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An understated journey

Talking about talking about Jesus isn't easy to do. It's technical term "evangelism" sounds like something manipulative and creepy you might do to people you hate (though the word just means spreading good news...) or the practice of scary fearless zealous shouty intense types.

I read a slightly odd story recently suggesting that Religious Education was to be banned in schools. Seems unlikely to me, and a bit tragic. Recent months have suggested that British people don't mind talking about politics though we're not quite sure how to handle our differences yet. I can't help but think that more conversation about faith would do us good as well. Whether R.E. Helped much I'm not sure - conversation with Hindu, Atheist and Christian friends did me good at school.

Why would we not want to talk about 'what it means to be human?' and about ethics and beauty and what kind of world this is? Such are the subjects of faith conversations.

As Peter writes to those living in light of the Christian faith in first century Turkey he give some guidance on having faith conversations.

It's not weird to talk about faith in church. Culturally its to be expected. But, that doesn't mean we have to be weird with it. In fact: shouldn't those who set the scene bend over backwards to ensure that the church of all places on earth is where a human being can ask about faith without hype, without being shouted at, labelled, judged, mocked, disdained, disrepected, without having to put up with any number of weirdnesses or to jump through any unnecessary hoops. Peter seems to think so.

1. Faith conversations should be understated. (1 Peter 3:13-17)
Peter envisages 'giving an answer to those who ask'. That's not to say the follower of Jesus shouldn't start a faith conversation, though it might indicate I'm better off asking someone a question than giving my answer to a question someone isn't asking. Jesus after all was quite the question asker.

Responding takes some listening rather than delivering a parrot answer, an answer needs to correspond with the question and give some attention to the questioner. See Peter's pentecost message as a response to questions asked.

Peter says be prepared to give the reason for your hope. While the Bible says the Holy Spirit will give believers words to say, and has some distain for rhetorical bluster, Peter and his friends persuaded and proved their case to people.

Preparation isn't unspiritual any more than spontenaity is more spiritual. Elite athletes shine because they've build muscle memory through hours of training...  actors play their part compellingly because they've rehearsed... prior planning prevents poor performance. A genius is someone who can explain their field so others can understand.

Message matters but says Peter, manner is at least as significant - if not more.

I can think of too many situations where I've been brash, not listened, been offensive in my manner while attempting - with good motives and urgency - to speak of Jesus. Rushing in 'all guns blazing' is counter productive, it's anti-Christian to be like that. It's one thing for someone to dismiss Jesus because they don't like Jesus, but rejection of Jesus because his followers are loopy (this comes in several varieties) is something to deal with.

There are no perfect people but it doesn't take much emotional intelligence to treat someone humanely in a conversation - arrogance when speaking of the humblest man in all history is horribly dischordant.

My new favourite word for faith conversations is: understated. If Jesus is worth speaking about he doesn't need to be hyped up. It's easy to be overstated and shouty, but the more I consider Jesus I see his story is strangely understated.

French political and religious leader John Calvin noted that faith conversations should have "meekness... not pride or vain ostentation, or excessive zeal. Speak calmly of God's mysteries."

Such an approach can be marked with sincerity, with 'good conscience'. No manipulation. No tricks. And note the connection between "gentleness and respect, having a good conscience..." - my conscience has issues if my manner is off... seared perhaps by my own self-indulgence, lack of self-awareness, lack of awareness of others...

The early church was a movement of hope, people people who spoke of the resurrection of Jesus as a world changing moment calling for serious consideration.

2. Faith's journey to God. (1 Peter 3:18-22)
Peter's case for responsive, reasonable, respectful conversation about faith, and particularly the resurrection of Jesus is based on the journey of Jesus.

Jesus sets the message and the manner for faith conversations. If people want to shout, rant and fight they can do that - but not in the name of Jesus. Jesus' journey has this shape - says Peter: Life, death, resurrection, then he went to preach to the spirits in prison and then he went to God in heaven.

A good man sufffered and if someone who follows Jesus is rejected for being good then they're like Jesus. That's not persecution complex stuff, but the sense of rejection, being sidelined, for following Jesus... even though you are the most diligent person in your office, evidently love your family well, and are an upstanding member of society (as Peter has addressed previously).

Jesus' journey took him through death to resurrection life... though the slightly peculiar verse on preaching to spirits in prison, and then back to his Father in heaven. Those who follow Jesus, follow Jesus - in message and manner. They join an understated journey to God.

The section on preaching to spirits in prison needs some additional study. Scholars have worked hard on this.  [insert detail later]

It's hard to be 100%. But, the clear thing: Peter says Jesus defeated sin, death, evil and satan... by - as the best of people - dying, rising and returning to God... for us. And, one way or another, that news spread... not in brash arrogance but as a respectable and reasonable response, not just from Jesus' followers but from him. And, when you're alive forever there's no need to hype it or overstate it... you can be pretty secure in that.

So, ponder this most difficult of verses, but don't miss the wood for the trees, the important question to get hung up on: the hope that believers in Jesus have, the claim of his resurrection. Is that reasonable? Is that what happened?

Two closing remarks from Peter:

Firstly, he speaks of baptism. To get immersed in water and pulled back into the air is the pledge of a good conscience (the second mention of good conscience in this section... note that for future pondering!) in commitment to hope based on Jesus' resurrection. Immerse me under water because I trust I will be pulled back into life.

Secondly, Peter says: Jesus death was a substitution. The rigteouhs for the unrighteous. That's good news for everyone. When I'm asked about my faith, my hope, in the end I want to speak of the inclusive message of Jesus, an invitation that can be made to any one, his substitution does that. You don't have to be good enough, of the right social standing, gender or ethnicity.

And that's also good news for the brash idiot I can be in representing Jesus. Jesus does enough to deal with even his blundering representatives... and knowing that goes a long way towards setting my tone and posture in life. He stands for me. Where I've been unrighteous, where I'm unlike him: there is Jesus. Beauty for ashes, ashes for beauty.

When someone asks me about my hope, I want to check my heart, listen, seek clarity about their questions, and offer a tentative, understated answer that isn't about my own rightness but directs towards considersation of Jesus, inviting further exploration and questions.

Image: creative commons.


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