Sunday, 24 June 2012

Public Witnessing Opportunities

In this post I'd like to offer a few additional musings, on a theme that I loosely alluded to last time; namely the very strong urge, among Christians, to publicly "witness for Christ".  I can't be the only one to have noticed that believers, by and large, are nearly obsessed with it.  (Full disclosure***I used to be too.)

A number of years ago, while I was still a Christian, there was a large amount of buzz re: a pop band called Sixpence None The Richer.  You see, Sixpence None the Richer, or simply "Sixpence", is a Christian group.  You'd never know it, from their best known song "Kiss Me", but it's true.  They had a quasi-successful run, in the Christian music world, before exploding on to the larger scene around the late 90's.  As a result of their new prominence, lead singer Leigh Nash was invited to chat a little with David Letterman. Here's what happened...

Now, as you can see, Letterman threw the door wide open for Nash to talk about her faith, if only but for a brief moment.  I've actually got to hand it to her for staying on message, amidst all of the interruptions and distractions.  Come to think of it I always liked Sixpence actually and, in certain ways, I still do.  Anyway Nash said her piece, Letterman agreed that it was a "beautiful" sentiment, and that was it.  No big deal, right?  Well, if that's what you think, than oh how wrong you are :). Had you been a Christian, at the time, you would have realized that this was in fact a HUGE deal. A cool Christian artist, now respected by the mainstream music world, mentioned C.S. Lewis on national TV; not only that, but she gave a "clear presentation of the gospel message"!  You would have thought, from the reaction of Sixpence's Christian fans, that secular viewers the world over were falling on their faces that night, in front of the TV, giving their lives to Christ right then and there.  Had they stopped to really think about it, of course, these same Christians would have freely admitted how ridiculous this sounds.  It's just that strong emotion has a way of preventing rational analysis.  As a Christian, all you feel certain of is that it's an awesome witnessing opportunity that God can (somehow?) use for his glory and benefit; and that's about as much thought as you put into it (then it's forgotten until the next witnessing opportunity comes along).

Looking back, I realize how completely silly it was for us to get even slightly excited about what Leigh Nash said on Letterman that night.  It was barely noteworthy, but you never would have known that *from within the Christian bubble*.

Of course, this same sort of thing still goes on today.  The recent Tim Tebow phenomenon is the most obvious example.  There are plenty of others.  Christians also get pretty pumped when Christians songs are performed on American Idol.  I've additionally noticed that my believing friends are more inclined to follow (and root for) the Christian performers who happen to make it into the top 12.  And if a "Christian artist" is invited to perform on the Grammy's, that's an even bigger deal.  Such a thing, on the rare occasions it happens, becomes a major topic of conversation & post-analysis for several days afterward.

But there is a question that rarely occurs to Christians in these sorts of scenarios; what do public professions of faith accomplish?


My belief now is that they accomplish nothing at all, except they excite and energize the "in-group" members (fellow Christians).  This, and this alone, is the true result.  At the end of the day, it's just sort of neat to think that some really famous person holds to your worldview.

It's also worth pointing out that in-group/out-group dynamics are a clear development of evolution, yet many of the Christians who are most prone to this sort of in-group favoritism don't themselves even believe in evolution (oh, the irony)!

All of this would be well and good, I suppose, were Christians to realize that it was just about in-group dynamics, and probably nothing more.  There's certainly nothing wrong with that.  You witness the same sort of dynamics at play, among atheists, when Ricky Gervais plugs his atheism at the end of the Golden Globe's.  We're just happy to have atheism mentioned, because it shows that he's "one of us".  But I don't think that most Christians would be willing to fully concede that this is what it's truly about.  I suspect the majority of them sincerely believe, as I once did, that ground is somehow being mysteriously taken for Christ in the public sphere.  Is there any hard evidence to suggest that proclamations of faith lead anyone closer to accepting that Jesus was God and he died for your sins?  No, there certainly isn't to my knowledge.  And why should there be?

