I Once Was Lost
What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus
Don Everts and Doug Schaupp
InterVarsity Press, 2008, 134 pp., ISBN 978-0-8308-3608-6
Everts is a preacher and writer who hangs around college campuses with students. He has written several other books, including Jesus with Dirty Feet. Schaupp is the regional director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's campus ministries in Southern California. In this book, the authors disclose a series of "thresholds" which postmodern young people surmount and the factors that help them over these hurdles in the process of becoming Christains. The authors show examples of the stages from the lives of real people.
"There are two foundational truths about conversion that all these new believers have taught us over the years…. The first lesson…is that it is, in the end, mysterious." "The second lesson…is that the postmodern path to faith is organic." (18, 20).
We have noticed over and over that there are five distinct seasons of growth. To reach people today, we recognize and sensitively approach people according to where they are in the seed, stalk, head, full grain, or ripe condition (Mark 4:28-29). (21)
People move from distrust to trust, from complacent to curious, from closed to change to open to change, from meandering to seeking, and then cross the threshold of the kingdom. (23-24) We can now ask about a person, "Where on the path are they?" And when we figure out roughly where they are, we can appreciate and empathize with them where they are. (25)
The better we listen, the better we can serve. We ask, "How can I enter into the mystery of this stage of their growth?" (27)
Threshold One: Trusting a Christian
"Trust is sweet. It is better than gold. Trust is always a gift of the heart, and therefore it just may be the most precious thing in life, next to love." (30)
While religion is suspect, church is weird, and Christians are hypocrites, distrust is normal. Genuine relationships are our currency. (31)
When people don't trust us, we tend to defend ourselves, to become indignant, to avoid, to judge, or to argue with the other person. However, we do better to pray, learn (try to understand the other person's perspective), sympathize, ask good questions, and listen. (39-40)
"People can smell a fake from a mile away." "We can never treat people like projects. Give your heart." (41)
Bond. Get with the people. Go where they are and do what they do. Get involved in their lives. Spend time with them. Affirm the real good you find. (41-43)
Avoid the pitfalls of relativism, sin, and temptation. Don't put yourself in situations where you struggle. (44)
Threshold Two: Becoming Curious
"Curiosity tends to blossom over time. You can think of curiosity as having three levels of intensity: awareness, engagement and exchange." (52) "Exchange is an intense form of curiosity that means being so curious that you want to exchange ideas, ask questions and offer your own opinions." (53)
Jesus stirred people toward curiosity by doing the unexpected, such as asking questions, using parables, and living curiously. Jesus is provocative, intriguing.
"A good question is worth a thousand answers. Sometimes when someone asks us a question, an answer is the last thing they need. Instead, they need someone to stoke the fire of curiosity in their soul." (55)
"Practicing Christian community is also pivotal to living curiously." (60)
Be sensitive to their level of interest. Don't dump five gallons of answers on a six-ounce question. (62)
Shelve the other issues and point them to Jesus.
Threshold Three: Opening Up to Change
This is the most difficult threshold, much harder that it seems. "It is actually a heroic, mysterious, deep thing." (68) Change is always difficult so opening to change is a tricky business. Questioning your worldview is revolutionary. (70) Thus we must be patient and "praying our guts out for them." (73) Walk actively alongside them, even while you feel the tension.
Jesus is our model. He challenged people all the time, altering his approach depending on what people needed. "We can, and should, practice the same nonjudgmental truthfulness about our own and other people's brokenness." (75) They may lack courage and simply need a nudge to act. (77) Jesus agitated the complacent and connected the dots for the confused. (78, 80) It is time to be both patient and challenging. (82)
Threshold Four: Seeking After God
This means to lean into the journey and decide to purposefully seek resolution, to become seekers. (86) They ask questions and pray and talk with others in seeking resolution. They sense the time is ripe. The difference between true seekers and those not so far along is the sense of urgency. They are looking for Jesus, not just God. They are counting the costs. And they are spending time with Christians.
This is a subtle, but unique and necessary threshold. It is often helpful to explicitly challenge them to become a seeker, to make a decision to commit to find God. Live your Christian life before them by showing them how to build their lives on Jesus' words, opening your prayer life to them, providing satisfying answers to their questions (personal, real and grounded in real-life experience), and modeling the seeking process by actively seeking after Jesus in your own life.
A five-step framework for apologetics works like this: (91-92)
1. Affirm people who pose questions about faith. Show enthusiasm for their questions.
2. Translate from abstract terms to real life, your life and journey.
3. Be transparent. Let your struggles demonstrate you are still a work in progress.
4. Insert yourself into the question as a case study. Personalize the questions to yourself.
5. Challenge your friend. What about you?
"There's nothing quite like having believers (especially brand new ones) tell the story of their journey to faith." (94)
"A guide isn't a know-it-all; a guide helps interpret their experience." (100)
"Today many of us are seeing the wisdom of inviting non-Christians to engage in kingdom activities, especially ones focused on mercy and justice. We try to create seeker tracks for all of our service projects and weeklong missions. We also intentionally articulate the gospel to them during these service projects, being explicit about why we serve." (101)
Threshold Five: Entering the Kingdom
There comes a point of decision and commitment. Jesus painted a picture using the parable of the man you sold everything he had to buy the pearl. The treasure is worth it all. "Entering the kingdom is just like that: it's a thing of great joy and great cost. The cost is dear, but is nothing compared with what is being gained." (106)
It's hard to maintain the posture of seeking. It demands resolution. "Leave the fruit on the vine too long, and it will spoil." (108) "When we are appropriately urgent, our strategies and actions usually flow intuitively from the situation." (108) In football this is called "the Red Zone." Defenses tighten up. Spiritual warfare often peaks.
It is time to be clear. But don't reduce Jesus to a magic formula. Use a visual illustration or an analogy, like wedding vows or a sports paradigm or the language of revolution. Talk about entering the Kingdom.
Beyond the Thresholds: Living in the Kingdom
The first year is unique. "There's nothing like getting to wake up in this new kingdom, to experience forgiveness, love and truth, for the first time. The first year is a tender, wonderful year. Yet it is also often a very confusing and painful year." (122)
It is like learning one's way around a new country. Dozens of decisions need to be made about their new life. "Growth is not automatic and must not be taken for granted." (123) "They desperately need us to help guide them beyond the thresholds." (123) Walk alongside them.
"We suggest explicitly setting up a six-to-eight-week intense mentorship with them." (126) The first phase is helping them secure their decision. The second is the core, helping them develop key kingdom habits. The final phase is the handoff to a local community, small group, or friend who will provide long-term sustainable care. (127-29)
Conclusion: Servant Evangelism
"People will regress and 'go backward' through the thresholds as often as they progress forward." (132)
Three questions when planning an evangelistic event:
1. Who is our audience?
2. What do they need at this stage in their journey?
3. How can we help them take the next step toward Jesus? (133)
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