Five Questions with Simon Smart

 
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1. If you could address one public misconception of Christianity, what would it be?

That Christianity is an oppressive, life-sapping thing; that if you want a “full” life you should look for that anywhere but in the church. The Christian life is one that ought to be characterised by joy—I don’t mean being relentlessly cheerful—but carrying with you something of the hope that Christianity offers. When believers understand themselves to be situated within God’s big unfolding story, they can meet both good times and bad with a sense that God is present and that there are reasons not to give in to despair. Rather than a list of “thou shalt nots,” Christianity is in fact a framework for living in the world that offers the greatest possibility for human flourishing. 

2. Does commenting on how society has deviated from the teachings of the Bible make Christians relevant to the world?

Knowledge of the Bible today is alarmingly low. As Christians look to engage the culture, there is little value in speaking as if addressing a “backsliding” Christian. The context is much more like Acts 17, when the apostle Paul is at the Areopagus. 

His audience has little or no frame of reference for what he brings to them. And so he communicates in a way that is alert to their circumstances and their knowledge. He knows that they are worshipping fake gods but doesn’t begin by pointing that out. Rather, he quotes from their poets and their philosophers. He finds a way into a conversation. He starts with big worldview questions and moves to something sharper as he introduces them to Jesus. You notice this is very different to the way he would approach a Jewish audience in a synagogue. We can learn a lot from this. It takes great care to understand where people are at and to communicate with them accordingly. 

3 Where does The Great Commission [Matthew 28:19, 20] fit in a world that’s all about respecting other beliefs?

Christianity runs profoundly against the grain of a culture that is all about radical individualism and a definition of freedom as unlimited choice. But everyone is sharing what’s important to them, whether it’s their new Paleo diet or Pilates technique. It’s natural to want to pass on what you consider “good news” to others. It’s all about how you do that. It’s vital that Christians respect other people (as distinct from their beliefs). I think 1 Peter 3:15 is helpful here: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (my emphasis). 

4. Should the Christian’s priority be to evamngelise?

The priorities for a Christian are to love God and love your neighbour. Ideally that will mean serving people, regarding their interests ahead of your own, caring for their needs and seeking to help them flourish. If you really love someone, you will also believe that the best thing for them would be to know Jesus as the Person in charge of their lives. So at some level that will mean participating in what God is doing in the world in making Himself known to His people. 

5. Is there a difference btween educating people about Christianity and converting them?

When it comes to trying to convince others about the truth, beauty and goodness of Christianity, Christians should always be about persuasion, and a posture of invitation to consider the claims about Jesus Christ and what life looks like when it is “lit up” by a sense of the God of love at the centre of all things. It is possible to educate people in the Christian worldview and its central claims, to ask people to consider it, without any manipulation or mistreatment of those you are trying to persuade. But that takes skill, respect and great care.