by Scott Bessenecker
A woman came to my door one day carrying a massive Bible and toting literature adorned with pictures of happy people working in a bountiful garden. She was a Jehovah’s Witness asking if I’d be interested in a Bible study.
To be perfectly honest, I did not want to do a Bible study with a Jehovah’s Witness, but neither did I want to completely reject her. It’s gotta be tough going door to door asking people to start a Bible study as a Jehovah’s Witness. So I outlined my terms:
I’m a Christian who believes that Jesus was God. I believe that He was crucified for our sins and was raised to life. In fact, my life is pretty thoroughly built around those things since I work for a Christian organization. But if that is not true … if Jesus was not God, was not crucified, and did not rise for the dead, then I don’t want to believe these things. Even though it would cost me everything I’ve built my life upon, if what I believe is not true, then I don’t want to believe it. So If you can say the same thing, then we have a basis for a study.
The woman walked away, essentially telling me that she preferred what she currently believed, even if it were not true.
Intellectual honesty is a scary prospect for those of us who have built our lives around faith in Jesus’ resurrection. But if we want to engage people whose hunger for truth outstrips their satisfaction of what they currently believe, we must also have the integrity to join them. If what we believe about Jesus is wrong, then we must be willing to side with truth and walk away from falsehood.
Most Millennials, and perhaps almost anyone, can smell beliefs of convenience, people who are so entrenched in their theology that they are unwilling to listen to anyone else. The Jehovah’s Witness person at my door at least had the integrity to admit that she only cared about the truth if it lined up with what she believed, otherwise count her out of any serious discussion.
Evangelicals praise spiritual curiosity in non-believers. But are we curious, willing to hunger after truth, even if it jeopardizes what we currently believe?
Augustine talks about philosophy as the love of wisdom, since it comes from the Latin philo (love) and sophos (wisdom). Proverbs praises the lover of wisdom (Prov. 4:6, 19:8, 29:3). Believers sometimes forget that to call our non-believing friends to re-evaluate those things they have founded their life upon is a scary proposition. Besides that, it can be disingenuous to invite someone to critically look at his or her faith system without holding out a willingness to re-examine our own.
Many will suggest that they already did this if they had an adult conversion experience. This is good footing on which to call others to examine what they believe. But we need a perpetual curiosity about faith matters.
Many of the things I felt sure about as an 18-year-old new believer has needed nuance and deepening. A dark night of the soul can move us from an adolescent faith into a mature one if we are willing to wrestle with our assumptions and beliefs. But those who are afraid to test their convictions remain in continuous spiritual childhood and will lose the moral high ground in calling non-Christians to test their own beliefs.
I’m not talking about having an open mind that consumes anything you put into it. There’s quite a bit of rubbish out there. GK Chesterton said, “The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” We generally examine a thing before trying to consume it. Smell it, touch it, maybe even lick it to see if it is edible. Most know not to consume something indiscriminately.
But life and faith are not straightforward “one and done” propositions. Life is wonderful and tragic, stimulating and confusing. Faith can be challenging and difficult, at times childlike and simple and other times so profound and deep that a lifetime of study cannot plumb its depths.
Let us engage our non-believing friends with a love for wisdom and an honest curiosity. Maybe they have something to contribute to your journey if you will listen to them with the perspective that they might be right about some things and you might be wrong about some things.
God is not intimidated by questions, curiosity, and challenges to our doctrine. Invite the spiritually hungry to join you in your hunger quest to know, love, and test the depths of truth.
Scott Bessenecker (@Bessenecker) is associate director of mission forInterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Each year, he helps to mobilize thousands of students to high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods in the U.S. and to dozens of nations around the world. He is author or editor of five books, including his new release Overturning Tables: Freeing Missions from the Christian-Industrial Complex. Scott also blogs at www.OverturningTabels.net.