The researchers at Barna asked a representative sample of 1,001 U.S. non-Christian adults what they want when having conversations about faith. While the results are interesting, they also reveal that non-Christians do not understand the nature of Christianity. Which, I guess, is to be expected.
One of the more eye-opening responses is that non-Christians would prefer to have faith conversations with non-Christians. According to the survey, 62% of them would be willing to talk about religion with someone who isn’t judgmental. However, only 34% believe that Christians are non-judgmental.
Think about what the reaction would be if a survey revealed this: 62% of Christians are willing to talk about atheism with someone who isn’t judgmental. However, only 34% believe that atheists are non-judgmental.
Setting aside for now that the survey doesn’t really ask respondents to define “judgmental,” the absurdity of it is made apparent when viewed through my hypothetical lens. If Christians are discussing atheism with other Christians, most atheists would retort that they doubt that a substantive conversation took place.
To further make my point, if someone is interested in learning about Islam, it seems that talking to a Muslim is requisite. Likewise, if someone is interested in learning about spelunking, it seems that talking to a spelunker is requisite. And so on and so forth, bringing me to the non-sensical “judgmental” tag.
To be fair to Barna, they do report that 43% of respondents want to have faith conversations with those who allow others to draw their own conclusions and 50% with someone who doesn’t force conclusions. In a way, the survey allows for a loose definition of “judgmental” within the questions. That doesn’t make it less problematic though; that simply means that Barna made at least a half-hearted attempt to uncover something of substance.
Most likely “judgmental” means things like claiming that the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ is essential to Christianity and that there is only one way to God and that’s through faith in Jesus. Or, claiming that the Bible makes truth claims about sexuality. In other words, non-Christians want to discuss Christianity on their terms and not the Bible’s.
To be clear, I believe with every ounce of my being that traits like empathetic listening, charity, and humility should characterize Christians when talking about our faith. Two things can be true at once, though, and those traits do not require Christians to shed the tenets of their faith that non-Christians find judgmental. Doing so means that non-Christians are most likely hearing a watered-down version of Christianity instead of the full gospel of Jesus Christ that calls sinners to repent and believe.
If non-Christians are genuinely interested in discussing Christianity, that will require a willingness to listen to beliefs and statements that they disagree with. In other words, it requires them to listen to Christianity as defined by the Bible and not by their own personal opinions.