Growing up in Evangelical Christianity, I was lead to believe that if I didn’t witness to people every chance I got, then I was somehow not truly expressing my belief in God. Likewise, I can acutely remember a sermon the pastor of my childhood church gave, where he equated God’s favor with leading at least one person to Christ. This messed with me a lot as I hadn’t done that (and as far as I know, have yet too). When I came out of Evangelical Christianity into the emergent community in college, I thought I had found an expression of Christianity that fit. An expression that had it “figured out.” Flash forward a few years to now and, after a period of deeply felt and stated agnosticism, I am once again embracing the religion of my childhood. While I would not call myself an Evangelical per se, I still hold strong ties to that expression of Christianity and in the past few years I’ve found myself trying to negotiate the space where I can be both an avowed believer and skeptic. As such, I’ve recently begun to wonder how one is to even have an evangelical posture when this is the case. I think, two recent experiences, highlight where I’ve come to land on this issue.
Recently, I’ve found myself engaged in conversations with people who are “seeking.” These are people who, like me, grew up in some form of Christianity, gave it up at some point, and now find themselves tentatively holding religious beliefs while not being particularly religious. As we’ve talked, I’ve seen myself in many of the things they’ve said. The unknowing, the desire for something to seem real to them again, but the deep dissatisfaction with the current state of their faith. In these conversations, I’ve wondered exactly how I am supposed to respond and the way I respond is significantly different from the way I would have in my youth.
In one conversation in particular, I found myself stating that I was “pretty agnostic/atheistic” a few years ago, but that I still feel there is value in holding faith to Christ and in Christianity. In spite of all the problems I have with it, it still gives me a sense of hope. The second conversation went similarly; ultimately, I landed on the point that there are days when it seems easier to just give up all this “God nonsense,” but that my experiences and the hope I find in Jesus is what keeps me around. I’m not pushing them to “make a decision,” I’m simply conversing about what I perceive to be is a similar experience. I don’t know how deeply my words are felt, but I hope they are at least taken seriously and genuinely.
For some, this may seem like lukewarm evangelism. Perhaps a better term might be “soft evangelism.” The idea that I may not have all the answers, that I’m not pushing God on them like a product, but that I’m trying to be honest about why I still hold faith in a God that oftentimes can be difficult to believe in. It’s a hard place to be. There is no satisfaction of “closing the deal.” There’s just me, trying to be as open and bare as I can. I imagine, or at least hope, that God is far more interested in that than in how effectively I can rack up the souls for him. Besides, it’s not really me that’s supposed to be doing the saving in the first place, is it?