For Christians like myself living in an American context, we’re not pushing anything new. By that I mean that we’re not, like Paul, entering local city forums and declaring to pagans “the unknown God” (Acts 17:22-33), nor are we entering local religious centers and reasoning toward the coming Messiah (Acts 18:4; 19:8-10). Rather than sharing a completely new or foreign message with people, evangelism for us will consist of redefining and redeeming people’s conceptions of Christ, Christianity, church, sin, heaven, hell, and so on.
Westerners are familiar with Christianity in some capacity or another. Ask any stranger on the street, “Who is Jesus Christ?” and they’ll have an answer. “He’s my Lord and Savior,” “He was a good teacher who’s followers went crazy after he died,” “He’s a mythical piece of religious fiction,” etc. The answers would vary widely, but I promise you they’d have an answer. No “Never heard of the guy” or “Who?” responses. This is because most Americans have been raised in church, or have attended a youth camp as a teenager, or have taken a world religions class in college, or have seen crazy Christian extremists on the news, or have studied it out of curiosity, or have been informed by their parents or voices within culture (e.g. TV shows, movies, books, etc.), the list is endless. The people you and I encounter from day-to-day know who Jesus is; at least, they think they do.
As a result of this, when we approach people and ask, “Hey man, could I have a few minutes of your time to tell you about Jesus Christ?” we’re usually responded to with a negative disposition, if not a negative answer outright. People aren’t interested in something that they’ve already made up their mind about, and although they’d vary widely, the definitions people have for Jesus are pretty set in stone. Beyond this, their definitions of Christians are set, too, and chances are that they’re not very kind assessments. Rather than validating their assumption that Christians are the pushy, “shove-it-down-your-throat” type by forcing conversations like the examples previously mentioned, we should aim to redefine that conception.
I love Breaking Bad, Guardians of the Galaxy, and any movie or television that makes me think deeply, but Christians shouldn’t watch media with cuss words or sex in them. I love to smoke a good cigar, but Christians shouldn’t smoke because their bodies are to be treated as temples of the Holy Spirit. I love to listen to Drake, Bring Me the Horizon, and any artist that makes good music, but Christians shouldn’t listen to music that doesn’t glorify God. My arms are covered in tattoos, but the Bible says that Christians shouldn’t get tattoos. On and on I could go with things about me (and many other Christians) that contradict the common definition of what a ‘Christian’ is.
What if all of those “but Christians shouldn’t”s that I just listed aren’t true of Christians? What if Christians are not only free to enjoy good, genuine art but that they should learn to discern the message behind movies and shows that, quote, “have bad words and premarital sex”? What if Paul’s talking about the body of the church as a temple of the Holy Spirit and not the human body? What if music that isn’t written exclusively under the genre “worship/gospel” can glorify God? What if Christ has fulfilled the Mosaic law that previously prohibited Jews from tattooing themselves? Mind you, the point of this article is not to change your convictions on any of those things, start an argument, or make Christians look cooler. I’m just listing a handful of examples that I point to when redefining and redeeming what a Christian is. And people get more than just the definition of a Christian wrong; ‘church’ isn’t a building full of perfect people, ‘heaven’ isn’t the final home for the Christian, ‘sin’ encompasses more than just disobeying God’s commandments, ‘hell’ isn’t a party with all your friends, etc. We have to redefine these things with our lives and words if they’re ever going to realize that.
When ‘evangelizing’ in this manner, my hope is that in correcting misconceptions about what a Christian is, I’m able to correct misconceptions about who Jesus is. The implication behind each of those “but Christians shouldn’t…” is a poorly misunderstood Jesus who only cares about what we look like and what cuss words we say and what movies we watch, rather than the true Jesus who walks among the poor, addicted, tattooed, sailor-mouthed freaks and commoners with compassion, mercy, and grace. Does Jesus care about what we look like and what we say and what media we consume? Absolutely. But when Jesus is represented as a spiteful tyrant looking to slap people on the wrist for watching rated R movies and drinking a beer, then who can blame people for shunning the annoying evangelist begging for 5 minutes to share the “good news” about said tyrant? He is far more, and far greater.
You represent Jesus to the people you encounter every day. Their understanding of who He is will be determined by how they understand you. If you’re critical, self-righteous, a buzzkill, and evangelistic in word alone, then Jesus will be perceived as such. But if you’re kind, humble, joyful, and evangelistic in all of your life, then Jesus will be represented as He is. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, but don’t think that means forcing your coworker through the Romans Road or knocking on doors in your neighborhood with a handful of tracts that poorly attempt to make people scared of hell. Redefine and redeem your family’s, friends’, and coworkers’ misconceptions of what a follower of Jesus looks like in the hopes that they’ll be redefined and redeemed by Jesus.