On Speaking Christianese

by Jonathan Matas

Some time ago my wife and I were having lunch at a local restaurant when a new friend of ours came overand joined us. As she sat down she began to talk about life, family, and . . . faith. It turns out she was once a Mormon who got married at 19 to a man who quickly became abusive so she began re-thinking the whole Mormon thing, in fact the whole Christian (?) thing. The Mormons weren't too supportive of her leaving him despite the abuse so she left him and the church too. She read the bible and explored other religious beliefs, ultimately deciding Buddhism made the most sense. As we finished our meal, she joined us for a walk to the local park where our kids played for a while. She told us about her new faith and went into some detail about the virtues of reincarnation. It was a very relaxed and comfortable conversation but at a certain point she asked us what we believed about reincarnation. I told her we are People of Faith and spirituality. I said we follow the teachings of Jesus, which for some reason seems to play better than, We are Born Again Christians! I continued, We don't follow Joseph Smith or the Pope, or any number of other religious figureheads. She asked, So you don't believe in reincarnation at all? It's not that I do or don't believe in reincarnation. I said, not wanting to downplay her beliefs. It's just that in all my years on this spiritual journey, I've never really heard it mentioned. Since I believe I have a relationship with Jesus, where I'm getting His direction in my life, I have yet to hear Him talk about it. So it's not that I do or do not believe. It's that it's not really on my radar. But from what you describe, I think Jesus already did what reincarnation is supposed to do. She nodded.

The afternoon stretched into early evening and it was time to go. As we turned to leave she tapped me on the shoulder to say, I hope I didn't offend you. Offend me? Why do you think I would be offended? I asked. Oh, you know. Reincarnation and the Buddhist stuff. Others have gotten offended or defensive when it comes up and I don't want to do that. Oh? I said. I thought we were having a discussion on spirituality. That's what I thought, she said, but not everyone is so open to these discussions.

I've realized that I need to re-think the language I use when talking to the not yet believing culture around me. I assume they understand my language when I use words like sin and God, church, morality or even salvation, but they don't always. I'm not always sure I do either. I'm learning to re-think how I reflect and present Jesus to our non-believing friends. I find, in fact, that they are rarely our non-believing friends at all. More often they are simply our not yet fully convinced friends and sometimes for good reason. Someone told me recently people aren't always rejecting Jesus. Sometimes they are simply rejecting our clumsy delivery. I once told someone that I was not a Christian but rather a Believer. He was puzzled until I explained that if I said I was a Christian he would assume certain stereotypes about my politics, my stance on the Gay community, what I think about abortion and the people who have them, and any number of other issues. But... I promised, You will be wrong about who and what you think I believe! That led to an hour and a half discussion about God, aside from politics and current cultural issues.

I went to pick my daughter up from a sleepover at a friends house. As I entered the home I found the parents sitting at their kitchen table having a late breakfast. How did it go last night? I asked. Great! they said. Then out of the blue, Hey, do you think we are going to spend all eternity burning in Hell? WHAT?! Uh . . . WHAT!? What did my daughter say to you? Where did that come from? I sputtered. Wait! I'm gonna need coffee for this one.

They continued, We have these friends who are from the (something) church. they explained. They're really good friends but the other day they told us they love us so much but if we don't 'Accept Jesus into our hearts as our personal Savior and Lord' we are going to burn in hell for all eternity and they really feel so sorry for us but that's ...'just the way it is'! We know you are a Christian so we want to know if you also believe we are going to burn in hell for all eternity!

Where's my Coffee!?

Jonathan Matas has served in Youth With a Mission for 30 years. He has visited some 60 countries documenting the work of YWAM around the world. He is married to Cheri and has two daughters age 11 and 8. He also is the director of YWAM Organic which highlights the work of YWAM.

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