Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Evangelism. Show all posts

“Nobody wants to talk about hell anymore.”

by K.W. Leslie, 05 September

There’s this church in town whose members really love to leave gospel tracts in my local Walmart. They especially like the really bitter, bilious tracts; the ones which inform people IN ALL CAPS that they’re totally going to hell unless they give up all their favorite things, reject the pope and all his works, and turn to Jesus. You know, typical dark Christian tracts. Especially the ones full of half-truths and conspiracy theories, ’cause they’re those kinds of wackjobs.

I typically find them sitting on top of the urinals. I wonder whether the tract-passers realize how easy it is to bump ’em into the urinals and whiz all over ’em. And how often it probably happens—both by antichrists who wanna show their petty contempt for Christians, and by fellow Christians who are irritated when people turn the good news into bad. Only Walmart’s janitors know for sure.

This particular tract caught my attention because it began with the line, “Nobody wants to talk about hell anymore.” In my experience this always means the person definitely wants to talk about hell.

And in fact loves to talk about hell. Won’t shut up about hell. Usually such people talk about hell more than they talk Jesus. They’re sick ’n tired of Christians like me who want them to stop exalting it: Hell’s a big deal. If people don’t turn to Jesus, and shun rock music and socialized medicine and the New World Order, they’re going to hell! Shouldn’t people be warned about this? Shouldn’t we tell them this?

So the tract wrote plenty about hell. Not in a lot of detail, ’cause the bible doesn’t actually provide details. Mostly to emphasize what the bible does have in it—that hell’s all weeping, wailing, teeth-gnashing, and suffering. Contrary to the movies, it’s not a fun place where you can party with pornstars and your favorite heavy metal bands and all your sinful friends, and snort all the “marihuana” you want with no worries about overdose. You actually don’t wanna go to hell.

And I agree; you don’t! But you know why I don’t care to talk about hell when I’m sharing Jesus? Because I’m trying to help ’em believe in Jesus. They kinda don’t. Not really; not enough. I’m nudging them towards more faith.

When people don’t believe in Jesus, they definitely don’t believe in hell. They think it’s imaginary. Either they think everybody without exception goes to heaven, or otherwise advances to another plane of existence; or we entirely cease to exist, and go nowhere. So hell is the fiction of horror movies and comic books and gothic literature and Bugs Bunny cartoons. If I imagine I’m gonna terrify them with it, I’m gonna be greatly disappointed.

So those of us Christians who don’t talk about hell, don’t do so for no reason, nor because we don’t believe in hell. We don’t talk about it because it doesn’t work. People might turn to Jesus out of fear… but either they won’t stay Christian, or they’ll use Christianity to justify all their other paranoid fears, and really be more Christianist than Christian. They’ll fear their neighbors, not love them.

Plus all this hell-talk has the unfortunate side effect of corrupting those who preach hell. Like I said, our gospel becomes bad news, not good. We stop being heavenly-minded. We grow as fearful as our message. We’re constantly watching out for devils instead of listening to the Holy Spirit.

Sharing Jesus with your teenagers.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 August

I’ve known people who became Christians late in life. They were on the fence for years; then the Holy Spirit decided it was time they stopped waffling and pick a side, so they did. And now they wanna share Jesus with their spouse and kids, and bring ’em all into God’s kingdom… and they’re having a rough time of it, because the family isn’t interested.

I’ve also known people who made the mistake of never really teaching their kids Christianity. Oh, they raised ’em Christian; they took ’em to church, did church-related and Christian things as a family, and demonstrated various outward signs of the faith. But they never sat the kids down and said, “Here’s why,” and largely expected the kids to pick up Christianity by osmosis. And that didn’t happen. The kids are pagan. Or maybe one kid is Christian, but the rest are pagan; sometimes two kids; sometimes the few kids who are still Christian are only so because they’re young, but wait till college.

So either they didn’t have any Christianity to pass down, or they did but sucked at it. Either way, they wanna pass it down now, and are finding it’s really hard to.

Well, yeah.

Teenagers aren’t impossible to evangelize. Definitely not. Youth ministers do it all the time—and lots of them came to Jesus as teenagers, so they know from personal experience! The Holy Spirit works on people of all ages.

The problem is, as their parent, getting ’em to listen to you. That’s not gonna be easy. You’re at a significant disadvantage.

Revival!

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June
REVIVAL ri'vaɪ.vəl noun. A new interest in something old. [In this case religion.]
2. An improvement in the condition or strength of something.
3. Reawakened religious excitement.
4. A worship service meant to reawaken religious excitement.
[Revivalist ri'vaɪ.vəl.ɪst noun.]

If you grew up in a church which holds a lot of revival services, y’might not be aware revivals are controversial among a lot of Christians. Usually because there are a lot of con men in the revivalist business, who’ve discovered it’s a really great way to make money. Whip people into a religious lather, ask ’em for money, and they’ll give it!

You don’t even have to believe in Jesus. Marjoe Gortner, a former child evangelist turned Hollywood actor, went on a final revivalist tour in the early 1970s and let documentarians watch him behind the scenes—and film how he really felt about what he was doing. It made for a disturbing but Oscar-winning documentary, Marjoe. More people are familiar with the fictional versions of such people, like Elmer Gantry—but Gantry was totally based on real people.

These folks—and too frequently, real evangelists—take full advantage of religious excitement. Too many people confuse spirit with emotion, and can’t tell the difference. This particularly happens at revival meetings. Yeah, we’re meant to experience the Holy Spirit, not mere religious excitement. But both evangelists and con men want us to get excited about God. Some evangelists don’t realize there’s a difference… and frankly, some don’t even care; whatever brings you to God. Others legitimately believe the excitement is the same thing. I’ve personally watched an evangelist tell a woman overcome with excitement, “That’s him! That’s the Spirit!”

That’s dopamine, not God.

So how do we tell the difference? Duh; fruit. If the Holy Spirit is legitimately involved, we’re gonna see his fruit. We’ll see better behavior. Better attitudes. Authentic miracles. A pursuit of truth, not clever sayings and happy thoughts which make us feel good. People following Jesus. Changed lives which stay changed.

And yeah, personal contact with God is exciting! People changed for the better is awesome! But excitement is a byproduct of the Spirit. Don’t confuse it for the real thing.

The reason many people do, is because God is good, and dopamine most definitely feels good. And people will do crazy things to chase dopamine. Like heroin.

Problem is, dopamine happens quickly and immediately… and the good fruit of the Spirit’s activity is a long-term thing. In the short term, we’re only gonna see the preachers, crowds, emotions, reactions. In the short term, the only way we’re gonna know God’s in any way involved with this revival is when God tells us so; when those people he’s gifted with supernatural discernment recognize this actually is a God thing.

Naysayers don’t think any of ’em are a God thing: It’s all fakery, and all fleshly.

Receiving not our witness.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 March

John 3.11.

Sometimes you share the gospel with someone… and they’re not interested.

To be fair, sometimes they didn’t ask you to share the gospel: You just kinda imposed it on them. “Lemme tell you about Jesus,” and before they could agree or say “No thank you,” off you went. Or you presented the gospel as, “If you were to die this very minute, do you know whether you’d be in heaven?”—as if that’s the only thing the gospel is: Afterlife insurance.

Whether you did it right, or did it intrusively, or emphasized popular dark Christian fears instead of good news: They’re not interested. You offer to lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer; they don’t care to pray that. You invite ’em to church; they’re not coming. No thank you. Pass. I’m happy with how things are.

Some Christians take this rejection kinda hard. Especially when, for various reasons, they were sure they were gonna lead this person to Jesus. Or really wanted to. Or thought they heard the Holy Spirit tell them to share Jesus. Others of them take every rejection hard, as if every no is a personal defeat in spiritual hand-to-hand combat with Satan itself.

