We need to have some new answers. If someone asks if you are a Christian today, your answer is going to depend a lot on what that person thinks a Christian is. Based on that, you might want to say no. There are so many wrong ideas of Christianity out there now that it’s like stepping through a minefield to just try and talk about faith in Christ in the marketplace. If people have gotten their idea of what a Christian is from the media and a few bumper stickers, well there just isn’t enough room on a bumper to explain it.
That’s why it is probably best to ask a question back, such as, “What do you think a Christian is?” or “Tell me what you think a Christian is, and I‘ll tell you whether I am one or not.”
Bottom line is: we need to look at questions like this as an opportunity to start over. If you’re going to identify as a Christian in the marketplace, don’t assume that anyone knows what one is. And those who think they do, generally have the wrong idea anyway.
I just read this morning where a Gentile woman came to Jesus asking Him to free her demon-possessed daughter from the demon’s control. Jesus, testing her, responded with a common Jewish understanding of the day that you feed your own family first. You don’t take food from your own children and feed it to the dogs. (Jews talked about Gentiles as being “dogs.” Jesus didn’t believe she was a dog; He wanted to see how she would respond.) “That’s true, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs under the table are given some crumbs from the children’s plates.” Jesus was impressed with her answer and told her, “Because you have answered so well, I have healed your daughter” (Mark 7:25-30). I like this story for the creative engagement of the woman. She was listening carefully. She put her need in terms of the question Jesus put to her.
If we are going to tell the gospel, we need to put our words in the terms of the conversation we are having. We need to be creative in how we respond. We need to listen carefully and respond within the framework of the other person’s belief, whether we agree with it or not. The woman was not a “dog.” She knew it, and Jesus knew it, too, but the conversation was framed by the perceptions of the day, so both the woman and Jesus spoke the truth into that framework, and in so doing, reframed it. We need to do the same. That takes careful listening and rephrasing. It means adjusting to each conversation. It means engaging. Take the bumper sticker and turn it into something. Take the misperception and use it to construct a new understanding. (This could actually be fun!)
And of course it means acts of love and kindness, because words are not everything. Words and actions. Jesus not only affirmed her, He healed her daughter. The woman went home and found her daughter free and whole.