From Vampire Evangelism to Interfaith Sensitivity

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Not long after I got off the subway right in the heart of downtown Toronto, I was greeted with the fiery eyes of the chaplain I once interned under holding a microphone – the Quran in one hand, the Bible in the other. Behind him stood two older men holding “Jesus is the only way” signs and to the side sat an older gentleman wearing white Islamic clothes giving out free Qurans and other Islamic materials. A few years back I had picked up an English translation of the Quran and started reading it. Although a devout Christian, I maintain that true cultural sensitivity includes learning the holy teachings of other religions. I stood there mesmerized for several minutes until it started to rain. As the rain drops fell, slowly at first and then picking up speed, the chaplain queried the Muslim man about Salvation, heaven, and assurance after death.

From the angle of Christian apologetics, I was spell bound. This chaplain showing the knowledge of one who has studied other scriptures and anticipated the major arguments, however, from a cultural sensitivity perspective I was agitated. I walked away from that scene with a huge chip on my shoulder, “what exactly are these Christians doing? What are they really trying to accomplish? Is this really the way to do it?” The next day, I sat with a Muslim acquaintance at lunch and discussed my initial distrust in such evangelism techniques. She rolled her eyes and countered back about her “favourite” Muslims.

I’ll be honest. I’ve thrown around words like “evangelism” and “missional” plenty of times in my life. I’ve given the salvation message to camp kids, preached the Good News from the pulpit, and have even delivered sandwiches and tracts on the streets. As a Christian, I agree with the great commission, with salvation, with baptism, and discipleship. However, I have come to believe that what I have heard coined as “vampire evangelism” is not the best way to bring about the Kingdom of God.

In “Vampire Evangelism” individuals are approached with a “fire and brimstone” message – a faith with the foundation of fear and extreme guilt. “Be a Christian or else” kind of mentality. Others are pressured into the faith through the “flirt to convert” method – making a decision in order to win the approval of their date. In many cases, follow-up discipleship is lacking and a true description of the passionate love the Father has for us is left wanting. In Vampire Evangelism, an awareness of what the person has previously experienced is diminished and the understanding that a decision for faith may take time for some or even cost someone their family or in some cases, depending on the country, their life, is largely forgotten.

To be fair, I’ve had my own experiences of being a fiery evangelical before. When I was younger, I used to try to get the Salvation message in any chance I got and that even cost me my job once. I still maintain a posture of prayer for the unsaved and take every opportunity to reach out to others. At the same time, I maintain that evangelism should be incarnational, rooted in relationships, and have integrity.

Recently, I met someone who practices the Muslim faith and she and I became close. She’s interested in religious differences, likes to explore different theologies, and one day hopes to hear me preach. Of course, I love her and want to encourage her in her theological pursuits, but our relationship is not built on conversion, but on friendship. I am not her friend for the sole purpose of winning her to Christ. I am her friend first and foremost because we share common interests, enjoy each other’s company, and find each other a blessing. Even though my friend is Muslim, I feel I can be real with her about my walk with Christ. I share with her questions and things I still wrestle with even though I am a seminarian. In exchange, she shares nuances about her religion and culture she loves and other things she wants to further explore and learn about. I do not fear that by being real about half-hearted Christianity or by explaining my theological queries that I am somehow giving her a bad impression of Christians. On the contrary, I have discovered that this is what friendship is about. A place to be honest about what’s going on in our lives. There is no reason why in this regard I need to treat a Muslim friend any differently than I would treat a Christian friend.

To me, Christ embodied the love of His Father through His actions. He loved everyone, served the “least of these”, and modeled forgiveness and compassion. Incarnational and missional living is just that, walking WITH our neighbours with evangelism as an extension, not as the ultimate focus.

