The ancient Greek and Hebrew worldviews were very different from each other. Greeks were caught up in the world of ideas and issues. It was the world of philosophy; of the mind. The Hebrews were concerned with the heart; with relationship. The Greeks tended to ask the question, what does this person think? The Hebrews tended to ask what this person’s actions tell us about who they are.
These two different world views also tend to tacitly cause two different behavior patterns when someone interacts with others concerning their relationship with God. If we are coming from the Greek perspective, we tend to download “correct” ideas. The unstated assumption of this style of communication is “I’m right, you’re wrong, so pay close attention to what I am saying. Take good notes.” We may not intend to give that unspoken message, but others often perceive it loud and clear. Often our Greek evangelism practices leave others feeling pounced upon.
If we are coming from the Hebrew perspective, another option is available. We can dialog with another person and find out what God is already up to in their life. From a Hebrew perspective, the living God is always at work. He engages with individuals, whether they realize it or not. Done well, this can be an encouraging, loving, ongoing conversation among friends.
This was how Paul communicated with the Athenians in Acts 17:22-23:
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
Paul’s assumption here was that God was already at work. It wasn’t that the Athenians had no relationship at all with God; it was that they worshiped him “as something unknown.” All he had to do was observe carefully so he could help them find him. The connection already existed; it just needed to be deepened and filled with more experience, knowledge and understanding.
So, how could this work with an individual? I think a helpful model would be the how Jesuit spiritual directors often view their role: to help another person notice what God is already doing so they can cooperate with him. At this point, questions and listening become extremely valuable forms of engagement. What would you like to say to God? Why do you feel this way? Have you ever felt like God was communicating with you? Do you think what you are experiencing could be from God? What do you think God would like to say to you? How do you feel about that? Then listen. Listen intently, lovingly, graciously, and ask some more questions. Done well, we will earn the right to expand their experience, knowledge and understanding of the living God and all he has done for them. And, we might learn something ourselves. In Paul’s words, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Keep in mind that Paul was asked to speak to this group. He did not force his way. He was asked to share his point of view by a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who inquired, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?”
I don’t want to imply that what I’m calling Hebrew evangelism is the right and only way. There is a time and a place for everything. And, in reality, Paul’s interaction was a combination of both ways. But the Holy Spirit can show us what is best in any given situation. What I am suggesting is that Hebrew evangelism has less of a tendency to cause people to feel pounced upon. It can leave them feeling loved and dignified. It can help many of us get over our own fear of evangelism, because we don’t want to pounce on our friends. Most of all, it can lead our friends to a Savior who loves them very much. Isn’t this what Jesus often did?
- Have you ever felt “pounced upon” in a religious conversation? Did you like it? What would Jesus’ “Golden Rule” say about this?
- Have you ever had what I’m calling a Hebrew evangelism experience? Can you share your story?
- Hebrew evangelism takes time, sometimes lots of time. How does that make you feel?