Starting points for evangelism

by
May 4th, 2020

“You need Jesus. More than anything, you need Jesus. Your whole life depends on it, your whole world.” When I came to accept that this was true and began to make all the changes it would require of me, I was an earnest, fourth-generation Christian Scientist in my late 30s.

It has made a tremendous difference for me ever since, and naturally I have yearned to help other Scientists come to the same realization.  Over the decades I have found out how difficult it is to get even the most seemingly open-minded CSer started down that road, however.

Recently I’ve begun trying to map out the starting points for receptivity to biblical Christianity that were present in my thinking when Jesus initially made a claim on me.

By reconstructing that long-ago state of mind in which the gospel was able to take hold, maybe I can formulate a more productive approach to those usually-disappointing conversations with Christian Scientists who seem to be, but turn out not to be, open to the invitation of “Think anew.”

What I Took Seriously

The starting points, in my case, were four in number. My upbringing in a devout CS family, attending CS schools and camps, studying the weekly lesson and periodicals, attending Sunday and Wednesday services, relying on practitioners, had brought me to take God seriously, take the Bible seriously, take church seriously, and yes, even to take sin seriously. (If that sounds unlikely, I’ll explain.)

What I didn’t take very seriously at all, on the other hand, was history, eternity, or heaven and hell.

And I took myself far too seriously, in terms of a now laughable—but also pitiable—overconfidence that I could think my way, with Mrs. Eddy’s help, out of almost any undesirable situation and into almost any desirable situation that might come along. Because I was a metaphysician, after all. I knew how to give treatments. I knew Science and Healthalmost line by line, and what could resist that kind of spiritual firepower?

So there you have the mental landscape of young John Andrews, circa 1980. Four realities taken quite seriously, albeit imperfectly understood; another four realities not taken seriously enough, albeit superficially acknowledged; and one outsized intellect presiding over them all. How then did things play out, ultimately leading to my kneeling with two Christian friends and tearfully asking Jesus to be enthroned in my heart?

What Others Shrugged Off

The answer starts with a closer look at what I mean by “taking seriously,” or not, those essential concepts mentioned above. Perhaps it will be clearer if we look first at the opposite state of mind—doubt, disregard, dismissal, indifference.

More and more Americans since World War II, my lifetime, are inclined to shrug at God or any other deity, shrug at the Bible and all sacred writings, shrug or shudder at the church as a vessel of holiness and authority, and brush off the idea of sin as a source of guilt and occasion for punishment.

In contrast, I as a Christian Scientist strongly disagreed with all of those impious attitudes. Any Christian Scientist in 1980 or today would say the same.

Is God real and worthy of our devotion? Yes.  Is the Bible his inspired word? Yes again. Is the church (allowing for denominational differences) divinely ordained and, as such, the most important of all human institutions? Certainly.

And is the tendency to err, disobey, and rebel—that is, to sin against our Maker—present in all of us and fraught with awful consequences? Certainly again. (Granted, CSers say sin is unreal, yet they are constantly at war with inward and outward rule-breaking, thus in fact taking sin, as I said, seriously.)

These are the four affirmations that I call my starting points for beginning to grapple—as I did throughout the 1980s—with the gospel of Jesus Christ as God incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, reigning at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us, and one day to return.

God, the Bible, the Church, and the Sin Problem

By no means, at the outset, did I know God truly or fully, but I took him seriously enough to desire to do so.

Likewise my serious engagement with the Bible set the stage for my finding Mrs. Eddy’s distortions of it more and more intolerable. Likewise my quest for Christ’s truechurch.

Likewise my ever-increasing horror at the darkness I saw within myself—sins too monstrous for mere metaphysical denial.

History and Eternity, Heaven and Hell

As for the realities I didn’t at first take seriously enough, consider history first. How could human beings actually be sinless, “God’s perfect child,”  in light of man’s inhumanity to man individually and collectively acted out across the span of millennia?

How could 2000 years of biblical preparation and prophecy point not toward Jesus of Nazareth but another 1800 years beyond him to Mrs. Eddy of Boston? How could all the civilizing accomplishments of Christendom from Constantine to Lincoln have been founded upon a mistake? Far-fetched indeed.