Vampire Evangelism doesn’t work in the long run because its converts have not learned to grow roots. It reminds me of the Parable of the Sower, although the seeds are there the soil was not right for sustained growth.1 Once the cares of this world come up again, belief in Christ is choked out and people forget their ultimate allegiance. People are converted, but not discipled. The next week, the street evangelist is gone and the converts are left confused – with more questions than answers. They are unsure how to locate a Biblically solid church and may become involved in fringe groups or eventually give up on Christ and go back to their old way of living. More than that, I am not convinced that street evangelism works. The average person needs to hear the Gospel message 6 times before they can accept it.2 Therefore, mass conversions may work for Billy Graham, but they should not be the standard for all young preachers.
What then should we do? Certainly as Christians we are called to bring others to Christ, but how? Here are some tips I have acquired in terms of reaching out to others:

1) Pray before every ministering opportunity. Pray for opportunities to proclaim the Gospel boldly as you should.3 Pray over your sermons, your writings, even your daily work interactions. Prayer is at the very heart of evangelism and is the greatest of all ministries because it puts our hearts in tune with Christ. I pray every opportunity I get – while walking or biking, in my car on my way to school, as I am brushing my teeth in the morning, and as I’m preparing for bed. Every morning I ask God for opportunities to be His hands and feet to everyone I come into contact with, offering them a cup of cold water when they need it the most and words of hope and healing when all around them they hear despair and discouragement. I ask God to help me grow in Christian maturity and to help me incarnate His love for me so that when I talk to others they no longer simply hear Deborah, but God talking through me. I want more than anything else for people to know that I belong to Christ by the words I say and the way I speak them. Every evening before bed I once again come before God thanking Him for what the day provided and asking forgiveness for missed opportunities or unhelpful interactions.

2) Learn apologetics. 1 Peter 3:15 reads that we are always to be ready to give an account for the hope that is in us.4 Be prepared at all times to give your testimony, to pray for others, and to explain your faith. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs a PhD in theology, but it does mean that as Christians we need to be confident of the hope that is in us.

3) Incarnate Christ’s love. Jesus is clear that Christianity is not about lip service, but rather is about following the will of the Father.5 Christ set really high standards for His followers. He commanded purity of heart and mind unconditional forgiveness and love for enemies. As Christians, we are to appear differently that the rest of the world, shining like stars amidst the status quo.6 If we are not following Christ’s commands to love and serve others, we cannot attract others to a message we ourselves do not proclaim daily through our lifestyle.

4) Show cultural sensitivity. From the onset of our friendship, My Muslim friend and I have shared an unspoken understanding that although we can (and often do) discuss religious matters, we are not out to convert or prove each other wrong. Every hang out gives me an opportunity to share my faith while at the same time learning and respecting hers. I disagree with Christians who become friends with non-Christians in order to convert. Instead, don’t see people as projects, but let the love and joy of friendship unfold naturally. Friendships are fragile – answer questions, but don’t force a point. Learn cultural and religious taboos and respect them. Don’t impose your own values on another person.

5) Lastly, don’t “screen” your conversations. Clearly I don’t debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism with non-Christians, but I still ask my Muslim friend to pray for me when I need prayer. When we hang out, we focus more on our own religious similarities rather than on the differences. We mutually agree that in the end of the day our faith gives us a better standard for treating others, morality, and a sense of something better waiting for us. Our faiths provide a basis for working towards peace and understanding. Since we are both devoted to our faiths when my friend says she’ll be praying for me, I know that she really will be.

Ghandi once said, “I need you to be a good Christian so that I can be a good Hindu.” “True evangelical faith,” wrote Menno Simons, “is of such a nature that it cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, feeds the hungry, and shelters the destitute. It is all things to all people.” Christians are called to evangelize, but more importantly to be in right standing with God and to treat other people rightly. Therefore, as the Apostle Paul admonished, so much as it depends on you live at peace with one another.7 Let’s not become preoccupied with theological difference, conversions, and street evangelism. Instead, let’s focus on living and breathing friendships flowing from the Father and which can flow over into all other aspects of our lives. Then we will truly be seeking the Kingdom. Then others will take note and desire to share the same blessings in their lives. And only when we are not only preaching Christ incarnate, but displaying His character in our daily interactions will we be able to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. The one who says, “Well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into eternal rest with Me.”8

