I love walks. I call them hikes (it sounds more daring); but if push came to shove, I would say a hike is just a walk in the woods. I also love Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard said, “Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. If one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” Almost every day, our dog Ragna and I go hiking in Patapsco State Park; and when I am on a hike, life cannot be much better.
But imagine walking down the sidewalk. It’s a nice day and you have little on your mind except that you want to enjoy life by taking a leisurely stroll. Suddenly, out of nowhere, someone or something kicks you in the seat of your pants. You immediately turn around to see who dared do such a thing, but no one is there. Now, I won’t say what you said because this is a polite blog, but being kicked in the proper derriere is certainly no fun. But there is no one there. You rub the afflicted area and decide to continue your walk. For a minute or two, you wonder what happened; but since you can’t get to the bottom of anything, you decide to put it all behind you and continue on with your walk as if nothing ever happened. Maybe you made the whole thing up! Maybe it was an errant boomerang that has now returned to its owner. Who really cares? It is a beautiful day for a walk and then, suddenly, wham! You turn even more quickly this time, but again, there is no one there; but this time, you know you did not make it up! You peer through the bushes that line the sidewalk, but you cannot see anyone. There is nothing to do, and so you move forward. But this time, you can’t quite get the thought about what has happened out of your head. This you know: you are going to walk much more cautiously from now on, but dagnabbit! It happens again! But this time you can’t just walk it off as if nothing happened. What is going on? Who is doing this? Why is this happening? And as you stand there pondering the pain in your posterior, you awaken, as if from a semiconscious state and begin to think deeply about all that has taken place. Your curiosity is aroused. New possibilities are considered. And what was unthinkable before you undertook this walk, now comes under consideration. In fact, you may even be beginning to understand.
How are we to share our faith? As parables go, the Parable of the Kick in the Pants doesn’t sound like much at first glance; but it is, in fact, brilliant! Plus, it is from Søren Kierkegaard. Question: What’s the problem with evangelism? Answer: the other person is very comfortable in their beliefs and lifestyle and doesn’t want to think about all this religious stuff. Life is good. They just want to be left alone so they can go on their merry way. So, what are we to do? Kierkegaard suggest we give them a good, swift kick in the seat of their pants. Not literally, of course, but with an act that has the same effect. He writes: “In all eternity it is impossible for me to compel a person to accept an opinion, a conviction, a belief. But one thing I can do: I can compel him to take notice.” There may not be a better description of an evangelist than that. Our job is to hide in the bushes until just the right time and then, jump out, give them a good kick and then vanish so they can think about things.
Now, I will admit that this approach is contrary to what we normally do. We tend to think of evangelism as us giving answer to their questions. Kierkegaard says, we have it all backwards! We are the ones who should be asking the questions, and they should be the ones doing most of the talking. The secret is in asking the right type of question! Our calling is to disrupt their lives by asking penetrating questions that cause our friends to think (or as Kierkegaard says, “to take notice”) and then retreat out of sight so they can ruminate over your question. If you have asked a good question, it will take some time for them to dislodge it from their thinking; and it is at about that time that you want to “kick” with another question. In fact, we will use everything at our disposal to force them to take notice. We will ask profound questions. We will share powerful quotes. We will demonstrate a giving and compassionate life in front of them. We will introduce them to a loving and exciting community. We will lend them great books. We will do whatever we can to spur our friends on to think about their own lives, their own beliefs, their own hopes and dreams and the deepest longings of their soul. We will do whatever we can to disrupt their hearts, minds and souls so they can see that the ground they are standing on is, in fact, sinking sand and doesn’t give them the life that they want and need.
True, many churchgoers call people who share their faith evangelists. It’s a biblical word so I won’t be too critical; but for me, a person who shares their faith is better known as a Disrupter. I would also accept as a synonym, a “spiritual butt kicker”; but Jo says, a “Disrupter” is better.
Now disrupting people sounds impossible, but we have one advantage. All of our friends have the truth of God implanted within their souls. It is being suppressed, but it is in there. That is what Paul says in Romans 1:18-20:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Paul says, all of us know the truth about God, but we suppress it. But it is there. And that makes our hope clear. The truth of God is tucked away in their hearts (maybe even tucked deeply away); but with a few good kicks, it may start to leak out. And once it starts leaking out, there is almost no stopping it.
Now, asking penetrating questions is not easy. We need to ask questions that get under their skin, that make them think about their lives, that won’t be easily forgotten, that disrupt the status quo and leads them into a self-discovery of the weaknesses of their own beliefs. Now, that takes some cunning and some shrewdness and even some good Christian deception. Another quote from Kierkegaard is always good:
“One must not let oneself be deceived by the word deception. One can deceive a person for the truth’s sake and (to recall old Socrates) one can deceive a person into the truth. What does it mean to deceive? It means that one does not begin directly with the matter one wants to communicate, but begins by accepting the other man’s illusion as good money. So one does not begin thus: ‘I am a Christian, and you are not a Christian.’ No, one begins, ‘Let’s talk about [what you believe].’”
What does this look like? Some people find it easier to start off with good quote instead of a question. If it “fits” (and fitting is important), you could say, “Mark Twain said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.’ So why do you think you were born?” And if they answer something despairing, you can always add, “Wow. Really? That wouldn’t work for me, but I am glad it works for you.” Or you could quote Einstein: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted,” and then ask, “So what counts for you?” Again, if it fits with the situation, you could quote Marghanita Laski: “What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness. I have no one to forgive me,” and then ask, “So what do you do with guilt?” There are all sorts of quotes you can use given the right context:
- Tolstoy: “Is there any meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?”
- Camus: “Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”
- Sartre: “Everything has been figured out except how to live.”
- Freddie Mercury: “Does anybody know what we are living for?”
See, every conversation will be different, but your job is just to ask just the right follow-up question, questions like:
- “Your position seems so nihilistic; and yet, you are so positive. How does that work?”
- “If that [Science? Politics? Philosophy?] is all you have, where do you find hope?”
- “How do your views give meaning and purpose to your life?”
- “Is that all there is?”
Now, those are stock questions and only give the general idea of what a penetrating question may look like. Every situation is different and requires a question tailor-made for the conversation. But we must remember that after we ask our question, our job is to remain silent so that the question can percolate. Remember the parable. We ask our question and then jump back in the bushes, trusting the Spirit to use the question in the person’s life to disrupt them (forgive the metaphor, but think of our question as a kind of time bomb set to go off at just the right time, but it is a loving time bomb that has their best interests at heart). Now, I’ve described this rather cavalierly, but we must never treat this as a game. Remember, when we disrupt someone, it may be for their ultimate benefit; but it is a painful thing to realize that you don’t have the answers you thought you did. Gentleness, grace, humor and love are all necessary if we are going to make a profound difference in someone’s life.
Here’s the end of the matter: Instead of giving answers and talking all the time, it is much better to ask just the right question and then retreat into the background to let the question do its intended work. As a result, we are never pushy, never argumentative, never insulting or belittling, but instead always gracious, always kind, always insightful and always helpful. Remember, we can’t convince anyone of the gospel; but we can, by God’s grace, make them think. So, wait for the right time, jump out from your hiding place and kick away. One more quote from the Great Dane: “There is nothing with which every person is so afraid as getting to know how enormously much they are capable of doing and becoming.” Go now and disrupt.