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Why doesn’t anyone ask us about Jesus?

by on September 27, 2012

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‘What must I do to be saved?’

‘How can I understand this unless someone explains it to me?’ Then he invited Phillip to get up in the chariot with him.

They grabbed hold of him…and asked “May we know what this new teaching is that you are bringing?   It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.”

When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they demanded, ‘Tell us, by what power or by whose name did you do this?’

One of the things that makes  Acts so exciting (and it is a very exciting piece of storytelling) is the active parts played by non-Christian people in the story. They are always engaged, always interested, always inquiring. Some are angry, others embrace the gospel willingly. But they are never indifferent!

The apostles so often find themselves speaking the gospel as a response to someone’s urgent demand. In fact, this dynamic of demand and response is by-and-large the way the gospel was verbally communicated in the accounts in Acts. Read it, see for yourself. Take out the factor of outsiders’ inquiries and demands, and the whole thing loses its drive and momentum.

Unless we notice this, we’ll never be forced to ask the question, how come everyone was so interested?

And of course that leads to the more difficult question: And why are things so different where I live?

We don’t experience much of that interest do we? Very often people don’t want to know. (I’m writing this in Sydney Australia)

And here’s the thing: if that outside interest was integral to the momentum of the apostolic mission, and if we don’t have much at all of that interest today, then how can we hope for mission success?

These are the sort of really uncomfortable questions I think are thrown up by that unacceptable claim we recently posted:

The only gospel conversations worth having are those that are initiated by the other person.

Sophie put her finger on what’s so unpleasant about that assertion: we’re desperately hoping it’s not true, because the other person never initiates!

Where do we go from here? Well I’d be wanting to ask next, what has created the difference? Why is outsiders’ interest level so different today from what it was in the times of Acts?

They’re kind of scary questions, I know. But if we can get some understanding of this, we might just find ways forward for effective mission.

From → General

10 Comments
  1. Sophie Febery permalink

    I think partly the problem is that we live in a “Christian saturated” culture – churches everywhere, televangelists on TV, and a lot of people have parents or grandparents who went to church. So there’s nothing new, people think they know it all and that we as a culture have moved beyond Christianity.

    That’s why I love engaging with people from other cultures, especially Asian in my own experience here in NZ. It’s NEW for them. I’ve talked to Chinese people who were almost crying when they heard about Jesus dying! And to Japanese people who have never even heard the name Jesus before. It’s so beautiful to watch these people fall in love with Jesus for the first time. But it’s so sad that so many in our culture couldn’t be bothered to give him a second glance. I don’t have any idea how to change this…except prayer (and I’d be keen to hear any other ideas!).

    • I love hearing about your evangelism experiences, Sophie!

      I think you’re right about the ‘post-Christian’ thing. It is easier with other cultures, isn’t it. Here in Canterbury we have so many non-Anglo cultures, it doesn’t have a strong ‘post-Christian’ feel.

      However, I reckon there are probably other factors, some of them to do with us, rather than them.

      But I’d love to hear what other people think.

  2. Chris S permalink

    Hey mate, jI think this is a great Q to ask. I think Sophie is on to something. I also think that our difference from the culture around is sometimes an issue – ie not different enough in many ways that matter, and too different in ways we shouldn’t be (need to think that latter one through more…). and perhaps above all, too unfriendly to those who DO ask difficult questions – and too rocked when people don’t like the answers we might give (I am very guilty of the last one!)

    BUT just quick and possibly unhelpful – but I read this post and was a bit perplexed as I wondered if it was a pretty unbalanced presentation. So I went back to the last post for clarity, and then skim read Tom Habib’s comment. Maybe he pushed too far at poiints, but he seems to me to have a very good point..
    As soon as I read this post Acts 17 came to mind in Athens – idea-central and all that – and there Paul does seem very much to initiate, and what he says causes questions and demands for more info (perhaps in part because at least some thought he was talking about a foreign god couple – Jesus and Anastasis). Also with Philip in Acts 8 – Philip initiates the convo by running up next to the chariot and asking if he understands what he is reading – a pointed question given he is reading Isaiah 53! (which Philip had heard – v30, cf v32). Acts 16 – slightly different – seems to be perhaps the integrity of Paul and Silas, staying in prison? Maybe the hymns they had been singing before too.
    No doubt the demand for answer is key, but the demand is at least opften spurred by the action and/or words of the Christians. It seems to me much more dynamic than one sided, and often with some Christian initiation. That’s more than a summary – that’s details that push to a particular summary.

    Anyway, not to distract the question too far from what is still a good question.
    But on the other hand – one last thing – there have been some people (teens especially) who, when I have asked them what they think Jesus is about, they have admitted they don’t actuall really know (even though they have been around church/youth group for a bit on and off), and have been keen to talk about it. In some cases it has seemed like they have actually been too embarrassed to say they don’t understand because everyone around seemed to (although probably only SEEMED to) – and actually they needed to be asked – a bit like the eunuch with Philip perhaps. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your comment, Sparkie.

    I understand you’re questioning the reading of Acts that was given in the previous post. I’ll get back to you on that.

    Could you clarify – you say of this post

    “I read this post and was a bit perplexed as I wondered if it was a pretty unbalanced presentation. ”

    What was it about this post that perplexed you and seemed unbalanced? We;d be very interested to hear your impressions.

  4. Chris S permalink

    Sorry mate – fair call for clarification! It was mainly just the quotes, and I mean an unbalanced pres of Acts (in that demand and response was very often it seems to preceeded by some sort of provocation of the demand by Christian characters, and so demand and response was not simply THE way, etc) – and so then, if a more balanced presentation means understanding both our need to initiate and the expectation of others asking, that changes the feel of the question a little.

    But as I say, the post is still a right question to ask – why don’t we get asked as much about Jesus, what might there be about us that is part of the problem here, and what can we do about it?

  5. It might help clarify if I point out that both my posts on Acts have focussed on the issue of verbal communication. The claims I have made about Acts relate to verbal communication: conversation and proclamation.

    Of course there are many other things the apostles do, and sometimes there they take initiative in their actions (although quite rarely actually!). But I’m trying to home in on this one aspect (the one we major on in our tradition to the almost exclusion of everything else): speech.

    It’s always hard to communicate clearly by text. I’ll keep trying!

  6. Chris S permalink

    Fair mate I suppose – except in the examples above which you quote to start and set the whole thing up, in at least two out of four of them (Acts 8 Philip and Eunuch, and Acts 17 Paul in Athens) the apostles/Christians initiate with precisely speech 🙂 Hence my confusion.

    • ‘Fair mate I suppose’ – you sound unhappy Sparky. If I’m going wrong, you tell me – I’ve always relied on you for that you know, and you’ve been right in the past.

      except in the examples above which you quote to start and set the whole thing up, in at least two out of four of them (Acts 8 Philip and Eunuch, and Acts 17 Paul in Athens) the apostles/Christians initiate with precisely speech

      I’ll try to reply about those two passages – the Acts 17 one I admit is more complex than most.

  7. Chris S permalink

    connected to above – which raises the question (as part of the wider thing) – what should we be SAYING to provoke.invite people to enquire about Jesus (as well as the questions ‘what should we be doing’, or ‘what should we be like’)

    • Well, if you meet anyone reading the bible in public, you might try saying, ‘Hey, do you understand what your reading?’ That should work.
      🙂

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