Most developed nations are becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. That is an undeniable fact. Christianity no longer enjoys the central place within society that it once did. As secularism and relativism gain an ever-stronger foothold throughout the developed world, Christianity is becoming increasingly marginalised, and individual Christians are experiencing growing contempt, derision and even legal consequences for their beliefs and practices. In this increasingly hostile environment, there is an urgent need for Christians to rethink how they witness for their faith. How are we meant to speak about Jesus in a world which now demands that we stay silent and which seeks to legislate against attempted evangelism. How can we proclaim the truth that Jesus is the only way to God when that very proclamation opens us up to the charge of intolerance and hate speech?
My latest book, Believing Out Loud, addresses these urgent concerns. It outlines a practical and sensitive model for sharing our faith in a world that demands that we stay silent. It gives confidence and inspiration to ordinary Christians and helps them to overcome the timidity and fear that society seeks to place upon them.
Believing Out Loud is available as a paperback and eBook from my website, smartfaith.net, and also from all major online book retailers.
To give you a taste of what the book is like, I have copied below the full text of the first chapter. I hope that after reading it you will be keen to grab a copy of the book for yourself. I think this is an incredibly important, urgent issue and I am sure that you will find the book informative, encouraging and personally inspiring.
THE DOUBLE-SIDED GUILT TRIP
I don’t want you to feel guilty. You probably feel guilty enough already. In fact, you’ve done well to even open this book and read the first page, considering you probably think that it’s likely to make you feel even more guilty!
Another book about evangelism? Another book telling you what you should be doing but aren’t doing very well? Another book promising you a sure-fire way of becoming a confident and effective witness for Jesus, only to leave you feeling even more miserable when you fail to live up to its expectations?
There are plenty of books, videos and podcasts out there that aim to transform you into an effective witness, but often all they do is increase your sense of inadequacy when you fail to be transformed. That is not the intention of this book. This isn’t a book that offers you a slick sales pitch to memorise or a technique to learn. It doesn’t ask you to absorb more information, master clever skills, or follow a new program. Neither does it exhort you to try harder. You’ve probably already tried harder and that hasn’t worked.
This isn’t a book about ‘doing’ evangelism better. In fact, it’s not about ‘doing’ at all. It’s about being. Being who you were called to be. And more importantly, being who you already are. This book will not urge you to try to become something that you aren’t. It will simply help you understand who and what you already are because of God’s Spirit at work within you, and it will encourage you to have the confidence to open up and let who you are on the inside shine out to the world around you.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Because we must first deal with the double-sided guilt trip that afflicts many Christians when even thinking about being a more effective witness for Jesus.
The Guilt From Without
The first guilt we must contend with is guilt from ‘without’ – guilt that is placed upon us from outside ourselves. We are made to feel guilty, simply for being Christians. This is a relatively new pressure within western society, but it is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Western society is turning against Christianity. For centuries previously, the Christian faith was enshrined as an unquestioned centre-point of western society. Christian teaching and values formed the basis of modern ethics and contributed to the formation of democratic constitutions. Although not everyone actively participated in its practices or personally ascribed to its beliefs, the Christian church was widely held in great respect. It led the way in charity. It made significant contributions to education and health care. It had a powerful voice in guiding federal legislation. Its leaders were listened to at national and international levels. People respected the church and what it stood for. It was a significant pillar of modern society.
But that is all changing – and changing very rapidly. Over the last few decades, we have witnessed the remarkable and alarming deterioration of Christianity’s previous respected position within mainstream Western society. Several factors have contributed to this, including the growth of secularism, the rise of militant atheism, the increasing political power of the LGBTQ+ movement and the influx of other religions into the West as a result of multiculturalism. As well as these external factors, Christianity has not helped itself. Disturbing public revelations of historical and recent abuse by a small minority of ungodly church leaders and others who claim to be Christians have also significantly damaged the church’s reputation.
The result of all this is that Christianity has been knocked off its pedestal. It is no longer regarded with the respect and honour that it once garnered. Indeed, the Christian church is now, at times, treated with open hostility and even derision by an increasing sector of society. Its beliefs, which were once accepted unquestioningly by many and tolerated by the rest, are now regularly and openly disparaged. Its teachings on morality are increasingly and aggressively derided and viewed as repressive and outdated. At the national and international level, the Christian church does not have the same influence over policy decisions and legislation that it once did. Increasingly, the church is regarded as anachronistic and narrow-minded. Government legislation over recent decades reflects the increasing rejection of Christian beliefs and values and indicates a growing antipathy toward the Christian faith. Religious freedoms are being restricted and eroded. Even the right to give voice to one’s faith is now under legislative attack.
This loss of respect for the church as an institution has flowed over to the treatment of individual Christians, particularly those who hold to a conservative or traditional view of the Bible and its ethics. Increasingly, Christians who dare to speak out about their beliefs now find themselves the subjects of anger and mockery on social media. Some are even finding themselves in court. Discrimination against Christians in the workforce is on the rise, with a growing number of cases where Christians have either lost their jobs because of their beliefs or are being expressly forbidden to voice their views in the workplace. To be fair, not all these cases are without justification, as there are certainly some Christians who are insensitive, judgmental and unnecessarily confrontational in the way they express their views (to the point where one wonders whether they have truly been transformed by the grace of God!). But apart from those exceptions, we are witnessing a growing tide of unprovoked and unwarranted animosity directed toward Christians.