And when they take it hard, they tend to get petty about it. And quote today’s out-of-context scripture to justify themselves: “We shared the gospel, but they didn’t wanna hear it. They wouldn’t receive our witness.” Sometimes they straight-up quote the entire verse.

John 3.11 KJV
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

The verse isn’t about evangelism. It’s about Jesus teaching the Galileans and Judeans about himself and God, but the Judeans—particularly the Judean leadership—didn’t care to hear him, because they had their own ideas about how Messiah and God work. There was one Judean senator who wanted to hear him out, and he’s the guy to whom Jesus said this. The rest weren’t receptive.

True, when we talk about Jesus with other people, a number of ’em likewise have their own ideas about who Jesus is, and don’t wanna hear our views because they “don’t follow organized religion.” They prefer how they organized things. Only in these cases are we even approaching the same thing Jesus is speaking of in John 3.11.

The rest of the time, it’s just people who dismissed the gospel. And in quoting this scripture, we’re being such drama queens about it. Calm down, little snowflake. You need to learn to deal with rejection better.

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

About three years ago, on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was stopped by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night. Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish. I was just walking past his synagogue.

He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time; I walk a lot, and they bike past me, and sometimes they stop and chat. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I have a Buddhist coworker and pick his brain now. I’ve had Wiccan coworkers; same deal.

I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.

I realize certain Christians are gonna be outraged I dared let work get in the way of this “opportunity.” But with all due respect, there was no opportunity. In the two minutes we spoke—in which I told him I’m Christian, and he started going off on how we Christians typically (and often inappropriately) set aside the Law—it was made quite clear he wasn’t open to correction. Certainly not from a gentile; he’s one of God’s chosen people and he doesn’t care that Paul said we Christians are included in God’s choice. To him I’m not, we’re wrong, and that’s that.

I’m a naturally curious guy, so I listen to these folks when I can. Which freaks some Christians out, ’cause they’re afraid they might convince me to turn heretic or apostate. No they won’t; I know Jesus better than that. But I went to journalism school, where we were trained to always go to the original sources, ’cause anything else is hearsay. Fellow Christians haven’t received such training at all, regularly believe the hearsay, and regularly bear false witness.

So I learned—the hard way—it’s a huge mistake to ask fellow Christians about other religions. Or even other denominations within Christianity: Ask a Fundamentalist about Roman Catholics, and he’s never gonna quote a Catholic, unless it’s out of context; he’ll quote other Fundies. Ask a Calvinist about Arminianism, and she’ll just quote other Calvinists. Most Baptists can’t describe Anglicans, nor Methodists describe Presbyterians—nor vice versa—without criticizing their respective theologies. We easily bite and devour one another. Ga 5.15 Stands to reason we’re gonna suck even worse at describing other religions.

There’s nothing wrong with being biased in favor of your own religion. But too many people think the way you uplift one thing is to knock down all the competition, and Christians are far too willing and eager to slander other religions. So you can’t trust us. Which is shameful; Christians should seek truth no matter what. But that’s just the way things are.

So when I wanna understand Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and heretic Christians, I find there’s simply no substitute for going to people of those religions and hearing it from them directly. Yes, they confuse my curiosity for wanting to convert, which is why I gotta tell them upfront I’m not converting; I just want facts. Usually they’re fine with that… but I can hardly blame ’em for trying to nudge me in their religion’s direction just the same. I would.

First time I tried this was with a Muslim in Sacramento, decades ago. I listened to his testimony… and could totally relate. He grew up in church (same as me) and was put off by the fact his church was full of hypocrites (same as me). They praised Jesus in church, said Amen to everything Pastor shouted at ’em, but it wasn’t even Sunday afternoon before they relapsed to the same pagan lifestyle as their neighbors. Whereas the Muslims he knew, whose mosque he eventually joined, were no hypocrites: They were Muslim all week long. I couldn’t argue with that argument whatsoever. (Though I’ve met plenty of Muslim hypocrites since.)

I spoke with that Muslim for hours. But I should point out: At no point in our conversation was I remotely tempted to quit Christianity and give Islam a try. Never crossed my mind.

The Fear.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 August

You likely know the main reason Christians don’t act in faith.

It’s why we won’t share Jesus with our neighbors and coworkers. Why we don’t pray for people to be cured of illnesses, freed from addictions, or rescued from troubles. Why we never even think to ask God for miracles. Why we won’t prophesy, even though we’re sure God is speaking to us right this instant. Why we won’t start ministries, won’t offer help, won’t encourage, won’t anything.

It’s the Fear.

I capitalize it because it’s not just any ol’ fear, like overcaution in case anything goes wrong, or concerns we might be doing too much, or hard experiences which inform our hesitancy. It’s the Fear. I’ll explain.

You’ve likely met Christians who’re the most friendly, outgoing, outspoken, extroverted people you’ve ever seen. Got no trouble with public speaking. No trouble sharing their opinions. (Even when you’d rather they didn’t.) No trouble talking about their favorite movies, teams, products, politics. Maybe a little initial stage fright when they’re in front of a crowd, but they shake it off quickly. But when it comes to talking about Jesus or acting in faith, these very same Christians suddenly seize up and never snap out of it. It’s like someone flipped a switch. Someone cut the power. Someone crimped the hose. The meds wore off. Pick your favorite simile.

Because their minds immediately went to the darkest possible scenario: “If I act, they’ll…” followed by the most awful thing we can picture. Or can’t picture; they won’t even allow their minds to go there; it’ll be that bad.

In real life? Rarely happens that way. Rarely. In the United States, four out of five of us consider ourselves Christian, and even if these self-described Christians don’t believe in miracles, they’re not gonna say no to prayer. Not gonna dismiss Jesus outright. Might hesitantly respond, “Um… okay.” Even hardcore antichrists will just smile and say “No thank you.” We’ve gotta find someone with serious anger issues before we’d ever encounter a worst-case scenario.

But that’s who these Christians immediately picture. Usually it sounds like this: Say we ask a man whether we can share Jesus with him. He immediately reacts with a demoniac’s strength—with the rage of a thousand angry nerds who were just told Jar Jar Binks is gonna star in the next Star Wars movie—and shouts, “How dare you tell me about Jesus. How dare you talk religion. I hate Christians. You’ve made an enemy for life!” Out of nowhere a medieval mace appears, and he beats us like that one devil-possessed guy beat the clothes off the sons of Sceva. Ac 19.11-20 Out of nowhere a lynch mob swarms us, screaming for our blood, and once they’re done with us, they run amok, burning down all the churches, hanging Christians from every lamppost.

Maybe your worst-case scenario doesn’t look this way at all. But in many a Christian’s deepest, darkest parts, we kinda worry something just as bad could happen. At the very least no one will like us anymore. They’ll think we’re the office bible-thumper. Or the holier-than-thou legalist. Or the insufferable hipster Christian who tries to redirect every conversation into a religious one. The Jesus freak. Whatever threatens to make us friendless and alone.

That’s the Fear. It’s when we presume the instant we step out in faith, we’ll get overwhelming backlash, and things’ll be awful.

So we just don’t.

Fear-based evangelism: Carrot and stick. Mostly stick.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 August

Four years ago I got to talking with a regular at my church about evangelism. She wanted to know how I shared Jesus. Not to pick up any pointers or anything; this was an orthodoxy test. She wanted to make sure I wasn’t steering people wrong. Some people love to appoint themselves as heresy hunters, and she’s one of ’em. (She’s also not entirely sure anyone’s doing Christianity right but her.)

So I talked about how I usually tell people about Jesus: First I find out what they believe, if anything. Most of the time I find out they’re already Christian, or believe themselves to be. If they’re not churchgoers, I encourage ’em to go: I try to plug them into a church. Doesn’t need to be mine, but it does need to be a fruitful church. ’Cause they’re more likely to experience Jesus for themselves when the people of their church know him personally.