Now, I suppose it could be argued that celebrity witnessing opportunities provide a sort of reverse peer pressure, especially for impressionable young people who are already being pulled away by "the world".  After all, teens often idolize rock stars and athletes, and it can't hurt for them to know that there are some cool Christians out there.  But if this is actually true it would only further illustrate a dangerous phenomenon that I've discussed on this blog before; namely that, in my observation, Christians tend to convert for an assortment of emotional (rather than intellectual) reasons.  Do we really want to be teaching our kids to make massive life decisions, about their worldview, based on what others happen to think?  I certainly would never want my children to embrace atheism, simply because it was the "in" thing to do or because some celebrity they liked was an atheist.

What Christians also fail to remember, in the heat of the moment, is that most non-Christians (at least here in the Western world) are already familiar with the Christian message.  They've very likely considered Christianity previously, and have their own (often very private) reasons for not embracing it.  So the mere mention of C.S. Lewis, or John 3:16, or how God helped you win your award, will probably have absolutely zero effect on the general public.  Zero.  If you want to promote your faith anyway, go nuts, but please don't fool yourself into thinking that it equates to an influential witnessing opportunity the Holy Spirit is using in people's lives.  It may get your fellow Christians talking, but that's about it.


  1. I've always wanted to see a guy at a football game hold up a sign saying, "Harry 6:30". And when questioned by the media, responding that he was just reminding his friend (Harry) about when Happy Hour was.


  2. Hi RA, you can call me RC (Respectful Christian).

    "But there is a question that rarely occurs to Christians in these sorts of scenarios; what do public professions of faith accomplish? "

    I have thought about this a lot. I agree that there is a lot of unreality about christian 'witnessing'. At first glance, it seems that many christians, if they think at all, think that the main thing stopping people choosing to follow Jesus is that they just haven't been given the nudge, or they just need to hear a few more facts. But the reality seems to me to be that most people want evidence, or motivation, or some sort of demonstration that it works.

    But first thoughts aren't fully correct, I think. For christians also believe that conversion requires the work of the Holy Spirit, and so they witness in the hope that, this time, the Holy Spirit might take their words and use them to turn someone around. It may be a forlorn hope, but it is a little more logical than what first seems to be the case.

    But a more sophisticated approach (which I see more and more) is (1) to pray that the Holy Spirit will convince people, (2) pray that we'll only speak when the Holy Spirit leads us, and (3) get on with loving and caring for people and helping the world be a better place so that our actions speak louder than our words.

    I realise you no longer believe all this stuff, but I have answered your question from my viewpoint. Thanks for the opportunity.

    1. Hi RC,

      Great answer, thanks for commenting.

      I think you're exactly right to say that "most people want evidence, or motivation, or some sort of demonstration that it works." Good observation.

      True, Christians do believe that the Holy Spirit plays a very significant role in faith conversions (or perhaps he is even entirely responsible for them, as Calvinists would say). I guess, in that sense, literally any public mention of faith could be "the" occasion the Holy Spirit chooses to use in someone's life. My only response to that would be, where is the evidence for this "Holy Spirit" you speak of? There doesn't seem to be anything especially mysterious, or other worldly, about religious conversions at all (Christian, or otherwise). In fact, if you think deeply about it, such experiences can be analyzed quite effectively (and they appear to be all too human). I took a stab at it myself right here,

      So, at this stage, the Holy Spirit himself becomes merely an article of faith (and the whole thing becomes very circular).

      In terms of your "more sophisticated approach", my belief of course is that items (1) and (2) are completely pointless. I'm sure you knew I was going to say that. There is simply no evidence that prayer has any effect, whatsoever, on anything at all. (Here, again, we are talking about something which is purely an article of faith for the Christian.) But in terms of number (3) I couldn't agree more. We would ALL be wise to prioritize loving people, regardless of our particular beliefs about God or religion. On that, I think we can agree wholeheartedly.

      I appreciate your thoughts RC.

  3. "My belief now is that they accomplish nothing at all, except they excite and energize the "in-group" members (fellow Christians). This, and this alone, is the true result."

    Well, I wouldn't say "this alone" is the true result. There's another result: they also tend to excite and energize the outgroup. Did you see Snoop Dogg's recent mocking of Tebow? Read any of the disrespectful atheists who wrote about Tebow?

    1. Fair enough. No, I haven't seen the Snoop Dogg clip.