By now, you may be aware that last week’s confirmation hearing for the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget encountered some very turbulent waters. The nominee was forced into a heated discussion about his theology, stemming from an online post regarding events that had transpired at his alma mater last year. Specifically, he was pummeled with questions about his belief the existence and punitive nature of hell.
Because our Constitution has a prohibition against using a political candidate’s personal religion to disqualify them from fitness for office, it’s likely that he was completely caught off-guard by this line of questioning. As Christians in a society that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, it’s likely that you, too, may be caught off-guard by this line of questioning. Here are three things to keep in mind for the next time you’re the one in the hot seat.
Widen the lens. Anytime the question about hell or lostness is directed toward a particular group of people, be sure to widen the lens to include all of humanity. Framing the question so as to focus on a few – whether done intentionally or unintentionally – obscures the truth of Christian theology, which is that all humanity is fallen (Romans 3:23), and therefore incapable of avoiding personal guilt before a holy God. By refusing to discuss the issue of moral guilt in terms of a particular group’s identity, we diffuse the ability of our questioner to misrepresent God as singling-out, or targeting, the group for arbitrary reasons.
Define the terms. For a long time, I’ve been convinced that part of the hostility encountered when discussing Christianity and salvation is due to a case of mistaken identity. I suspect that the word “guilt” (or any equivalent term) is often misunderstood to mean “worthless” to those who hear it. The fact that the nominee’s religious beliefs were characterized as “hateful, indefensible, and insulting” suggests that I’m correct. It’s important to point out that although our guilt before God is very real and very serious, it in no way extinguishes God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 (NLT) explicitly states that God’s love for us is not incompatible with our state of sinfulness: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Guilt is a legal status which requires a legal remedy, and in no way communicates that a guilty person is unloved by God or considered worthless. In fact, the opposite is true…
Shift the Focus. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is, in itself, God’s supreme declaration of the love He has for all people. It is precisely the precariousness of our guilt, in combination with His tremendous righteousness and lavish mercy, that caused Him to act in such a way as to provide the relief for our legal dilemma at great, painful cost to Himself. The Bible is clear that God loves all people and wants them to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 2 Pet. 3:9), no matter the group to which they belong, or the particular sins for which they are accountable. Jesus’ work on the cross is sufficient for any and all who come to Him seeking for His payment of sin to be applied to his/her individual account (John 3:16). Because salvation in Christ is a decision, not a tradition, no person – or group of persons – is automatically excluded from Jesus’ offer of pardon. By shifting the focus to Jesus, we can open the door to fruitful conversations of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness.
Or, alternatively, we can open up discussions about the evidence of Jesus’ actual existence, His Resurrection, and the reliability of the Scriptures in order to help someone understand the truth of Christ and His salvation.
I hope this equips you with some useful tools for navigating your own conversations with others. If you’re not aware of the evidences I’ve mentioned, or if you have any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know.