“Santa Claus changed my life.”
I’m not sure anyone would claim that Santa changed their life, but when you tell postmodern people about your faith in Christ, what they hear is, “I believe in childish fairy tales.” To them, the concept of Jesus is like the story of Santa; it may be loosely based on a historical person, but the myth has grown into a religious device used by corporations to sell stuff.
Our Witness Among the “Post-Everything”
For several years, I lived among postmodern people in Western Europe. We told anyone who would listen to us about God’s provision for us in Christ, but first we had to learn to share the gospel with people who associate Christianity with dead religion and fantastical nonsense. Here are a few takeaways.
First, we must know the gospel. Maybe it goes without saying, but one can’t share a message he doesn’t understand.
Early Catholic explorers arrived in the New World with images of the nativity and of the crucifixion. Indigenous people saw these images and concluded that they should worship the powerful one depicted in these images (hint: it was not the baby or dead man in the photos who seemed worthy of worship, but the strong woman who cared for him!). The explorers ended up making nominal converts to their religion because they didn’t understand that the Father sent his Son to redeem sinners who are dead in their sin. We learned that in order to make disciples, we must know the gospel.
The gospel is about God, who is worthy to be worshiped by all creation (1 Chr. 16:25–17). Mankind was made in God’s image (Gen. 1:26–27), but that image was marred by sin. The Father sent his Son to live a sinless life and die on behalf of sinful mankind. He saves those who believe by giving them a right relationship with him, then he sends them out to make disciples of all nations.
Truth Transforms and Informs
Second, we must identify with the postmodern search for what is true about ourselves and the world around us. To do so, we present the gospel as truth that transforms our lives and informs our perspective on the entire world.
I talk a lot about my need for Jesus. Apart from Christ I’m confused, frustrated, angst-ridden, and disappointed. My faith in him gives me clarity, peace, hope, and purpose that makes the world make sense.
This is God’s intention for us, and it’s a powerful part of my testimony that I often minimize in order to quickly skip to the salvation part. When our audience hears our admission of guilt and need, they can identify with us and understand how the gospel applies to them.
Learn to Listen
Thirdly, in order to connect with people and understand how to communicate the gospel in ways that they can understand, we must ask thoughtful questions. It’s harder to sound ignorant and arrogant (two charges against us by postmodern people) when we ask questions and listen to answers.
The best questions are open-ended and lead people to reflection. I recommend starting with more general questions such as, “What do people in your circles think really matters in life?” and then moving into more personal questions like, “What’s the most important thing in life?”
A great follow-up question is, “How’s that working out for you?” Most of the people I talk with know that the lives they’ve constructed aren’t sufficient. As they consider their own situations, we are in a context to share this powerful message of God’s provision.
Christ Changes Everything
Fourth, talk about how being in Christ affects every aspect of life, not just religious rituals. This helps us combat the perception that all Christians are hypocrites who compartmentalize their faith from the rest of their lives. It helps show that our faith changes our perspective on everything from finances to free time.
Postmodern friends often are surprised to hear me talk about how my faith informs everything from the car I drive to how I plan family vacations. It’s not that Jesus is all we should talk about. In fact, we should be interesting people who are prepared to talk about a wide range of topics. But a storybook Jesus that can be kept in a box and pulled out on Sundays is far less compelling than the God of the universe who demands that we worship him with our entire lives.
Be a Good Friend
Finally, be a real friend. Too often, Christians who want to be on mission put the task before the person and end up treating people as projects. If we pull back from anyone who doesn’t show outward signs of spiritual awakening, this only reinforces the notion that Christians care more about making converts than about building relationships. It’s in the context of those relationships that the gospel takes root, allowing our lives to illustrate the words we say with the love we have for those to whom we’ve been sent.
My wife and I have a dear friend who is not a believer. As a highly-educated and skeptical thinker, he would not follow Christ. For a long time, he teased us that we seemed too sane to believe in something so far-fetched as Jesus.
But when this friend suffered the sudden loss of a family member, he called us. He wanted to be around people of faith. “Pray for me,” he said. “I really need some comfort right now.” How do we get to the point that nonbelievers are genuinely asking us to pray for them? We invest in real and personal relationships with them that allow us to be present in times of need.
The good news for postmodern people is that Jesus cuts through uncertainty and doubt. We proclaim the gospel faithfully, identify with our audience, ask good questions, live transparently, and love unconditionally. He transforms lives and saves sinners—even those who consider themselves to be too enlightened to ever consider Christ. As we are faithful ambassadors to the postmodern people around us, God is glorified by the worship of post-everything people.
Caleb Crider is instructional design leader at IMB. He is a coauthor of Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission. You can find him on Twitter @calebcrider.