down the opportunity to talk further.

Many are not direct in their approach, but even without a strong, “I am right and you are wrong” mentality, we can still come across as arrogant and condescending. While our culture here seems to admire those kinds of attitudes more and more, it doesn’t work when it comes to spreading the gospel. Ultimately, it is the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit that brings regeneration, yet God works in and through our words and actions.

Naturally, we believe we are right and that we know Jesus. If that is true, we are right. But that doesn’t mean all our theology is accurate. With Paul’s teaching, the Bereans checked out the Scriptures to be sure that what he was saying was in line (Acts 17:11). Just this last week, my pastor said that while he will never teach something he knows is not true, he can be wrong! I appreciate that. Many in theological debates put up “theology” as crucial—and it is. But, that does not mean that my theology is always correct. Asking questions and reexamining theological issues doesn’t equal heresy. Neither is considering more effective ways of describing the gospel.

But more to the point: As we have discussions with those who do not (yet) believe, we need to be careful. I am not saying that we need to dumb down our message or hold culture above the Bible. Imagine someone was trying to convince you that your faith in Christ was misplaced. They might say that “this” or “that” fact about Christ or the Bible isn’t true and that you needed to believe a different “faith” to get right with God. How would you feel? Defensive? Angry? Entrenched in your position? Suppose for a minute that they are right: would you give up your faith because someone convinces you with an argument that put down the Bible? I’m sure it happens. But if you are reading Mission Frontiers regularly, you may be a bit stronger in your faith. You know you would not likely be swayed. Your faith may be tempted, but you are not likely to fall for any “debate” without a fight. If you don’t know an answer, you know people with whom you can consult. Perhaps, like me, you have grown up in Christian circles in a “Christian” country.

Now, imagine again, that you had grown up in a Buddhist family in a Buddhist country like Thailand. How well might our standard arguments work there? You can’t start with “God loves you” because they don’t believe in a supreme being. You can’t tell them our God is better than their god, for it wouldn’t make sense to them.

You can love them. You can serve them and learn the way they think. You can seek to understand their language and culture. Through that process—which several friends of mine have done in Thailand—you can find ways to share that make more sense and reap fruit for the Kingdom.

But remember—especially when the fruit seems slow in coming—it is the Holy Spirit who draws them, not our arguments. We need to contend for the faith, but that should start by our “contending for understanding” them. There must be proclamation of a message to go with our life being an example, but how we “preach” must fit the context, just like it did in the book of Acts.

We would love to hear what you think on this and other topics in this issue. Please take a moment and post your thoughts at:


In your article you state that:

“Many in theological debates put up “theology” as crucial—and it is. But, that does not mean that my theology is always correct. Asking questions and reexamining theological issues doesn’t equal heresy. Neither is considering more effective ways of describing the gospel.”

On the surface these are statements that I very much agree with but when I hear these kinds of statements made within our postmodern culture today it sets the alarm bells ringing, not because of what was said, but because of what is often meant by those making statements like this today. While it is true that “asking questions and reexamining theological issues doesn’t equal heresy,” we need to realize that it can (and has) lead to heresy within the church and within the missions field today. Within postmodern theological circles there has been a move towards accepting a belief in an egalitarianism of ideas and questioning the foundational theological truths of Christianity has began to be seen as the means of demonstrating greater “spirituality.” While many of the questions being asked today are good questions, many of the suggested answers to those questions are theological bankrupt. While there are very few bad questions, there truly are many bad answers that we, as the church, really do need to reject.

Also, while I would agree that the “my God is better than your god” argument is not always the best way to begin a conversation, suggesting that we rule that kind of argument out completely seems hard to reconcile with the what we are taught in Scripture. In many ways, Paul’s Mars hill sermon was a “my God is better than your god” argument and Elijah not only made that same argument when he took on the prophets of Ba’al, God himself proved Elijah’s point. While I think it is very important to be sensitive to those we are trying to reach, we need to be even more sensitive to God’s leading and recognize that he has often led his people to confront the theological errors embraced by those still in rebellion towards him; especially in regards errors involving the worship of false gods. Asking a lot of questions and making sure we truly understand what others believe before sharing our beliefs is often a good way to begin to engage, but evasively answering questions about our faith that are asked by those with whom we are engaging is never a good response. Using your example of engaging with a Buddhist, when sharing my faith I may need to begin by explaining why I believe in a supreme being before describing his character to them but I should NEVER try to conform God’s image into something that aligns with Buddhist “theology” (if you can call it that). There are many valid approaches to communicating the supremacy of Christ to the hurting world around us and we should always be asking how we can best communicate Christ’s supremacy in a way that others can hear, but we should never fail to communicate it.

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