Friday, 16 May 2008

Preparing for That Knock at the Door

The Barna Group is a Christian organisation founded by George Barna in 1984 which, among other things, provides important primary research, especially in service of the Christian Church and is described on their web site:

“The Barna Group provides primary research (through The Barna Research Group); printed resources (through BarnaBooks, an imprint of Tyndale); leadership development; spiritual training; and church facilitation and enhancement. We seek to use our strengths in partnership with Christian ministries and individuals to be a catalyst in moral and spiritual transformation in the United States. We accomplish these outcomes by providing vision, information, strategy, evaluation and resources.”

They have just produced some very interesting research examining the faith of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, comparing them with each other and both with Evangelical Christianity. The full report can be read here.

After looking at each respective group’s attitude to God, Jesus, Satan, Salvation, the Bible etc. the report’s author, George Barna, noted that in the religious world seemingly small matters can make a big difference and that, “there are huge difference related to central doctrines such as the means to eternal salvation or the reliability and authority of the Bible. Millions of adults, however, shut the door when Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses come visiting without having any real idea what they or we believe - or caring enough to pursue such insights."

It is both sad and a constant cause of frustration that this is the case and we at Reachout have always advocated Christians being prepared to talk to people on at least a basic level and in a civilised and loving way to people from other faiths and worldviews. This is especially important, and we have always known this, because, as Barna points out:

Such front porch interactions could stimulate unexpected benefits. "It’s no secret that Americans spend little time thinking through the deeper applications and implications of their beliefs. In a society confronted with challenging issues such as immigration rights, gay marriage, war, and environmental crises, our positions on such matters should come from a well-conceived and deeply embraced theology of life. Sadly, most Americans react on an emotional level rather than from a worldview that is based on thoughtful convictions. Perhaps having a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness ringing our doorbell and pushing us to explain or defend our beliefs could be a catalyst for an even deeper process of discovery - especially if we enter the conversation knowing that we probably have some substantial disagreements on core elements of faith."

Is yours a considered position on issues of faith, coming from a worldview that is based on thoughtful convictions? Or is yours a knee-jerk, emotional reaction based on long held but only cursorily considered beliefs? One way to judge is the volume and tone of your conversation. Shouters tend to be those who need to compensate with volume for what they lack in depth of understanding. A brusque tone often betrays an ill-thought-through position and bluster often replaces carefully explained arguments.

Those who have been involved in ministries like Reachout Trust find themselves driven back to the Bible time and again and are usually better prepared to reason from the Scriptures as a result. This is because they have faced the challenges to our faith that these groups present and experienced that catalyst that initiates a deeper process of discovery. There are those who need to reconsider how they react to that knock at the door, prepare better for what they will meet when they open it and learn to welcome the opportunity to explain intelligently why they feel so strongly about their faith. If Reachout Trust can help in that preparation we feel our efforts are worth it. After all, that is what we are here for.

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