How should Christians engage with culture?
For some Christians, there can be no engagement. These men and women believe that God has called believers out of the surrounding world to form islands of purity in the midst of a sea of sin.
For others, there can be no separation. Everyone’s individual view of the truth is valid, and the claims of Christianity, while useful, are no more valid than any other claims.
There’s something inherently wrong with both of these views. Neither is Biblical. Neither works to bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth. And just as importantly, neither is intrinsically good for humanity. Because so many Christians take one of these two views, the Christian Church often misses out its vast potential to change the world for the better.
Christ didn’t limit Himself to one of these aforementioned paths. He refrained from sin, yet ventured out into the world, interacting with people of every sort. He was gentle, yet His teachings conveyed uncomfortable truths. With few exceptions, kindness and respect infused His every interaction. In the end, His legendary love began a movement which echoed through the centuries, and is still going strong today.
Christ left us the greatest example of the potential for positive change that a Christian has when engaging with culture. But can we do the same?
This is the primary question dealt with in Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer’s book, “Winsome Persuasion,” which examines how believers can be both persuasive and civil, challenging the beliefs of others while still being respectful and loving.
Let’s take a look at how you can change the world by communicating your Christianity, even when the world isn’t being so nice to you.
Like it or not, you need to build credibility with others before you speak. Muehlhoff and Langer wisely write that “our message does not exist independently from who we are.” Your ability as a speaker to awaken the emotions of your audience depends on how trustworthy you are perceived to be.
Christianity has a problem with credibility—perhaps now more than ever. As a group, Christians are often thought of as hypocritical, closed-minded, unintelligent, and downright uncaring. These perceptions do not lend themselves to quality communication.
And so if you want to communicate the value of Christianity, you’re going to have to do a little damage control.
You can do this, most importantly, by actually living out your faith. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 20 percent of those who have left the Church did so because they observed hypocrisy within its ranks. By sticking to your faith rather than making Christianity about money, political power, or division, you’ll build credibility.
Relationships are another essential credibility-building tool. If you intend to share your faith, going after strangers isn’t usually going to cut it—of someone knows you’re approaching with the sole intent of selling something, they’re not going to buy it. Instead, focus on forming real relationships, allowing your personal conduct and lived out faith to make a great impression.
Living out your faith, and then demonstrating this lifestyle within authentic relationships is the foundation of communicating your faith to others. Once you’ve done this, let’s find out how you can begin making the case for your faith in a persuasive way.
In a world full of wildly different beliefs—some of them outright hostile to your own—it can seem an impossible task to communicate your faith in a persuasive way. But if you allow a few of the principles listed in “Winsome Persuasion” to guide your interactions, you’ll find success.
To persuade people, you have to move them, and if you’re going to attempt to persuade them that the claims of Christianity are the best claims of all, you’ve got some serious moving to do.
First, Muehlhoff and Langer suggest that you treat yourself as a sort of test audience. Examine your own arguments for the validity of Christianity. Do you find yourself persuasive? Does anything fall flat or come across in the wrong way? And just as importantly, do you know your own faith well enough to communicate it? If not, it may be time to break out something like C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” or William Lane Craig’s “Reasonable Faith.”
Next, seek to understand—consideration does not equal condoning. Stop talking and really listen when the person you’re witnessing to provides a rebuttal. Consider their perspective, and why they feel the way they do. It is only by doing this that you can respond to their unique concerns about Christianity.
Finally, and most importantly, always engage others with respect. Muehlhoff and Langer suggest that while Christians should certainly honor the spirit of the Great Commission, this isn’t the only command Christ left humankind with. Remember that Christ listed “love your neighbor” right behind “Love the Lord your God with all your heart.” The power of Christianity to change the world lies in this love, so don’t forget it.
As a Christian, you’ve been charged with the difficult task of spreading God’s Word throughout the world, and doing so while loving and respecting those who don’t agree with that Word. Be kind, respectful, and humble, and you’ll have a much better chance of opening a doorway.
Christianity has so much potential to make the world a better place. Just think of a world united under the philosophy of Christ, helping the poor, sick, and disenfranchised, loving one another, and forgiving one another.
You can help make this happen by communicating your Christianity the right way. Build your credibility through authenticity—live out your faith and engage people in real relationships. Once you do this, you have to truly move them with great arguments, great listening skills, and a loving, respectful attitude.
And every time you interact with someone, ask yourself one question afterward: Do my actions bring honor to Christ?” If the answer is anything but an unequivocal “yes,” it’s time to revisit the above principles.
That is the essence of communicating your Christianity. Now get out there and try it.