1 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+13
2 – Taught by one of my undergrad professors at Tyndale, Dr. Daniel Wong, in our evangelism class
3 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Ephesians+6%3A20&version=NASB
4 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+3%3A15&version=NASB
5 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+12%3A50&version=NASB
6 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2%3A15&version=NASB
7 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12%3A18&version=NASB
8 – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25%3A21&version=NASB

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How Should A Single Woman Pray for Her Future Spouse?

Praying woman Prior to coming to Tyndale, I had never prayed for my future spouse. I had no starry-eyed notion that the first man I would date would be my “one and only” nor was I caught up in a fantasy that by 20 I would be married, have my first kid at 22 and be done having 5 children by age 30. Obviously, I didn’t want my heart to be broken by men who weren’t passionate about their faith or who didn’t know how to respect a woman. Naturally, my goal was to only enter into mutually satisfying relationships that honoured one another and Christ, and an initial layer was added due to my faith – keeping my heart, mind, and emotions pure until the wedding night. I did not pray for my future spouse for 3 years, the time it took me to complete my Bachelor’s degree. All around me, friends were getting engaged, exchanging vows, and welcoming life into their midst. Although the majority of my young friends have found good matches and remain satisfied in their marriages, looking back I have to reasonably conclude that at 19 or 20 I had no idea who my “type” was, let alone an understanding of the gravity (“till death do us part”) such a decision would have on my life. It is clear to me in Scriptures that marriage is a life-long commitment and journey. That doesn’t mean there will never be times when you struggle or want to give up, but it’s the spark of dedication that keeps you fighting when the cares of this world threaten to make your love dry up or run cold.

Suddenly when I was 21 I met a young man and began courting. Through my relationship with him, we began to discern together what a Christ-centered marriage would look like and how to respect each other even when we disagreed. Both he and I prayed constantly to God about our relationship – whether we should keep going, proceed with caution, or stop. I began praying about my future spouse, but in reality I was only referring to this one guy in my prayers. Although I am thankful that God guarded my heart and protected me from drama until I was 21, our relationship did not last and we went our separate ways. I did not pray about my future spouse again until about a year and a half later when I changed my thinking on this issue.

Today, I pray almost constantly about my future spouse, but it’s not asking God to bless a union I simply wish was there or to believe that God will prohibit my free will to choose to date someone who isn’t right for me. I do not believe in the notion that God will save my emotional attachment only for one man, my husband. I am human and capable of feeling a wide range of emotions including attraction. Yet, when this happens, it is up to me to prayerfully ask God and then decide what that attraction is based off of – lust, a growing understanding of the characteristics I would like in a spouse (although not necessarily a desire to be with that specific person) or a potential friendship which could develop into blessing one another for the long run. I believe that God has chosen (predestined) my future spouse from the beginning of time, but until then He calls for patience (though because of free will does not always stop me from jumping the gun). In each case, when I have chosen to follow my own will rather than God’s He still restores what could be there, taking even the bad experiences and using them for good.

So, instead while I still enter each potential relationship with the hope of marriage, only entering into courtship when the man has desirable characteristics, I have learned to slow down. I have a personality which is goal focussed – everything in my life is about accomplishing something; so it’s easy that when dating I can become obsessed with marriage as the only focus. The be-all-end-all. Yet, doing this is unfair to the man, myself, and even the spirit behind marriage. I believe in courtship, getting to know someone with the intent that he COULD be the one, but I disagree with a preoccupation that he definitely IS the one. It just puts way too much pressure on both you and him. Sometimes Christian women come at dating with a mindset that you have to know who you are going to marry before even giving it a shot. In reality, dating is a time to discover who you are, who this person is, and whether you are compatible with each other. You don’t have to know right away, in fact you probably shouldn’t know right away. That’s why I also advocate for staying pure (physically and emotionally) before marriage. Since the man you date might be the one or he might not you want to enter into marriage with no regrets and no guilt in telling your spouse what went on before. Even in engagement, it is important to maintain purity because unless you have said your vows before the altar of Christ, you still do not belong to one another.

