While leaving work this afternoon, I overheard a conversation that I found quite saddening. One of my coworkers jokingly commented to the effect that he would rather go to Hell rather than Heaven, since all the “fun and interesting” people will be in Hell while Heaven will be full of “prudes.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard people make such comments, and whenever I do, I can only shake my head (figuratively speaking) and think to myself, “Poor fool, you haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re saying.”
I never respond out loud to such statements; experience has taught me that doing so is unlikely to accomplish anything except getting my mind stuck on a topic for hours, if not days. Then too, by many people’s definition, I probably would be considered a prude: I don’t drink, smoke, take drugs, gamble, or sleep around, nor do I have any desire to do so. Both through my upbringing and personality, I tend to be very rule-oriented, and I find it foolish to indulge in the present at the expense of the future. Put simply, I often find myself living in a culture that I don’t understand and want little to do with.
Unfortunately, if I am to live my faith in a biblically-consistent manner, disengaging from the surrounding culture, while not an uncommon response, isn’t a viable option. How do I (and Christians generally) engage with a culture that I don’t like, don’t understand, and for which I have no natural sympathies? (As a side note, I have a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, so my natural capacity for empathy and desire for social interaction tends to be below average.)
@MicahB I can relate to not understanding why people behave in ways that are obviously self-destructive. When I grew up I was the kid who kept the rules. It never made sense to me to put toxins into your body or to risk your life for a moment of ecstasy. I would sled down a huge hill, bike through the woods, or play ball with the best of them, but I never saw any sense in self-destructive behaviors like drinking or smoking. Admittedly this did lead to pride and I am eternally gratefully to C. S. Lewis for pointing out that ‘You cannot see Someone above you if you are always looking down’.
I think a few questions to keep mind when deciding whether or not to share your faith in a given situation are:
How am I uniquely gifted to serve the Kingdom? Different parts of the body have different roles. We do not need to feel guilty for not having every gift.
What is my sphere of influence? Do I have any ‘trust bucks’ or ‘sway’ with the people I am with right now?
Is what I am about to say contextually appropriate?
Do the people I am speaking with sincerely want an answer or are they mockers? Rebuking a mocker is not only not going to help, but will invite gossip and mockery for no reason - you should only rebuke someone who is the type of person open to rebuke or a friend/coworker who will honor your desire because they care/have respect
Pray for God to open doors to share and open the hearts of your coworkers and then use Biblical wisdom to discern if / when it is the right time.
Here is another conversation you may find helpful:
The Lord Jesus grant you wisdom
A Lesson from Pascal
Since it sounds like you are dealing with modern pagans, here are some thoughts from Pascal you may find insightful.
Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.
Apologetics is not just about answering peoples’ rational questions - it is about making them wish Christianity were true. And we should wish it were true! The Gospel is the most beautiful truth in the entire world.
Here is an article from Tim Keller explaining Pascal’s approach and a book that I personally enjoyed reading on the Pensees by Peter Kreeft. I think the imagination has a large role to play in this process of making people wish Christianity were true. For me, the ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C. S. Lewis I read as a child always made me wish I could be in Narnia - they taught me the beauty of righteousness and goodness and even, in a way, of God. They sanctified my imagination. Lord of the Rings had a similar impact once I was already Christian. I read it regularly because it reminds me of the glory of a righteous king reigning on the throne and of a longing for things greater than this world.
Hope these thoughts are helpful - feel free to take the discussion to a deeper level or probe more deeply. Christ be with you.
“But the phrase “make good men wish it were true” gets across that this takes determination and ingenuity. We must know our culture—know its hopes—and then show others that only in Christ will their aspirations ever find fulfillment, that only in him will the plot lines of their lives ever have resolution and a happy ending.” Tim Keller
I agree with you that it is a struggle.
My approach is along the lines of gently pushing people to the conclusion of what they are saying if they will allow it.
For example…the ones who say hell would be interesting… so I want to go there.
I would ask something like who would be there? A Hitler, the worst murderous dictators ever, the serial killers and so on. Would they want to hang out with these kinds of people? Isn’t hell more for the evil type even in popular thinking?
Is evil really more interesting? Is it better as a goal?
On the other hand … what is their idea of heaven? Where did they get it? Do they think it is mere rule oriented to get there assuming there is such a place as in popular thinking? Why would it have to be boring or prudish?
Wouldn’t a being like God … a being of no higher can be conceived be the most interesting to meet?
