How to Talk about Jesus in a Secular World
Where do people get the image that Christians are "other than normal"? We know that believers live by different standards than unbelievers. But how can we go beyond our different goals and values to speak about Jesus in a society absorbed with language and lifestyles that are other than sacred?
George Hunter, in How to Reach Secular People, points out that much of what modern, secular adults know about Christianity comes from negative impressions they have heard about TV evangelists.1
Let us admit that a number of notable religious figures of our day supply ammunition for the secular media with their antics. Do not deny the errors and outright sins of famous, religious persons in the news. Do not excuse them on the basis of their human tendency to fail.
Point to those who are equally strong in their religious profession and in their Christian walk. If examples of bad behavior hinder belief, will models of right behavior not serve to stir thoughts in the secular mind?
Some Christians are repelled by the "amuse me, make me laugh" mindset. When those Christians encounter this attitude in a neighbor or workmate, they may find sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ to be especially difficult. They know church language of the past will not communicate with technologically sophisticated people today. But the "amuse me" mindset may only be asking someone to speak in a language the hearer understands.
Think about the computer word "icon." Paul called Jesus Christ the "icon" of God. He wrote, "Lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image [icon] of God, should shine unto them" (2 Cor. 4:4, KJV). The Greek word eikon is often translated "image" there, but it is the word from which we take our computer word icon.
You can arrest the attention of your secular friends if you will learn the language of their mindset. Tell them that Jesus is the icon of God. When they select Jesus, they get the whole program of God. They get all the helpful applications of the Christian life. Knowing their language will help you reach them. Learn to communicate biblical truth in modern forms. Be specific with those with no church or religious background.
Secular adults today accept by faith some of the most absurd assumptions of modern society.3 How else would you explain the New Age movement with its acceptance of the healing power of pyramids, the magic power of crystals, and channeling of long dead spirits?
"Who says?" and "Why?" are two good questions to ask secular adults. You may find that some who have not thought through some of their opinions, so be prepared to include in your witness both God's presence today and the promise of eternal life with God. Point out how they accept their own assumptions by faith, just as you accept the Lord by faith. From there you can offer some insights into just how much the Lord means to your life in your daily life.
Modern secular Americans may not make decisions with any kind of speed. Many marry later in life because commitment does not come easily for them. Do not expect most young, secular adults to make a major decision about life commitment in a hurry.
- Use the high expectations people have for Christians to your advantage. Ask them why they hold Christians to a higher standard if they themselves do not believe the Christian message.
- Call attention to this additional inconsistency of thought. They think Christians are outdated, if not worse; but they hold you to a higher standard of conduct than the average person on the street.
- Get your own philosophy of life set in a consistent manner. Learn to state your convictions precisely. God will give you the words to say, but that does not mean you cannot think about your own beliefs ahead of time! If you poorly represent the Lord, you may make your Lord seem unworthy of notice.
- Witness to the truth without compromise. Do not try to make the message acceptable to your hearers by changing the message.
- Do not take Jesus down to the level of a regional deity or a good friend to have in times of trouble. Jesus is the one and only Son of God - the Savior of all who will make the conscious, personal decision to put their trust in Him.
- Worship, work, and witness. Let God do the work only God can do.
1. George G. Hunter III, How to Reach Secular People (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992), 23.
2. John Leo, "No books, please, we're students," U.S. News and World Report, 16 September 1996, 24.
3. Hunter, 43.