As part of the church plant team at New City Fellowship, Ozzie and I often go to Hollywood Beach to share the Gospel with people as they stroll down the Broadwalk. Using an engaging story, Ozzie unpacks how Jesus’ death on the cross pays the moral debt that people owe God, which gets them talking about their own spiritual beliefs.
I’ve gone with Ozzie several times and heard a lot of different beliefs. What strikes me more than what people believe is how they believe.
People now care less about whether their beliefs correspond to reality, and many do not consider whether their beliefs are coherent (logical). Douglas Groothius unpacks correspondent and coherent views of truth in his book, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism.
The correspondent view of truth says that something is true if it corresponds to reality. If I say, “there is a brown dog outside of my front door,” the correspondent view of truth says this is true if, in fact, there is a brown dog outside my front door.
This view of truth is close to what Christians hold. Christianity is true because Jesus was actually born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will return one day. Those statements aren’t just nice platitudes. They actually correspond to reality.
The coherent view says that truth is truth as long as it is logical. In this view, the statement about the dog would be true because it makes sense and doesn’t contradict itself, not because it corresponds to reality. But if I said, “there is a brown dog outside my front door and that same brown dog is also in my bathroom,” this would no longer be true in the coherent view because it isn’t coherent/logical. The dog can’t be in two places at once.
Often what Ozzie tries to help people understand is that their beliefs contradicted themselves. They aren’t coherent.
But they often don’t seem to care.
In postmodernism people became cynical towards a correspondent view of spiritual truth and moved towards a coherent view. But coherent truth is still based on logic. Today, many people do not base their beliefs on coherence, but on feeling.
Belief based on feeling vs fact
I’ve seen video interviews where college students are asked about controversial topics. When asked what they think, they don’t start with “I think that…” Instead they begin with “I feel that…”
In our culture, how people come to believe something is often based on their gut and feelings. We have been conditioned to think that what we feel is reality.
This presents some challenges for sharing the gospel. How do we break through?
Author Paul Miller believes that introducing people to the person of Jesus is a great way to break through their wall of feelings and resistance to coherence.
In his book Love Walked Among Us: Learning to Love Like Jesus, Miller invites people to explore Jesus’ humanness. Miller believes that many don’t know what Jesus was like as a person. They know that Christ died on the cross, but they don’t know what it was like to be in the room with him.
As people discover Jesus’ compelling personality, particularly how he loved people, they will be drawn to him. This opens the door to discover more about his divinity, death and resurrection.
Miller’s companion study, The Person of Jesus: A Study of Love, is an inductive approach that puts participants in the crowd that followed Jesus. As the facilitator leads people through a story about Christ, they see up close just how radically Jesus loved people.
Understanding the person of Jesus
While reading his book and leading the study multiple times, I’ve learned several things from Miller’s approach.
People can be drawn in when they are presented with the beauty of the person of Jesus, rather than information about Jesus. They need to experience the presence of Jesus to see beyond their own beliefs. An experiential way of learning puts someone into the story with Jesus and cuts through their beliefs.
Jesus’ humanity is authentic and compelling. As people learn about Jesus’ compassion for a widow, his willingness to sit with a prostitute, or his honesty with a Pharisee, they sense that there is something different about Jesus, and they become open to further reflection.
People will re-examine their beliefs if they experience something (or someone) more beautiful and compelling. As they experience Jesus’ radical love while he walked among us, they see that their beliefs aren’t as enthralling as Jesus. They now have an opportunity to believe in someone that grips them more deeply than their current beliefs.
So let’s not be intimidated by how people come to their beliefs. Jesus is quite compelling. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Let’s continue to walk with him, learn from him, and share him with others. He is the way, the truth and the life.