“As a lawyer for God, putting up His case, I was a failure. As a witness for God, telling what He had done for me, I was a success. As in a flash, I saw my calling: I was to be a witness! It was bitter medicine, bitterly and publicly administered, but I took the medicine and found it cured me of illusions. I would not be God’s able lawyer, but I would be a witness to grace.”
E Stanley Jones
I was recently in a coffee shop enjoying the morning and catching up on some reading. At a nearby table were some folks whom I know from the broader Christian community in my town. My acquaintances discussed strategies for convincing a hypothetical non-believer to become a Christian. I was struck by their tone in particular. Their conversation was framed as one in which one might win a great legal battle. They talked about how to get the other person to capitulate in an argument of wit and strategy.
The quote above comes to mind when I think about this incident in the coffee shop. E. Stanley Jones was a missionary to India. He arrived there in 1907 and had a rough start to his ministry there. His attempts to argue for God led to a real crisis of faith and ministry early on. After a careful reconsideration of his approach (and his vocational service), Jones became a significant influence on millions of people, including many world leaders.
He dedicated his life and ministry to conversations of faith with people in one-on-one settings, small groups, and large seminars. He held to six principles of faith-sharing:
- Frankness. Jones made sure that his hearers knew that the reason for their gathering was a faith-sharing opportunity.
- Humility. He never attached another’s religion in his messages. “If there is an attack in [the message], it must be a positive presentation of Christ. He himself must be the attack.”
- Openness. He never shied away from difficult questions, but rather welcomed careful examination and reflection.
- Deference. He made sure the others in his conversations felt valued and appreciated.
- Christ-Centered. He never shied away from the necessity of faith in Jesus.
- Experiential. Jones felt that “Christ must be interpreted in terms of the Christian experience rather than mere argument.”
In our present day and age, it seems like there are many who want to argue. However, maybe God is asking you to be his witness, not his attorney. Jesus told his disciples that they were to be just that: Witnesses. What if your approach to sharing Jesus took on these six principles?
To finish the opening quote from Brother Stanley (as he preferred to be called), he said,
“And I have been a witness – a witness before princes and peasants, before Brahmans and outcastes, before the mighty and the miserable, of what Christ has done for an unworthy recipient. I have found that this is what people want to hear – testimony of what has happened and is happening to you.”
Jones proved to be an effective witness for Christ in the pluralistic society in India of the 20th Century. The pluralistic societies of our day can be reached in much the same way. Everywhere we turn there is someone willing to argue. Yet, this principle remains: people truly want to hear a testimony of what has happened and is happening to you. Giving them that testimony steeped in Brother Stanley’s principles can prove just as effective today.
Where might God be calling you to not be his attorney, but rather his witness?