How to Talk to People of Different Faiths

BY: DR. TIM MCKNIGHT

One of my favorite passages of Scripture as a young Christian was 1 Peter 3:15 which reads,

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  

I wanted to give a bold and ready defense for my faith. I wanted to set people of other faiths straight and point out their errors. I wanted them to see things the way I saw them and win them over to my side. When I spoke to them, I was thinking of ways I could refute their arguments, usually before they’d finished them. I’d done what I see many Christians today doing in face-to-face discussions and in discussions on social media. I’d forgotten the rest of the verse. You see, the verse actually reads:

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

I’d forgotten that part about gentleness and respect. I’d rightly ascertained what I was supposed to do, “make a defense to anyone.” I’d just ignored how I was supposed to make that defense. This omission of the “gentleness and respect” called for in Scripture affected the tone and flavor of these conversations. I honestly can’t say they were always salted with the grace of the gospel.

Since that time, I’ve tried to apply six action steps to my conversations with people of different faiths:

1.     See people the way God sees them.  

The Bible says that people are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27) They have intrinsic value because of this truth. The Bible also says that He forms each of us in our mother’s womb, and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) When I believe people have value, it changes the way I communicate with them.

2.     See myself the way God sees me.

As a Christ follower, God sees me as a sinner who is saved by His marvelous grace. This salvation is not something that comes from my work or effort. It is solely a gift of His grace. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Like everyone else, I fall short of God’s glory. (Romans 3:23) That’s why I need Jesus. Seeing myself as a sinner in need of God’s grace reminds me that I am just like the person with whom I’m talking. The only difference is that I’ve received a gift they have not yet received.

3.     Treat them the way that God treats me.

The Bible says, “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8 ESV) God shows His patience with me on a daily basis.  He is infinitely perfect, infinitely powerful, and infinitely loving. God’s mercy and patience with me are all products of His steadfast love. I need to be slow to anger and patient with people in my discussions.

4.     Love them the way God loves them.  

The Bible says that God shows His love for us in that while we still were in rebellion against Him and His enemies, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)  He loves us sacrificially. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)  We must be willing to lay our lives down for the folks with whom we are having the discussion. In so doing, we put them before ourselves and their needs before our own.

5.     Listen the way God listens.

The Psalms in particular are full of verses that describe God hearing the cries of His people.  Imagine that!  The sovereign Creator of the universe, who knows everything and needs nothing, listens to our prayers. He calls us to cast all of our cares upon Him because He cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7) If God, who is holy and omniscient, is attentive to our prayers, how much more should we be attentive to the people of other faiths we encounter. We should listen to them to hear what they believe about God, life after death, etc. We should listen to them because we have a Christ-like love for them.

6.     Serve the way God serves.

Jesus told the disciples that He did not come to be served but to serve. (Matthew 20:28)  He served His disciples in the Upper Room by washing their feet on the night He was betrayed.  He calls us to serve as His ambassadors, sharing the message of the gospel to people who potentially might reject it. When we enter into discussions with people of different faiths, we should come humbly as servant-stewards of the gospel.

Although the above list is not exhaustive, it does give some steps we can take when seeking to discuss the hope we have in Christ Jesus with people of other faiths or world views. These steps will help us to do so with “gentleness and respect.” Finally, we do all of this depending on the power and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers our witness to the gospel.

 

About the author:

Dr. Tim McKnight is Director of the Great Commission Center and Assistant Professor of Missions and Youth Ministry at Anderson University. He has over 21 years of ministry experience from all over the southeast. Married to Angela, Dr. McKnight and his wife have four children–Noah, Micah, Karissa, and MaryAnna.