"Did you all hear what happened?" my friend said, referencing the news. "It's so heartbreaking. How can one human being do something so evil to another human being?”
"Our sin nature," I blurted out instinctively.
Yes, my response may have been a good Christian theological response, but it wasn’t a helpful one to my friends who don’t share my faith.
It dawned on me in that moment: I had forgotten how to speak in a language most people could comprehend. I had been in a Christian bubble for too long.
Before college, most of my friends were non-Christians by default, growing up in large public schools. In college, I had a great balance of Christian and non-Christian friends (thanks to InterVarsity!). But a few years out of college, I was working with only Christians and barely interacting with non-Christians.
That memorable get-together with some high school friends over Thanksgiving was when I caught myself in a very awkward encounter, instinctually speaking in Christian lingo and using Christian references, forgetting to define and explain what I meant. I was operating unconsciously as if everybody shared my Christian knowledge and views. It was my wake-up call. I knew I didn’t want to live in a Christian huddle. I needed to invest in friendships with non-Christians again, and that would require intentional effort.
Three Kinds of Followers
In my (broad) observation, there are three kinds of followers of Christ to avoid becoming: the bubble follower, the compartmentalized follower, and the lone ranger follower.
The bubble follower tends to only hang out with Christian friends and spends most of their time in Christian activities. They are either afraid of non-Christian influence or exist in a bubble by default because Christian activities have taken up all of their time. Feeling safe is a high value for many bubble followers.
The compartmentalized follower tries to have the best of both worlds. They don’t want to offend their non-Christian friends by bringing up spiritual topics. They enjoy what the church has to offer but are careful not to allow their Christian community into their life outside of church. Privacy and harmony are high values for the compartmentalized follower.
The lone ranger follower tends to believe they can follow Jesus without Christian community. They have little or no involvement with Christians. They may even be critical of the Church. They either don’t cross paths with Christians or don’t have deep relationships with other believers where they are supported in their faith.
I have been all three types of followers at different times in my life, often unintentionally. However, the seasons when I live as a holistic Christian are when I feel truly alive. What does it mean to be a holistic Christian?
A Better Way
First, we strike a good (though imperfect) balance of Christian and non-Christian community. We “do life” with both Christian and non-Christian friends. We’re mindful of how much time we spend in secular settings and in Christian communities and committees.
Second, we seek to be incarnational as Christ was. We live authentically with our non-Christian friends and invest deeply in the relationships God leads us into. Living authentically includes living out what we believe versus hiding part of ourselves. Our belief in the good news of God becomes something we can’t hide. Incarnational living will likely cause us to engage the secular world honestly and wrestle with issues we disagree with and questions we don’t have answers to.
Third, we seek Christian friends who not only encourage us in our faith but who also seek to be holistic (not bubble, compartmental, or lone-ranger Christ followers).
Thankfully, in the years since that moment of awakening, I have come to embrace my need, not just my desire, to have non-Christian friends in my life. My friends, particularly international students, who engage with Scripture for the first time ask insightful questions.They press me to see Scripture from a different angle and thus better understand God’s word. Shadi Hamid, a Muslim American author and thinker, reflects on his friendships with Christians, “In a pluralistic society such as ours..., we learn not in spite of difference but because of it. If we approach them with an open spirit, the contrasts and even disagreements of life and politics—painful as they may be—are the way we come to know ourselves better.”
Fast forward ten years. I was at lunch with one of the friends who witnessed my earlier faux pas.
“It’s traumatic,” my friend referenced the news again, “and I just don’t understand how Christians can think this way.” This time, I empathized and explained to her the variety of views Christians hold. Unlike the dead-end discussion earlier, we had a heart-to-heart conversation that lasted for two hours.
Currently, Eva serves as an Associate Director in the International Student Ministry department, helping all InterVarsity chapters engage with international students. You can support her ministry at donate.intervarsity.org/donate#895.
Perhaps you know God wants us to share his love with others, but you’re feeling like you’re just bad at it, that you’ll make a fool of yourself, that others won’t listen, they’ll walk away laughing, and that you’ll fail God. If that’s you, don’t worry. There’s hope.