There’s nothing quite like a bowl of butternut squash soup on a cold winter day. I like to season mine with earthy cinnamon and nutmeg. Others prefer the bold flavour of garlic. Either way, the aroma is sure to entice hungry family members to the table for nourishment and conversation.
I’d like to be able to say the same of our Christian witness – that it’s sure to entice hungry individuals to the table for spiritual nourishment and conversation.
“But thanks be to God, who … uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:14–15). Is the scent of our lives rising to God as a sweet offering?
Something foul on the air
As Christians, we can easily become preoccupied with the right to speak about our faith. We talk about being silenced and even “persecuted” for sharing our beliefs in a public forum. According to Florida State doctoral student Thomas Whitley, because our faith “was born from intense periods of persecution, real and imagined, a martyr mentality has become ingrained in Christian worldviews.”
The newest North American martyrs are people like Phil Robertson of reality TV’s Duck Dynasty, who was suspended in December for comments he made during a GQ Magazine interview. Some say he was targeted because of his conservative Christian beliefs. Others felt he misrepresented Jesus’ teachings by using coarse and offensive language. (See Bill Hogg’s perspective and pastor Jeff Bucknam’s “The Unintentional Effects
of Defending Duck Dynasty” at www.northview.org.)
Sweet and savoury
Really, we have ample freedom in North American to talk about Jesus. So perhaps the more critical question is how to share the message of Christ.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” says 1 Peter 3:15. “But do this with gentleness and respect.”
“I hope we use our public words to build bridges, not reinforce caverns,” says Jen Hatmaker, Christian blogger and soon-to-be reality TV personality. “Specifically with issues that have caused such heartache and damage already like gay marriage and racial inequity, we should refuse to contribute to someone’s pain by speaking about them abstractedly, distantly, as if they aren’t real human beings whose lives bear actual repercussions of our casual public conversations.”
The way we say things is as essential as what we say. Tone and attitude go a long way in communicating what we believe. Words seasoned with humility have a more appealing aroma than those seasoned with pride and judgment.
The proof is in the pudding
It’s also essential for Christian apologetics to be coupled with Christian action. In a recent Christianity Today article, Detroit pastor Christopher Brooks explained his view of apologetics in an urban setting:
Yes, there are intellectual aspects of truth, the dialectic conversation that has to go on to refine our understanding of truth. But for truth to be fully expressed, it has to be incarnated. Apologetics is best done when we have both conversation and incarnation.
The problem with apologetics and why it has not had “stickiness,” to use a marketing term… has been that it’s been conversational but not incarnational. If we restrict truth to an academic exercise instead of seeing it lived, “dwelling among us” in a visible way, then truth isn’t fully expressed.
What we say about the authority of Christ must be demonstrated by the way we allow Christ to reign in our lives. The things we say about the sanctity of marriage must be lived out in the way we treat our spouses. The things we say about the peace of Christ must be reflected in the way our congregations function and serve. The things we say about the gospel must be evident in our concern for the good of our neighbours.
Our MB Confession of Faith commentary says it well: “As the church functions in unity and love, it reflects the image of God. The daily life of the body of Christ is a fragrance to others. In a word-weary society, authentic expressions of joy, fellowship and worship have great impact.”
It’s like that butternut squash soup. I’m happy to share my recipe with you, but the smell of a pot simmering on the stove has a more powerful appeal.