Charlene Winkel must have struck a chord with ‘Christian Today’ readers given the popularity of her article "Being the Christian among the non-Christians
She writes: “Having been a faith-based and committed Christian for over a decade you could easily think I had become accustomed to the strange looks when I tell people more about myself; for example, that on Sunday mornings I go to church instead of recovering from a boozy session with friends, that my life manual is the Bible, and that I have a personal relationship with God. However, with so many prejudices attached to Christianity, it can sometimes be hard to speak candidly about my faith.”
Such comments are symptomatic of a worrying lack of confidence often found among many believers today. Mark Greene referred to this in the Evangelical Alliance’s recent report ‘21st Century Evangelicals’.
He wrote: “Good news. Bad news. Evangelical Christians believe they should be talking about their faith and many are. But lots aren’t. Many have said that confidence is the key. And that certainly means more than going through a training programme.”
So how can we help beleaguered believers recover, or possibly discover, the kind of confidence we find so clearly evident in the New Testament and so wonderfully demonstrated by Peter on the Day of Pentecost?
“Brothers,” he said “I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried and his tomb is with us to this day. Seeing what was ahead he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. God has raised this Jesus to life and we are all witnesses of this fact.”
It’s worth noting that the Greek word ‘parrhesia’ can be translated as ‘boldness’ or even ‘plain speaking’ and it might help if we remember we are not dealing with a modern phenomenon. We see that reflected in the Book of Hebrews where the writer says, “So do not throw away your confidence. It will be richly rewarded”. (Hebrews 10:35)
We would do well to begin by recognising that Peter’s remarkable confidence cannot be understood without reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. He had known the tomb was empty for weeks but it was the combination of both factors by which “mission began with an explosion of joy”, as Leslie Newbigin put it.
We need a fresh empowering of the Holy Spirit if we are going to live and witness in what has aptly been described as the most difficult mission field in the world today. It’s good to know then, that the author of Hebrews also tells us that we can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence because He has promised to give us what we require in our time of need.
But we must do more than pray. We must make a determined effort to take advantage of the wealth of material currently available for those who want to engage in apologetic discourse. UCCF has a very helpful website appropriately named ‘bethinking.org’ for example. For those who prefer books there are a host of titles such as “Who made God” written by Edgar Andrews, Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London. The works of Alistair Mcgrath are exceptionally helpful too, as are the publications of Francis Collins, famed for his work on the Human Genome Project and founder of the BioLogos Foundation.
The apostle Paul would encourage us to believe that we do have the (divine) power to demolish strongholds. If we are prepared to give God the time He will give us the confidence and the ability to take on others in private, or even public debate in the knowledge that His Spirit can convince the most unlikely people.
Above all though, I would suggest that we engage in mission. For when we do we can experience God in ways that assure us that He is able to do the most incredible things even through ordinary people like us.
I would not feel as confident of my faith, nor challenge people to take God at His word as much as I do now, if I had not agreed to work with some friends who sensed God was calling them to take aid to war-torn Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. My faith was radically transformed by spending time with a pastor who chose to stay at his post even though his church was situated in no-man’s land. And as we prayed and then did what God was telling us to do we saw miracle after miracle. In fact we experienced what Henry Blackaby was referring to when he talked about God-sized challenges, things that could never be explained without reference to ‘Someone’ or ‘Something’ other than us. (Experiencing God: Henry T Blackaby and Claude V King).
Jeremiah Neitz had only been a Christian a short time when a crazed gunman invaded the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church, Fort Worth. Having watched him fatally wound several of his friends Neitz stood up and told Larry Gene Ashbrook, “Sir you can shoot me if you want. But I know where I am going. I’m going to heaven. What about you?” Faced with such disarming confidence Ashbrook took his own life.
Mark Green has done us a service in pointing out that we need to be more confident. Charlene Winkel rightly talks of the difficulties that face us in contemporary Western culture. But, whatever the challenges, we take heart from that great crowd of witnesses whose faithfulness is a salutary reminder that God uses the most unlikely people, in the most unbelievable ways, because Jesus is alive and lives in us.
Rob James is Executive Chair of the Evangelical Alliance Wales and Pastor of Westgate Evangelical Chapel