The Persuasive Techniques of Christian Robots


I’m unfairly angry at Christians right now.

While we were in Peru, Steve and I had a slight tiff, that was entirely my fault, because I’m angry. He’s not mad at me – it’s not a thing, but it does bother me that I was a walking anger ball, ready to be loosed.

I’m sitting in Starbucks right now, having some pre-church Sabbath that was entirely disturbed by two college girls who couldn’t shut up about all of the drama in Young Life right now.

In fact, I’m blasting THE FRAY through my headphones at this very moment, even though I was enjoying the Starbucks ambiance prior to these girls coming in.

And you know what bothers me? They aren’t talking at all about God. They are Christians, loudly and obnoxiously letting everyone around them know that they’re Christians.. and their legacy is in-depth analysis of how Sophie shouldn’t have posted _______ on Twitter or Mack is going to have to sit Sophie and Gina down and talk to them. Their legacy is how important they are within Young Life because Mack is having them watch his kid while he talks to those other “idiots.”

It was all very self-important and self-righteous. All-knowing, as if these two girls have it all figured out.

And it would be really easy for us to excuse them because they’re kids and we’re older and wiser than that.

But we really only think that because we’re also self-important and self-righteous.

I had a fairly decent conversation with a non-believing friend this week, and I think the thing that most impacted him was when he asked me if I thought Hell would be more fun than Heaven because all the partiers are going to end up there. I told him that I actually thought Hell would be heavily attended by church folks.

On the one hand, he laughed and knew we were just talking. On the other hand, I think he liked that I didn’t pretend the “saints” are better company than everyone else. I didn’t get offended or pretend that the church is what she ought to be or that I am what I ought to be.

Another good moment was when he said he thinks God is messed up for sending people to Hell even when they try to be good and decent. He asked me what I thought about that… shouldn’t decent people get to go to heaven… and I said, “I think all people fall short of the glory of God.” He gave me an, “Amen to that.”

I didn’t try to persuade him or to make him more like me. I just said what I think. I think he respected that. I think he also respected that I didn’t talk down to him. I was just his friend. Talking.

I think the church forgets to be human sometimes because we’re so caught up with saying the “right thing” and persuading people into Heaven… because it makes us feel important when we’ve “won someone over to Christ.” We’ve got all sorts of gimmicks and lines for handling exactly the moment I encountered. We talk and prepare, and then we get our moment and the goal is conquering that other person. Then we panic about what we said and whether it was right or not.

The lines and gimmicks piss me off, because I want this man as a friend regardless of his religious affiliation. I care about him and enjoy him. My prayers for his salvation are founded on a deep affection for him that extends beyond religious affiliation. I think that’s missing from the church nowadays.

I don’t understand what’s happened to us that we don’t just talk to human beings like they’re human beings. I don’t get why being a witness has become this thing where we have to have the right answer, and we only tell non-believers what we think they need to hear in order to be saved. We are incomplete friends with ulterior motives.

It’s not within my power to make God redeem this man, so I can’t see a reason to be anything more or less than his friend.

It doesn’t matter how many anecdotes I give him or the persuasive techniques I use. I just need to care about him, talk to him, and trust God.

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In Surge, we’re wrapping up the first quarter, and I got pretty mad at one of the things we read this week.

Basically, the writer is trying to persuade me (and the rest of his readers) that the resurrection is going to be a bodily one on a renewed Creation, as opposed to some non-physical, mystical existence in the clouds… which I already agree with him about.

However, he went about his persuasion by making a lot of unsupported claims, rather quickly. I get that he did this for the sake of time and space, but I wish he’d slowed down and quoted the Bible on every. single. claim. he made.

Then, I came to a part where he was about to support one of his claims. He wrote that some people read the Bible and come to a different opinion than his. Then he referenced what some other dude wrote.

“David Lawrence has offered a paraphrase of this text [John 14:2-3] that fits much better Jesus’ words to his disciples…”

He proceeded to quote Lawrence’s rewrite of John 14:2-3.

Prior to that, I was annoyed. However, there is very little in the world that pisses me off more than folks thinking they can somehow better communicate God’s ideas than God Himself communicates them in His own words.

First of all, anyone reading this book had better be fairly literate, because it’s a book that applies the five-act structure to the Bible. Additionally, I suspect most (if not all) of the readers of this book have also read John 14 a time or two previously. Even those who haven’t read it before live in a time and nation of literacy, and I’d hope they can read the passage and comprehend it without someone dumbing it down for them. It bothers me a lot when authors assume their readers won’t understand something, so they provide an Idiocracy loop, just in case.

Second, I’ve had pastors paraphrase the Bible to me before, and it blew my mind how much was lost in translation. Romans 8:28 can be altered so that it’s more about obedience than it is about God’s work in our lives… God works everything together for those who love and obey him… ? All of a sudden, my behavior forces God to give me what I want and I’m saved by my own obedience. That’s good theology, right?

Call me paranoid, but I’m incapable of trusting folks who paraphrase the Bible in order to make it more accessible. The only valid reason I see for replacing a passage from the Bible with a paraphrase is an inability to access the actual Bible… if you don’t have a Bible nearby, can’t recall where to find the passage to which you’d like to refer, etc… I’m also okay with showing someone a passage, as is, then helping them comprehend it through explanation, but that’s something that requires extreme caution, because, as a teacher, I know how easy it is to push my beliefs onto those who are vulnerable, gullible, inexperienced. It is a requirement of my job that I teach my students how to read passages and comprehend them for themselves rather than just filling their heads with my comprehension of what we read.

Third, the Bible is the word of God. You don’t approach the word of God with the belief that He didn’t communicate well enough in the language He created, to His creatures. By all means, tell me why you interpret that passage a certain way. Explain your reasoning. Give me some background that I might not know. However, DO NOT CHANGE THE WORD OF GOD. That’s messed up.

One more step, and you’re Winston, working for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to suit the whimsy of Big Brother.

———————————————————————————————–

I don’t know how to stop being angry. I think these two particular angers are related because they both deal with the choices people make in how they persuade others about God, and they both include Christians making conscious decisions to present God in a way that’s different from how He presents Himself.

We are not an ad agency, “handing tickets out for God.”

It bothers me that the church seems an awful lot like that to me. It bothers me that we expect believers and non-believers to be idiots, “who can’t handle the truth!” It wasn’t okay for Jack Nicholson to make decisions about how much truth people can handle or how to frame that truth, and it’s not okay for Christians to make such decisions either.

Witnessing shouldn’t be about persuasion; nor should theological debate. It’s not the charge of the Christian to talk others onto their side.

Our charge is to be images of the Almighty. We are to walk around reflecting Him. We are to tell people what He’s done for us. It’s God’s charge to persuade them.

Because rewriting the Bible and building friendships on a win-loss record are just little bits of my frustration.

Both are wrong.

And no amount of conceding that the church is full of imperfect people makes me feel better about that wrong. It doesn’t make me feel better that we’re becoming a society that hates lines and gimmicks except for when we’re afraid of what we might say without them… except for when we have to exist in this world saying and doing things that reflect who we are and what we believe rather than what someone else told us to be and believe.

We hate lines and gimmicks except when we’re afraid to present God and ourselves with honesty, depth, and trust in the Almighty.

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