How Not to Be a Good Ambassador


By Gordon Hawkes

There's an old writer's dictum: "Write what you know." When it comes to representing Christianity—or, as Paul says, being "an ambassador for Christ"—what do I know best?

Well, through many conversations on topics ranging from whether there is a such a thing as truth to whether all religions are basically the same, and based on countless mistakes and missteps, I have learned how not to be a good ambassador for Christ. In what follows, I will explain to you how not to talk with others about your Christian convictions.[1]

Raphael: St. Paul Preaching in Athens (1515)Here is how not to be a good ambassador:

1. Don't listen.

It really is tiresome having to listen to someone else express their false opinions when you have the truth. Avoid the time-wasting habit of listening to others' views. Instead, wait, ready to pounce whenever they let you get a word in edgewise. Ignore what they've said, since remembering would require effort—not to mention showing that you care about them more than the sound of your own voice.

Also, interrupt. This reduces the wait time between your own speeches. Picture yourself as a politician in a televised debate. The more air time you get, the better. Respectful back-and-forth dialogue is for people interested in building healthy relationships and who desire ongoing conversations—it's not for someone as fascinating as you. That nagging voice in the back of your head that tells you, "Oh! But I've got something really good to say!" should always be obeyed in favour of allowing others to finish.

Ultimately, the best way to not have to listen at all is to prevent your interlocutor from ever speaking. Talk over them. You are a steam roller; they are lumpy ground. Flatten them out. Think monologue, not discussion.

James' advice that you should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19)[2] is just that—advice. In this case, it's best not to listen to him either.

2. Don't let the topic drop . . . ever.

Some people might think that a pleasant conversation has a certain intangible flow to it, being carried along from topic to topic by the input of everyone involved, like a sailboat being blown along by a soft breeze. Dispel this thought.

When talking about God, religion, or ethics, you must never let the conversation change direction. Firmly anchor your conversation to one topic and never let it drift. Signs of success include glazed-over eyes, restless shifting about, yawning, and acute discomfort in your audience. Make them think they'll never escape. You want them to wish they'd never brought up the subject and never began talking with you.

Ideally, you will chase them out the door still monologuing in their general direction. Since they'll be unlikely to desire conversation with you again, you must take advantage of every second you have to talk at them.

Letting a conversation die a natural death is for weaker mortals. Display your hardiness of mind through your bulldog grip on the topic of choice.

3. Never admit ignorance

There are certain phrases that should never exit your lips, such as: "I don't know the answer to your question. Could I get back to you on that?" or "That's a really good point. I'll have to think about it for a while."

Get in the habit of raising the volume of your voice in inverse proportion to how much you know. The less you know, the louder you should talk. If you find yourself talking about something you know nothing about, keep talking. Perhaps you'll say something intelligent eventually.

Solomon says, "Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them" (Proverbs 26:12). The correct interpretation is clear: you cannot let others think they are wise. Use bluster to overwhelm them into recognizing how little they actually know compared to you.

4. Always challenge those who oppose your convictions.

Did someone just contradict a belief you hold dearly? Do they sound hostile, belligerent, angry, unreasonable, and unreceptive to correction? Better yet, are they a stranger having a conversation with someone else you don't know?

Pounce on them! Don't let their error go uncorrected. Sure, Jesus said, "Don't throw pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces" (Matthew 7:6). But he probably didn't mean you should let Mr. High-and-Mighty get away with such crimes against logic. Bludgeon the swine with the truth.

In the likely case that you get torn to pieces, at least you can feel self-righteous for having fought the good fight. You'll be a martyr for the noble cause of always being right.

5. Never challenge those who oppose your convictions.

Be passive.

If you stand up for your Christian convictions, no matter how polite, respectful, or gentle you are—even if it is a case where you are being pressed by others to share your view—people might call you nasty names.

Never mind that there are gentle, respectful ways to challenge opposition, such as asking questions. For example, if during conversation someone told you that all religions are pretty much the same, you could ask, "What do you mean by that?" Once they've explained (assuming they have actually thought it through before, which is unlikely), you might ask the follow up question, "How did you come to that conclusion?" Suddenly, you might have a pleasant, respectful conversation on your hands. Asking questions, however, would require showing interest in other people and listening (see #1), and admitting that you don't know everything (see #3).

Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33). Ignore this. He probably didn't realize how much courage that requires in our culture. Instead, recognize that a doormat never has to stand up for itself. Lying flat in the face of opposition is much more comfortable than opening yourself up to being willfully misunderstood or insulted. He also said, "Be shrewd as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). Just focus on the harmless part.

6. Be rude.

This just goes without saying. It's a terrific way to solidify all the negative stereotypes your peers have of Christians as judgmental, arrogant, hateful religious nuts.[3]

7. Be technical.

Avoid language that regular human beings can understand. Jargon and discombobulating balderdash is always preferable to making your point simply and directly.

Footnote your comments whenever possible with the title of the obscure theological or scientific text you got your point from. For example: "As Augustine, the late 4th, early 5th century theologian, wrote in De Trinitate, I think it was the Henry Chadwick edition . . . maybe chapter 2 . . . "

Be sure to keep point #2 in mind when they try to change the subject.

8. Never do any research.

Why bother being informed of the good reasons we have to believe that Christianity is the correct view of reality? Besides, taking the time and effort to be informed makes #1 through #6 much harder to put into practice, especially when you no longer need to be defensive or feel threatened by the challenges you'll inevitably face.

Solomon says, "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly" (Proverbs 26:16). Solomon is saying that, if we want to be wiser than seven men, we should be like the sluggard, which means avoiding anything that requires hard work . . . like studying.

9. Bring up spiritual topics at inopportune times.

Are you at a funeral? Is it 2am on a long-haul Greyhound bus trip? Are you seated on a flight next to someone trying to get some shuteye? All of these are appropriate times to talk loudly (at a volume that maximizes the number of people who can hear you) about reasons for why Christianity is true, and how you can't understand why anyone could possibly disagree.

Also, addressing spiritual topics as they come up naturally in conversation requires too much patience. What if people simply aren't interested in what you want to tell them? What if they're not ready to have the conversation you want to have? Bypass their reticence and shoehorn your hobby-horse into the present conversation. If no conversation existed, monologue. (See #1 and #6.)

10. Remember, it's all about you.

Most of the points covered so far can be summarized in this last one: it's all about you.

When talking with others, it's about you, not them. It's about you sharing your ideas. It's not about being "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," and doing this "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15). It's about you and your ego.

Think of yourself like a doctor who has a powerful medicine that can save the lives of all who receive it. In your imagination, place all the emphasis on the fact that you have the medicine. You have the medicine. You. You!

Disregard that you live in a culture where most people are suspicious and distrustful of doctors like you, and that you've done nothing to alleviate their suspicion and distrust, like showing simple hospitality (Romans 12:13). Never mind that most people would laugh to hear that there is a problem for which they need the medicine you offer, and yet that most people are desperate for the medicine but don't know it. These problems, if you faced them, would force you to think about how best to share the medicine with others. Never mind. Focus on the fact that you have the medicine! You!

Jesus may have laid down his life for you, but that was Jesus. You don't need to lay your life down in any way for those around you—even if that is in as small a way as listening to others, doing some research, and faithfully representing your Christian convictions with gentleness and respect.

[1] Just in case anyone reading this missed that, and to protect myself from potential lawsuits, the following instructions are things you should not do. They are mistakes to be avoided.

[2] Scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

[3] We know Paul wrote, "Love is never rude" (1 Cor. 13:5). But, I mean, c'mon. Love never had to put up with this person who just won't agree with you, or see things your way!