Just a couple weeks ago, my wife and I went to Alberta to visit my in-laws. There, we saw the three-story house that was being built for my brother-in-law and his family. It was still in its early stage of construction. The foundation had been laid and the basement walls were up, but not much more had been done.
Now, imagine decorating this three-story house when the foundation hasn’t even been laid…
When asked what the first step is in building a house, most of us would answer—much to the commendation of our own common sense—that it is to lay the foundation. Or, if you just enjoy challenging assumptions for the sake of challenging assumptions, you might even say “to find a plot for it”.
Be that as it may, we wouldn’t want to start out by decorating a house whose walls have yet to go up.
Unfortunately for some Christians, what they wouldn’t do in construction, they in fact do in dealing with others who do not share the same worldview. What do I mean by that? Let me give you an example from my own experience.
My wife and I went to a local restaurant not too long ago. Our server was a kind young lady with an approachable air about her. (For anonymity’s sake, we’ll call her Jane.) As Jane walked away after taking our orders for drinks, I noticed a tattoo on her back. Most of it was covered by her black shirt, but the pattern was unmistakable—it was a lotus. Perhaps she was a Buddhist? When Jane returned, I commented on her tattoo.
This led into a nice long conversation about faith and life, which I hadn’t expected.
Jane told us that she was not a Buddhist and that she grew up with atheist parents who wouldn’t let her watch Veggie Tales. Coming from a town filled with Christians, she said, most of her friends were Christian so she had some exposure to Christianity.
Then she went on to tell us how, a number of years ago, when she was going through some rough patches in her life one of her friends and her family took her under their wings for a while. This friend and her family were Christian, so they took Jane to church every Sunday.
“I kind of liked it,” she said, “but there were some things they taught at the church that I didn’t entirely agree with.”
This raised an obvious question, so I thought I’d ask it. “Would you mind giving me some examples? What were some of these things you didn’t agree with?”
“I disagreed with their view on divorce and pre-marital sex,” Jane answered. Given the context of our conversation, it was clear that the church taught against them and she thought they should be allowed. At this point, all manner of objections against her view surfaced in my mind. However, I kept my mouth shut and let her continue.
And I’m glad I did.
“What?! How can you say that?” a fellow Christian might say. “What she believes is wrong! How can you not correct her if you are a responsible Christian?! You have to be the salt and light!”
Contrary to this claim, however, it is precisely because I am a responsible Christian—I hope—that I didn’t correct her at this point. Why do I say that?
When I think about the reason why a Christian should think that certain conduct—such as divorce and extra-marital sex—is wrong, it is because the Christian believes that what the Bible teaches is true. The reason why the Christian believes the Bible is true is because he/she believes that it is the Word of God. The very notion of the Word of God, in turn, presupposes the existence of God.
So, if I am indeed a responsible Christian, before I discuss moral conduct—or immoral conduct, as the case may be—I must start by establishing the existence of God. To discuss moral conduct without doing that first (assuming that I am talking to someone who doesn’t believe in it) would be like trying to decorate a house that doesn’t have its walls up yet. This is why, it seems to me, picket-lining at abortion clinics and Pride Parades is ineffective. Rather than correcting a view on certain conduct, then trying to defend the Bible, then trying to discuss the existence of God—which I am sure I have been guilty of myself—we should start with the first things first and then move on from there.
“But that would take a long time!” the fellow Christian exclaims. And I say, “You’re right. It would.”
The truth is, we Christians demand too much of ourselves too quickly. Whenever we run into others that do not share our worldview, we are quick to cast judgment and attack what is only symptomatic rather than what is at the core. Perhaps it is the consumeristic mindset of our culture steeped in instant gratification that we want so much so quickly. Whatever the cause may be, though, I think it is time to actually invest our time and effort into building genuine relationships with people and start from the foundation.
Jane and I had a great conversation. I got to know a little bit more about her in general, and this gave me a clearer sense of how to talk to her about the foundational things in a way she could appreciate them. Had I been too quick to correct her views on matters of conduct, I certainly would not have had that benefit. In fact, in all likelihood, it would have killed the conversation right there and then.
So, I ask you…
Set the foundation in place. The rest will flow from it.