Forget Your Presuppositions (Presenting the Gospel)

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Start from zero. Try to forget your presuppositions. What do you say to someone who doesn’t seem to have any of the same questions you do about life and religion when they ask you what and why you believe? In a conversation I had about relgion with a friend, he started out by describing himself as a “flaming atheist,” later backing down from that descriptor and saying that more than anything he didn’t really think about the subject.

gilbert_keith_chesterton2He grew up going to church once or twice a year with his parents, but in the last forty years just didn’t think questions about God had any relevance to his life. In the conversations that followed, and the time that has passed by since then, I’ve tried to figure out the best way to answer his questions, the best way to explain why I bother to believe in anything, before I get into any specifics.

Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, author of Velvet Elvis and Sex God, and coauthor of Jesus Wants to Save Christians, was asked a similar question in a recent interview with Christianity Today. The question was, “How would you present this gospel on Twitter?” and Rob’s answer is a more fleshed out version of the answer I’ve started to give. Remember, Rob is not defining the Gospel here, nor giving a full explanation. He is presenting an introduction, calling the hearer into the journey.

“I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.”

Of course, G.K. Chesterton said many of the same things when talking about the need for fairy tales, like in this quote: “Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies, that these strong enemies of man have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

And much of our discussion here in the Rabbit Room revolves around this conviction that art matters and points to something better, that it has the power to stir up questions and desires in us that are otherwise drowned out by the noise and busyness of our everyday lives.

What about you? What answer do you give when asked why you believe?


8 Comments

  1. Mike

    I’ve been showing the Planet Earth videos to my 8th graders( hurry June, hurry) and something unexpected has happened. I’ve got the sensation a couple of times that this is too big for God. I know how crazy that sounds but the little god that I’ve been taught to fear couldn’t possible have done what I see. However I also get the sensation that there’s no way that it happened willy-nilly. There simply has to be Something, Someone at work that is so huge that we simply can’t comprehend it. The one on caves blew me away. In Carlsbad New Mexico there is a cave that has the most amazing structures on the planet (that I have seen) and they were only discovered in the 1980’s. The Someone must have taken great pleasure in creating these things and most of humanity will never see them. Think about the sea. Most of life is in the sea and goes unseen and unnoticed by most of humanity. We, this whole of creation had to be for someone’s pleasure.

    I’ve been thinking about this lately too.

    IF sin is a crime that needs to be punished we will run from the punish-er in every case. When’s the last time that you went to a traffic cop and asked him to save you from your speeding habit?

    IF sin is a disease that needs a cure we will run to the doctor. Heck we go to the doctor for a cold nowadays.

    We need to look at some of the ways we’ve presented God. I think Bell and Chesterton were on to something.

    God is BIG.

  2. Benjamin Wolaver

    DNA is one of my favorite intros. It is a very personal application of creation, but it is also scientifically verifiable. More than anything, however, I think Christianity has done itself a disservice by focusing too much on science based apologetics. Does logic support our claims? Yes. Does science point to God? Yes. But our culture would benefit if the mystics of old, the medieval monks and their massive cosmology which is so different from our own, could beam down here and shake us out of our pre-suppositions.

    Like Lewis’ Telmarines, we have become so rationalistic that we are now quite superstitious with our moral relativism and New Age spirituality. People need to step back and reconsider what the very nature of reality is and whether the lifeless universe of Stephen Hawking and the rest is really the way we want to see things.

  3. whipple

    I must confess, people don’t customarily ask me questions such as “Why do you believe what you believe?” or “What is it that’s different about you?”. Truth be told, “What’s different about you?” is a question I often hear the accuser himself asking, rhetorically, of course.

    I’ve grown up with feet planted in two worlds. One was your standard white suburban denominational church. In that place, witnessing meant telling your friends about Christ (with an unfortunately disconnected sense of guidance). The other world was, since we are referring to Chesterton, a little like Saffron Park.

    It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretentions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretentions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable.

    It was a place where faith and passion were seen to seep through the cracks more than they rushed through the floodgates. In a post-modern, post-orthodoxy, post-everything world, it sometimes seems that the only way to nudge the Gospel into peoples’ spaces is to be a living reminder of it. There’s a quote, which I think is by Augustine or Francis of Assisi, although I don’t recall. Famously, he (whoever he is) is remembered to have said, “Preach the Gospel, and, if necessary, use words.” To be quite honest, this method is comfortable to a degree that clangs with unholiness. Not that the method itself is wrong, but my comfort with it is wrong.

    Yes, I can hear the wisdom of God saying, “It’s not an either/or situation. It’s both/and.” But I feel that I err far too often on the side of inoffensive caution when it comes to using words. A recent exchange between myself and a lady who comes by the store daily revealed, not that my hope is in Jesus and the sufficiency of his grace, but that I didn’t think that the universe ran on karma. This seems a paltry excuse. Most people, in this day and age, are not going to corner me into revealing the marrow of my soul which is Christ, and that should not be what it takes to unlock my tongue that God may be glorified. My recent prayer, with Paul, is that “I may proclaim it boldly, as I should.” On my best days, my brand of evangelism mostly consists of shutting my mouth and hearing other people out. I don’t think this is wrong by any stretch, but I’d like to feel more tactful at speaking about the hope that I have.

  4. Tony Heringer

    Stephen,

    Good topic. I’ve not the time to post much as I need to get out to some chores but it boils down to purpose (a reason to live life at all), freedom (the ability to do the things I know I ought to be doing) and assurance (that at then end of all things everything is going to be alright). Conversations tend to go one of those ways in big and small ways. My hope is that I’m real (i.e. my actions and my words are in sync) as I convey that Christ is the key to all three of these life fundamentals and not just to make a point or win an argument.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stephen,

    The bottom concept for me is that it isn’t my job to convert or convince anyone. I’m not here to be the Holy Spirit. We just throw seed around.

    I’ve found the best thing to do is really listen to the other person, hear them out, seeing and and agreeing with the places where their views have validity.

    Wherever it goes from there is anyone’s guess. But taking the time to see their view, to understand their opposition or anger or objections without painting them black, is foundational to growing in wisdom and understanding others – and it’s nearly impossible to have anything we say be heard if we are demonizing or idiot-izing someone in our head as we talk to them.

    I absolutely love Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

  6. Nathanael

    Stephen,
    Good thoughts, brother.
    Slight side-track, the flak that Rob Bell is getting for his Twitter answer is unwarranted, in my opinion.
    That was the final question in an interview full of questions for which he gave clear answers.

    Back on track, to me the gospel starts with hope.
    There is so much in this life that robs hope.
    And so I try to listen to the person speaking (a novel idea) and then spring-board off something they said.

    I’ve also found it to be helpful to affirm the good things they say, rather than just jumping on the “wrong” things.
    Condemning people is a sure way to kill the conversation.

    I agree with Ron that we need to trust the Holy Spirit to take the seed of the gospel and fertilize it and water it with the Water of Life and bring forth fruit.
    We sometimes find ourselves in the planting stage.
    Other times we are watering what others have sown.
    And in those surreal moments when we find ourselves at the point where someone is ready to receive the good news, we are starkly aware of our dependence on the Holy Spirit to complete what He has begun.

    Lord help!

  7. Stephen Lamb

    @stephen-lamb

    Nathanael, I agree that the flak Bell is getting is unwarranted, and I also think most of the criticism of Bell during other times is completely baseless.

    And Hope seems like a pretty good way to start out describing the Gospel.

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