Entertaining People to Jesus
By Craig von Buseck
CBN.com Contributing Writer
In his third book of the series Everything You Always Wanted To Know About God, Eric Metaxas tackles questions about Jesus, answering them in the real language of the culture. Paired with his humor, Metaxas supplies extra biblical documentation to help answer questions we have all asked and wondered about Jesus.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Eric to talk about his call to use stories, humor and biblical truth to reach a culture that doesn’t think it wants to hear the Christian message. He says that when they hear the greatest story ever told in a fresh new way, using humor and good storytelling, he believes people are willing to open their heart and listen to what we have to say.
von Buseck: You are not hiding your light under a basket, but you are confronting this culture with Christianity, living in New York City, in a way that people can connect with.
Metaxas: I believe it's God's strategy, because Scripture tells us that we're supposed to meet people where they are. Jesus didn't say, "You've got to come up to heaven to talk to me. I will humble myself." God said He will humble Himself to come to be with us. And we're supposed to do that with people who don't know God. We're supposed to say, "You don't have to speak my Christian language. Let me speak your language. Let me translate the gospel into the language you understand."
Well, we think that it's in English, so that's that. No. If you talk to somebody where I live in New York, or to most people around this country, and you start using theological terms or Christian jargon, they genuinely don't know what you're talking about. They'll look at you and nod and say, 'that's nice,' but they don't know what you're saying. We have to actually, genuinely communicate the gospel in a language that is fresh and new to them.
C.S. Lewis did that with the Narnia chronicles. He said, "Let me take this old story that's in many ways boring to people. They've heard it in Sunday School and it doesn't mean anything to them any more. But it's the most amazing story that there is. So how can I retell it in a way that they will actually listen? Because if they actually hear this, they'll be fascinated. They won't be bored any more. In the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Lewis recast it.
I think we have to do that when we're talking to people -- we have to talk to them in ways that are fresh. Any time we fall back on religious jargon, we see people's eyes glaze over. A big thing for me is to use humor. I use a lot of humor. Why? Because humor breaks down barriers. It causes people to let down their guards and to say, 'maybe I'll actually listen to this guy. Because if he can have fun and make fun of himself -- if he can even make fun of what he's talking about -- maybe he knows it on a deeper level. I'll listen to this guy.'
I think that it's very important. I was a VeggieTales writer and it's one of the successes of VeggieTales. I think it's important to know that people, especially in America today -- this might not have been true 100 years ago -- but in America today, they are skittish of people who don't have a sense of humor. They say, 'I don't trust you. You seem like a cult member. You don't sound like somebody I want to listen to.' If somebody can be real, genuine, self-deprecating, using humor, they will probably give you a hearing.
I really feel that this is a huge key to actually speaking the truth of the Scripture and the gospel to this generation. You have to be able to have a light-hearted fun approach. If you come at them wanting to talk about the ugly side of it, talking about the blood of Jesus, if you start there, you might not get through to the third or fourth paragraph. You have to really invite people into a conversation. You have to give them the opportunity where they decide they want to hear more.
With these books, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask)", the metaphor I use is like if somebody said, 'I want to invite you to my home for a meal', that's kind of intimidating, because you don't know what you're going to get into -- maybe sitting at somebody's house for three hours. But if somebody says, 'Sit down for one second, I just want to pick your brain for a minute,' and there are some peanuts or potato chips on the coffee table, and they say, 'Help yourself,' there's no intimidation factor. You might take one, you might not -- you might eat the whole bowl because there's no pressure to sit there for three hours.
We need to be that way. We need to respect people and not put pressure on them, like 'I'm going to try to get you saved.' First of all, theologically, you can't get people saved -- the Holy Spirit saves them. All we can do is be obedient. In these books that is my approach. Let's have fun with this. Let's have a conversation that people actually want to participate in, as opposed to one where I'm going to force you to read this and I'm going to prove the gospel to you.
Even though it's true, people need to buy into the gospel. A friend of mine, Dudley Hall, says, "I can explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you." In other words, you've got to give people the room so that they can understand it. You can't just explain and explain and explain it. At some point they have to listen. So you've got to be inviting and make it fun for them so that they can say, 'You know what, I actually do understand what you're talking about. Tell me more.' So that's the goal of these books.
von Buseck: It's like what missionaries are trying to do -- learn the language, learn the culture and then speak to the people in their cultural understanding.
