Andy Kind is the evangelist at Redeemer King. In this blog series Andy shares his weekly adventures sharing the gospel.
I think my favourite place in Chesterfield so far is Einstein’s – a German bar and eaterie where the slogan might as well be, ‘If you love carbs and salt, you’ll love this!’ And I do, so I do.
I was in there with Carl last Thursday, and there was a large number of uniformed people present – a fallout from a nearby Remembrance ceremony. There was a larger number of people present who loved carbs and salt – of which I was the leader.
I got chatting to a couple of young lads from the Parachute Regiment who had come home on leave to attend the ceremony. I’ve always been incredibly impressed by paratroopers (the only thing I jump out of is the space behind a door when my daughters enter what they think is an empty room, so, y’know…).
We started chatting about what they did, and I referenced my favourite scene in Band of Brothers (the HBO series about the US Airborne around D-Day) where a young officer tells Major Winters that ‘the Panzer Division is about to cut the road south…looks like you guys are gonna be surrounded.’ Winters very calmly responds by saying, ‘We’re paratroopers, Lieutenant – we’re supposed to be surrounded.’ Absolute scenes.
I mentioned my role at Redeemer King, but at that point the staff were kicking everyone out. One of the lads said there was another bar open till the early hours, so I offered to buy them both another round if it meant I could chat to them about God. Off we went to this other bar and stayed there until nearly 3am in friendly conflict.
When you engage with a wide variety of people, you really start to grasp the deep-seated beliefs and assumptions that thread through our society. These two youngish lads weren’t asking questions so much as making statements with an upward inflection at the end. They were simply repeating, both in words and in tone/manner, the dismissiveness passed down to them from higher ranking people in their lives. Jesus said that he only did what he saw his Father doing, and so do we: we model the authority figures in our lives – all of us. We are both the beneficiaries and the victims of the people we follow after. But tradition itself isn’t a gauge of truth – it’s just a gauge of sociology.
A lot of the gripes these lads airdropped into the conversation about Jesus were easily answered, but the problem is that they haven’t ever had people in their lives to answer them – and so the misassumptions they hold have just become more and more entrenched and have reached a point where they seem self-evident. This is why a lot of God conversations can seem like a war of attrition, because people hearing proper answers for the first time struggle to process the fact that they’ve never heard them before. Like those old stories of Japanese soldiers found fighting World War 2 decades after it finished, the truth, although ultimately liberating, can be initially confusing and destabilising.
I want to briefly touch on two of the subjects we covered during their interrogation of me. I also want to say that I don’t believe there are bad questions. There are bad answers and good answers and an absence of answers, but every question is fair game.
Firstly, one of the lads decried all suffering as bad. Now, obviously we would all want to agree with that at first glance – and it certainly resonates with me emotionally. But I pointed out to them that the only reason they were in the Parachute Regiment and I wasn’t was because of the process necessary for qualification. Selection for the elite infantry is arduous and involves a lot of pain. Enduring this pain and allowing it to build resolve and character is what separates those guys from other units, and even more so from civvies like me. I asked them if they thought they were better off as a result of the ‘suffering’ they had gone through to pass selection, and they both said ‘Yes’. So although I hadn’t shown that suffering is proof of the God of the Bible, I at least highlighted that they didn’t actually believe, based on their own life experience, that all suffering of any kind is always bad – and that’s a good start.
The second thing they were angry at was the idea that life is an experiment set by God to see who can pass the test of believing the right set of facts – and the only reason that I claim to have the right set of facts is because I was born into a Christian nation.
Those statements are rife with assumptions and unspoken premises, so let’s unpick them a little. Firstly, I wasn’t born into a ‘Christian nation’. Only a person can be a Christian, but even so I wasn’t born into a country where most people are Christian – I was born into a country where most people are secular, loosely spiritual, largely non-committal. Statistically it was most likely for me to adopt that worldview, not biblical Christianity (and actually, for a lot of my life that was precisely my worldview).
If a worldview or religion is just cultural, then it can’t claim to be true. As I said, tradition isn’t truth and something isn’t true just because someone older than you said it is.
But what’s striking about the growth of the church over the centuries is that Christianity grows most when it is counter-cultural. The first Christians weren’t raised as Christians; they were raised as Jews – Jews who were persecuted and executed for claiming Jesus was God. To give another example, in 1905 less than 1% of South Korea was Christian; in 2005 it was 29%. That growth hasn’t come from cultural appropriation, but in spite of it and because of something else – the power of the Gospel. Christianity is counter-cultural because it isn’t based on having the right set of facts. It’s about having the right relationship with God. God is not a drill sergeant, not a factory owner, not the Demon Headmaster. He’s not setting us an exam to pass from what we know or how well we behave. He’s a loving father inviting us into a relationship where we are fully known and yet fully loved; a relationship where you can know and experience such freedom and joy and peace that, no matter what the society and culture around you is doing, you are securely dug in to Him. Every other religion will say that you can know things about God. Only Christianity will tell you that you can know God personally.
These military guys didn’t show any outward signs of being persuaded by my words, but I’m not trying to win arguments. My war is not against flesh and blood. To be able to offer a different perspective and a conflicting voice to the voices they have heard about who God is/isn’t was a privilege. As a Christian in the UK, I’m always going to be in a society where I’m surrounded by cynicism, criticism and disinterest. But I’m dug in. And to paraphrase Major Winters from Band of Brothers, ‘I’m an evangelist – I’m supposed to be surrounded.’