Today we were unable to engage in open-air preaching once again since a UNCG booth was set-up in the Walker Avenue circle behind Jackson Library. We also had less time to spend on campus as I had other work that needed to be done. Nevertheless, we witnessed in some detail to a homosexual, had several interesting conversations with professing Christians, and discussed the gospel with a respectful and friendly Buddhist named Nick.
A Homosexual Man
Upon approaching this young man with a gospel tract, he was kind and polite, but refused to take my tract. I asked him why he refused it, and he shook his head and mumbled something under his breath. I then asked, "What do you think about God, religion, etc.? Where do you stand on these things?" and he responded, "I believe in a creator, I'm just no sure which one is the true god" and so I started talking to him about Christianity. He said that he basically left the Roman Catholic Church because they did not affirm his homosexuality. He also noted that a heretical preacher that we have crossed paths with before named "Brother Ross" had been on campus the day before preaching "nonsense" and telling him that he was going to Hell. He then said something interesting: "I know that you're not like the other guy, you're pretty cool because you show respect to other people even though you disagree with them." I then asked him if he was familiar with what the Bible teaches regarding homosexuality and he admitted that he was and then showed some familiarity with a few OT verses by quoting them. It was then that I explained to him that according to the New Covenant Scriptures, it is not only homosexuals who will not enter the kingdom, but idolaters, drunkards, fornicators, thieves, the covetous, revilers, swindlers, and other types of wicked people aren't going to make it either (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
I pointed out that Romans 1:25ff doesn't only condemn homosexual behavior, but also condemns a whole other list of sins and sinners and that homosexuality is one among many types of behaviors that God hates. Given that he had a Catholic background and I was unsure what his exposure to the Biblical gospel was, I then proceeded to explain the good news to him. He was able to hear some of it, but he had to leave since his transit bus showed up. Overall, he was receptive, though his body language initially showed that he was put off a bit by my clear denunciation of homosexuality. Nevertheless, he seemed to mellow out when he learned that I wasn't going to single his sin out more than any other sin that Paul lists in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 or Romans 1:25-32. I pray God will use something I said to open this young man's eyes to the truth of his sin and the greatness of God's mercy and grace found only in Christ.
More "Evangelicals" Who Can't Explain the Good News
If I had a dollar for every professing Christian that I interact with on a weekly basis that can't explain the gospel, I'd have my weekly lunches funded for the rest of my working life. Sadly, most of them seem to be put off by the fact that I would respectfully ask them to explain the gospel to me. For example, today I had a conversation with a campus blood drive worker who was taking a smoke break in the front quad area. I introduced myself, handed her a tract, and then asked her if she knew how a person is reconciled to God. She said, "Ask for forgiveness and pray" and I said, "Pray to whom? Ask for forgiveness from whom?" and she looked at me like I had just called her a name. I then explained, "I meet many people who have different understandings of what the word "god" means, so, if you would, please explain to me which god I need to ask forgiveness from." She then nodded and said, "Christianity" to which I said, "Okay, so how can I be reconciled to the God of Christianity?" and she gave the same answer. I said, "Is that it?" and she said, "Yep, that's it." I then asked her "Do I need any information about sin, God's righteous judgment, and Jesus' work on the cross?" She said, "I gotta go, break time's over." I thanked her for her time and she was on her way.
"You just need to ask for forgiveness . . ."
There is no question that forgiveness is essential to reconciliation with God, but what does that mean to most professing American evangelicals? Thanks to Charles G. Finney, I fear that it is more akin to Moralistic Therapeutic Deism than Biblical Christianity, especially given the answers that I receive when I probe beyond the surface. The idea that I "just need to believe" is contradicted by James 2:19. Your faith is only as good as the object in which it is placed and in the Bible, saving faith is not equated with mere intellectual understanding. This is where a Reformed understanding of saving faith can be helpful. Most Reformed theologians have generally agreed that saving faith constitutes three things:
1. Intellectual knowledge (noticia) - This is knowledge that people are sinners and that Jesus came to save sinners from God's impending judgment for the sins that they have committed against Him (i.e., the basic gospel message, cf. Romans 10:17).
2. Assent to that knowledge (assensus)- This is when a person not only understands the propositions in number 1 above, but they also agree to said propositions; i.e., that they are historically factual.
3. Trust in Christ's work alone (fiduccia)- This is when they move beyond agreement to ownership. In other words, they not only agree that the gospel events took place in history but they embrace those historical truths for themselves by trusting in Christ alone to reconcile them to God. This naturally includes repentance as well, for trusting in Christ is to decidedly not trust in your own works, your own ways, and your own autonomous thinking to reconcile you to God; hence, you turn (Gk. metanoia - repent) from your ways to God's ways.
Telling me to "Just ask for forgiveness and pray" doesn't tell me who Jesus is, what He came to do, and why any of that is important. Nearly any religion with the concept of the divine can do that. If I am a lost sinner, I need to know that I've offended, Who I've offended, and how I can be reconciled to the One whom I've offended. Anything else is hopelessness.
A Friendly and Respectful Buddhist
Nick was a genuinely nice guy, and we hit it off well since both he and I enjoy training in Mixed Martial Arts. I was also able to approach him easily today because he respectfully confronted me off to the side several weeks earlier while I was open-air preaching to ask me if my goal was to respectfully and lovingly address people when I preached to them. I told him that was indeed my desire, and he shook my hand and thanked me for my respectful approach and was on his way.
Hell . . . a repulsive doctrine
Today, I saw him walking from the Elliot University Center, reintroduced myself, and thanked him for his kind comments several weeks ago. He said, "I'm not a Christian, but I really appreciate the way you guys conduct yourselves out here." I then asked him why he wasn't a Christian and he initially said that he had a problem with God answering Elisha's condemnation of a group of youngsters by His sending two female bears to tear them to pieces (2 Kings 2:23-24). I then asked him what standard he was using to judge God's actions as immoral and he then admitted that he was an atheistic Buddhist. He then noted that he essentially rejected Christianity because of the doctrine of Hell. He said that he could never love and worship a God that would send untold millions to eternal torture with no possible reprieve. I explained to him that Hell was not torture as such is the coercing of an individual through painful stimuli to gather important information or to indulge sadistic pleasures (cf. Ezek. 18:32; 33:11). Instead, I took several minutes to explain that Hell consists of eternal, conscious torment; an eternal torment that is warranted because sinners commit crimes against the infinitely just God of the universe and that the just Judge of the universe must punish crimes that are committed against Him or else He's no longer good and just. He still objected, and so I then pressed him again to provide a moral standard by which God should be judged. He could offer none, and so I patiently demonstrated that his moral relativism refutes itself and is related to his epistemological relativism, which undermines his ability to argue against Christianity in the first place. We had some discussion about this for probably 15-20 minutes, and he admitted that he didn't have any answers. I then gave him the gospel, he listened well, and we respectfully parted ways.
I would appreciate your prayers for Nick as well as our efforts at UNCG. We praise God for the opportunity afforded us to continue doing these things and hope that believers are encouraged by these reports. Soli Deo Gloria!