Then consider eternity. The word, the concept, was familiar enough to me from Eddy’s textbook, but I had never thoughtfully applied it to myself.  Who and what, exactly, did I expect to be after my short span on this earth was over, time was done away with, and eternal life was now mine for the living, world without end?

Christian Science metaphysics told me I’d be an idea, a concept, a bundle of spiritual qualities—gloriously so, to be sure—but it all sounded like a dull comedown from everyday life here on our beautiful planet, my life as a person wonderfully (for the most part, anyway) interwoven with countless other persons, all sparkling with interest and variety, no two the same. Impersonality couldn’t compare.

That in turn brought up heaven and hell. Jesus, the Master Christian as we were taught to call him, had a lot to say about both, the one almost unimaginably joyous and loving and lovely, the other almost unimaginably agonizing and awful.

Why then did CS reduce hell to nothing but an erroneous mental condition and heaven to (as I described above) uninviting, undifferentiated, impersonal perfection? The one scarcely to be feared, the other not particularly to be desired.

If I wanted heaven as a kingdom of splendor, an Eden restored, a New Jerusalem shining—heaven as in every way grander, not blander, than earthly experience—Science and Healthwasn’t the book for me. The Bible was.

Likewise if some of the hellish scenes of St. John’s Revelation were in fact a revelation and not just a bad dream, I’d better get serious about washing in the blood of the Lamb, Eddy to the contrary notwithstanding.

No Way Out

What I think began to happen, looking back on it, was that from my baseline of already taking God and the Bible, the church and the sin problem, quite seriously, some beneficially disruptive events in my life (about which I’ve written elsewhere LINK) caused me to start taking my metaphysically smug self less seriously and those other issues of history and eternity, heaven and hell, moreseriously.

A life-altering spiral, a paradigm shift, a series of falling dominoes, then ensued which led to my suddenly beholding in the mirror one day the man I actually was—words terribly difficult to say but finally impossible not to say—a sinner in need of a Savior.

Jesus Christ rocked my world. Christian Science had “taken away my Lord,” taken from me even the reverence to call him by that ancient royal title, and laid him I knew not where. Now, seemingly overnight (though really it was years in the making), I had discovered him and realized he is the key to everything.

Jesus too was a someone, or a something, that I had noddingly taken notice of but never taken seriously enough, never at all. I knew all abouthim, a head-knowledge I could glibly verbalize by the hour, without ever actually knowinghim for real. (Exactly the tragic disconnect the Lord warns of in Matthew 7:23.)

Now at last, that person-to-person connection swept over me and swept me away. The reason this could finally occur as it did, I believe, is that by my already having taken God, the Bible, the church, and the sin problem quite seriously while remaining, as best I knew, a committed Christian Scientist, those four factors began to close in me from all sides when friends urged me to take Jesus seriously. I saw no way out.

Rather soon, though not without a struggle, I then gave my life to him and began the slow process of disentangling my life from the Mary Baker Eddy teachings.

A Template?

That’s the way it went for one young sold-out Christian Scientist thirty to forty years ago. My question today, thinking the matter through with you here and now, is how much of a template we can draw from this conversion experience of mine for our relationships with CSers who we’re hoping will consider the claims of Christ.

Call them Mike and Beth. Can his seriousness about God and the church, her seriousness about the Bible and self-examination (sin by another name) become starting points for the evangelism we seek to initiate with them?

Might we get somewhere by saying, “Look, Mike, what if the God you so love really did incarnate himself as Jesus in the virgin’s womb?”

Or, “Wait, Beth, aren’t we cutting the heart out of the Bible, both testaments, if we don’t admit the whole thing is about Jesus, Genesis to Revelation?”

Such were the sort of appeals, grounded in what I already took seriously, that more and more powerfully worked upon me until I was at last irrestibly persuaded of the gospel and thus dissuaded (partly at first, and later completely) from Mrs. Eddy’s spell.

And they might work similarly with a Beth or a Mike—provided the CSer had already been put off balance by what I’ve called the beneficially disruptive life events that can make yesterday’s know-it-all metaphysician into today’s semi-humble seeker of true truth.

Exploration, experimentation, and experience alone will tell. I think is certainly worth investigating. The self-enforcing circularity of Eddyism isn’t utterly unbreakable, after all, or you and I would never have managed to break out of it. We serve a waters-parting, mountain-moving God: to him be the glory.

 

The author can be reached at andrewsjk@aol.com

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