SHE. “And what do you tell them about hell?”
ME. “Not much. They don’t usually ask.”
SHE. “You don’t warn them about hell?
Me. “I don’t need to. I’ve already got ’em interested in going to church.”
SHE. “But you’ve gotta warn ’em about hell!”
ME. “Why?”
SHE. [gonna burst a blood vessel over my perceived stupidity] “Because that’s where they’re headed!”
ME. “Oh, they know that. That’s the one thing they definitely know about us Christians: We think they’re all going to hell. I don’t need to repeat that. Not that they always believe in hell anyway.”
SHE. “They have to believe in hell. The bible says…”
ME. “Well yeah, the bible says. But half the time they don’t believe what the bible says. You know how people think nowadays: The bible’s an ancient book, written by old dead white guys…” [brown guys, but few people realize that] “…and seeing is believing. That’s why I’m trying to get ’em into a church: I want ’em to see stuff. Not that they will, but I don’t just want ’em to take my word for it. Even if I quote buttloads of bible at ’em.”
SHE. “If they don’t believe the bible, they can’t be saved.”
ME. “Well, lucky for them neither I nor God believe that.”

Pretty sure I didn’t convince her I’m not going about it totally wrong.

But the reason I share Jesus this way is ’cause I used to do it her way. And I didn’t get anywhere.

The type of evangelism she prefers is old-timey hellfire and brimstone. Warn people they’re going to hell—the final hell, gé’enna, with the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and its angels—and make it clear hell sucks, and they don’t wanna go there. Terrify them with the idea that God is filled with wrath towards sinners, and wants to send every last one of them into fiery hell, and he’s never ever letting ’em out; they’ll burn forever. And once they’re nice and scared, offer the solution to the problem: Jesus. God may wanna burn you like a little boy frying ants with a magnifying lens, but Jesus just wants to give you a great big hug and let you into heaven.

I call it carrot-and-stick evangelism: Heaven’s the carrot; hell’s the stick. But be sure you preach about 75 percent stick, lest they think there are no dire consequences for rejecting heaven. It’s a common dark Christian practice.

It also has the undesired effect of creating plenty more dark Christians.

Pagan and proud.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August

Whenever I share Jesus with pagans—same as when I talk to anybody about any topic—I run into two types: The open-minded and the closed-minded.

The open-minded are fun. They’re curious. They have tons of questions. I may not get ’em to believe, or convince ’em to set foot in church, but that’s okay. There’s still lots of room for the Holy Spirit to work on them, because they’re open.

The closed-minded wanna tell me about Jesus, ’cause they’re entirely sure they already know it all. (They usually share some version of Historical Jesus, who sounds either like a nice guy but horribly misunderstood, or no fun at all. And either way, dead.) They suck all the fun out of the conversation, dismiss or mock anything we consider important, treat all our God-experiences as irrelevant or delusional, and don’t care how insulting and condescending they come across. Jesus compares them to swine, and you can see why this analogy is so popular.

Yeah, they’re depressing. Why do they get like that? Pride.

Like I said, they already know it all. They think they have God all figured out. Or at least they have God figured out better than we Christians do. Sometimes they grew up Christian, so they actually do know a few things. Sometimes they didn’t, but they heard about Historical Jesus from a friendly antichrist, so that’s what they believe now: They figure they know who Jesus really is, whereas we Christians just swallow all our religion’s myths whole, and believe whatever our pastors and priests tell us. They’re woke; we’re not.

And sometimes they didn’t just dabble in “facts” which confirm their biases, like an antivaxxer finding new favorite sites. They studied a bunch. They took a religion class. They visited churches and temples and mosques. They still read every religion book on the bestseller lists. They follow some guru, or a variety of gurus, who purports to tell ’em how religion really works. Sometimes they’re actually in a congregation or fellowship of some sort. More often I find they constructed their own religion; they have the corner on the truth, whereas Christians and everyone else are just sheeple. “I don’t believe in just one guy; every one of them is a little right and a little wrong. I make up my own mind.” Isn’t that clever of them.

After all their research, they figure they’re an authority on religion and Christianity. They’re the experts. They’re right and we’re wrong.

And if you’re one of those Christians who doesn’t realize we too are wrong, such closed-minded pagans are gonna be particularly distressing, ’cause your pride is gonna butt heads with their pride. I’ve been there. The discussions can get mighty ugly. Humility is always the way to go. But even when we are humble, or strive for it, the know-it-all pagan will still get mighty annoying. And too often pleased we find them annoying: Some of ’em wanna bug Christians. It’s evil fun for them.

How do we deal with ’em?

When the sinner’s prayer doesn’t work.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June

Imagine you share Jesus with someone. (Hope you do share Jesus with people. But anyway.)

Imagine they respond well: They express an interest in this Jesus whom you speak of. They believe you when you tell ’em Jesus saved them. They wanna become a Christian right here and now. So you say the sinner’s prayer with them. They recite all the words right after you. They feel happy about it. You feel happy about it. And there was much rejoicing. Yea!

Okay, now imagine it’s a year later and you meet up with that person again… and you find their life hasn’t changed. At all.

They don’t go to church; they don’t see the point. They don’t read the bible; they don’t see the point. They don’t pray; no more than usual, which is the occasional “God, get me out of this and I promise I’ll…” and nothing more. Not even religious feelings, which I admit are usually self-manufactured, but they don’t even have that.

No fruit of the Spirit. They’re not any happier, any more joyful. They’re as impatient as ever, as unkind as ever, and don’t know the difference between love and romance or passion or covetousness. Nothing.

Sinner’s prayer didn’t take.

It actually happens a lot. I used to work at a summer camp program for inner city youth. Those kids would come one summer, hear the gospel, say the sinner’s prayer, go home… and not be Christian. Then they’d come back next summer. Hear the gospel again, say the sinnner’s prayer again, go home, and still not be Christian. And repeat till they were too old for summer camp.

Evangelists know from experience: We’ll hold an evangelism event; some important guy from an evangelism ministry will come to town, and we’ll get a really big church to host it, or have it at the community center or ballpark. The important guy will ask everyone to come forward if they want Jesus, and counselors will be there at the foot of the stage to talk with those who come forward, and lead ’em in the sinner’s prayer. And next year, or two years later, we’ll hold another evangelism event, and again invite people to come forward, and many who come forward will turn out to be the same people who came forward last time. Who will pray the sinner’s prayer again. Who knows?—maybe this time they’ll repent.

I’ve done street evangelism. And sometimes ran into the same people. And they wanted to say the sinner’s prayer again, ’cause this time they meant it. And later, they’ll mean it again.

Like I said, it actually happens a lot.

But if Christians are new to evangelism, or if they’ve never really paid attention before, this is news to them. Some of ’em are kinda horrified: “It didn’t work? What d’you mean it didn’t work? The word of God doesn’t return void!”

Well yeah, if it were the word of God. It’s not; it’s just the sinner’s prayer.

“Yeah, but ‘he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it…’ ” Pp 1.6

Yeah yeah, I know the Steve Green song. You’re assuming God actually made ’em Christian and put the Holy Spirit in them, so they’re going to heaven no matter what. But he didn’t do that yet. Because they weren’t ready yet.

But some folks don’t believe that’s how God works: They insist grace is irresistible. If anybody says the sinner’s prayer, it’s because God led this person to pray that prayer, because God determined this person’d become Christian, and they will become Christian. Because determinism. It’s not actually up to them. Sure, their lifestyle makes it look like the sinner’s prayer didn’t take, but these determinists believe in their heart of hearts God will make it take, whether they want it to or not.

…’Cause that’s what they do. And I get that. If I were the Holy Spirit, and somebody said the sinner’s prayer, I’d’ve stepped right in and unilaterally changed a whole lot of stuff about ’em. Reprogrammed their brain so they’d be happier and more obedient. Knocked all the temptations out of their paths. Shouted at ’em nice and loud whenever they were about to sin, “DONT.” I’d go mad with benevolent power. I’d want ’em saved!