The ones who look to drugs, sleeping around and so on… is their lives really an ideal to follow? Does it really fulfill? Or does it often end in disaster?
Who says there is a heaven or hell in any case on the atheistic view and therefore how would their comment make any sense? On the Christian view there is hope but not in the popular sense or your coworkers sense.
These are some of the questions I would ask or how my thinking would be. I would try to speak to people one at a time and see if they are open to what they said and what does this mean to them.
These are some of the lines of thought you might try. It is like getting under the words, getting into the ideas behind them, looking at where they really are heading. The atheistic view goes to self destruction or meaninglessness. The way of God leads to meaning and true hope. There are Christian philosophy books that help in seeking these things. Hope this helps a bit.
P.S. I find Michael Ramsden’s thoughts on different approaches are really good. Have a look on you tube if you wish.
@MicahB, thanks for asking this question. I can tell you really care for your coworkers, and it’s encouraged me to reconsider a bit in my own approach. Each time I read your question, I get the song Misconceptions stuck in my head by DaTRUTH. He has a lot of neat songs on YouTube, and if you’re looking for a good listen, his song Religion is really good, too. That’s not particularly helpful to your question, just a side note.
Sometimes, putting a Christian name to everyday concepts can start to open coworkers’ eyes to what Christianity can be without a formal one-on-one conversation. For example, putting a name to things like grace, forgiveness, and freedom. Your coworkers likely know you are Christian, and when they realize you go to small group because of the unconditional love you feel there, or that you enjoy studying here on Connect because it helps you realize Christianity is true, it may get them pondering more even when you aren’t together. I’ve been lacking on this lately in my own life, and I appreciate your question as a prod to not give up in reaching coworkers.
Your Christian lifestyle speaks more than words or conversation. In my own experience, I had pretty much a similiar attitude towards Christians, however it was from a place of resentment. In times of trouble I would seek advice from the prudish Christian (albeit they were much older than me) than my cool counterparts because I knew that they had values which my friends lacked.
Micah, Thanks SO MUCH for sharing! You shared your situation and your heart and thoughts in such a respectful way. Reading your thoughts helped me as I also struggle to engage with this culture where some people seem to have lost even their common sense.
With the guy who curses and takes the name of The LORD in vain, I wince and close my eyes, make a face so to speak. If the person sees me do this and says something like “what’s wrong?” I simply say, “I’m a Christian and those words hurt me.” That’s it, no arguing or become angry. If they have any desire not to offend you they will apologize or something similar to that. If not they will simply go on. I either case you have made your position known without threatening them. Later, maybe months later, when they face something they can;t deal with they may come to you for help!
In the case of the guy who says “Id rather be in hell with my buddies” that is an excellent opportunity to witness!!! Here is how I approach a conversation about witnessing: I ask questions, NO arguments, NO debates. I rely on The Holy Spirit to move!!! I ask, " So do you have any Spiritual beliefs?" Sit back, close your mouth, let them answer. Regardless of their answer or no answer I say, “So who is Jesus Christ TO YOU?” Sit back, after their answer I ask, “Do you believe in Heaven and hell?” then, “Which do you believe you will go to and why?” The next question is, "Just suppose you did drop dead this very moment and stood before a Holy God, and HE said, “(Give his name) why should I let you into my Heaven? What would your answer be?” At this point you know for sure if the individual is saved or not!!! Final question is, “If what you believe is not true would you want to know the truth?” If they say yes then you begin sharing your personal experience of salvation and lead them with Scripture that will result in a possible Decision for JESUS!!! if not, you have planted a seed and they is what GOD asks of us. HE will work in the person’s life to bring them to Salvation.
My name is Adley Shuford. I think I know you from summer camp this year. Your name caught my attention when I read it. Micah Bush. The name left an impression on me and the young men that stayed in your dorms. I think and pray for you often. If you aren’t the same Micah then I apologize for assuming. I read that you said that you do can’t relate to your culture. If you are the Micah I know from crossroads camp then I already know that you are great at relating to your culture. My group of students were greatly impacted by your example of loving the rules in your skits. The boys in your dorm were influenced by your love and grace everyday. You may not think you impact or engage but you do it way more than you think. If you are not the Micah I know then sorry for this rant. If you are then I love and I’m praying for you. I hope to see you this summer and if you are ever in Atlanta and need to find a church then just hit me up. I’d love to bring you to Passion City Church with me.