Musings on Witnessing

I promised that I would blog through Frank Schaeffer’s Crazy for God (Cambridge: Carroll and Graf, 2007), on-and-off, that is. Add to that “informally.”

Here’s a quote from the prologue that made me want to keep reading:

The habit of fundamentalist faith persists in my gut, even long after I rejected it. I’m meeting my agent Jennifer on the Upper West Side. She thinks I’m sane. I pretend I am. But somewhere in the back of my mind is a vague unease. She isn’t saved. She’s some sort of lapsed something. Should I be doing anything about that? Will God bless my next book deal if I deny him before men, or in this case before my agent? When Jen asks me to tell her about my new book, shouldn’t I ask her if she wouldn’t like to accept Jesus first? (5)

This paragraph is in Frank’s discussion of the question, “What does God want?,” which he’s still trying to figure out.

I can identify with many things in this paragraph: feeling in the past that I had to “witness” to everyone, yet (in my case) not knowing how to do so. Pretending to be sane. Being afraid that God wouldn’t bless me if I didn’t tow a party line. Feeling myself like a “lapsed” sort of something.

I liked this paragraph because it presents Frank as someone on a spiritual journey. He’s not comfortable with evangelicalism, one reason being that he felt inauthentic as a budding evangelical celebrity. Yet, he doesn’t want to chuck his belief in God. And so I decided to continue reading his book, not only to learn more about Francis and Edith Schaeffer, but to get answers from a fellow pilgrim. I myself felt inauthentic telling people the typical evangelical spiel–what I was “supposed” to believe–and yet I have spiritual needs.

In a sense, Frank gave me more questions than answers: about whether God answers prayer, or if the events of the Bible actually happened as they’re narrated. Granted, these were questions I had before I read his book, but maybe I was hoping he had more certainty about his faith rather than being confused like I am. But he does find God in a variety of places: in his daughter’s forgiveness of him for not always being a good father, in relationships, in things that inspire him. He recognizes that he’s a sinner in need of God’s grace and presence, for he says “Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” as a mantra. And that’s becoming the essence of faith for me: not so much debates about inerrancy or being sure about everything, but trusting that God is around me, and is ready to help.

As I’ve said before, I’m uncomfortable with “witnessing” as if I have all the answers or have my life completely together. I don’t. There are people who counsel me who are not evangelical Christians. Am I to act as if I can straighten out their lives, when I need their help and advice to get mine in order? I say “no.” But I can still share with them where I am and what I believe about God. My beliefs don’t make me perfect, but they’re a part of who I am.

I’m reading Frank Schaeffer’s Portofino right now, which is a fictional novel about his childhood (which, according to him, did not completely happen according to the novel). Notwithstanding what I said above about witnessing, I somewhat admire Elsa, who’s supposed to represent Edith Schaeffer. She prays before others, hoping they will recognize God’s existence and provision and desire to have a relationship with him. When Calvin (who represents young Frank) is hesitant to bring a girl he likes to church, Elsa responds that maybe she’ll hear their hymns while standing outside and that will kindle a spark within her to seek God. I admire Elsa’s sense of purpose, her desire to have a positive influence on other people’s lives, and her attempt to remind others that there’s a higher power who’s eager to help.

What I’ve found over the years is that people who hear religious things are not always drawn to them. Most people who read this will probably say, “No duh, where have you been?” But there was a time when I actually thought that other people receive inspiration from the religious insights that move me. They don’t. Some people are turned off by God and religion. Some just don’t care. Some are like “been there, done that.” People can hear the Christian message and remain unimpressed. And I guess this shouldn’t surprise me too much, since that’s what Jesus said in his parable of the sower: different people respond to God’s message in different ways.

I have two stories about this. One time, I was eating lunch with a friend, and he began to get into preaching mode. He was talking about the last judgment and how God is brighter than a thousand suns. I looked around, expecting people to have an expression of conviction of sin and awe at the majesty of God. Instead, they were like “Who’s this nut?,” or “Oh hum!”

On another occasion, I was on an airplane, and a woman sat next to me. Somehow, she got on the topic of religion and got into preaching mode, and people nearby were rolling their eyes or looking at her like she was some sort of nut. But when I was asking her questions about how she became a Christian, or about her stories about healing, people began to appear more relaxed around her and accepting. This has stuck with me because it shows that many are understanding about others’ attempt to find meaning, wisdom, and inner-peace in their lives, even when they’re not big on Christian dogmatism.

I’ll stop here for now.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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