It’s mighty Calvinist of me, but I admit it’s not all that loving. Love is patient, 1Co 13.4 love doesn’t seek its own way, 1Co 13.5 and God is love. 1Jn 4.16 God might transform a person who has no interest in transformation, but usually he prefers to reward those who earnestly seek him. He 11.6 Not those who only turn to Jesus just to escape hell, and have no interest in becoming any different than before.

On people who have no real interest in following Jesus, the sinner’s prayer doesn’t work. It’s a prayer of surrender, and they didn’t surrender.

The “sinner’s prayer.” And how to lead one.

by K.W. Leslie, 28 June

In the scriptures, whenever someone wanted to become Christian, how’d they get initiated? Simple: They got baptized. Right away: They found some water and baptized ’em right then and there.

Acts 8.35-38 KJV
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. 36 And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? 37 [And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

Splash, and you’re Christian. But by the end of the first century, ancient Christians got it into their heads there oughta be more delay than this: Too many people were getting baptized, yet didn’t continue to follow Jesus. And baptism is a sacrament, right?—it ought not be something we take lightly. So maybe we oughta delay those baptisms till people prove they really mean it. Maybe delay it a year. Make ’em take a catechism first.

Yep, this is why churches work this way. Make you memorize a catechism first. Make you take a Christian Initiation class, or at least baptism classes where they explain to you why baptism’s such a big, big deal. But this process can take weeks or months—and when we compare our whole initiation process to what we read in Acts, it’s like, “If people wanna follow Jesus, why do we make ’em wait so long and jump through so many hoops? The apostles didn’t.”

Correct. No they didn’t. And I wouldn’t either. Same as Philip and that eunuch: The dude wanted to be baptized, so Philip baptized him. The Textus Receptus (and KJV) added a verse where Philip double-checked whether the eunuch really believed in Jesus, which is why most churches still require a profession of faith before you get under the water—and that’s cool. If you wanna baptize new converts yourself, right away, without waiting for your church to schedule their beginning-of-the-year 12-week baptism classes, go right ahead. Philip did.

But popular Christian culture has come up with another way of initiating new believers: Make ’em say the sinner’s prayer.

The sinner’s prayer is the first prayer we formally pray to Jesus. We might’ve made informal prayers to him before, or begged him for stuff, or tried to bargain with him. This one is where we ask him to formally become our Lord, and promise to follow him. And then, we figure, we’re in. ’Cause

Romans 10.9 KJV
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

So there ya go. Easy-peasy-follow-Jeezy.

Though sometimes the sinner’s prayer can get a little tricky. Y’see, most of the churches who push the idea of the sinner’s prayer, don’t tell you how the sinner’s prayer goes. They don’t have a formal, written-down, memorize-this, pray-it-by-rote sinner’s prayer. Some of ’em don’t believe in rote prayers, and think of them as dead religion. They insist whenever you pray, you gotta do it extemporaneously: Make it up. Pray it from the heart. Pray what you feel; don’t just recite someone else’s prayer.

Which is dumb. Newbies don’t know how to pray, much less pray extemporaneously! Sometimes they’ll do it wrong. And even if they do just fine, they’ll feel like they did it wrong; like there was more they could’ve and should’ve said, but they didn’t, and maybe now they can’t make up for it. Don’t add to their stress level! You come up with a sinner’s prayer, then have them repeat after you. And if they wanna add anything to it, that’s fine.

We tend to say “the sinner’s prayer,” as if there’s only one version of it, like the Lord’s Prayer. (Which has three versions of it: The Matthew version, the Luke version, and the Book of Common Prayer version.) Many churches have their own sinner’s prayer; sometimes more than one, in their denomination’s prayer books. Many evangelistic ministries have their own sinner’s prayer too. There’s no standard prayer. You can compose your own if you want.

Don’t exaggerate your testimony. Ever.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 June

It should go without saying that Christians shouldn’t lie. But we do, for various reasons, all bad. So stop. Wean yourself off exaggerating in order to make yourself look good. Wean yourself off dissembling to get yourself out of difficulty. Quit lying. Jesus is truth; Jn 14.6 stick to the truth. There y’go; your mini-sermon for the day.

It should also go without saying we shouldn’t lie when we share our testimonies, and talk about our encounters with God, what he’s told us, and how devoutly we follow him. But once again, we do. Way too many of us do.

It’s out of pure selfishness. We wish we had a really good God-encounter. We wish we witnessed something truly spectacular. And no I don’t mean “spectacular” as in neat; I mean in its original sense as a serious spectacle, something visible which really gets people’s attention. Like when Simon Peter raised Dorcas from the dead Ac 9.36-42 or something. We want these types of stories, because we wanna sound like we have more faith, or more divine favor.

And rather than act in faith, rather than develop our relationship with God so that he’ll grant us greater favors, we take the shortcut and lie. Much easier to be hypocrites than behave, obey, take the leaps of faith, or simply listen.

Hence lying testimonies happen all the time. I know, ’cause I’ve heard plenty. I grew up in church. If you have too, chances are you’ve heard dozens or hundreds of testimonies. Especially if you’re part of a church where sharing one’s testimony is a regular thing: “Anyone have a testimony this week?” and people will get up and share what God recently did for ’em. Some are profound and miraculous. Others are profound, but not all that miraculous—and don’t need to be, because they’re stories well-told, and point to God where appropriate.

But Christians tend to covet dramatic, miraculous stories. So if our stories aren’t miraculous enough… well, sometimes we exaggerate, and make ’em miraculous enough.

Here’s the problem: Embellishing our God-experiences, or telling fake miracle stories, gives people a false picture of who God is. Because we’re presenting a false witness. Remember there’s a commandment against bearing false witness? Ex 20.16, Lv 5.20 This is precisely what the LORD and Moses were talking about: Claiming somebody did what they haven’t done. When we claim God did something he didn’t—even if we imagine we have the best of intentions—it still slanders God. Or to use the old-timey word, it’s blasphemy.

Your testimony.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 June
TESTIMONY 'tɛst.ə.moʊ.ni noun. Formal evidence or proof of the existence or appearance of something. (Particularly a statement provided in court.)
2. A public statement, or retelling, of a religious conversion or experience.
[Testify 'tɛs.tə.faɪ verb, witness 'wɪt.nəs noun, verb.]

In the scriptures a testimony or witness refers to, duh, something you personally saw. Something you could make a formal statement about before a judge. Something that was a big, big deal if you presented a false testimony; one of the 10 commandments forbids it.

For the ancient Christians, when they talked about one’s testimony, they meant what we personally saw of Jesus.

1 John 1.1-4 NIV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

John saw Jesus, learned what he taught, watched what he did, and shared what he knew. That’s his testimony. It could hold up in court. It was kinda meant to, because ancient Christians were hauled into court and had to explain themselves, and that’s exactly what their testimonies did.

Acts 26.1 NIV
Then [King Agrippa Herod 3] said to Paul, “You have permission to speak for yourself.”
So Paul motioned with his hand and began his defense…

Paul presented a testimony twice in Acts: Once in temple before a mob, Ac 22 and once on trial before his king. Ac 26 It’s largely the same story—it’s about how Paul used to persecute Christians, but then Jesus personally appeared to him and flipped him. Ac 9.1-22 The point of this story is Paul obviously had a God-experience, because there’s no other reasonable explanation for such a radical change. Yeah, skeptics might insist there has to be another, better explanation; or they’ll just insist he’s nuts, as did Porcius Festus at his trial. Ac 26.24-26 But it’s not about presenting a believable story; it’s about telling the truth as best we can, and if people refuse to believe it, that’s on them.

