As I’ve mentioned before, Fred Clark’s ongoing page-by-page commentary of the horrendously bad first Left Behind novel is always an interesting read. In this week’s commentary, I found an interesting conversation in the comments. I think it’s easiest just to quote the relevant comments.
First, Reverend Ref responds to a line from the novel:
Everything he had tried had failed. … Rayford had never felt more powerless and desperate.
And this is also something that is theologically wrong. We don’t convert people, that is God’s job (or the Holy Spirit if you want to get technical). I tell my parishioners all the time, “All we can do is invite people; conversion is God’s department.” This fundagelical push to constantly figure out how many people you’ve saved is, for lack of a better term, whacked. It’s nothing more than spiritual bullying. Our job as Christians is to proclaim the kingdom of God. We proclaim. We invite. We welcome. We talk. God converts. If the other person rejects that, it’s not our problem. But that DOES NOT mean we revel in their (anticipated?) destruction.
Love God. Love your neighbor. Remember you aren’t the boss.
Well, what about people like myself, who don’t believe that there is any “boss” at all ? You have shown us the way to salvation, and we rejected it as a fantasy. Now (assuming you’re right), we will burn in Hell for all eternity / will be stuck in Limbo forever / will be separate from God for all time / won’t get our 72 virgins / etc. Wouldn’t you want to push your point… and push and push and push… until the atheists do convert ? It’s for their own good, and you love them, right ?
Ok, this is different from typical evangelicals, who only care about themselves (“I’ve converted 10 people last week ! Woo !”), but still, I’m sure there are some people out there who think that way. Three of them were in my math class…
And here’s Reverend Ref’s reply:
If you don’t believe that there is any “boss” at all, and if you reject it as fantasy, that’s your call (that whole free will thing). Am I disappointed? Sure, for a variety of reasons. However, I will not push and push and push… until the atheists do convert. It may be for your own good, as you say, but so was syrup of ipecac (or so my grandmother told me). I would much rather invite you into a discussion about God and invite you to church, be turned down, and then talk about about the Mariners or Seahawks or the weather and have you remain on speaking terms with me (maybe even be considered a friend), than to push and push and push and piss you off.
At least with Option #1 there’s a chance you might change your mind. That’s how I operate during my bar visits. There’s a whole hospitality thing going on there. Not to mention the fact that I do not believe God put me on a quota system.
And Bugmaster again:
Well, if more people thought like you, we’d have less wars (and less theocratic maniacs in charge), so your stance is quite admirable. Still, it sounds like you’d rather acquire a friend in this life, than rescue the same person’s soul from an eternity of torment in the next life. Some people (i.e., zealously religious people) could interpret this as a selfish attitude.
Um … not quite. I’d rather remain on speaking terms with you. Whether you are or are not my friend, I really couldn’t care less. However, I believe that conversion happens through conversation, which has the potential to open one up to the working of the Holy Spirit. If I push and push and push, as you said earlier, and do nothing but piss you off about me in particular and Christianity in general, then I have helped to shut the door. And that, in my book, is sinful behavior.
I don’t know where a conversation will lead, but I do know that not being willing to converse, or sit down at table or any other words/actions that shuts people down will lead nowhere. Witness my own Anglican Communion and the various behaviors there about not wanting to converse with or commune with the “wrong” people. At least if we keep talking, the potential for conversion remains.
And finally, Bugmaster:
Well, your position does make sense. I don’t know much about the Anglican Communion, but some Protestant varieties here in America also have such an isolationist approach. Pretty sad.
Here we have Bugmaster, a self-professed aethist, who has been reading and participating in the comments of a blog by a liberal evangelical for months or longer, and yet, after all this exposure to Fred Clark and many of his commenters, Bugmaster still thinks that their (and my) brand of Christianity is the exception, not the norm. That’s a sad statement on American Christian culture.