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Relational Apologetics: “Overcoming Unbelief: A Safe Process for Those Interested In Christian Faith” Part IV

May 26, 2011

IV. Participating in a Community of Faith

Anthropologists have long suggested that one who desires to really understand a culture must not merely observe it from the outside, but must immerse himself or herself into the culture to experience its traditions, values, and beliefs firsthand.  Of course, even immersing oneself into a culture as an outsider cannot fully overcome the outsider/insider gap; however, to submerge oneself into a culture is far more effective towards learning about that culture than merely observing it from the outside.  Taking the cue of the anthropologist, I would suggest to our skeptical friend that he or she find a community of faith (maybe that of his or her friend) and spend some time experiencing the Christian faith from within the community.

In thinking about how to help a skeptic embrace the Christian faith, I would like to–and should be able to–recommend this step as the first one he or she should take.  In fact, I would argue that the local communities of faith were and are intended by God to be places where seekers could go and experience the reality of God for themselves.  Indeed, the church (at large) and the local expressions (in particular) are called the among other names, “the body of Christ,” and “the temple of God,” signifying that at these places and among these people one could find and experience God.

Unfortunately, in the landscape of Christian churches in America, with its diversity, divisions, differing emphasis on worship styles, doctrine, and so forth, a skeptic could visit twenty different churches and find twenty different understandings of Christianity.  And this could obviously become confusing and possibly counter-productive.  It is for this reason that I suggest this as a third and final step.  Hopefully the seeker has already explored his or her own belief structures as they relate to Christianity, read some well-known and representative (but perhaps not!) Christian thinkers, and has developed an intellectual foundation in which what is needed from this point on would be corresponding experiences.

At this point (but really at any point) immersion into a community of faith will allow a seeker to interact with others who claim Christian faith, experience the liturgy and worship that goes beyond mere mental assent to the existence of God and into worshiping who God is, and see what we hope are the fruit and the gifts of the spirit displayed the life of the community.  Jesus said to his disciples, that it would be the way they love each other (in the context of community) that would show the reality of God to the world.  In the end, this experiential component of Christianity really is the most important, because while our goal has been to help our seeking friend overcome barriers to belief, our hope is that he or she meets God, encounters Christ, and is reconciled to Him through repentance and faith.  The local community of faith, where people meet to be challenged by the proclamation of the gospel (the kerygma), worship God (not just assent to his existence) and fellowship with other believers (koinonia), is the place where God’s presence most clearly (or should) reside.  It is by immersing into such a community, that our seeking friend may, in fact, find that he can believe because he has seen God’s reality displayed.

V. Conclusion

            This essay has been an informal exploration into the nature of belief and the need for seekers of Christianity to take time in the spiritual searching to investigate their hearts, engage the intellectual and spiritual components of Christianity on its best terms as represented by influential Christian thinkers, and to participate in a community of Christian faith as a way of experiencing the substance of the Christian faith.  Further, this essay lays out a simple, but effective process for Christians to share the gospel with their non-Christian friends in a safe and non-invasive way.  As I have mentioned, apologetics is truly best done within the context of safe friendships.  We, as believers, would do well to establish friendships with those outside of our faith.  This process takes seriously the idea that belief is not something that we “will” ourselves into.  Instead, we must make prior choices that can lead us into belief through a searching process.  Our seeking friends would most benefit by us joining with them in this process.  We should answer the above questions ourselves from time to time and share them with our friends.  We should read with them—and read books that they recommend.  We should attend a community of faith and join their experience, all the while praying for them to encounter God.  What have we got to lose by being such a friend?  In the end, though we acknowledge that there are choices our seeking friends can make to place them in a position to form true beliefs about God, the end of the gospel is not true beliefs, but reconciliation with the Father of Jesus Christ.  Christian faith, while not less than right beliefs, is much more—it is an intimate relationship with our Creator, Redeemer, and King.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2011 8:18

    Jonathan,
    I enjoyed this. It looks like you are writing a series, so I may need to go back and read the previous sections. I grew up considering myself atheist/agnostic, so this certainly speaks to me a bit. Often it seems that we in the Bible Belt are “preaching to the choir” so to speak – it is strangely rare to find many Christians who are prepared to encounter true seeking unbelievers in a productive way. I realize this article (or at least this section) hasn’t really dealt with the “science and logic” (mental) aspects of a seeking unbeliever, but that is surely a conversation I’d love to have with you sometime – I’d love to see more of your perspective in this area.

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