Anyway that’s what testify, witness, and testimony refer to throughout the scriptures: People saw God do stuff. People have proof God did stuff: A signifiant historical change, a transformed life, miracles, hope, and good fruit.

And if you had a God-experience, you saw something. You’re a witness. You have a testimony. You have something you can share with others. You’re meant to, ’cause sometimes people need or want to know about God, and you saw stuff. Great! Now share what you saw.

Postmodernism: Don’t take “truths” for granted.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 May
POSTMODERN poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn adjective. Coming later than modern.
2. A 20th century concept and style in arts and criticism, representing a departure from modernism, typified by a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies.
3. Anti-modern.
[Pomo 'poʊ.moʊ abbreviation, postmodernism poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.iz.əm noun, postmodernist poʊs(t)'mɑd.ərn.ist adjective, postmodernity poʊs(t).moʊd'ər.nə.di noun.]

I grew up postmodern. I just didn’t know it had a name. I also didn’t realize, at the time, how badly it scared the heebie-jeebies out of Christian apologists.

The label’s not new. It first cropped up in the 1950s. Artists and architects started using it to describe the hip, exciting things they were doing. The current scene was “modern,” so they claimed they were beyond modern, post modern; whatever modern was, they weren’t. Pomo is a common abbreviation, although some pomos really hate it. I don’t, and use it.

Gradually people began to claim postmodernism is more than just their artistic style; it’s their worldview, the way they interpret the world around them, particularly the society we live in. Like the artists, they didn’t begin with any precise definition: Other people were modern, but they were beyond that.

But postmodern grew to become defined as “very, very skeptical of modern.”

If you’ve not heard this definition before, I don’t blame you. When I first heard of the term “postmodernism” in seminary, I heard it defined by Christian apologists, and they defined it as “rejects reality, in favor of their own invented reality.” Which is hardly a new philosophy; everybody does that. Little kids do it. “No! I don’t believe you! It’s not true!” [covers ears with hands] “La la la I can’t hear you.” And no doubt you’ve noticed lots of people in politics do it too. Always have.

But believing in your own fictions instead of the real world, isn’t postmodernism. You want a definition of it, you have to set aside your own knee-jerk prejudices and ask a postmodern. Or read some of their books. I was trained in journalism long before I was trained in theology, so I tracked down and read a bunch of original sources… and realized that’s me. That’s totally me. I’m postmodern. Surprise.

Postmodernism is in many ways a backlash to the philosophy of modernism… which is the way people have been looking at the world since the French Enlightenment in the 1700s. It’s this presumption humanity’s destiny is to achieve greatness by mastering (or conquering) our environment through the use of reason, logic, math, and science. With effort we can learn the universal truths behind everything, harness the great natural forces, and solve every problem. We can figure out the best way for everyone to live, and achieve peace and harmony and prosperity. (You know, like Star Trek. Which was, of course, created and written in the 1960s by moderns.)

Whereas we postmoderns are entirely sure that’s just a pipe dream.

Can God’s word “return void”?

by K.W. Leslie, 17 March

Isaiah 55.11.

So one night I and my friend Jason (not his real name, and you’ll soon see why) were walking from the car to the coffeehouse. Enroute some vagrant asked us for spare change. Jason got it into his head this was a “divine opportunity”: It’s time to proclaim the gospel to this person! It’s time to get him saved.

That’s how we wasted the next 15 minutes. Yep, wasted. Because the vagrant was. Either he was drunk, or off his meds, or had recently suffered a head injury, or otherwise had some condition which made him incoherent. Jason asked him questions to determine whether he understood the gospel… and the guy would start rambling about how he believed men and women should be together. In which context I don’t know. (Hey, this article is about context, so I had to bring it up at some point.)

Jason kinda had this poor guy cornered in a doorway, pressuring him for some sorta confession of faith. Finally, after he extracted something he considered satisfactory, we went and got that coffee. And debated whether the interaction did the poor vagrant any good.

“He’s not gonna remember any of that in the morning,” I commented.

“He will so!” Jason insisted. “That’s the word of God in him now. It won’t return void.”

If you’re not familiar with Christianese you may not understand the “return void“ bit. I once had a pastor try to explain it this way: “It’s like you send someone a check, but they don’t cash it and send it back to you with ‘void’ written on the front of it.” Why anyone would do this, I don’t know. But no, it’s not what the verse means. Here’s the verse:

Isaiah 55.11 KJV
So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Here’s what Jason, and plenty of Christians like him, believes: Let’s say we share Jesus with someone, but the someone won’t believe what we tell them, no matter what. Well, take comfort in the fact God’s word—which is what we shared with them, ’cause it’s either based on bible, or contains a whole lot of bible quotes—doesn’t “return void.” It does exactly what it’s meant to, and puts the gospel in ’em. Even though it totally doesn’t appear to, ’cause the person resists it for years, it eventually worms into their soul and does something to ’em. It just does.

Why’s this? ’Cause it’s God’s word. So it’s been infused with supernatural divine power.

Deaf ears aren’t opportunities.

by K.W. Leslie, 24 January

Matthew 7.6, Luke 13.6-9.

Back in college I was at my home-away-from-dorm, a popular Capitola coffeehouse called Mr. Toots. (Figured I’d throw ’em a free plug.) I got to talking to some UC Santa Cruz students, ’cause they quickly figured out I was a fellow student and wanted to know which school I went to. Once they realized I was a biblical studies major—a “God expert” (in training, anyway)—they wanted to talk God.

A lot of pagans go through a phase when they head off to school where they question their faith—and rightly so, ’cause they need to question everything, and get rid of those things in their religions which aren’t growing their relationships with God any. But a lot of ’em ditch their faith altogether, assuming they ever had any. Some of ’em dabble in other religions; some of ’em even invent their own. And some of ’em flirt with nontheism—either because they really think there might be no God, or because they’re jerks and just wanna outrage theists.

That’s what our conversation quickly turned into. These guys wanted to try out their newly-learned anti-God arguments on the religious guy. Kinda like a kid who just learned a new judo hold, wants to fight everybody with it, and foolishly picks a fight with the taekwondo black belt. Not that I was any black belt; more like red. I did have a decade of Christian apologetics on these guys. So it wasn’t at all hard to slap their commonplace arguments down.

But the arguing grew tiresome after a while. I realized the debate was never gonna go anywhere: These guys weren’t at all curious about God: They didn’t wanna learn anything new about him, listen, repent, and become Christian. This was purely an intellectual exercise for them. They were just killing time at the coffeehouse.

Pearls to pigs, I realized. Yep, just like in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 7.6 KWL
“Don’t give holy things to the dogs, nor throw your pearls before the pigs.
Otherwise they’ll trample them under their feet, and they might turn and attack you.”

So I called truce. “Wanna talk about something different?” I said. “I mean, to you this is just light conversation. But to me this is something I take very seriously and personally. I’m having trouble not taking all your God-bashing personally. Wouldn’t you rather talk politics?”

“Yeah, okay.” So we talked politics. And after a bit, they left.

Sharing Jesus patiently.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 November

For the sake of this article I’ll call him Uladzimir. He’s a pastor, and he was trying to teach me how he did street evangelism—where you stand in some public place, and share Jesus with passers-by.

Most of the time, street evangelists pick someplace busy, but not hurried—someplace where people might hang out, and therefore have a few minutes to talk. Like a park, a shopping mall, a town square, a main street, a parking lot. For this instruction, Uladzimir took me to a mall.

Pick a place to stand, he instructed, and watch the passers-by as they come your way. Look at their body language.

  • Do they walk quickly, eyes straight ahead, pretending you’re invisible (like they do with beggars and pollsters), pretending they have somewhere to be? Skip them.
  • Do they walk slowly, nodding or saying hello as they approach, seemingly willing to listen if you distracted them with a conversation? Talk to them.

