All too often I find Christians falling prey to the damaging dualism of proclamation vs. demonstration. We should not pit words (proclamation) against deeds (demonstration), for they are inseparably related in the person of Jesus Christ. The very Word of God through whom God created the world became incarnate and acted out God’s love in words and deeds throughout his public ministry. I fear that some use the statement attributed to St. Francis of Assisi—“Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”—as a cop-out today for not sharing the good news of Jesus with words.
Having said that, Christians should not force the Word of God down people’s throats. Jesus created space with his life for his views to be heard, as did St. Francis after him. I return often to 1 Peter 3:15: we should be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is within us; when given the opportunity, we should always be gentle and respectful. Hopefully, our lives of Christian witness reflect the hope of Christ so well that people ask us to share the reason for our hope.
I believe the hope we have as Christians is truly life-giving: not three unbelievable things to stomach as bad tasting medicine, but three mysterious divine persons as the one God with whom to share life eternally in beloved community. Still, people fear that we advertise goods at a bargain price with the aim of substituting a cheaper product when given the chance. We need to make sure that we deliver what we “advertize” and that we are not using a justice “package” or a relational “product” to hook people. Whether or not people want to come to know Christ, or even hear about the reason for the hope within us, we should preach the good news of Jesus with our lives with no strings attached, and whenever given the invitation, share about him with words as well as deeds.
In closing, I draw attention to the words of “duskglow,” who responded to yesterday’s post: “As a (current) nonbeliever, one of my biggest frustrations with Christians is their propensity to treat me as something to be won, rather than someone to be loved.” I hear you, duskglow. May I truly listen. In the end, may we who are Christians treat those who don’t yet know Christ not as things to be won but as people to love. Only then will be demonstrate our own communal faith and our own conversion.
Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church. These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.