I had grown up learning the Bible from my parents, learning the Bible at summer camp, and learning the Bible from community youth leaders. I went a Christian university and minored in Theology and then spent uncountable hours listening to debates and lectures on Christian theology. I had all the apologetic arguments and refutations memorized and rehearsed. I was ready.
And then I found myself in a pub with a bunch of non-Christians and I tried to talk about my faith but I could barely stumble through a complete sentence.
In my defense it was late at night, I was tired, it was loud, and I was surrounded by strangers which activated my introversion. I’m not stupid and I’m not ashamed of the gospel (and I certainly wasn’t inebriated) but all my book-learning didn’t serve me anything when the time came to have a real world conversation about faith. All it took was a late hour and a noisy room to reduce the armchair theologian and trained orator to a stuttering mess.
Is book-learning useless? Absolutely not. Not only is it fun but being discerning and shrewd is personally very useful. It is also useful in service to others. The more you know, the more you’re capable of sharing. But just because you have something to share doesn’t mean you know how to share it.
I made friends with a Muslim for the first time over the summer and one of the things I’ve realized is that our conversations aren’t as simple as opening statements and rebuttals. We have to learn what the other person values, what vocabulary they use, what issues they prioritize, and what categories they use. We have to learn what questions to ask. I’ve come to think of it this way – each conversation, each relationship, is a new game with a new set of rules on a new playing field. You have to learn what rules that conversation is going to play by. Then real conversations can start happening.
Not only do you have to get to know the person, you have to learn how to get to know them. And when you’re not playing the home field, the learning curve might be steeper.
There are layers and layers to your witness beyond familiarizing yourself with the facts and figures. The facts and figures are important, but they are also “hevel” in the words of Ecclesiastes. Wisdom is hevel. Book-learning is hevel. That doesn’t mean they’re unimportant but it does mean that if you don’t know how to have a conversation in a pub, the book-learning will yield you nothing. If you do know how to have a conversation in a pub but don’t have the book learning, your witness may be limited in effect. You need both.
Guinness and Genesis. Hops and Gospel. Devout with Stout.
I will have other opportunities to witness to those individuals who I was in the bar with. But before I share my faith with them, God shared an important lesson with me. Having theology doesn’t automatically make you a good evangelist. You’re not a good evangelist without it but you might also need to be able to survive a pub.
Though I’m really more of a coffee shop kind of person.