You believe that one of
the seven dwarfs is god.
Church of Sneezy Member: I do not!
Christian: Yes, you do! I know that you do because your Church
Church of Sneezy Member: It does
Christian: It does! We had a guy come to our Church and he said
that is what your Church believes?
Church of Sneezy Member: And I am
telling you I have been a member of the Church of Sneezy for five
years and I have never heard anyone say that.
Christian: And I am saying you are lying and must be an idiot to
belong to that church!
Church of Sneezy Member (As he
turns and walks away): Oh yeah! Well you're just an unloving,
That certainly went well, or did it? As far as I know,
no one has yet formed the "Church of Sneezy", however the
above conversation is not very different from those regularly
occurring between Christians and members of other religious groups. And,
like this conversation, they rarely last very long and seldom prove
worthy of the time devoted to them in the first place.
Before entering into such conversations, Christians
would do well to ask themselves the following questions. First, why
am I having or why do I want to have this conversation? And,
secondly, why should I be having this conversation in light of my own
Asking ourselves the first will help us examine our
motivation for having this dialogue. Are we simply having it to win a
debate - to prove the other person's religion is false or inferior?
If so, we need to find a better reason.
Asking ourselves the follow up question helps us find
that better reason. This question puts the conversation in
perspective as to how our own faith should/would govern or shape our
conversation. In other words, were this conversation to be motivated
by or driven by my Christian faith what would it look like.
Hopefully, the answer to this question will advise us that sharing
the hope of the gospel should be our prime motivator - not winning a
religious debate or proving someone wrong.
Having considered these questions and gained the proper
perspective, is there a way we can have more productive conversations
with those of other religions? And, if so, what steps can we take to
better ensure a more positive result? Through years of having such
conversations, here are five practices I have found useful.
gracious - Recognize they may not know what their religion
a learner - be willing to listen
a sharer - be willing to discuss what you know
patient - don't close the door to future conversations.
to share the gospel.
These points will be further illustrated through
conversations with members of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day
Saints (LDS/Mormons). This group is used to help clarify these points
as Christians seem to be especially susceptible to the idea that
Mormons are simply members of another Christian denomination. This
makes it particularly difficult when engaging them in dialogue.
person may be a member and yet be unclear
as to what
his religion actually teaches.
In the fictional conversation between the Christian and
the Church of Sneezy member, the "Sneezite" repeatedly said
his Church did not teach what the Christian claimed - even asserting
he had never heard it taught in the five years he attended. While the
Christian may be correct about what the Church teaches that does not
mean the member of the other Church knows his Church teaches it nor
that he believes it himself. For all we know, he was on vacation the
day that particular doctrine was covered.
Yes, in some cases, they do know what they are denying
is actually true; they simply aren't willing to admit it. Without
question, there are religions that encourage members to intentionally
not tell the truth about some of their beliefs. Often times such
groups justify this as actually benefiting the person being deceived
by removing an obstacle - in this case, the truth - that might keep
them from joining the Church. The Moonies refer to their practice of
this as "heavenly deception". Mormon missionaries have also
been taught not to "cast their pearls before swine" - to
hold back information about some of the more incredulous teachings of
the Church, such as God once being a man on another planet.
That is correct. The Mormon Church holds that the Mormon
god was once a man on another planet where he proved himself worthy
of becoming a god himself. According to LDS teaching, after being
granted god status, this man, become god, was sent to a place called
the preexistence where he is said to have created this universe.
There, he also began procreating with his goddess wife/wives to
produce spirit-children who would one day be sent to inhabit the
bodies of humans while still in the wombs of their mothers.
Without question, this seems bizarre to Christians. It
would seem bizarre to most Mormons, as well; as these teachings are,
for the most part, understood only by the select few Mormons
(estimated at about 20%) who are allowed to go into Mormon Temples.
If one is talking to Mormons who are not Temple Mormons, they will
probably say the Church does not teach these things and are most
likely being truthful - due to their limited knowledge of the Church.
