I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the Gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out. I remember well in the early days of my Christian faith talking to a close Hindu friend. He was questioning the experience of conversion as being supernatural. He absolutely insisted that conversion was nothing more than a decision to lead a more ethical life and that, in most cases, it was not any different from other ethical religions. I had heard his argument before.
But then he said something I have never forgotten: “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?” His question is a troublesome one. In fact, it is so deeply disturbing a question that I think of all the challenges to belief, this is the most difficult question of all. I have never struggled with my own personal faith as far as intellectual challenges to the Gospel are concerned. But I have often had struggles of the soul in trying to figure out why the Christian faith is not more visible.
After lecturing at a major American university, I was driven to the airport by the organizer of the event. I was quite jolted by what he told me. He said, “My wife brought our neighbor last night. She is a medical doctor and had not been to anything like this before. On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.” He paused and then continued, “Do you know what she said?” Rather reluctantly, I shook my head. “She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive. I wonder what he is like in his private life.’”
Because my Hindu friend had not witnessed spiritual transformation in the life of Christians, whatever answers he received were nullified. In the doctor’s case, the answers were intellectually and existentially satisfying, but she still needed to know, did they really make a difference in the life of the one proclaiming them? The Irish evangelist Gypsy Smith once said, “There are five Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian, and some people will never read the first four.” In other words, the message is seen before it is heard. For both the Hindu questioner and the American doctor, the answers to their questions were not enough; they depended upon the visible transformation of the one offering them.