“Teacher, you swore!” Mrs. Barclay had just begun to read the Christmas Nativity to her third-grade class when Lisa, a bright little girl in the front row interrupted. It took a moment before she realized Lisa had never heard ‘Jesus Christ’ as anything but profanity.
(Fast-forward ten years…)
Now a college sophomore driving home for Christmas, Lisa squints through the windshield at a billboard protruding from a field. Silently the sign’s letters form on her lips as it whips by… “Jesus.”
Without so much as a glance in her rearview mirror, Lisa shrugs, takes another sip of Mountain Dew, and turns up the volume on her stereo.
For adults like Lisa who didn’t grow up in church and didn’t study the Bible in school, Jesus Christ is a complete stranger. And she’s not the only one out there.
According to a study released just last month (October 2012), the number of American adults who do not identify with any religion surged from just under 15% five years ago to nearly 20% this year (1). The findings further indicate that one-third of all adults under 30 are “religiously unaffiliated.”
It’s not surprising given the decisions being made in school systems. In the UK in 2002, for instance, the terms BC and AD were supplanted with a politically-correct system known as the Common Era (2). The same trend is also gaining momentum in American schools (3). Both dating systems use the birth of Christ as their reference point, but the secular version refuses to acknowledge this. The Latin term Anno Domini (AD) — ‘in the year of our Lord’—becomes Common Era (CE) while ‘before Christ’ (BC) is now Before the Common Era (BCE).
When parents and society neglect to pass along even basic Bible knowledge to their children, biblical ignorance, for the most part, becomes the norm. (The Israelites were warned against this—Deuteronomy 11:19, 31:11–13).
The goal of evangelism can be found in John 1:12. It is helping people believe or trust in His name and become children of God. If we don’t move beyond stating the name of Jesus (like the billboard sign alongside the highway), we shouldn’t be surprised when people react with ignorance or indifference to our message.
It’s helpful, instead, to think in terms of what happens when meeting a stranger for the first time. To determine if a stranger is trustworthy, quite naturally, we need to know two crucial pieces of information to make a determination about him.
First, who is he? We want to know his identity––his name, where he’s from, what family he belongs to, and perhaps his occupation.
Second, what is he known for? We want to determine his history and reputation–what has he done and what is he capable of? Is he a good person or a bad person?
Our minds very quickly scramble to fill in these two blanks whenever we interact with someone both new and familiar. If we don’t have satisfactory information, we very wisely keep those people at arm’s length.
Here is a short demonstration to illustrate the point.
What comes to mind when you read this name? Adolf Hitler.
If you immediately thought of a World War II Nazi dictator , you are correct. That is his identity. But what was he known for? Was he a good man or a bad man? Most would agree Adolph Hitler was a bad man.
How about this name: Winston Churchill.
Who is he? Correct again. He was a 20th century British statesman. What is he known for? Some would say he beat up on the first guy! Historians agree, he was an upright man and a great leader during WWII.
Another one: Mother Teresa.
Instantly we know she was a caring and compassionate person who helped untold thousands of poor people.
What about: Saddam Hussein.
Would you trust him? Not likely. Mr. Hussein is know for some very bad acts.
One more name: Steve Rosengren
Would you trust Steve? You wouldn’t? Why not? Just now your mind went completely blank because you know nothing about who he is much less what he’s known for. I, on the other hand, do trust him. Why? Because he’s my uncle! I know Uncle Steve is a good and godly man.
Now to apply this demonstration, imagine what takes place when some people hear this name: Jesus Christ.
The mere mention of this name, in the same way, causes people’s minds to go completely blank. Or worse than that, their answers to the two crucial questions are inaccurate. To them Jesus is a complete stranger. And as we were all taught from childhood, “It’s not safe to trust a stranger!”
Before he became a believer, a friend of our family had an encounter with a lady from a nearby church. She knew he was going through difficulties in his life and tried to encourage him. “Just trust God and it’ll all work out!” she said. What do you suppose was his reply? As you would imagine he said, “Trust God?! Honestly, I don’t even know who God is!” Our friend knew nothing of God’s history–who God is and what He is capable of–and he wasn’t about to trust the details of his difficult circumstances to such an unknown entity.
Speaking of History…
Have you ever wondered why two-thirds of our Bible is Old Testament and less than one-third is the New Testament? Why is it so thick? The answer lies in that our Creator God has provided for us a very long and reliable record of his history.
“God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19
Our job as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, is to introduce people to God’s history so that they can answer those two crucial questions: Who is he? And, what is he capable of? In so doing, they ought to be able to decide whether or not they will trust him.
At very least, they will be certain that Jesus Christ is not a swear word or an ambiguous billboard message. That, it would seem, might be a very good place to start.
Learn more about how to introduce Jesus to your friends by watching a DVD called What’s in a Name?. (4)
(1) October 2012 by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life
(2) The London Evening Standard: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/ad-and-bc-become-cebce-6330342.html
(3) Houston Chronicle: http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=2005_3864650#
(4) The concept of this article is drawn from What’s In a Name-DVD, John R. Cross. www.goodseed.com/products/wian-eng-dvd/
(*Name changed as per GoodSeed policy.)