Last week someone inquired about the book I’m writing.
“It’s a book for all those who would describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious,’” I had replied. (The “spiritual but not religious” are all the folks who check “none” next to “religious affiliation” on questionnaires.) “My book is an effort to introduce them to God’s grace through memoir and Christian theology in the form of bumper stickers.”
“Isn’t it a bit narcissistic to assume that just because someone hasn’t been found they’re lost?,” my interlocutor had asked.
I’ve been thinking about his question ever since. Maybe that’s because intuitively I can’t help but think that at least in one way he is right. If evangelism is really about making others into our own image- if it’s merely assuming that I, as the “evangelist,” am “found,” and you as the “evangelized” are lost, or that my job as an evangelist is to “find” you- then we do run the risk of being narcissistic.
The truth is that Scripture has a profound ability to call into question our own ability to find anything. To the degree that we once were lost and now are found, as that good old hymn “Amazing Grace” reminds us, it is because God has first found us. Human beings are all just a bunch of dumb sheep when it comes to figuring out this thing called “life” on our own.
Evangelism is, I think, simply being truthful about this fact that God first found us and keeps on finding us. Being truthful does not require assuming anything about the “lostness” or “foundness” of those with whom we share this truth. It only asks us to bear witness to Jesus as the Good Shepherd in life’s messiness.
The other day controversial gay spokesperson Dan Savage spoke at the National High School Journalist conference in Seattle, and reportedly angered some students who walked out in protest when he called into question biblical authority around issues of morality. If the Bible got slavery wrong, Savage declared, referencing the book of Philemon as an example, why would we not then assume that the Bible could fall short of the mark on more complex issues of human sexuality?
In times like these when we feel like our sacred texts are being mocked, I wonder if at least one big reason we Christians react defensively has to do with our own deep-seated fear of being lost. There is something scary about the prospect that the thing we thought was our guidebook could in fact be erroneous or outdated in some way. A less-than-perfect map means we’re less in control of our destination. Sometimes the easiest thing to do in times like these is to assume that someone like Savage is himself lost.
But I suspect that evangelism is less about “being right” and defending one’s sacred texts than it is about suspending our preconceptions and assumptions about where others are in relation to The Way, The Truth and The Life who is Jesus. When we learn to do this, I suspect that the Dan Savages of this world will end up being more “found” than we first assumed them to be. And, I suspect, so will we. God, afterall, doesn’t need us to defend God. God only asks us to love because God first loved us, and the beginning of love is the end of our narcissism.