56 – How To Talk About Jesus Without Sounding Like a Nut
A lot of people dismiss Christians as religious nuts, and for good reason -some of us are. A “nut” is someone who will argue with you about a subject in which you have no interest in a language you can’t understand.
On the other hand, those same people often have deep and profound questions. Recently I’ve been listening to the music of Jewel, a 25 year old Dylan-esque pop folk singer who was once so poor she lived in her car. In a pathos marinated voice, Jewel belts out bluesy songs that burn about the injustice, futility, and despair of life. Her lyrics, while not orthodox, still touch something deep inside of me. She sings,
We are given to a god to put our faith therein
But to be forgiven, we must first believe in sin
We’ve made houses for hatred. It’s time we made a place
Where people’s souls may be seen and made safe.1
The men you will pass on the road, sit next to at lunch, and do your deals with today wrestle with these same profound spiritual questions. The question is, of course, how can we give orthodox Christian answers to those questions without sounding nutty?
Rienhold Niebuhr, an early 20th century theologian, noted that in cultures where a messiah is not expected, people don’t ask questions for which Christ is the answer.2 In other words, if a man is not trying to solve any religious problem, then no religious answer will help. But we do live in a culture in which a messiah is expected, and people are quite open to hearing how Jesus answers their questions. In fact, of the 68,000,000 unchurched men in America, 85% of them at one time attended church.3
How can we talk about Jesus without sounding like a nut? Try these steps…
In John 4, Jesus was resting in Samaria near Jacob’s well at midday. A sinful woman came to draw water-her shame so great she didn’t dare come with the other women during the cooler hours of the day. She came for water, so Jesus talked to her about water, living water.
Remember that people are trying to solve their problems, not ours. So give people what they need, but do it in the context of what they want. For example, a man and his live-in girlfriend moved next door to us. About a month later he was despondent over his lack of work. He said he loved sports management. I told him I knew Pat Williams, then general manager of the Orlando Magic, and I would be happy to approach Pat.
He wanted to talk about work, so we talked about work. He didn’t get the job, but because I was interested we built a friendship, and he did eventually give his life to Jesus Christ. (He also married his friend!)
To talk about Jesus without sounding like a nut, be sure to establish rapport. Talk to people in terms of their own interests. Then, when you’ve built rapport, show them how Christ solves the problems they face.
In Acts, Peter boldly addresses his fellow Jews – the “religious” people -with a strong warning, a stern rebuke, and a straightforward challenge,
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. . . . With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation'” (Acts 2:38, 40).
In other words, he spoke in a language they could understand. He was relevant. Paul, on the other hand, was in Athens when he saw an altar with an inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So Paul said, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:23). He was relevant, and they listened.
To not sound like a nut you must be relevant. As someone said, theology is best done with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
Paul told the Corinthians, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). That’s bold! Why would he park on that thought? Because Jesus had said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth (indicating the kind of death) will draw all men to myself” (Luke 12:32).
Paul understood that if he would stick to recommending Christ, that God would do the rest. Don’t argue religion, but do recommend Jesus Christ.
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER
Recently I went to a favorite garden center. It was a warm day and, noticing my warm up suit, the 25 year old clerk struck up a conversation. “I’ll bet your hot in that outfit,” she said.
“Well, it is a little warm,” I said. “How about you? You work in this heat all day?” (She wanted to talk about weather, so I talked to her about weather-the rapport step).
“You don’t know the half of it,” she began. “I just moved back from Vermont, and I’m having a tough time adjusting to the Florida heat.”
“Oh,” I said, “What were you doing in Vermont?”
“Well, I had to get away to try and find myself,” she offered.
“So how did you do?” I asked.
“Well, I’m still pretty confused. My father is from India, my mother is a nominal Catholic, and my brother is a Baptist who keeps telling me that if I don’t accept Jesus I’m going to hell. I’ve been studying world religions, and I think there are many ways to God. What do you think?”
“Actually, you’re probably asking the wrong person,” I said. “You see, I’m what you might call a born again Christian. In other words, I have put my faith in Jesus Christ to forgive my sins and give me eternal life. But it does bother me that your brother would say that. I guess that’s not a very compelling argument, is it?”
“No,” she said, “it’s not.”
“Listen, Amy,” I continued. “Your brother is, basically, talking like a nut. Even if he’s right, that’s no way to talk. Let me suggest a couple of things.”
“First, if you go to the tomb of Confucius – occupied. If you go to the tomb of Buddha – occupied. If you go to the tomb of Mohammed – occupied. If you go to the tomb of Jesus – empty. That intrigues me, Amy, and it ought to intrigue you too.” (Again, she wanted to talk comparative religion, so I did).
“Jesus is the only one of those four men who claimed to be God. If that’s true, then don’t you think you owe it to yourself to find that out?” (Notice that I’m now recommending Jesus).
“Yeah, but there’s no way to know for sure,” she offered lamely.
“Actually, there is,” I suggested. “Do you have a Bible?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “My brother gave me a big, thick Bible.”
“Okay, then. Let me make a suggestion. Is that alright?” She nodded.
“In the Bible there is a short book called the gospel of John. It contains 21 chapters. Why don’t you investigate the claims of Jesus for yourself? You could read a chapter a day for three weeks. John recorded some of Christ’s most remarkable words in those few pages. I would also suggest you pray something like, ‘Jesus, if you are God, then reveal yourself to me in these pages.’ Frankly, Amy, I can’t do any better. If he is who he says, then he doesn’t need me to argue his case. You can decide. What do you think?”
“You know, I think I’ll do that,” she said conclusively.
Finally, as I was leaving, I told her, “Lately I’ve been listening to the music of Jewel. Do you like her?” (At this point I was taking the relevance step, admittedly a little late in the conversation).
She looked at this 50 year old man suspiciously and said, “Yes.” I said. “I like her because I understand the cry of her soul. I know what she is looking for. I know because I found the answer-the love and peace she wants. You can know it, too, through Christ. Just ignore the nut.”
A FINAL THOUGHT
You cannot prove the existence of God, but you don’t have to. Let Jesus speak for himself. If Jesus, once understood, doesn’t draw them, nothing you add will draw them either. Tell what Jesus has done in your life. Establish rapport. Be relevant. Recommend him. But don’t argue about it. That would be a waste of time.
QUESTIONS FOR SELF-EXAMINATION
1. How open do you find men are to discussing spiritual matters, and why? What questions are men asking and what problems are they trying to solve today? How does Jesus Christ address those questions and problems?
2. Who is someone you would like to ask the question, “Where are you on your spiritual pilgrimage?” Why not resolve to have that conversation this week, and . . . ¨ Ask yourself, What is his (or her) stated problem? (Rapport) ¨ Talk in language he can understand. (Relevance) ¨ Don’t argue religion, but do recommend Jesus Christ. (Recommend)
1 Jewel Kilcher, “Innocence Maintained,” WB Music Corp./Wiggly Tooth Music, ASCAP, 1996.
2 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, Volume II: Human Destiny, (Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 1943), 6.
3 George Barna, “The Battle for the Hearts of Men,” New Man Magazine, Jan/Feb 97, 40-41.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.