Still, Uladzimir pointed out, don’t forget to listen to the Holy Spirit throughout. If he interrupts us in our assessment, and says, “Go talk to that one”—even if they look outwardly hostile, and look like maybe they wanna hurt you—obey your Lord. Likewise if he says, “No, not this one,” then no, not this one.

Simple idea. So I stood at an empty spot in the mall, my evangelism clipboard in hand (looking for all the world like a pollster, I guess) and watched people walk past.

The first two wouldn’t even make eye contact. I even said “Hello” as they passed. I do that ordinarily; it’s not a trick to make people start a conversation. They didn’t break stride. The next few were likewise too busy to slow down.

Uladzimir grew impatient.

“Is the Spirit telling you no on all these people?” he said.

“They’re all giving off the ‘uninterested’ vibe,” I pointed out.

Ordinarily Uladzimir is a patient man. (I know from personal experience; I’ve tested his patience a bunch of times.) But this day he didn’t feel like waiting. Two power-walkers later, Uladzimir simply stepped in front of the next person and said, “Hello!” and began his spiel.

“I’m sorry,” said the man, “I really have to be somewhere.” And off he went.

I resisted the temptation to ask Uladzimir whether the Holy Spirit had said yes to that guy.

Uladzimir proceeded to break his own procedure three more times. We got nowhere.

To be fair, he really wanted to teach me his evangelism technique. And not with somebody else who was pretending to be pagan; he wanted a real-life example. But today he was just gonna be frustrated. The fish weren’t biting. Hey, sometimes it’s like that.

I think Uladzimir’s guidelines are entirely valid though. If you ever find yourself doing street evangelism, remember: Holy Spirit and body language. If they don’t look interested, don’t force Jesus upon them. And if the Holy Spirit overrides our impressions, follow the Spirit.

But my point of this little story is to make a bigger point: Patience.

Impatience is fruitless evangelism.

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and if we’re sharing Jesus, we need to exhibit his character. Need to. I suspect a big reason Uladzimir and I weren’t getting anywhere on that day at the mall, was because he was losing his patience, and the Spirit wanted him in a much better headspace.

Part of the reason I changed Uladzimir’s name is because he ordinarily is a patient man. It’s just that day, he wasn’t. And sometimes we’re all gonna have bad days. That’s life. When that happens, lean on the Spirit harder. Uladzimir didn’t, and tried to force the situation—and any other day he’d be the first to tell you to never force the situation. We gotta work with the conditions we have.

Other evangelists don’t agree at all. Neither are they patient at all. They always try to force the situation—“Now is the day of your salvation!”—and push as hard as they can. They think they have a mandate from the Spirit to do so.

  • They dress outrageously, to get attention.
  • They get a bullhorn, or a working sound system, and get loud.
  • They make signs. Some of them are even legible. (Some are even Christian. The “God Hates Fags” signs aren’t.)
  • They have giveaways. Like free food, cold water, free clothes, coupons, tchotchkes… but you gotta listen to their message before you can have the freebies.
  • They write what they consider clever tracts, which are “guaranteed” to get read. Usually ’cause the tract looks like it’s about something other than Christ, just to get you reading. Sometimes there’s shock value involved: They condemn something, like another religion (whether it be Mormons or Muslims or even fellow Christians) or certain things in the popular culture (like Harry Potter books or reality shows). Or they threaten you with hell and mayhem. Whatever gets you to start reading… and then put it down in about two minutes, and mutter to yourself, “Oh, it’s Christian. Feh.”

You see the general theme though: They’re not willing for things to happen naturally. Hey, the rest of the world doesn’t work that way: We have to seize the day. Make our opportunities. Go out and get that job, or make that sale, or drive that bargain, or whatever it is we have conquer. We can’t passively sit around and wait for things to fall out of the sky. So they presume the same is true of evangelism: Go into all the world and make disciples, Mt 28.19 right? Don’t just expect them to wander into our churches.

Ordinarily I agree: We Christians should be active, not passive. But “active” means actively obeying the Spirit. It doesn’t mean, “Well, I don’t see anything happening, so I’m gonna go make things happen.” Sometimes God’s time has not yet come:

  • Christians aren’t obedient enough yet, and need rebuking.
  • Christians haven’t prepared enough yet, and need training.
  • Christians are too unfruitful to lead others, and need maturing.

Could be any number of reasons.

The answer to all our maturity problems is not to bypass them with a six-week evangelism seminar, a slew of gospel tracts, a citywide campaign, and zealots willing to verbally assault passers-by. It’s not to co-opt the methods of multi-level marketing in order to share Jesus. That works great for selling a consumable product, but we’re trying to get people to totally surrender their lives to Jesus, and that’s a way bigger commitment level than 10 bottles of overpriced essential oils. Jesus is not a product. He’s our Lord.

The impatient route appears to win people to Jesus, but how many of them stick around? How many of them turn out to be just as impatient as their evangelists, and quit Jesus the instant things get difficult? (Or forget him as soon as they leave the evangelist’s presence, and never go to church nor read a bible nor pray?) How many of ’em were just saying “Yes” to everything in order to make the evangelist shut up and go away? And if only we were patient, we’d notice all these things—but we’re not, and don’t.

Stuff to bear in mind while evangelizing.

Back to Uladzimir’s instructions:

WATCH FOR BODY LANGUAGE. If people look interested or open, approach. If not, not.

LISTEN TO THEIR RESPONSES. As you’re sharing, pay attention to how they’re reacting. I know from experience lots of people just wanna talk spirituality, or wanna debate religion for the fun of it, so they’re not actually listening, and you’re getting nowhere.

So. When you talk about spiritual things, are they open and interested, or anxious and wanna get away now that they know what you’re about? Are they willing to hear what you have to say about Jesus, or do they wanna correct you with all their ideas about Jesus? Are they open to repentance, or do they think they’re just fine with God as long as they don’t sin too much?

Force nothing on anyone. But when they’re willing to talk, talk.

FOLLOW THE SPIRIT. Regardless of what we observe, we don’t know the whole picture. But the Holy Spirit does.

If he tells us to ignore what we observe and share Jesus anyway, do it. If he tells us to ignore what we think is an open door—because it’s not really—and shut up, do it. He knows all; we don’t. It’s idiotic to ignore his warnings simply because “God’s word won’t return void,” so go ahead and play leapfrog in that minefield.

BE PATIENT! Lastly, don’t force “opportunities” by creating set-ups and scams and shock. Watch your environment carefully for the opportunities the Spirit actually has set up for us. They’re already there. We just have to ask him to show us where they are.

Our job is simply to share our experiences (assuming we have any; get some!) with others. Tell them who Jesus is, what he’s done for you, and what he’s gonna do for everybody. Not to “seal the deal”; that’s the Spirit’s job. Nor to apply pressure; that’s his job too. Just share. And when it’s not time to share, wait—and get ready.

It’s not about racking up souls; it’s not about numbers, speed, immediate decisions for Christ, or any of that. It’s about letting people know Jesus loves ’em, and inviting them to new life. And how we demonstrate that new life is by sharing Jesus patiently.

When pagans believe they’re Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the United States, roughly seven out of 10 people believe they’re Christian. I live in California, where it’s six of 10. (I’m not just pulling these numbers out of my bum; the national stats and state stats are from the 2019 Pew Forum study.)

Which matches my experience. Whenever I share Jesus with strangers, about two out of three tell me they’re Christian already. They don’t necessarily go to church; that’s another issue. But they do figure they’re Christian. For all sorts of reasons:

  • Personal experiences with Jesus. Even personal appearances.
  • Said the sinner’s prayer once.
  • They’re a regular at their church. (How regular varies. Many figure twice a year counts.)
  • Got baptized.
  • Raised Christian, or their family’s Christian.
  • They consider themselves spiritual. And when they contemplate spiritual matters, Jesus is in the mix somewhere.

