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Bringing one Christ to a world of many paths

Paul Louis Metzger.
Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths.
Nashville, Tenn.: Thomas Nelson, 2012. 352 pages, $16.99.
Jesus said the fields are white for the harvest, yet many of us bow out of the reaping. We claim that we don’t know how or that we’re worried about offending others.
Evangelism is a challenge to most Christians. A 2009 Barna Group survey found that only 1 percent of “born-again Christians” surveyed believe evangelism is one of their spiritual gifts.
A new book, Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths, written by theology professor Paul Louis Metzger, empowers Christians to reach out to groups we often consider “untouchable.”
Although an academic author would seem more likely to approach apologetics with facts and research, Metzger does the opposite, focusing on relationships and respect as the best methods for apologetics. “We need to engage not simply people’s minds but their whole lives,” he writes.
Whereas many apologetics professors often clarify on the first day of class that this field of study is not about apologizing, Metzger contends that Christians should do just that. Many people do not want anything to do with Christians or churches because they have been hurt by them in the past. Even though we as individuals may not be culpable for these past transgressions, we should, like Jesus, take on the sins of others, so that our listeners might truly understand grace and sacrifice.
Although Metzger’s humble attitude here is commendable, the fact is that there is no biblical example of a disciple apologizing before sharing the Gospel.
The rest of Metzger’s apologetic plan, however, is eminently practical and biblical. He writes that we must make Christ the stumbling block, not ourselves, and we must function as his body, not simply tolerating other religions and individuals, but touching them, serving them and suffering with them.
After giving this overview, Metzger moves into the meat of his book — 13 chapters on different belief systems that are missing Christ.
Much more than a dry overview of what each religion believes, these chapters provide vital entry points for how Christians can approach these people on common ground, with respect for different admirable parts of their religion.
Just as the apostle Paul in Athens first commended the pagan philosophers for being “very religious” before preaching the Gospel, Christians too should approach other belief systems with respect for what they do right, rather than derision for what they do wrong.
Muslims, for example, are “people of the book,” just like Christians, and like us, they are disgusted with the unraveling morality of the United States. We should use these likenesses as bridges into meaningful discussions, much like the apostle Paul did.
As Metzger says, in his typically florid language, “the kingdom of God advances by bearing our crosses, not America’s sword.”
Also helpful in understanding each of the belief systems are some responses at the end of the book by leaders within each movement. The Muslim response is particularly enlightening, as its author, Richard Reno, writes that Muslims cannot accept Jesus as a savior because he was defeated on the cross. The Christian takeaway: understanding of the Resurrection is crucial for Muslims (and for all).
Other religions covered are Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Unitarian Universalism, Mormonism, Nietzschean atheism and neo-paganism. Metzger also approaches what he calls “hot topics,” with chapters devoted to religious pluralism (the belief that there are many ways to get to heaven), the belief that there is no hell, new atheism, homosexuality and the belief that Christians are fascists.
In each of these, Metzger shows why adherents believe what they do and what bridges Christians can use to connect Christ to them.
Metzger’s endnotes are copious and diverse, citing Nietzsche’s “The Antichrist” to understand some atheists, Oscar Wilde to understand homosexuality, a Japanese haiku poet to understand Buddhism. He uses literature well to illustrate points, quoting Steinbeck and Shakespeare.
Philosophically provocative films also provide the backdrop for some discussions. Indeed, Metzger’s willingness to engage with culture in his research illustrates his philosophy of “bearing witness to Christ in contemporary culture.” However, the Bible is still the dominant source here.
Although at times Metzger’s passion drives him to overblown metaphors and language, his overall approach is worthwhile. With creativity and sensitivity, he reaches out to the untouchables, much like Jesus did with the lepers.
This is recommended reading for anyone who desires to bridge the gaps between “us” and “them” that often seem impassable.

Filed under: Reviews

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