However, a Temple Mormon might also tell you the same thing. The
difference is he is intentionally trying to keep this truth from you
- not wanting to "cast pearls before swine."
One might rightly ask, "How could someone be part
of a Church and not know these things?" Keep in mind that,
though it may seem counter-intuitive, just because a person belongs
to a religious group does not mean he, or she, knows and can
accurately communicate the beliefs and doctrines of their religion.
Most Protestants and Catholics also know very little about the
doctrinal teachings of their Church so why subject those of other
religions to a higher standard?
If a person says their group doesn't believe a certain
thing, even though you know it is a Church belief, give them the
benefit of the doubt - don't assume they are lying to you. But, what
if they are - how can we tell this isn't simply a smoke screen? The
best way is by allowing the other person to talk. Don't make the
conversation one-sided, listen to what they have to say. This leads
us to our next point of discussion.
Learner - Ask questions that allow the other
share their own faith beliefs.
argumentative or combative about their faith. Instead find out what
they believe. It may not be what their religion teaches.
The best way to do this is to ask questions. Again,
using the Mormons for illustrative purposes, state, "I think it
is fascinating to learn about other religions. As a Mormon would you
mind sharing with me some of the things your church teaches. For
example, what do you believe about who God is?" Or, you might
ask them what they believe about Jesus, or how someone gets to
heaven, etc.? No matter what you ask, allow them tell you all they
want to share. Do not interrupt or break in to "teach" them
what their church really believes.
In other words, if he expresses a view of God that you
know is not compatible with Mormonism, resist the desire to interrupt
and teach him about what Mormonism actually teaches; there will be a
better time for it. Instead, let him continue to tell you about his
beliefs. In so doing, you allow him to teach you about his religion
which accomplishes two things.
First, by allowing them to "teach" you about
their religion - without interruption - you earn the right to be
heard and given the same courtesy when talking. By listening to them
you also have the opportunity to later compare and contrast what you
believe and what they have said they believe with the official
teachings of their Church. Oftentimes the adherent will find that you
and he are more alike in your beliefs than are he and his Church. So,
by taking the time to first be a learner, you become a more effective
Instead of being critical of their religion tell them
about your own faith and contrast it with what they believe or what
their religion teaches. The time may come when the discussion centers
upon or brings up inconsistencies in their religion; however, don't
make this the starting point as it will likely end the conversation.
And, when/if you do get into a discussion of their beliefs, don't be
so aggressive in your approach that you come across as
I once met a Mormon couple whom I learned, by asking
questions, were relatively new to the Mormon Church. As such, I knew
this meant they were unaware of what their new religion really
taught. Rather than debating them and trying to prove they were being
deceived I first took on the role of a learner.
I asked if I was correct that the Mormon Church believes
God was once a man on another planet. (Note, I didn't tell them this
is what the Mormon Church taught, I asked them if I was correct to
believe this about their Church. In so doing, I left room for them to
correct me based on their own understanding or -if knowledgeable
Mormons - to affirm, or lie about what I asked.)
They expressed shock that anyone could believe that and
assured me their Church did not teach such a thing. I told them I was
glad to hear that and asked about a few of the other more bizarre
beliefs of Mormonism and in each case was assured their Church did
not teach the things I presented.
I then asked them if a church did teach such things
could it be considered a Christian Church. They agreed with me that
it could not. Note, at this point I am still simply a learner - an
inquirer trying to determine what the LDS Church teaches. Also make note
that we have determined that we are actually in agreement on several
Later we met again, and this time I became the sharer.
I provided them with documentation that proved the Mormon
Church taught the very things we had discussed. After reviewing the
documentation, they made an informed decision to leave the Mormon
Church having concluded it definitely was not a Christian Church.
It turns out this was a Christian couple who had been
attracted to the Mormon Church based on its strong emphasis on
family. They were baptized into the Church thinking it was just
another Christian denomination not having any idea what its core
doctrines truly were. Had I begun our conversation by attacking their
Church they probably would have shut me out and we would have had a
far different result. This leads us to the next point in our
discussion - as much as it depends on you, try to keep the lines of
Down the Conversation.
