Why don’t Christians just keep their beliefs to themselves?

As you might guess by poking around this blog, I enjoy sharing my Christian faith. I realize, however, that most non-Christians feel that they have heard enough about Christianity already, and are not eager to hear more. Because of this, it is important for me (and other Christians) to be tactful and sensitive about the topic.  Rather than talking about God as often as I would like, I need to treat people with respect by taking note of their wishes, and being judicious in terms of when it is appropriate to bring up the subject. When the topic does arise, I should avoid the temptation to monopolize the conversation, and should make sure that I reflect well on the Gospel by sharing it, as Peter said, with gentleness and respect.

Having said all that, the fact remains that I am eager to share my faith.  So it is reasonable to ask: why do I bother in the first place?  Why don’t I just keep my beliefs to myself?  There are five primary reasons for this.

First of all, I love God. That is reason enough for me. I simply feel good talking about God and would enjoying doing so even if I knew the other person was not going to be affected by it one way or the other. It’s similar in that way to the impulse to tell the world about a new romantic interest, or to share pictures of kids, or grandkids, or scenes from a trip to the Grand Canyon. The joy in sharing such things is a very basic emotional one, that needs no other reason at all. This of course is from the perspective of the one doing the talking, not the one listening, so by itself it’s only an explanation, not a justification.

Second, I do believe that my faith has affected me in a very positive way. I believe that I experience far more joy, love, confidence, and sense of purpose in this life (to say nothing of the next) than I would without the faith. So I also want to share this with people for the same reason I would want to tell them about a great movie I saw, or a book I’d read, or a wonderful place I’d visited. I genuinely believe that the information I have will benefit the listener, and I believe this in a universal sense. While not everyone has the same taste in books or movies, I do believe that we are all children of the same God and that everyone can benefit from getting to know Him better. I would not claim that non-Christians do not know Him at all, or that my knowledge of Him is necessarily superior to anyone else’s. But I do believe that He walked the earth once in the person of Jesus, and that believing this leads a person to view the Gospels in a whole new way, and to develop a deeper relationship with God than they would otherwise have. I want to do whatever I can to encourage that. (As a corollary, if the faith affects me in a positive way, it should bear fruit in a way that benefits others as well; see upcoming post about whether religion does more good than harm.)

Third, I believe there is a gap in the public dialogue between how Christ is commonly preached (or modeled) and what He is really like. The Jesus that many people think they already know about is often a poor caricature of the Jesus that is presented in the pages of the Gospels. In some cases, the most ambitious exponents of Christianity are often those who are afraid of God, or who crave the limelight, or who are motivated by personal gain. Compounding this problem, the media enjoys focusing on church leaders who abuses their positions, or otherwise experience a fall from grace. By comparison, stories of quiet followers of Christ around the world, trying to follow Him each day in humility and love, do not sell advertising and are usually neglected (except occasionally around Christmastime).

Furthermore, what is widely viewed as mainstream Christian doctrine in 21st century America includes elements that not all Christians of all times and places would agree to. While the core elements of Christian belief are ancient (with the most of the New Testament written within a few decades of Christ, and the creed of the early church dating back at least to the 2nd century), church institutions over the ages have given their own interpretations to the source material. These interpretations do vary, and often reflect the politics of the times.  On this blog, I often highlight perspectives that are currently out-of-favor (or at least poorly advertised), on issues such as hell, gays, the Bible, and evolution.  This is not because I think that my own position is always correct, but because I want readers who may have been turned off by something they may have heard labeled as “essential Christian doctrine” to realize that a wide variety of perspectives are possible within the broad scope of Christian belief, and to approach the subject with a clear mind.

Fourth, there is the whole question of eternal destiny. Non-Christians often take offense at the idea that the afterlife is tied to their beliefs, and I can understand this reaction. As explained here, I do not believe that God consigns anyone to an infinity of torment, or that the afterlife is a simple binary outcome. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is more concerned with the inner condition of a person’s heart than with correctly formulated theology, and it is possible that many non-Christians are closer to Jesus than some who call Him by name. Nevertheless, I do believe that the way we live now influences what happens to our souls in the life to come. Jesus clearly warned listeners of the serious consequences of our choices, and He also spoke of the close relationship between faith and action. Beliefs do matter, as they guide one’s choices and spiritual development over time.

