Catchy title, huh? I was proud of it. 🙂
Yesterday, we had a staff member from another church in the area stop by our office. It is a church that we have developed a good relationship with, and it was good to talk with him. He had not seen our office, and so he was coming to check it out and to talk to us about something. They along with some other churches in the area are organizing a city wide event. They are bringing in a well known Christian speaker who specializes in defending the Christian faith. Their hope is to organize a debate between him and some of the more liberal UGA professors. So, he was coming by to invite us to be a part of it.
I am very flattered that he would want us to be a part of it. If you know me, you know that I think it is very important for Christians to be unified across denominations, and I always welcome the opportunity to partner with other Christians from different Christian traditions. However, as I thought about the invitation, I am afraid that we will ultimately decline the offer. We won’t decline it because it is a bad thing. I love their heart of wanting people to be well informed about the logic and reasoning behind the Christian faith. I’m sure it will be a great event, and I really do hope that it ends up being fantastic.
The reason I think we will decline is because this approach is not consistent with how we as a church have decided to approach relationships with non-Christians. I have recently had the opportunity to talk with three different guys who are involved pretty heavily at Athens Church but are not Christians. All three of them struggle with the idea of Jesus being divine and with the exclusivity of the Christian faith. They enjoy being around the environments we have created, and they see great value in the teachings of Jesus. However, they just don’t believe some of the core doctrines of the Christian faith, and are therefore not Christians yet.
Interestingly enough, during our coffees and lunches, I have felt no pressure at all to defend the faith. I have simply listened, and I am legitimately trying to befriend them. I’m not doing this because I’m trying to convert them (that is God’s responsibility); I am doing it because I genuinely like them and respect them. Unlike many cultural Christians, they are being honest about their doubts and seeking answers. I respect that greatly.
Hopefully, this is our attitude toward everyone in Athens (even UGA professors). In my experience and observation, debate rarely results in conversion. Friendships do. It has been shown over and over that the majority of people come to faith through the influence of a friend. Again, please don’t hear me say that what some of the churches in town are doing is wrong. It is very possible that the issues raised that day will result in the professors or others in attendance softening their heart to Christ. However, our desire would be that someone from Athens Church would be a personal friend of theirs who invites them to a service and gets the opportunity to listen to them and help them work through the questions they have. So, if I have a choice to defend or befriend, I will choose to extend a sincere offer of friendship to anyone that’s interested.