Building a Real Relationship

[Tim] Keller’s legacy of commitment to both truth and love reached believers and unbelievers, churched and unchurched. Not everyone always agreed with everything he said, and yet, their reflection was positive. For example, Reverend Patrick Mahoney wrote, “Sad to hear of the passing of Tim Keller. A [C]hristian leader whom I greatly admired even when I disagreed with him. His founding of the Gospel Coalition was a powerful tool to bring orthodox evangelical churches back to America’s cities.” Keller seemed to understand that his mission was to make disciples, and he did so with a passion and love that was recognized by many, even some who disagreed with him. Unfortunately, Keller’s example isn’t the mainstream, which is perhaps why his death caused such an outpouring of condolences on social media. We felt this loss because we lost someone important not because of who he was, but what he did for whom he loved, his Savior. 

I honestly hesitated to write about Keller in this book because I don’t want to put anyone on a pedestal. I didn’t know Keller personally, nor do I know everything he ever said or wrote or did. What I do know is that based on interviews, books, and podcasts he was a part of, he loved God, he loved people, and he aimed to make disciples. This book is born out of a desire to raise up more Christians who talk the talk and walk the walk.

Talking about my faith hasn’t always been easy, but growing up, I’m sure it was easier for me than it probably was for most. I remember getting in trouble in kindergarten because I told a kid he was going to hell if he didn’t give his life to Jesus (whoa, I know, but I was a new Christian who was very much on fire and didn’t have couth). I also remember reading my Bible with a friend on the school bus and sharing my faith with my friends in high school. Because I grew up in the church, I thought I had my faith covered. I knew God is real. I knew Jesus died for me. I knew that Jesus told His followers to make disciples. Sharing my worldview with others was supposed to be par for the course. I was a missionary kid and pastor’s kid—that had to count for something, right? Wrong. Well, not entirely wrong, just misguided thinking. Growing up in the church certainly helped, and doing evangelism next to my parents was the kind of experience some people only dream of. I’m grateful for that, but I’m here to tell you it wasn’t enough. 

As I grew older, I found myself not sharing my faith with others as often as I once did. Not because I was ashamed or afraid of backlash, but because my faith never came up. I was rarely asked to share my hope. People noticed I read my Bible, sure, but they didn’t often ask me questions, and I was not offering any answers without being asked. Then I entered seminary. I went to school to grow closer with my husband, Jay—I was looking for more substantial things to talk about over dinner and knew he enjoyed apologetics. He became a Christian in part because of apologetics. Jay would talk about apologetics, and typically, I would listen with interest but would walk away not fully understanding. I had rationalized that apologetics was good for him but not necessary for me. And I was okay with that until my first apologetics class with Douglas Groothuis, author of the 1,000- page tome Christian Apologetics

At one point during that first class, Dr. Groothuis asked us to interview an unbeliever. We didn’t have to answer any questions; we just had to listen and learn. I will be forever grateful to my friend— I’ll call her Priscilla—for agreeing to the conversation. It was because of that assignment that I realized I couldn’t answer basic questions about my faith, including the most basic question of all: Why do I believe Christianity is true? It was also because of that conversation that the idea for this book was born. Not right away, but over time, I started to understand the importance of building bridges. 

During my time at seminary, I read some books about how to engage with others, but I could never quite find what I was looking for in those texts. All too often I read the words war, opponent, and battle mixed in with tips about having discussions about faith. All too rarely have I stumbled upon the words gentleness, relationship, and love. If you’re reading this book, that probably means you’re hoping for tips about having real relationships with people. I recently heard the term missional friendship—a friendship you enter with the primary goal of sharing your faith. The person becomes your mission. I’m not saying these kinds of relationships are bad, but that’s not solely what I talk about in this book. Instead, I’m encouraging you to seek real, authentic relationships with people. The kind that can greatly benefit your life and theirs. Maybe one day you’ll get asked about your faith. But maybe you won’t. If you do, then this book is going to give you what you need to be ready for that day. The point is, without a real relationship, one with genuine trust and love, you’re probably never going to earn a place at the table. 

Let me give you an example. Think about Thanksgiving and Christmas. Typically, those holidays are filled with family visits, and so often I hear people say, “Religion and politics always come up at these gatherings.” Yep, and you know why? Because of the already existing relationships in those settings. Usually, family gatherings include people you grew up with. The people you’ve done life with. You’ve experienced life (and sometimes death) with them. And that’s why such gatherings are a more comfortable spot for somewhat challenging topics like religion and politics. How does this transfer outside of familial relationships? Time, trust, and tact. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen with ulterior motives in place. I’m talking about friendships that are enduring. 

I recognize that there is a spectrum. Some friends are the kind you’ll want to retire with, go on family trips with, and celebrate every occasion with. Others are the kind you’ll see for dinner every couple of months, but you pick up right where you left off. Still others you talk with once or twice a year, but there’s a bond that exists despite time and distance. In other words, I’m not talking about people you just met at the playground or your kid’s little league game. Sometimes opportunities will arise in those circumstances, but more often than not, that’s just a chance to meet someone and set up a playdate. 

Ultimately, this is a book about relationships. Yes, you’ll learn some about apologetics. Yes, you’ll learn some about evangelism. But more than anything, you’ll learn about love. Because as Christians, we’re called to love God and love people. Once we do those things well, it gets much easier to talk about our faith, share truth, and make disciples. After all, we should want to shout from the rooftops about the hope we have. This book will help you do that with confidence, grace, and love.

Excerpted from: Bridge Building Apologetics. Copyright © Lindsey Medenwaldt. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon 97408. http://www.harvesthousepublishers.com/ 

Lindsey Medenwaldt
Lindsey Medenwaldt

Lindsey Medenwaldt is the director of ministry operations at Mama Bear Apologetics and an adjunct professor at Northwestern College in Iowa. She engages extensively on the topics of apologetics and worldview as a writer, editor, teacher and speaker.