About five years ago I was at a crossroads in my spiritual walk. I didn’t know if I could maintain the Christian worldview I had grown up on. I could no longer reconcile the way faith was practiced with the real world. This was partly due to the bifurcated reality that most southern churches teach.I rejected this bifurcation and wondered if I was alone in this.
During this time I read Francis Schaeffer. It was Schaeffer who articulated the ideas I had come to call my own, and, through his writing, my view matured. For Schaeffer, the bible explained the world in which he lived. He did not have to hold to some leap of faith in order to maintain our Christian beliefs. This was refreshing and comforting to me. Needless to say, since then I have found Schaeffer to be one of the most encouraging Christian writers I had ever read. And still, to this day I continue to find him so.
Recently I began rereading the book(s) by Schaeffer that changed my life. One of the ideas, or perhaps pleas, that Schaeffer makes in his work is that Christians should seek to encounter the ideas of those who do not believe. There are two major components to this encounter: love and understanding.
In, The God Who is There, Schaeffer discusses the despair of philosophers, artists, and writers, who believed a worldview that was heavily influenced by Immanuel Kant. These men/women were left with no answers from their philosophies. Some of them even ended up committing suicide or abandoning their former beliefs all together, at least in some areas, because they could not consistently hold to them anymore. Reality had smacked them in the face.
At the end of this discussion Schaeffer states in reference to their despair:
Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation…There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.
Again, Schaeffer encourages his readers to see their interlocutors as created in the image of God. He says,
If we are truly personal, as created by God, then each individual will differ from everyone else. Therefore each person must be dealt with as an individual, not as a case or statistic or machine…He has great value, and our communication to him must be in genuine love. Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over any sin in the other person’s place and see how his problems look to him. Love is a genuine concern for the individual “as ourselves.” This is the place to begin. Therefore, to be engaged in a personal “witness” as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us, is to miss the whole point.The reason we do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world. This kind of communication is not cheap.
To communicate the gospel lovingly is costly. In order to love this person well, we must first understand their problems. In order to do this we must be active in thinking, learning, and listening. But, our learning is not an end in itself. There is a greater goal. It is so that we will be better prepared to love our neighbor who is struggling to live his life according to his worldview…his philosophy…his idea of life. He is an image-bearer of God and we should be grieved at their pain when problems shake them to the core (something Christians, to their shame, don’t always do). And, when the time is right, when God has made them ready and the Spirit has led us, we speak the gospel truth to them in hopes to deliver them from their lostness and show them, as Schaeffer would say, “true truth.”
It isn’t a political battle when we talk to someone who is not a Christian, who perhaps does not hold to our moral convictions. Though we may talk about politics and morality. It isn’t that their ideas threaten our way of life, for we are sojourners…how can they do this? Their ideas threaten their own way of life. If you’ve talked with anyone, at least these days, you find that they are struggling to make sense of it all. Or, they could just not care at all! So, we love them anyways. We care, we listen, and we present the liberating gospel to them.