Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Conversion vs. Coercion

A little while back I watched a TV mother’s horror at the dawning realization that her Christian daughter regularly prayed for her. It was an interesting moment and I thought it seemed like a pretty authentic reaction; something I’d seen once or twice myself.

I mean, what reaction should we really expect from people to the fact that we are praying for their salvation, hoping for their conversion and actively working toward that transformation when the opportunity arises … or vice versa?

Sometimes the fact that we take the issue that seriously can come as a bit of a shock.

Selwyn Duke at American Thinker has a good piece on the subject:
“I’m a man who takes his faith very seriously; I believe it is the Truth and that God should be at the center of one’s life. I also know a man who is Jewish and believes just the same. He is orthodox, praying at the appointed times every day — regardless of the situation — and abiding by every one of the 613 Judaic laws that pertain to his life. He is a very saintly, gentle man. And he also has expressed that his faith — not mine, needless to say — is the true one. Now, if I found out that he had prayed for my conversion to what he considers a superior faith, should I be offended? 
       In fact, neither his perspective nor such a desire would bother me a whit. While this may strike a Richard Dawkins type as strange, understand my position vis-à-vis his attitude: I’d expect nothing less.”
To me, this sort of response seems entirely rational.

It makes sense when life and death issues are at stake. It makes sense in other contexts too.

What about when my friend prays for an increase in my understanding in areas of faith that I have not fully apprehended? Should I presume he or she is being pedantic, paternalistic, high-handed, a busybody or a know-it-all? Or should I take it as a sign that he or she loves me and wants the very best for me?

But as to the issue of where you spend eternity, if I love you and believe you are currently on the path to hell, how could I possibly not pray for you, desire your salvation and hope for opportunities to address the issue with you?

If I don’t, rather than implying that I am a generous-spirited individual extending tolerance and love, it implies that I don’t really believe the things I claim to.

Actions speak louder than words.

RJA adds some thoughts on the subject. This:
“To take the ideas in that article a little further — my brother recently remarked that evangelical Christianity, if it is truly evangelical, is not a fearsome enemy of non-believers but rather the best friend that (say) a secular liberal person could wish for. Because, he said, a Biblical approach to evangelism demands that the Christian maintain an open and respectful dialogue with non-believers — and never treat them as a lost cause, or as the enemy.”
And this:
“The good news about Jesus Christ cannot be imposed or enforced, either on individuals or on nations; it has to be sincerely understood and received by individuals of their own free will and in response to the Holy Spirit of God working in their conscience — things that no external influence can compel. Therefore any Christian who claims to be ‘winning souls’ by means of threats or bullying tactics, making false promises or offering bribes, withholding sticky facts or suppressing honest questions, or otherwise distorting the Biblical message is disobeying Christ’s teachings and example. Rather, the Christian is to share the message of salvation through Christ freely, but always to do so ‘with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience’, as the apostle Peter wrote.”
Making a defense for the hope that is in us with gentleness and respect is a long way from coercion.

But not everyone sees it that way.

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