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Getting to “Yes”
An encounter in a café taught me that sharing my faith is more like a negotiation than an argument.

It started as an informal chat between two friends on a quiet Sunday afternoon. A colleague and I were teaching at a seminary and decided to take a break at a local café.

The waiter was in a jovial mood. My friend and I exchanged pleasantries with him for the full two hours that we sat in his section. He kept ribbing us about settling the $2.50 bill before we tried to slip out!

Finally we paid and, as he handed me the change, he asked, “What do you guys do, anyway?” We explained that we were both Bible professors.

“Hey, that’s neat. I love to debate,” he exclaimed. “Have you ever debated whether Judas Iscariot should have been canonized?” (I must admit that my Protestant mind had never thought much about that one.) “Or how about whether Mary really had the choice about carrying the Baby Jesus to term?” (Not one of my top 10, quite frankly.)

“It seems to me that you are someone who really wants to understand the truth,” I remarked. “Where are you in your spiritual journey?

“Oh, no,” he replied. “You can’t ask that! That just confuses the issues. You get into too many opinions and people get offended. I just like to debate.”

“But what about the historical aspect of these issues?” my colleague asked.

“No, that’s not important. You and I, we come at things differently. It’s not what happened that counts. It’s the story … you can’t forget the story.”

I could see that he was becoming nervous about his other customers. The section was slowly filling up.
I picked up the bill. “Interesting,” I smiled. “You didn’t treat the bill that way. You wanted me to pay exactly $2.50, not whatever I wanted to pay. No fiction here!”

He looked at me, chagrined. “I never thought about it that way before …”

Is Truth Relative?

In our increasingly diverse society, how can God’s people explain his truth to others? The very orientation to truth, history and the meaning of life is in a state of constant flux. People today seem to think that nothing can be known for certain, that history is devoid of direction and that all truth is relative. How do we handle this dilemma when sharing the gospel?

A study called the Harvard Negotiation Project has put forth several principles for effective international peace negotiations and conflict resolution in the corporate world. A book called Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury outlines four of these key principles. The same ideas are easily applied in communicating the truth of our faith. I think they can help people say “yes” to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

1. Make a distinction between the person and the ideas they promote. It would have been easy to mock our waiter that day in the café or to say, “Your ideas are wrong. You can’t believe that.” Sharing the good news means that we must make the distinction between the person God created and what they believe. The tone of voice and the words we choose are a good indication that we are making the distinction.

2. Make it easy for people to change their opinions on subjects. Nobody likes to admit that they are wrong or that what they have believed for years is no longer valid. We may win the “argument” that certain truths are essential to life, but so polarize the person that there will be no further dialogue about the good news. In today’s climate of evangelism we need to slow down and make sure that we understand the person’s point of view.

3. Don’t take a combative posture as you dialogue with people. This principle is the logical extension of the first two ideas. As we articulate God’s truth without compromise, it is not necessary to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong.” Rather, we can create a climate of uncertainty in the other person’s foundation for their ideas. We need to make Christianity attractive as an alternative way to live and to think in a very uncertain world.

4. Tell your own story as an example of someone who’s changed his mind. Your testimony of a changed life is a marvellous tool to help the other person see that Christianity is relevant. And no matter what their beliefs, they cannot argue with your personal story.

Today’s world has abandoned the story that Jesus offers life for all. But God has sent you and me into the world to offer God’s “yes.” By the power of the Spirit of Jesus we have an unprecedented opportunity to live and share this good news.

Glenn Smith is Executive Director of Christian Direction in Montreal. He lives with his wife, Sandra, and their children in Chomedey, Quebec, where they are part of a Christian community development project in the east end of Montreal.

Originally published in the Salvationist, April 27, 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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