In essence, Christians are now being made to feel guilty for being Christian; for holding to beliefs and traditions that, until very recently, have been accepted and esteemed for centuries. The very group of people who were once regarded as pillars of society are now increasingly regarded as inconvenient anachronisms or worse.
I don’t want to be unduly gloomy or to paint an exaggerated picture of the plight of Christians in the developed world, because we are still a long way from the intense persecution that Christians endure in some countries. We can still openly meet together for worship and fellowship. We can still own property, find employment and live our lives in relative safety. But underneath the apparent calm of these surface factors, there is a shifting of tectonic plates. The foundational presuppositions of society are changing. Old values that were historically founded upon biblical principles are being overturned and new values based on humanistic philosophy are replacing them. And these shifts are inevitably sending seismic shockwaves throughout society. The changes underneath are impacting life on the surface. Cracks are appearing. Some edifices that were once revered or respected are beginning to crumble. Prayer is being outlawed. Christians are being constricted in the expression of their faith. Chaplains in schools and industry are no longer allowed to broach the topic of faith unless they are explicitly invited to do so.
And over all this, a rising wind is blowing across the landscape: a growing hostility and antipathy toward Christians that is deeply disturbing.
If you are a Christian, I am probably not saying anything that you don’t already know. You have already felt it. Perhaps you have already experienced it at a more aggressive and personal level. Perhaps you have been attacked on social media, or subtly ridiculed in your workplace, or felt snubbed and judged in a social setting when people find out that you go to church. Even if that has not happened to you directly, you would certainly have experienced the hurt and disappointment of seeing the Christian faith ridiculed and lambasted, lampooned and derided, by an ever-widening section of public media. It is disturbing. And it can easily lead us to feel a kind of guilt for believing what we believe. We are made to feel almost apologetic for holding to beliefs and values that are increasingly rejected and mocked by society.
We experience guilt from without, simply for being a follower of Jesus.
The Guilt From Within
But we also experience a kind of guilt from within. This is not the result of outward pressures from society, but a product of our own disappointment with ourselves. We know we are called to be witnesses for Jesus. We know we are called to be light to a dark world. We know we are called to point people to the Saviour. But most of us feel dismal failures in this area. Most of us have never ‘led someone to the Lord’. We regularly clam up when an opportunity to say something about our faith presents itself. We sometimes get to the end of a day and regret our cowardly silence. But then the next day, the same thing happens.
And, of course, this is all made much worse by the growing pressure from society to NOT speak up about our faith. What was once an already difficult task is now made even more daunting by the increasing antipathy to our faith within society.
And so, we feel guilty. And it doesn’t help when well-meaning preachers give us their annual sermon (or perhaps a whole series) about our need to share Jesus with the world around us. Most of us are already very aware of what we should be doing; we just don’t know how to go about it. In particular, we can’t seem to overcome our innate timidity.
Facing Our Timidity
Maybe I am not describing you. Maybe you are a confident, fearless warrior for God, boldly and enthusiastically talking about Jesus with everyone you meet. Maybe you bounce out of bed every morning and can’t wait to get on the train or bus so that you can tell someone else about the Saviour who has changed your life and who can transform theirs as well. If that is you, you can close this book now. This book is probably not for you. Take it back to the bookshop and ask for a refund (good luck with that!).
This book is for timid or hesitant Christians. It’s for Christians who love Jesus and have a sincere desire to share their faith with others but are held back by their timidity. It’s for people like me. Because even though I am an ordained minister who regularly preaches, presents seminars, posts blogs and uploads videos, I regularly have to overcome my own timidity – my extreme reticence and fear – in order to engage in meaningful faith conversations with people who do not share my faith.
You might find this admission surprising, but I find a strange contradiction at work within me. On the one hand, I find it very easy to preach a sermon to a large congregation or audience, and it is an absolute breeze for me to present a seminar to an auditorium full of people. I am completely comfortable in that kind of public ministry. But speaking about my faith to a non-Christian friend or relative or acquaintance is … well, the only word for it is ‘daunting’. There is a part of me that wants to run and hide. I want to change the subject and talk about something ‘safer’. I don’t want to offend. I don’t want to be pushy. I don’t want to invade their space with my unwanted spiritual advances. I don’t want to risk ruining a friendship. And, let me be completely frank, I also don’t want to be rejected or written off as a religious ‘nutter’.
So yes, I understand your timidity. Completely! Over the years I have preached countless gospel sermons and seen literally hundreds of people walk forward to give their lives to Christ. I have prayed with them as they turned to Jesus in faith and repentance. That has been a joyful and comfortable thing for me to do. I am not timid in that setting at all. But place me in a personal setting where I am in a casual conversation with someone where there is an appropriate opportunity to speak about my faith, and the timid part of me rises up and wants to freeze my vocal cords. The timid me wants to keep talking about safe things. I feel the same reticence that you do.
So, this book is for people like us. And because I understand your timidity, I won’t be laying any guilt trips on you. I am not going to beat you up with scripture and tell you to stop being slack and get out there and start street witnessing. I just want to help you. In particular, I want to share some simple principles that have helped me overcome my own timidity over the years.
I think you will find them liberating.