Q & R: what about trying to convert people?
Here's the Q:
[I heard you speak when you were in the UK recently.] I consider myself to be "post-evangelical" meaning that I have been part of churches in the past that place the emphasis on the Great Commission, to go into the world and make disciples etc, but now I'm not sure how to hold this in tension with the advice about "not trying to convert people".
I have come to the conclusion that God is bigger than any of my
attempts to explain or represent his love, but struggle with the
concept of whether or not belief in Jesus is key for humanity...
Here's the R:
You're in great company when you're asking the same question as a bright 13-year-old!
I believe in and am committed to the Great Commission, but I wouldn't define it as "converting people to the Christian religion." I would define it as making disciples of Jesus (or learners of the way of Jesus) by proclaiming his good news of the commonwealth of God.
Sadly, sometimes "converting people to the Christian religion" can make them (as I discuss in my new book) even more hostile than they were before (recalling Mt. 23:15), now with God "on their side," intensifying their pre-existing fears and hostilities. But there are other ways - in my mind, more faithful, more Spirit-empowered ways - to be Christian, just as there are more faithful, more Spirit-empowered ways to be Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, atheist, Buddhist, etc.
Thankfully, I know there are more and more Christians like you who are expressing their discomfort with ways of living their faith characterized by hostility, and are seeking better ways instead. And there are more and more Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and atheists feeling the same way!
That's why I can simultaneously believe that Jesus is key for humanity ... as I fervently do believe - without believing that the Christian religion is intended to have any sort of supremacy.
I believe the way of Jesus - the way of love, faith, hope, reconciliation, radical rethinking, service, self-giving, respect for creation, full surrender to the Spirit - truly is the way, the truth, and the life. Nobody comes to God based on following a religious agenda of hate, fear, despair, division, conventional thinking, domination, greed, disrespect for creation, or full conformity to this or that 'ism, no matter how much god-talk and text-quoting we dress it all up in. (How's that for a paraphrase of Jn. 14:6?) Obviously, this is what I was grappling with in my new book, the last few chapters of which deal especially with your question.
That's why I write. It's what keeps me going through way too many airports and too much traffic. At heart, I am and have always been an evangelist ... not promoting the good news of Evangelicalism, Catholicism, Pentecostalism, etc., etc., but seeking to live and spread the good news of God (Mark 1:14), proclaimed by Jesus, which is a call to love God with our all and to love our neighbor as ourselves, extending that love of neighbor (as Jesus taught and modeled) to stranger, outsider, outcast, enemy, and others (whatever their religion) - including our nonhuman neighbors in God's creation.
Can more and more Muslims, agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, Christians, Jews, and others learn to live in this way of saving, reconciling, regenerating love? That's not just a question of doctrine or religion. It's a question of survival.