Now, let’s explode that last definition: They’re “spiritual,” by which they nearly always mean they believe in the supernatural, and have happy thoughts about it. And Jesus is included in their spirituality. But once we analyze their spiritual beliefs, we’ll find what they really believe looks more like this:

  • There’s a God. Jesus is his son (but not God though, nor God’s only son) and the holy spirit (note the lowercase) is God’s power (but not God though).
  • God loves everybody and wants us to be nice to one another.
  • Death means we go to heaven, and probably watch over the living somehow.
  • Organized religion is unnecessary, and just confuses things.

Basically it’s what pagans typically believe. Of course there are exceptions, but generally that’s it. It’s the belief system of popular culture. It’s not Christianity. These folks aren’t Christians; they’re Christianists.

They’re a subcategory I call incognito pagans. They honestly think they’re Christian, because that’s how popular culture loosely defines Christianity. They believe Jesus is a good guy; they like him; they have their weddings and funerals at churches; if you deny Jesus it’ll actually offend them. If their kids decide to become Muslim or Hindu (or tell ’em they’re gay) suddenly they get super Christian—usually to the surprise of their kids.

But no they’re not. They have no Holy Spirit within them. That’s why they produce none of his fruit. As far as their knowledge about Christ is concerned, they couldn’t tell a Jesus quote from a Benjamin Franklin proverb. They’re saved, they reckon; so why bother to learn about their Savior? That’s for clergy to worry about. Theologians. Academics and experts. Meanwhile they have bigger things to worry about.

Well speaking as one of these experts, no they’re not Christian. Our religion has to have a living and active relationship with Christ Jesus at its core, and they don’t have that. At all. So they’re pagan.

Which they don’t realize—and totally object to, when you call ’em on it. (It’s the one area of knowledge they refuse to concede to the clergy and experts.) Tell ’em they’re not Christian, and they’ll loudly insist they are so: “Who are you to tell me I’m no Christian?” Doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor, professor, bishop, or pope: Suddenly they get to define what “Christian” means. And it’s not based on fruit, nor orthodoxy, nor even Christ Jesus and the scriptures. It’s based on their best judgment.

Which is simply more proof they’re pagans. Christians recognize we don’t define what a Christian is: Jesus does. That’s why we look for fruit and orthodoxy. Simple combo. Heretics let the orthodoxy slide, and hypocrites and cultists let the fruit slide. The rest of us realize we can’t just claim the title without the faith and works: We gotta actually follow Jesus. Pagans don’t realize this, and think all it takes to be Christian, is they gotta name it and claim it.

As a result, there are a lot of the people showing up on surveys as “Christian” who aren’t really. It’s only how they self-identify. Not how Christ identifies those who are truly his.

Witnesses and testimony. And us.

by K.W. Leslie, 02 September
1 John 1.1-4 KJV
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2 (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3 that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.

John and the other apostles knew Jesus. Knew him personally; saw him with their eyes, touched him with their hands. He taught ’em bible. More importantly he taught ’em what he meant when he got the prophets to write it.

These experiences with Jesus became their testimony. And yeah, Christians tend to treat this word like it has a special religious Christianese meaning. No it doesn’t. It means the same thing as it does in a deposition or a courtroom: We saw stuff, or we know stuff—we really know stuff, and aren’t just repeating what was told us, ’cause that’s hearsay. We’re a witness to the things we know. And we’re sharing what we know.

Every Christian has a testimony, ’cause every Christian has interacted with God to a certain degree. Many of us have full-on God-experiences. Some of us have even seen Jesus, ’cause he still appears to people. Far more of us have heard God speak back to us in our prayers, had those prayers obviously answered, seen miracles… you know, other God-experiences which are a little more mundane than any special-effects light-show. We witnessed these things. We know what we saw. So that’s our testimony.

Those Christians who claim “witness” and “testimony” mean something different: It’s because they haven’t actually witnessed anything.

Usually because they’re mixed up in cessationist churches, or their favorite preachers likewise believe God stopped doing that sort of thing back in bible times. So even when they do see God actively working in the world, their churches and preachers tell them to ignore those things. Disregard ’em. Don’t share them. Because those other Christians don’t believe in those things, and insist they’re tricks of the devil—even when there’s no reason whatsoever for the devil to trick people into glorifying God.

So for cessationists, their only “testimony” is that once upon a time they said the sinner’s prayer. And ever since, their lives have been good; or at least they feel content about things. (Or they’ve learned to feel content, because they’re successfully suppressing all their angst.) Their “witness” is that story of how they said the sinner’s prayer, and their absolute certainty they’re now going to heaven.

Is that what the apostles meant when they used the word μαρτύριον/martýrion in the bible? Not even close. They saw stuff. And yeah, not everyone believed it, and mocked it, and thought they were nuts. Ac 26.24 So what? Plenty realized these guys were on the level, turned to Jesus… and eventually had their own testimonies of what the risen, living Lord had done in their own lives.

Well, you’re expected to be a witness of Christ Jesus too. You need some testimonies to share of what he’s done in your life. I expect you have some already. If not… start getting some!

Christian apologetics: Kicking ass for Jesus. (Don’t!)

by K.W. Leslie, 01 September
APOLOGY e'pa.le.dzi noun. Justification for one’s behavior, theory, or religious belief; usually in form of a logical argument.
[Apologetic e.pa.le'dzet.ik adjective, apologist e'pa.le.dzist noun.]
 
APOLOGETICS e.pa.le'dzet.iks noun. The study and use of logical arguments to defend [usually religious] beliefs.

Years ago a pastor introduced me to a visitor to our church thisaway: “He knows a lot about apologetics.”

“Well, theology,” I corrected him.

’Cause at the time this pastor didn’t really recognize much of a difference between theology and apologetics. In fact a lot of Christians don’t. Theology is what we know about God. Apologetics tends to be based on those beliefs, and regularly argues in favor of them. But ’tain’t the same thing.

Yeah I actually do know a lot about Christian apologetics. Before I studied theology, it’s what my church taught me. Started in high school. My youth pastor (same as a lot of undereducated youth pastors whose job is to babysit the teens, not actually pastor us), wasn’t all that solid in theology anyway. But his youth pastor taught him Christian apologetics, and in college he got into apologetics-heavy ministries. So he taught what he knew. And it turns out lots of youth groups get taught apologetics instead of theology. ’Cause kids already wanna argue and debate… so why not lean into it?

So I learned all the standard arguments in favor of Christ and the bible. And now I can fight anybody!

Let me emphasize that word again: FIGHT.

If you’re a brawler, if you love to argue, apologetics gives you full permission to indulge. It’s why the practice is so very popular. Apologists even claim it’s a form of spiritual warfare: They’re battling false beliefs! They’re striking down lies and half-truths and misrepresentations and faulty logic! They’re contending for the kingdom!

True, they’re totally contending. With other people.

St. Paul explicitly said our fight isn’t with flesh and blood. Ep 6.12 We’re fighting spiritual forces and devilish ideas. But that passage about God’s armor is about fighting the forces which lead us to sin. Not fighting other people. Not fighting nontheists and antichrists who have no intention whatsoever of turning to Jesus. Jesus himself told his students to shake the dust off their feet at such people and move on. But Christian apologists don’t obey Jesus: They just keep fighting, and claim maybe some of this arguing is “planting seeds.”

Fighting, argumentativeness, making enemies, quarrels, and factions are works of the flesh. Ep 5.20 Christians should know this already, and back away from any form of Christian apologetics which descends into verbal brawls. But too many Christian apologists do no such thing. They figure the ends—y’might win someone for Christ!—justify their fruitless means.