Therefore, when I pray for my future spouse, I pray about the following things. First, I take the wisdom of a new friend of mine that because there is no marriage in heaven, clearly it is not a NEED here on earth (see https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A30&version=NASB). Instead of marriage being something we NEED to have, it is a blessing that God chooses to give to us in order to enhance our lives, our depth of relationship with another soul, and our understanding of His love for us.   So, I ask God to show me whether I can serve Him better as a couple or as a single person and then I ask Him that if it is His will for me to serve Him with a partner that He provide me with a husband who I can minister with and who can build me up spiritually at the same time as I encourage him in his faith.

Then, I ask God to guard my heart and mind and to provide patience so that I can wait on His timing – I ask God to bring about the right man at the right time and in the right way and ask Him to strip away any relationship that is not of Him so I can see clearly and remain focused on His Word. The Song of Solomon tells us that we are not to “awaken love until it is time.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Song+of+Solomon+8%3A4&version=NASB)That’s why we need to be slow in professing our love for another, not flippantly whispering sweet nothings that are not centered in Christian love. Even in dating, I reserve the phrase “I love you” until I feel confident that there is something deeper than just physical attraction involved.

Lastly, I also ask God to allow me the opportunity to take a healthy dose of responsibility for myself. I refuse to make a list of what a Godly man looks like until I have also determined what a Godly woman looks like.  A great place to start in Proverbs 31 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+31&version=NASB).   I want my husband to love, respect, and support me, but I also want to learn how to better appreciate, support, and encourage him. So, I search the Scriptures, spend time with Godly mentors, and pray and in this way ask God to help me to continue to grow in Christian maturity. At the same time that I am praying for a Godly husband, I make an effort to have Godly male friends – men whom I have profound respect for, but am not interested in dating. Surrounding yourself with Godly models of the opposite gender provides a basis for understanding the kind of guy you eventually want to have in your life.

So in closing, here is my advice for Christian young women: 1) Ask God for a prince, but do not step over the frogs on the way to the palace. Take time to get to know the frogs, but do not feel pressure to marry the first one you see. Try to work on friendship first and dating as a by-product of that friendship – something that can deepen it and ultimately enrich it.

2) Understand that evangelical culture is not indicative of the world. Many people in our day get married in their 30s after finishing school, securing a job, and having the financial ability to put a down payment on a house. So, if you’re 24 and not married, know you still have time – don’t rush into a lifelong commitment simply because everyone else is doing it if you don’t truly feel ready for it yet.

3) Approach courting (dating) with a genuine desire for purity, honesty, and trust in the relationship. Only go for a man who knows how to build you up and who can edify the (potential) marriage even when you feel like calling it quits. At the same time, understand your own need to be loyal and dependable. Far too many youth pastors are encouraging young women to make lists of Godly characteristics in men, when in reality we need to encourage women to first know who they are in Christ before trying to bring a guy into the equation. It is easy to know what we expect from others and much harder to take an honest look at ourselves.

I truly believe that for every person who desires marriage God has ordained a special person for them and them alone. Praying for your future spouse does not automatically speed up this process, but it does help you maintain your sights on the things of Christ even in the midst of infatuation and flirting. When you know your foundation is build on a rock, you can have assurance that even when the storms and floods come up and bang against the house, that your marriage will be able to withstand it and you and your husband will come out stronger and victorious because of your desire for one another and for Christ (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=ESV). Praying for your future spouse now will also carry over into praying for him when you are dating and ultimately praying for him and your kids when you’re married; and just as the old adage goes, “the family that prays together stays together.” So, get into the habit now because you who wouldn’t want their spouse to pray for them even after marriage?