How to Talk to People Who are Trying to Save You
Cultic Studies Journal, 1985, Volume 2, Number 2, pages 296-298
They stop you on campus, knock on your door, “waylay” you on the street. They just want a few minutes of your time ... to take a survey, or talk about Christian faith. Though not a model Christian, and certainly no Bible scholar or theologian, you do consider yourself a “Christian.” How do you respond to these aggressive folk?
1. Be glad. They’re trying to do you good. After all, they want to keep you from eternal fire! You may mot like their methods or message, but they mean well.
2. Be careful Despite their sincere desire to save you, they are not necessarily eager to know what you think, believe, or feel. Their inquiries are calculated 1) to assess your salvation state (and any response that’s halting or deviating from their pat formula will get you classified as “unsaved," regardless of Christian credentials like baptism confirmation, church membership); and, presuming you flunk their test, 2) to make you feel spiritually inadequate and in need of what they offer.
Don't expect dialogue. Dialogue means a two-way sharing of ideas in an atmosphere of mutual respect. You’ll soon learn that they have little interest in your views. They do not expect to find spiritual nourishment in your statements. (It is possible for persons of differing religious views to share ideas without attempts to trap or demean each other. Such an exchange can stimulate the growth of both participants.) Their goal is, as they say, “to win you to Christ” a very competitive concept! And they feel very strongly that they, not you, are the authorities on "Christ.”
Resist the temptation to debate! In the first place, unless you’re "well-versed” in Scripture and theology, you’ll come off badly. And if you’re ready to debate, be assured that your superior arguments will rarely convince them to change. (They might be surprised at someone as sure as they are, having mostly encountered the unsure and ignorant. But they’ll most likely assume that the Devil’s got you.) Furthermore though debating may be fun, demolishing your opponent with argument may not be the outcome you want. (See below, “Try to act Christian.”)
5. Don’t feel your experience of God is deficient if it doesn’t fit their "born-again" pattern. For some Christians conversion (turning toward God) is sudden and emotionally overwhelming. Others experience a more gradual rebirthing and growth in faith. God’s not stuck with a single strategy for transforming humans. Christians from the first through the twentieth century testify to an amazing diversity of “divine styles.”
Don’t worry if you can’t answer questions! Be wary of those who articulate a scheme of salvation with the precision of an AAA map. Such precision does not emerge from the Bible or the witness of the church. AD such simple “maps" must be taken for what they are: attempts to make the Divine Mystery comprehensible (Cf. Classic comics). Though we continually try to communicate our faith in understandable terms, we are always humbled by the limits of language to grasp the Mystery we encounter. If their questions baffle and bother you, don’t assume they’re right and you’re wrong. Share these questions with your pastor or campus minister (like checking Consumers' Report before you buy an encyclopedia.)
7. Ask questions of your own. One of the problems with these "encounters" is their offensive/defensive nature very offensive at first! Though debate or dialogue may not work, you can at least exchange information. For example, you might ask questions about their group:
How does your group deal with differing interpretations of the Bible? (You mean, everyone always agrees?)
How does your group view women their role in the church, society, family? Can they be ministers, leaders?
What kinds of positions has your group taken on registration for the draft and the Nuclear Freeze? Do you see any conflicts between Jesus” teachings and war? Do you agree with Billy Graham about the sinfulness of the arms race?
Who are your Christian heroes and heroines? Martin Luther King, Jr.? Those who work with the poor in the ghettos?
Does your group welcome seekers, doubters? Persons with different views? Gays? Lesbians?
Important: Don’t try to trap them, that’s their game. Your questions must be genuine.
8. Try to act "Christian." Remember, these persons trying to comer you (for the sincerest of reasons) are persons whom God loves. Despite their apparent strength, they may be needy persons whose involvement in an authoritarian group satisfies a strong dependency need. Perhaps you can minister to them. At least, an awareness of their common humanity can save you from the trap they’re setting.
9. Witness to your own faith. You may not be able to prooftext your testimony, but chances are you do have strong beliefs which have been nurtured through the years by teachers, pastors, parents, friends, and your own study and contemplation. You don’t talk about these deep commitments very often, but they are there. And you can witness to the values of your church experience. Perhaps you appreciate its openness, its support in times of crisis, its involvement in making your community a better place, its serving real human needs, its study of the Bible, its music, etc.
10. Be thankful. This encounter will probably stimulate your spiritual search. It may encourage you to do more study of Scripture and Christian teaching. Perhaps you should thank your visitors for their help. But...
11. Don’t sign anything or agree to anything! These folks trying to save you have been trained, just like salespeople, to talk you into some kind of “follow-up.” They'd love to get you to one of their meetings..."just so you can give it a try." (If they haven’t “won you” they’d like to get some help from their veteran persuaders the folks who “won" them.) Ifs best to bid farewell with no strings. You can always find them if, after much reflection and discussion with friends (including your pastor), you decide to explore their group further.
* Written by the Reverend Dr. Ross Miller, former Campus Minister and Director of United Christian Fellowship, the Protestant Ecumenical Campus Ministry at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. Dr. Miller is presently pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, Eugene, Oregon. This piece originally appeared in The September, 1983, issue of the Yellow Sheet, the United Christian Fellowship newsletter, and is used by permission.