Monday, 18 July 2011

Equipping the Cults to Deal with the Church–5 The Myth of the Killer Text

Last time we looked at some of the dos and don’ts of witnessing to the cults and now we come to the myth of the killer text. “What do you say to a Mormon/JW?” I often get asked this question and my reply is always, “There is no killer text you know.” “I know that”, is the reply, “but what do you say?”

It’s a question that troubles me because it betrays a lack of understanding and poor preparation. It isn’t as simple as dropping some text into a conversation, standing back and waiting for a reaction. It involves relationship, understanding, preparation and patience and there are no short cuts.
Why Texts Don’t ‘Work’
The question about that killer text also reveals a certain attitude to preparation and learning. Some see learning as something that is done by rote, an accumulation of handy texts that can be brought out and used on appropriate occasions. These cold, hard texts are to be marshalled when ‘opportunity’ presents itself and are expected to do all the work that preparation, patience and understanding are meant to do.

When the texts ‘don’t work’, or worse, are forgotten in a moment of crisis, the Christian is driven back to his books to relearn what he thought he knew better or to glean more texts that might prove more effective; or he just gives up, declaring that it is “a waste of time talking to these people.”
The Map is Not the Territory
Of course, we all start by collecting texts and the ideas behind them but true learning is not so much a map to help us find our way, as a personal familiarity with the territory that helps us confidently negotiate the terrain and helps us find our own way on the subject. We are then not just thinking other’s thoughts after them but finding our own thoughts and giving them form with our own voice to express them.

Using the ‘three handy texts’ method when we go to the door, or out into the world, and encounter witnessing opportunities we leave the book on the shelf and rely on the little we remember; but how much do we remember? When we have drawn our own map of faith and understanding, based on our reading but comprised of our own discoveries, thoughts and development, we have that with us wherever we go.

It is simply the way we look at and find our way around the world. It remains familiar because it is the way we think about things and not what we remember imperfectly of how others see them. The map helpfully provided by others is not the territory and we need to know the territory. This is what prepares us to think clearly and critically about faith claims.
My Territory, My Thoughts
When a man has his own thoughts he is always prepared. Even when he meets something new he is less likely to be caught unprepared because, although he hasn’t thoughts specific to what he encounters, he does have a familiarity with the territory and a familiar process of thought which can be applied.

Being familiar with the territory I need not be apprehensive about what I might meet, or fearful of what I might forget, since what knowledge I have is mine, After all, issues of faith, especially the Christian faith, are my territory and I do think about my Christian faith and I know my way around.
The clearest insight, the greatest revelation of God is Jesus Christ and God’s plan is plainly set before us in the Bible. It is focussed on the Cross of Calvary, and is lived out in the community of faith that is the Christian Church; the quest for “spirituality” finds its goal in the Christian message and we already know that.

It is not a question, then, of judging the comparative qualities and benefits, failings and challenges of respective groups but of putting each group we come across up to the light of the gospel and judging them by God’s revealed truth. It is not so much a case of being expert in the error but of being proficient in the truth against which any error must be judged.
So What do you say?
First I chat and get to know them. If and when an opportunity comes up to talk about my faith, either in something they bring up if they try to witness to me, or in some opportunity I see I tend to see it in stages and consider myself as having succeeded if any stage is successfully negotiated:
  1. I get into a conversation about them. What do you say to a Mormon? You say, “Hello. How are you?” I don’t understand why some people think that being a Christian witness gives them the right to ignore the normal rules of human intercourse. You wouldn’t speak to your neighbours the way I hear some people talk to a Mormon they have never met before.
  2. I tell them I am a Christian. Not in an accusative fashion as though challenging them to make something of it but simply declaring that I see the world through Christian eyes.
  3. I get them to talk about what they believe, rather than telling them what they believe. Even when you are right in your understanding it is well to get them to articulate their beliefs because it can be advantageous because: a) They can’t deny it if they have said it; b) they have heard themselves say it and that is important; c) they may say it in a way that gives you fresh insight and opportunity.
  4. I get to share in more detail what I believe; confidently negotiating the terrain because I have walked here before many times and I have my own map. I am leading them through my faith world not just telling them things.
I work from number 1 to number 4 and with each step I consider myself as having succeeded more and more. Most people work from number 4 to number 1 and with each step consider themselves as having failed more and more.

I always try and take the shortest route to the Cross, which is not always short – trying to avoid minor issue - listening and then trying to bring the conversation back to what I consider needs to be addressed.
helpful texts not killer texts
I have simple texts memorised but I never expect them to be "killer texts" because such texts do not exist. I do expect them to throw out a challenge, to use them confidently and expect them to stick. An obvious one for a JW would be John 20:28 ("My Lord and my God"). One I use for Mormons is John 5:24 because it challenges their view of salvation as being achieved by a mixture of faith and works.
1 John 5:13 works alongside this very well. I also have some texts about the nature of God because their view of God is so unbiblical. I don’t throw these texts out as though they are truth bombs that will explode to devastating effect. Rather, they form an integral part of the discussion that move the conversation along in a direction I already know and anticipate.

Of course, these encounters can be brief so I use my knowledge appropriately, sometimes having the luxury of time to develop a theme, sometimes only being able to share a few appropriate words. But if I move from 1 to 4 then I will never have failed if only because I have shared with them my Christian conviction and shown them Christian charity in taking the time to speak to them.

It is important not to always expect to talk about your own favourite subjects. Instead I find out what is important to them and try and speak to that because that is where there will be the greatest challenge and the best opportunity.

Finally, this reflects my aspirations and does not describe how I always conduct myself. We are all human and it makes no sense to despair because we have not yet attained all that God has for us.

Previously: If These are Christians

The Problem with the Church
The Problem with Anti-cult Ministry

The Dos and Dont's

Next: Anatomy of a Cult

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