In the most recent issue of the Ichthus, student writer Tony Shen takes up the issue of boldness and Christianity–namely, the question of how one can or should evangelize as a Christian. He aptly points readers to Christ’s example, pointing out that Christ pushed himself to essentially do things the hard way, picking disciples that he knew would stumble and fall during their journey of faith and who were not prominent members of society, and deliberately choosing to go against the grain of the religious teachings of the day. He then gave the ultimate sacrifice of Himself, the ultimate act of courage simply that His followers might know salvation and a relationship with God.
For me, Shen’s article is a timely one. Here at Harvard, I have found that it is easy to lapse into a sort of complacency concerning evangelism. Part of this is a “recovery” from my hyper-evangelistic upbringing in the South; I felt, in some twisted way, that I had done my share and deserved a break, a time to retreat into myself and focus on developing my own faith. Though this certainly has its place, I’ve come to realize that my lack of evangelistic efforts is rather derived from fear.
To be honest, Harvard can be a straight up scary place to try and evangelize. Sometimes intelligence can mean that people are less open and receptive to your ideas, and are often more likely to argue with you than to actually listen to what you’re saying. It also stems from the university environment, as there is usually a belief that religion is somehow irrational and counterintuitive to one’s academic and secular studies. Sometimes people take offense, and that is what I fear most: I feel that I have done more harm than good when people return with something along the lines of, “Why the heck would you ever ask me that?” It hurts me because I have likely offended someone that I have cultivated a relationship with, and the “doubting Thomas” in me begins to see their side and, consequently, the experience weakens my own faith.
Shen’s reminder to look to Christ is a comforting one to us, those who are sensitive to angry retorts to moments of evangelism. What is especially comforting is that not only is Christ our best example, but He is also our best ally. I often find myself feeling alone after someone turns me down, and I am sad to admit that I have to remind myself that I will always have an ally (and a teacher) in Christ. This excerpt from Hebrews really resonated with me when I read it this morning: “Since God assured us, ‘I’ll never let you down, never walk off and leave you,’ we can boldly quote: God is there, ready to help; I’m fearless no matter what. Who or what can get to me?” (Heb 13:5-6). God will always be there to help, and to push when it’s needed.
Another example we can follow is Paul’s. A bold evangelist himself, he can give us a sense of how to address the challenges of evangelism on our own and in the context of a spiritual community. Just like Christ, he encourages and pushes his fellow believers outside their comfort zones, and isn’t afraid to speak frankly and directly: “You seem to me to be well-motivated and well-instructed, quite capable of guiding and advising one another. So, my dear friends, don’t take my rather bold and blunt language as criticism. It’s not criticism. I’m simply underlining how very much I need your help in carrying out this highly focused assignment God gave me…” (Rom 15:14-16). Paul shows us that even the very best need help and support, not just from God but from fellow believers as well.
I’m giving myself some homework over the next week. I am going to share the gospel with one person this week by asking them to attend church with me. I have to admit that I’m a little afraid, but I hope that you will take part in this challenge with me (if you feel that evangelizing is an area where you could improve) and give me your feedback. We have Christ on our side and His example to follow. Surely we have nothing to lose, and very much to gain.