The death of outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens last week was mourned by both believer and non-believer alike. There was something about this man that people loved – even those whose faith he tried to destroy.
He wrote how “religion ruins everything” – pointing out excesses in various religious practices that were wrong. His attacks, for the most part, were drastically biased and philosophically flawed – yet at times were justified, especially when pointing out extremists blindly following ideologies that produced terror and death.
Yet, he met very competent and strong opposition when it came to the Christian faith. Debates with men like William Lane Craig, John Lennox and Larry Taunton showed that Christianity was not only rational but a more plausible worldview than atheism. Instead of assailing Hitchens, these Christians engaged in dialogue with him, showing compassion towards him (especially after he was diagnosed with cancer) and praying for him persistently.
My friend Larry Taunton of the Fixed Point Foundation, who had debated Hitchens publicly, became a close friend of “Hitch” as well. Through their many debates in public and private, Taunton demonstrated patience and kindness as he consistently shared about belief in God and faith in Christ. At one point they took a car trip together from DC to Birmingham and studied the Gospel of John. Though they were worlds apart in terms of beliefs, they were mysteriously joined together through the Gospel in friendship.
This is a critical point – the Gospel is our bridge to unbelievers. So much of the current thinking surrounding evangelism is that we should build relationship first before ever bringing up the Gospel. In Hitchens and Taunton’s case, it was the Gospel that brought them together.
We all need this kind of a “Hitch” in our evangelistic efforts, i.e. a meaningful dialogue and friendship with an unbeliever. After all, Jesus was called “a friend of sinners”. We must expand our efforts beyond those who already believe and intentionally seek and save the lost. Remember, it is those that seem the hardest to reach that many times are the most open to talk.
If we believe that salvation is real and found only in Christ, we should possess a sense of urgency in these matters. In the end, we will deeply benefit as well as we are challenged to prepare more, pray more, love more, and reach out more.
May this coming year, 2012, be the year we have this kind of personal evangelistic breakthrough.