Just as we want to begin our conversation in such a way
that it will not quickly shut down, we want to leave the discussion
in such a way that they are willing to revisit the topic. Note that
in the example of the Christian couple who became Mormons, it was the
second meeting in which I contrasted their beliefs with those of the
What I didn't tell about this encounter is two Mormon
missionaries were also present at the first meeting. They too were
denying the strange teachings of Mormonism I was asking about.
However, in their case, they knew what I asked about was true but
dared not affirm it in front of this couple. Rather than press the
case, which I knew the missionaries would try to turn into an
argument (possibly ending any future discussion), I chose to leave it
on a positive note. I told them I would love to get back together and
In other words, I left the door open for more dialogue.
My goal was not to win a debate with the Mormon missionaries or try
and discredit them in front of this couple. My goal was to share the
hope of the gospel - the truth that sets us free. If we simply win
the debate but have not shared the gospel, what has been
Be sure to
share the gospel.
This is the guiding principle as to why you had the
conversation in the first place. If sharing the gospel is not the
prime consideration, why even have the conversation?
Too often it seems that sharing the gospel is not even
part of the objective of our religious conversations. Or, if it is,
it quickly fades as the discussion devolves into a heated discussion
- an argument - about which religion is true. This is not to say it
is never appropriate to discuss the errors, deceptions, false
beliefs, etc. of another religion; however, it should be done in the
context of furthering the opportunity to more effectively communicate
the gospel. If I convince another person their religion is false -
even to the point they leave it - what good is that if I do not share
with them the good news of Jesus' love for them?
After sharing the documentation with the Mormon couple I
learned they were believers by sharing the good news with them. Don't
take for granted someone is a believer - determine from the outset
that you will share the gospel with them.
As part of a church outreach program, my wife and I once
met with a young lady who had visited our church. As we spoke to her
she shared about how her grandfather had been a preacher, an uncle
was a missionary, her father was a leader in a church, and how
several other close relatives were in various ministry positions.
With such a spiritual lineage, I concluded she was surely a
Yet, we had determined we would share the gospel with
all we encountered through this outreach. As I began to share with
her she very quickly expressed her desire to know Jesus. I don't know
who was more surprised, me or my wife. As this young lady asked Jesus
to be her lord and savior it instructed me that we must never shy
away from sharing the gospel.
We have been called to share the gospel, not lead people
to Christ - that is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit. So, do not
be discouraged if the person you are sharing with does not
immediately respond. Consider those in other religions may be
particularly guarded against so quickly embracing a new religion,
having just realized they had been fooled by the one group. We must
remember that despite this, the Holy Spirit may very well be using
our encounter to open their eyes to the truth and hope of the gospel
- so share it.
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides excellent
advice for having a conversation with those with whom we may
24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome,
but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when
wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in
opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the
knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and
escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive
by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (Emphasis added)
Note how Paul's words provide a prescription for sharing
hope with those in other religions. Instead of arguing for the sake
of arguing, show them kindness. Approach areas on which you disagree
with gentleness and patience. Make it your objective to do this so
they might better hear and respond - to be free from the snare that
holds them captive.
Paul reminds us that our sharing is not for the purpose
of winning a debate or proving their religion false. Rather, we share
with the hope God will lead them to knowledge of the truth - that
they will come to their "senses and escape from the snare of the
We would do well to remember, all who know Christ were
also once so ensnared. Though we may not have been part of another
religion, we were all held captive until Christ set us free. What
greater cause might we have than to see another come to this same freedom
in Jesus. Let us keep this in mind as we engage those of other
religions in conversations about our own faith.
How different would the conversation with the Church of
Sneezy member have been if these words Paul wrote had been
considered? Or, perhaps more importantly, how different will your
conversation be the next time you share with someone who worships
[Editor's Note: If you would like to schedule one of our
staff members to come to your church or organization and share more
about how we can have effective dialogues in culture or learn more
about cultural trends and religions, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and
ask for program information.]