Two nights ago, one of my friends from way-back-when was back in town and invited me to meet with him and a couple of other folks we knew in High School. They were meeting to talk about religion and theism and I guess he thought that it'd be nice to have a Christian in the group, since all the others were essentially secular humanists and atheists. Although I was hesitant to set myself up for an intellectual gang raping--being the only one of about five people who believes in God, let alone the particular and peculiar God revealed in Christ--I agreed to hang out with them. Well, it didn't turn out to be much of a debate at all. With alcohol as the social lubricant, we managed to have a very cordial and civil dialogue...whenever we weren't talking about something else. It was a casual conversation, to say the least. Whenever I find myself in such a setting, I just try to be open and understanding... I try to be very distinct from those who impose their doctrines on others and act shocked and horrified at those who don't agree with them. It seemed that we really were just trying to understand each other. I was trying to understand their presuppositions and they were trying to understand mine.
We talked subjectivity & objectivity, we talked perspective, we talked epistemology, we talked biblical interpretation and theology. Interestingly enough, I felt more "at home" talking about these things with atheists than I normally do with folks who are presumably more like me. Many of my Christian friends seem to have hand-cuffs on when they talk about such things and they seem to want to put the hand-cuffs on me as well. As I talked with these guys, I realized just how much of what I say requires an explanation. For example, when I talk about God creating people in God's image, this sounds utterly strange and presumptuous to folks on the outside of the conversation. An explanation of what this God is like, the nature of that creation, and the ways in which image bearing plays out in reality is required. When we stake our whole reputation and base our whole lives on things that we apparently only believe out of necessity, because we are afraid of the slippery-slope or the subsequent results if we did not believe it, it sounds ludicrous, anti-intellectual, and idiotic to those on the outside. I think we all need these conversations every once in a while... just to bring us "back to reality."
By the end of the night I didn't feel that I had said very much at all and my friends did not walk away in any degree of agreement with me. But we did walk away with a bit more mutual understanding. We did walk away with a bit of hope. Each of them affirmed that my perspective was actually a good one, even if they couldn't agree with it. What was it that they saw as good? I didn't make profoundly convincing arguments. I didn't say anything that left their jaw open. If we'd had an argument, I'm sure I would have lost... but they still saw something good in what I was saying and I saw good in what they were saying. This speaks to the profundity of posture. The way we carry ourselves in conversation is as important as our ability to articulate our perspective. Love is what changes hearts, not well-reasoned articulations.
Delayed gratification! If your heart's desire is for others to come to the same conclusions that you have, that's fine. In fact, that's good. If your conclusions weren't worth sharing they wouldn't be worth having. But don't try to convert people. Don't try to change people. Just love them. and gratification will come, understanding will be found, not through coercion but through friendship.
On the way out the door one of my friends asked me one more question. Admitting that he'd had too much to drink to actually hash it out right there, he asked about the whole "love your enemies" thing. Perhaps that is where conversations on moralism and theism end and a conversation on Jesus Christ actually begins...