Effective Witness

I was reading I Peter 3, and I came across this interesting set of verses:

13 Who is [f]there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you [g]are blessed. And do not fear their [h]intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but [i]sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a [j]defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and [k]reverence; 16 [l]and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.

However, I’m not looking at the persecution angle here (although you could certainly see it that way). Often, people cite I Peter 3:15 as if that were the long and the short of apologetics. That interpretation takes almost no note of the surrounding context in these verses: that is, how to act as an effective witness for the Christian faith.

The earlier verses deal with, as we might call it, “unequally yoked” couples – one person is a Christian, the other is not. How does a person deal with this situation? While we now obtain the luxury of many billions of Christians existing on planet earth, that certainly does not fit for those who were already married before their conversion. Thus, the author of I Peter attempts to provide some guidelines:

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and [a]respectful behavior.

He goes on further to tell them to dress differently – i.e., in historical context, less erotically – so that they “stand out”, so to speak. But that isn’t merely limited to their physical appearance, but their words and deeds. In that sense, I think we’re meant to take I Peter 3:15 a little differently than most people would assume. We are not necessarily to convince people of something – that is, faith – but to act in a way that supports that, maybe, we’ve got something going on here!

Buddy_christ

Hopefully NOT related to this image, though.

That could constitute something as simple as “being nice”, but I’m sure that we can dive a little deeper than that. Jesus met lots of people, and had fun with lots of people. In other words, he formed relationships. Relationships can form out of pretty much anything, from common interests to shared hobbies – that’s no more true than of the Internet. These don’t occur just for the purpose of evangelism in Jesus’ case – he interacts with a lot of people, probably more than we know! I think that we could consider the idea of forming relationships as an end in themselves as a fair inference in that regard. If those relationships existing primarily for the purpose of evangelizing, I can’t imagine it feels good to be used for Magic Heaven Points.

Video game communities pose a particular problem in this case, though. I’m sure that we all hear a lot about “toxicity” and whatnot, but these occur not so much out of intentional malice or spite. Sometimes a game’s design (like, say, MOBAs) support such environments due to a number of factors, but just as often it occurs primarily due to the normal formation of human tribes that the Internet allows. In the new “hyper-social” relations of the Internet, those of social media and whatnot, the means and terms of normal human interaction change.

toxicity

Gossieaux and Moran, creators of hyper-social organization theory, identified two kinds of communities on the Internet: defenders-of-belief and seekers-of-truth. Defenders-of-belief share a common belief, seek conformity, and want to convince others of the wisdom of their belief. When faced with contrary evidence, they do not change their beliefs but become more firmly convinced of their beliefs. Not surprisingly, when people tell them to “convert to Christianity” while they’re playing their first-person shooter of choice, expect a lot of negative feedback.

Forming relationships with people in such a community requires getting to know them, surprisingly enough. What do they believe, and why? Why form a community around Game X, and what’s great about it? Actually being genuinely interested in the game helps! Most game communities are like this, on a smaller scale than religious adherence, but no less a tribal association. It takes a good long while to understand the social mores of these groups, and Christians should seek first to understand them before all else. Otherwise, you’ve got no clout or authority to say anything of note. Years of seeing Christians try to “convert” gamers by telling them their games “suck” and are “evil” certainly don’t help, and years of ignorance on the part of evangelicals has been a major issue for Christian outreach.

seekers of truth

Apparently, the next sentence in this article was an unintentional Dragon Age reference.

On the other hand, seekers-of-truth share a common desire to learn something, solve a problem, or make something happen. These communities are incredible problem solvers and excel at innovation. While rarer, these communities like to talk about games more than play them. The people who voraciously devour news about their favorite hobby, think of video games as “art” or a genuine artistic pursuit, and those thinking outside the box about interactive entertainment fit into this category. Think of it like this: any person willing to spend the time to join an Internet forum, complain or critique a game for little to no pay, and then further willing to discuss this with others on the Internet in their free time surely has a different level of commitment. I would put those who lump politics and video games into the same category in this spot, as well as the more objective critiquing of video games outside the mainstream news outlets.

These seekers-of-truth, as with defenders-of-belief, require a different approach as well. Being informed about video games is a good start! It also helps to have the critical faculties to understand video games, form a cogent argument, and actually be willing to receive criticism and feedback in kind. That’s a little bit harder, mainly because finding these sorts of groups (and discerning them from the others) is legitimately difficult. Still, they do exist (think Theology Gaming University!), and they provide an equal opportunity to learn more about video games and form relationships. I would consider these the easier of the two, but being sound in your arguments and solutions is probably the hardest part.

Anyway, that’s my little spiel about “witnessing” – not so much telling people they’re wrong, or making them hate you because you hate the stuff they like, but actually getting to know them and the things they love to do.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.