I also think beliefs also matter directly. The decision to “accept Christ” is not simply an intellectual question. The intellectual aspects of it are important, but ultimately inconclusive, leaving each of us with a choice. One’s response to the choice reveals not only a conclusion of the intellect but also the heart’s willingness to accept God as ruler of the universe and accept one’s neighbors as brothers and sisters.

Your choice is important to me because we are, in a broad sense, family. Think of it this way. Suppose you had a brother who was not on speaking terms with your common father. Suppose the father is reaching out in some way to the brother, but the brother isn’t noticing it or is simply not interested. Wouldn’t you, loving both of them, want to do whatever you could to intervene in a helpful way? This is what I try to do. Prayer is my way of intervening with our Father on my brother’s behalf, and sharing the faith is my way of intervening with my brother on our Father’s behalf. I suppose God, being all-powerful, could just get everyone’s attention in a bold way (appearing on all TV channels at once, or putting a giant cross in the sky, etc.) but for whatever reasons (about which I have speculated here), He prefers to see His children interact in this way.

Finally, I share my faith because I feel that Christ has called me to do so. Not in any certain or audible sense, but in the text of the Great Commission – “go and make disciples of all nations”, the last thing recorded in Matthew’s Gospel that Christ told the apostles. In light of the issues raised above, I have taken this call into my own life (on a part-time basis, for the time being). Not everyone has the same calling; I suppose sometimes when Christ spoke to the apostles it was a message meant only for them. As Paul explained in Romans 12, everyone has different gifts and talents to use in serving God. Perhaps some Christians do more good by practicing their faith very quietly and never speaking up. Perhaps the same is true for me, in different situations. So please do let me know if this blog has been helpful (or hurtful) to your relationship with God.


6 thoughts on “Why don’t Christians just keep their beliefs to themselves?”

  1. Hi Mike, I like your article a lot. I understand your desire to share about God and Chris; and I often feel the same about Buddha.

    In Buddhism, this innate desire is called Mahayana wish to benefit all living beings. Because if someone truly loves God, then that person knows God is in everyone and everything, and sharing about God is like talking about God to another aspect of God, who is the person you’re talking to. Hope this makes sense. And it’s like the other person doesn’t yet realize he’s a child of God, but he is anyhow.

    I think as long as we do it naturally and gently, out of heart’s warmth and feeling the energy of the time, it’ll automatically be right. It’s when people make it into a forceful preaching to convert that can cause problems, because a lot of this energy is coming from the brain, not from the heart, at that time. Because I believe God’s love is very gentle, and doesn’t want to cause discomfort, so if someone is causing discomfort to other people, even if he’s preaching God, I don’t think he’s transmitting true God’s purest energy.

    1. Thanks Kathy. I do agree that “preaching to convert” can be a perilous exercise, with potential to backfire completely if it’s not done with gentleness, or if for any number of reasons the situation is just not right. My purpose in the article was to explain why Christians want to spark or help along a conversion process, not to explain how to do it or how to identify the right situation. Personally, I don’t have any skill in this matter or successes to celebrate, so I focus on doing no harm and just trying in small ways to help people grow closer to God (if they care to talk with me about it at all) and make sure not to disturb whatever positive connection to God they already may have. Having said that, whether something causes discomfort is not necessarily a reliable indicator of whether it’s true or not. Sometimes the process of repentance from sin (analogous to what you might call detachment from the things of this world) is uncomfortable. It’s been quipped that the Gospel was sent “to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable” (paraphrasing an earlier proverb about newspapers).

  2. I understand when you say your faith has affected you in a very positive way; this is the case for all sincere spiritual people, of all traditions. That’s why they keep on practicing 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree. Indeed there are many similarities between Christianity and Buddhism, and some differences as well. See here for discussion of one interesting example.

  3. I like the point that Jesus is more concerned with the matters of a person’s heart when it comes to knowing Him. Although I would not say that many non-Christians are closer to Jesus than the ones who call Him by Name. It is because if a person believes in Jesus, He died for them. That is the Father’s promise in John 3:16.
    No ones perfect, and you also have to take in mind that Christians suffer because they hold to the Name of Christ, and to the Truth.
    Besides this, I find with most people who are non-Christians these days, they would be more prone to spirits controlling them, because having spiritual knowledge in Christ is very powerful because the Lord is Ultimate power. A lot of the time people who are stubborn on their life hangups or hangups with God preventing them from coming to Him have very little spiritual knowledge, if at all any. Doesn’t mean they aren’t nice people, but I do think they are more susceptible, so it is our job as Christians to pray on their behalf. In my humble opinion.
    God bless all.

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