Y'all know I don't do a lot of posting on religion, but I've been sorting some thoughts on theology after reading some posts by my friend Allison over the past few weeks and I thought I'd take a minute to sort through it here, if you don't mind. I'm not, by any means, claiming to be a theologian, just trying to work out a train of thought. Which for me is harder than you'd think! Ignore the rambling nature of whatever I say next, it's just the way my brain works.
There are different ways to share your faith; and you have to figure out which one will be most effective with the person you're dealing with.
When talking with people who are somewhat open minded, curious about the Bible but have questions and doubts because they've never really understood or become familiar with Christianity, I think exploring and debating Biblical passages can be very effective. Those are the easy ones.
Too often people are not open and curious but belligerent and defiant about religion. They think they know what the Bible's all about and often reject in on intellectual grounds because they don't understand the context. It's easy to see all Christians as hypocrites from their eyes. The problem with trying to debate these people with verses and quotes from the Bible is that if you look hard enough you can find a Bible verse to support both sides of many arguments. Slavery was defended through the Bible! The Bible in itself is a rather contradictory work and when you add in different translations, different accepted versions among different canons, and stir in a good dose of Old Testament... You can argue all kinds of bizarre things just from Leviticus and Numbers alone.
Perhaps I'm wrong about this, but the way it was explained to me (in a class by someone who I do consider a theologian) was that the Old Testament represented a covenant God made with his people to keep them safe. The New Testament represents a new covenant God made with his expanded people, through his Son. The old covenant was replaced by the new.
Back to my thoughts on the subject (so as not to slander Bob). You have to consider the historical significance of the situation. A people with no laws, with no government, no means for health care, and no permanent home. Many of the laws thrown out in the early Old Testament appear crazy to us because they weren't really meant for us. They made perfect sense to the people who received them. Many of the food laws were a matter of food safety. Pigs weren't fed on grain back then, if you know what I mean. You know the saying about how God comes to us where we are? He came to the Jews where they were. When the situation changed during the 400 years between the two major parts of the Bible he returned in the form of his Son. The people had changed, the world had changed, their needs had changed. He came to them where they were, which was somewhere completely different from where the Jews were during the Exodus. They no longer needed instruction on planting crops and governing themselves. They needed instructions on how to treat one another with love and respect.
I'm not suggesting we disregard the Old Testament. I'm not about to slap down the Big Ten or the contributions of David. There are lessons to to be learned and applied there. Clearly the very idea of laws and governing (and food safety!) are rooted in the Old Testament. I'm suggesting that directly applying random verses out of context in an attempt to win over somebody who wants a fight can easily lead to failure. There's a bigger picture there.
By those same ideas, it's been a lot longer than 400 years since the New Testament was written. The world has changed again. People who are prisoners to that World can poke all kinds of holes in the verses of the New Testament and the ways in which Christianity has ignored its own teachings. I don't for one minute believe that God intended for us to create so many factions of Christianity, to have so many conflicting translations and interpretations of the Bible, or to have groups arguing over the smallest details of the law (dunk or sprinkle, anyone?). That was the job of the Pharisees, as I recall. it's no wonder some people reject religion. It would be easier to witness to them if God had offered us another new covenant, but he hasn't. I have to wonder if the next one won't come with Judgment. Perhaps while our world has changed, the basic guidelines set down in the New Testament haven't. The key there being to love one another, live honestly and resist sin. I'm not sure we've gotten that down yet.
For those who choose to actively fight against the love of God (as opposed to just not knowing how to accept it) preaching to them isn't going to change them. Showing them that Christianity isn't a religion of hypocrites, actively being the body of Christ by showing unconditional love, making a point through positive actions instead of negative words, is perhaps a better approach. It's important for them to understand the Word, but if they don't trust Christians as a whole, they won't be listening. The key is help them understand that all Christians are imperfect, but we can all strive to be better.