Christians mourn the loss of culture wars, but their attempts to rejoin the fray are frequently unpersuasive. The reason? We focus on conclusions rather than thought processes.
The reason to emphasize the latter is pretty clear in a field such as education. Galileo said: “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him discover it within himself.” This is the backbone of a good education. Good teachers help students take ownership of their own quest for knowledge rather than spoon feeding them answers.
And yet, when Christians engage in the culture, not only through films and books, but also formal statements, media interviews, and social media, we often act in contrast to this wisdom. Gospel tracts, rather than encouraging thoughtful study on the part of the reader, forge shortcuts by saying, “Evolutionists are wrong. The Bible is true. Repent and believe in Jesus.” Twitterbates consist of parties lobbing claims at each other, never taking the time to unpack nuance and evidence. Our own sense of independence as listeners naturally objects to being told what to think, whether what we’re told is correct or not.
One example of how this tendency manifests itself is in the proliferation of various “statements,” such as the Nashville statement, delineating a conservative Christian stance on gender and sexuality issues. While such statements are not always wrong (I myself affirmed the Nashville Statement at the time), they do not engage in a persuasive approach – because they are not always meant to. The Catholic Church gained some press recently by releasing a statement with the title “Male and Female He Created Them,” intended to guide teachers in Catholic schools regarding gender identity. The Vatican has been smeared for this, but the purpose is one of internal clarification, not external persuasion. There is a difference, and this is important to recognize.
Of course, most of us won’t be in any position to give media interviews or write statements that will be signed by church leaders. But it does bring up the question of how we are engaging with our own friends and family members. Are we spoon feeding (perhaps even force feeding) or are we trying to nurture a quest for truth? If our faith is grounded in the truth, we ought to trust that a sincere seeker will arrive at the same place we have. As a wise friend of mine frequently says, “The truth fears no investigation.”
How then do we nurture this investigative spirit, and avoid the spoon feeding which we, as a Christian culture, are so apt to perform?
Consider first whether your answers to questions, or the questions you ask, are conversation closers. For example, if a friend asks you why a loving God would send people to Hell, you may reply because He is also a just God. This is a true statement about God’s nature, but it closes off discussion with a simplistic answer that doesn’t reflect the questioner’s struggle. Our responses, even if built on the same principles, should invite an opening of the conversation. Consider instead: “Do you think everyone should be saved? Why?”
Keep in mind that a response does not have to be angry or insincere in order to be a conversation closer. Simple answers as well as purely rhetorical questions or “gotcha” one-liners, even if utilized by a Christian who is sincere in using them, are unhelpful.
As in turns out, we are all, Christians included, still children saying, “No, me do it!” Our minds are not emotionless data processors, and our evangelistic approach ought to respect this yearning for intellectual independence.