Hence Christian apologetics is a field that’s full of abuse. Too many apologists can’t keep their emotions and temper in check. Too many of ’em love to belittle their opponents, mock their intelligence, tear ’em down, or call ’em evil and devilish instead of just mistaken or misguided. Too many of ’em love to win a debate—so much so, they’ll ditch the logic they claim to uphold if it’ll make ’em feel they’ve scored a point. Too many of ’em will even claim things that simply aren’t so, or use false testimonies, false information, and bear false witness, just to win.

There’s a lot of unchristlike behavior in Christian apologetics. It’s why I gotta warn you away from getting mixed up in it. It’s produced way too many Christian jerks. Don’t become another one!

We don’t get a free pass just because we’re “fighting for Jesus.” In fact engaging in such behavior alienates the people we fight. It makes enemies. Makes ’em more bitter and resentful, and drives them even further away from Jesus, repentance, and the kingdom. We’re unwittingly doing the work of the wrong side.

So no, I’m not into apologetics. I’m into theology. I stick to what the scriptures have to say about God, how our God-experiences and the scriptures confirm one another, and the importance of being fruity like Jesus wants. And then I take questions.

I don’t wanna create yet another Christian know-it-all who’s eager to go slap down some naysayers.

Looking for God. But not there.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 March

Some years ago I was listening to a radio host talk about his doubts. He used to be a pastor, but more recently he’d come to doubt God even exists. Mainly—and understandably!—because of his utter lack of God-experiences. If God exists, shouldn’t his kids have God-experiences?

And he’s absolutely right. We should! But he hadn’t. More accurately, he’s entirely sure he hadn’t; whatever he’d seen thus far, hadn’t convinced him. He’d been Christian for years, yet was pretty sure he’d never heard God’s voice, never seen a legitimate miracle, never had any supernatural event in his life. And, he claimed, he wants these experiences, but thus far, nada.

It was a call-in type of show, so a caller responded, “What about the Pentecostals? They claim they have God-experiences all the time. Why not go there and see what happens?”

Oh no,” said the host. “I’m not going there. I don’t wanna get into that whole scene.”

Lemme pause a moment and make clear: I’m Pentecostal, but no I’m not trying to rope you into visiting a Pentecostal church. Or visiting any particular church. You can experience God anywhere.

My point is how the radio host’s knee-jerk reaction was, “I’m not going there.” He claims he wants a God-experience; this caller said, “Here’s a place where Christians have God-experiences on the regular,” and the host’s reply was, “No, not there.” It’s about when people don‘t actually want God that badly.

There are pop songs where the singer claims he’d do all sorts of crazy things of his beloved. (Bruno Mars’s “Grenade” comes to mind…although it sounds less like risking his life for her, and more like violently killing himself over her. But enough about problematic pop songs.) Singers are willing to climb high mountains, swim deep seas, cross dry deserts, and battle legions of horny suitors for their beloved. But what’ll Christians do for salvation? Anything!… well, anything but go to that church.

Anything but go outside our comfort zones.

For pagans, that’d be us Christians.

I’ve met various pagans who were curious about God, although some admit they aren’t looking all that hard for him. Others claim they’re very interested, and are learning whatever they can about him. Others don’t care at all. It’s a spectrum.

I ask the curious and the interested whether they’ve ever had an actual God-experience. Some of ’em claim they have, and point to some profound “spiritual experience.” (Turns out nearly all of them are emotional experiences, ’cause they don’t know the difference between spiritual and emotional. But that was not the time for me to nitpick.) Others say, “No; I’m not even sure God does that sort of thing.”

“He does,” I tell them. “I go someplace where he shows up regularly.”

“You mean a church,” they respond, suspiciously.

“That too,” I say.

Nah. They’ll pass. Not interested. Because they don’t wanna go to church. They don’t want anything to do with religion. They like God, and might even want God… but they really don’t wanna deal with Christians, our institutions, and our expectations.

Sometimes for legitimate reasons; we’ve been awful. Sometimes not; they were told we’re awful… and it’s not like there’s no truth to those rumors. I grew up Christian, so I’ve seen firsthand how awful we can be. And of course I’m gonna insist we’re not all that way, and that’s gonna fall on deaf ears when a pagan is wholly prejudiced against Christians. They need to see we’re not that way, and that’s gonna take time, and a lot of active love on our part. But back to my point.

Christians, and our churches, make people uncomfortable. And if you can’t fathom this, imagine you’re them. Imagine you have questions about God. Imagine there’s this friendly weirdo you know; might be a coworker, or might be some stranger you met in a coffeehouse, and she claims she can get you all the God-answers you want, and all you gotta do is visit her cult. And no, the people there aren’t mean or controlling at all; they don’t want your money; they’re the nicest folks you’d ever meet! Wanna go check it out?

Swap “cult” for anything which pokes you in your own prejudices: Mosque. Ashram. Coven. Strip club. Maybe then you’ll realize that’s why it’s so hard to get ’em to visit. We’re not part of their comfort zone. Not in the slightest.

We need to bear this in mind when we invite pagans to our churches. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s like pulling teeth… well, there y’are.

This doesn’t stop once we’re Christian.

Once we’re in—once we’ve met Jesus, decided he’s Lord, joined a church, and started following him—we often find ourselves in whole new places where we claim we wanna follow God… but we just won’t follow him there. Plenty of people tell God, “This far; no further.”

And just as in evangelism, quite often the Holy Spirit honors our lines in the sand. Problem is, sometimes he doesn’t have a plan B. There’s only one route he intends to take us, and if we tell him no, he’s not taking us an alternate route; he’s gonna sit there and wait for us to step over that stumbling block. If we refuse… well, we’ve come to a dead stop. We stop. So he stops.

I remind Christians of this, and for some reason this surprises them. What’d they think “Stop” meant? “Stop and go another direction”? Often yeah, that’s what we naïvely thought. But all these other directions are merely side trips. Inevitably we come right back to the original stumbling block.

“Stop just this one thing”? For God, our entire lives are holistic. He’s Lord of all, not Lord over just the religious parts. He doesn’t make exceptions for just this one thing. We may only want him to be Lord over spiritual things, like the happy thoughts we have when we sing worship songs, and the sense of self-fulfillment we get from agreeing with Christian memes. But God refuses to be Lord over only a segment of us… especially such an insignificant segment. He must be rule all, or nothing. If that means our happy thoughts are on their own, so be it.

Every real relationship, especially close ones, pushes us out of our comfort zones. Couples gotta learn how to put up with one another’s quirks and irritating habits. Sometimes they gotta drag one another away from their respective comfort zones, and ask, “Do this one thing, just for me.” Sometimes they gotta ride out a crisis together. Sometimes—God forbid, but sometimes—they gotta go through trauma, and learn to support one another instead of pushing one another away… and not all of ’em successfully do.

I’m not saying they need to seek suffering in order to forcibly (and artificially) strengthen their relationships: Unlike God, they can rarely control the outcome. Trials will come on their own. But when they do, “This far; no further” won’t just put your relationship in a holding pattern while your partner tries to figure out a different direction. In nearly every relationship, “No further” kills the relationship. You’re done.

Thankfully God isn’t like that! He’s not abandoning us when we balk. He’s kinder than that. But in any other relationship, “no further” is a deal-breaker. God, in comparison, patiently waits us out. He’s always willing to pick up where we left off, once we repent. But we still gotta follow the Spirit over that stumbling block: When he tells us, “Do this one thing, just for me,” it really does need to be done. For our sake. That’s why God brought us there to begin with.

So when we have doubts, and God says, “Do this, and it’ll help you deal with them,” and our response is, “I’m not going there,” we shouldn’t be surprised when our Christian growth comes to full stop. Nor when, the absence of Christian growth, our doubts grow instead. It’s easy to see this coming. It’s harder to just follow the Spirit. But that’s what we gotta do.

Same as the pagan who has to take that initial leap of faith—who has to put aside their discomfort and false expectations, because God is more important than any of that.