Doing Life in the Kingdom of the Lost
"All morality is the product of agreement, nothing more."
When my Sociology 101 professor confidently made that statement the first day of class, I knew that a competing truth claim had been made. I scrambled for how to deal with her weekly challenges. Nevertheless, despite her take on truth as something relative, in 1976 you could still talk with people about whether Christianity was objectively true or false. Now, not so much.
Truth is still truth, but these are different times. With people bombarded with so many competing claims to fix what ails, they are much less willing to engage on truth-claims.
In this short book, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus, two long-time campus ministry staff workers help us understand the shifting climate. They take many of the things that have been taught under the heading of "friendship evangelism" and apply them in our postmodern, very secular context. It's full of practical examples and rich with actual stories of students coming to faith. Though applied in a campus setting, all of the principles are equally applicable in any environment, built as they are on forging relationships with unbelievers, respecting their dignity, and not treating them as projects. It lays out an organic, even mysterious process of conversion, one not minimizing the real possibility of failure, yet one that will encourage by reminding us that nonbelievers actually do come to faith in Jesus. Yes, they do.
The authors speak of five thresholds along the path of coming to faith in Jesus: (1) trusting a Christian; (2) becoming curious; (3) opening up to change; (4) seeking after God; and (5) entering the Kingdom. Though presented as sequential (for example, without trust, a non-believer will not have opportunity to know a Christian and become curious), there is a circularity about the steps as well (for example, someone who is seeking may have trouble trusting and therefore revert to a need to learn to trust again). I like the authors' recognition of the combination of effort and risk on the believers' part, as well as the mystery of how and when the Holy Spirit will work in the non-believer's heart. Description drives our involvement.
The authors suggest encouraging questions (e.g., Have you ever had a spiritual experience?), using parables (music, art, movies), and living curiously ("Try saying unexpected and borderline outlandish things to stir curiosity"), and they emphasize stories, often personal. In short, these are door-openers. It is less a how-to manual than a study of the process of change, one which can inform our own relationships with nonbelievers.
In the end, our best arguments on truth will not alone rescue some from the Kingdom of the Lost. It'll be a mixture of life and love and Spirit - an enactment of the Gospel among our neighbors. The Cynic lives in the heart of every nonbeliever today. Genuine, persevering love can overcome. That's truth, and it's not relative.
[Some Peace community groups are reading and discussing the book reviewed here. For more information, contact Steve West]