How Can We Not Go Tell?


I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to a Theology professor from a very prestigious private university on a long flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta. He is very well known in his circle and was even named Professor Emeritus of his department. He was recently retired, living in the Netherlands, and flying back to the U.S. to hear one of his last students defend his dissertation.
Here is how I learned his story. I noticed him reading the dissertation on the Trinitarian controversy of the fourth century. Being sort of a church history buff, I immediately wanted to ask him about two hundred questions. When the stewardess brought our next meal, he cleared the dissertation from his seat tray and prepared to eat. That is when I said, “I could not help but notice you were reading about Athanasius and the Trinitarian controversy.” He absolutely lit up. I could tell he does not get to talk about church history very often with people outside his circle.
We hit it off. He told me all about his career. He asked about my work and my church. He told me several stories about students that he had from the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts, and how fond he was of southerners. This conversation went on for about an hour and a half.
The discussion began to turn, though, when he asked about the work I had been doing in Uganda with my friends from Jackson County. When I told him how the followers of Islam in Uganda were very open and receptive of the gospel, he asked me if I had considered how “disruptive” our work could be to the Muslim community. I explained that I would not call it “disruptive” that people were being introduced to the hope that is found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What became evident in the ensuing discussion was that he and I held different views on the Great Commission and a fundamentally different theology. His understanding of the Great Commission was that Jesus called His first followers to take the gospel to the nations, and they were obedient. Now that the message of Christ was out there, people could choose for themselves whether to believe or not believe the gospel. For him, there was no need to go to peoples who were already grounded in another faith, as doing so would only disrupt their community and the culture. He believed that we all generally worship the same God anyway. As long as the God of one’s choosing led them to be nice people, they would have eternal life.
At the height of our disagreement, he said, “people like you treat non-Christians like a second class of human being.” The statement was served with a harshly pointed tone. I was not angry. Internally, I was thanking God for the opportunity he was giving me to answer honest questions from my new friend. I have talked about liberal theologians before, but I had never had an honest conversation with one. I was sure that he had done his share of bashing people like me to his students, but now he was getting to talk with me.
I explained that for a truth to be true it must be true for all, and it must be timeless. I explained that people like me, believe the Bible to be the word of God, and we believe it to be truth. In the first century, it was truth both for those who believed and those who did not believe, and it remains today truth for all. All have the option to believe or not believe, but those who do believe are given hope for eternal life.
I explained that we did not treat nonbelievers as second-class human beings. On the contrary, we think everyone from every background should be introduced to the hope that is in us. The Bible says that “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the gentile” (Romans 1:16). To keep this message of salvation to ourselves is to practice the worst kind of hate. If we say we love everyone and if we really believe what we say we believe, how can we not plead with everyone to trust in Jesus and be saved from a devil’s hell?
To be continued…