Metaxas: That is exactly what it is -- to translate the gospel into the language of this people group. And this people group in America is secular; it's people with a great sense of humor and irony; they don't know what they believe; they watch John Stewart; they watch Seinfeld; they speak a certain language. Well, God loves those people and he desires to reach them. So if we can speak that language a little bit, God will use that.
The funny thing is that I wrote the books so that it's something you can give to any non-believer without being embarrassed. I wanted to write something that a non-Christian might actually read -- that they will say, 'I'm not afraid to read this, it looks funny.' I have blurbs from Ann B. Davis, who was Alice on 'The Brady Bunch.' There's a blurb from Dick Cavett. There's a blurb from George Gallup. I got a blurb from Judge Jeanine Pirro, a TV judge. I wanted people that normal Americans would know who this is. You need to speak to people where they are.
I want people to know this is a fun book. It's written for everybody. It's not just for Christians. So you can give it to non-believers.
However, I also have found that for people in the church, this is a book that helps them in sharing their faith. I wrote it specifically so that believers can read it and, in a fun way, they can have a command of some of the basic questions.
von Buseck: You have said, "Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King were Jesus freaks." Unpack that for me.
Metaxas: We live in a culture where everybody in America thinks that to take God really seriously you have to be like a conservative and Republican in the negative way. They don't even know the positive side of that. So they don't understand that people that we think of as civil rights heroes were hard-core Christians.
Jackie Robinson would not even had decided to do what he did if not for the fact that Branch Rickey, who was a Christian, shared with him that "you're going to have to turn the other cheek. I know you're a Christian. You've got to do what Jesus said." People don't know this and I want to get these stories into the culture, because Christianity is for everybody. It's not just for your conservative neighbor.
Every human being needs to know that Jesus came for them.
It's powerful when you understand that all these mainstream figures were Christians -- but you don't hear that story.
von Buseck: Why do you think that this is the case? Was the cultural revolution in the 1960s that revolutionary?
Metaxas: Yep! Yes it was. It goes way back before that, but the '60s is when a radical, secular-humanist point-of-view took over the mainstream media and the culture. If you watched TV or a movie before that time, Christians were not frowned on. You can see some movies where you see charlatans portrayed because they've always existed, and they need to be made fun of. But what about the other side of the story? After the '60s the other side of the story kind of went away -- the positive side of faith. It's the side of faith where you see that God is the answer; God wants to bless people; Christians love their neighbors; Christians do great things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the subject of my next book, sacrificed his life for the cause of Jesus Christ.
von Buseck: And he didn't have to. He was safe in America. He could have stayed. But he went back to Germany and laid down his life.
Metaxas: He did it for Jesus Christ. He went back to fight Hitler and to get involved in the resistance and the conspiracy against Hitler. Why did he do that? Because of his faith in Jesus Christ.
Well, here's my question. Why isn't that story widely known in America? Why don't non-believers know the story of this Christian German who stood up to Hitler and died in a concentration camp? Hardly anyone knows that. Why is that?
It's because the gatekeepers in Hollywood, in academia, in the cultural elites, most of them don't have a biblical worldview. You can't say it's a conspiracy. These folks don't know this stuff. When they hear these stories they say, 'You know what, that's not my cup of tea. I don't get it.' So it doesn’t find its way into the mainstream culture. We've got to change that.
We live in a culture right now where if you turn on the TV or most movies you only get a secular-humanist, liberal worldview. Every once in a blue moon you get a movie like Chronicles of Narnia or The Blind Side.
von Buseck: Or Amazing Grace…
Metaxas: Yes, Amazing Grace -- and I wrote a companion book about William Wilberforce (Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery). But by-and-large you get the same secular-humanist worldview. I feel that we've got to do something about that.
Most Americans are hungry for the truth. Obviously that's why I wrote these books, because I believe that everybody has questions about God. Where can they go to get answers? Frankly people don't know where to go. So I figure we've got to get there in the mainstream and have these conversations.
von Buseck: I couldn't agree with you more.
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von Buseck is Ministries Director for CBN.com. Read other articles and interviews by
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