Listen: Tyler Ellis chats to Laura Bennett
By Laura BennettMonday 30 Mar 2020Hope Afternoons
Isolation makes you think. Holed up at home with only family and FaceTime to fill the social void, we’re left with a lot more time to consider life’s essentials, and the things that matter most.
It’s a challenge – but also a great opportunity. As you reach out to friends in new ways, and as we’re all levelled down to the basics, there’s conversations we can venture into that perhaps felt too peripheral before: what do you think of God and Jesus? Do you believe in heaven and hell? How do you get into heaven?
Right now, those are important questions. And they’re ones that US college minister, artist and missionary Tyler Ellis posed in a very unique way late last year through a TedX talk– a platform where it’s rare to hear a talk about faith.
Unknowingly pre-empting the season we’re in, Tyler sat down for one-on-one interviews with people of all different backgrounds and views, asking them about their beliefs, and drawing a one-line portrait of them in the process. The conversations were distilled into a discussion of Jesus and the afterlife, with Tyler revealing a wonderful full-length collage of all the people he’d met with.
“Some of these people would say, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had a real conversation with a Christian before’.”
“I invited them out for coffee,” Tyler said, “asked them 20 questions, drew their picture, and it was just such a great non-confrontational way to make new friends and get into some great conversations.
“…some of these people an hour later would say, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had a real conversation with a Christian before’, and it wasn’t like [the stereotypes they’d imagined].”
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Tyler was unafraid to admit when he needed to dig deeper into his own beliefs, prompting a desire to explore the answers his faith presents.
“I said, ‘I don’t know’ a lot,” Tyler says. “I realised that this was my first attempt at articulating some of my beliefs on these really big questions. We talked about what comes to mind when you think about God, Jesus, and heaven and Hell. [They were] very open ended questions, and about half the people I met with asked to meet up again – and some of them I met with once a week for two years after that.
“In that setting, where you’re not put on the spot… people really open up because they know you want to know their perspective and how they arrived at their conclusion, and you’re just there to be a friend.”
A Common Belief About Heaven
One common belief Tyler started to notice, was that heaven is reserved for the perfect, and the only way to get there is to do good – which he found particularly surprising to hear from those with a Christian worldview.
“Some didn’t believe in God in the first place [so getting into heaven is hypothetical], ,” said Tyler, “but whether they came from an atheistic background [or not], 9 out of ten people answered by saying, ‘Our acceptance into heaven depends on our performance on earth’… that our life here on this earth is our chance to outweigh our evil deeds with our good deeds.
Many Still Don’t Know the True Gospel Message
Tyler encourages believers not to assume that their friends already know the message Jesus brought to the world.
“The forgiveness Jesus offers is kind of assumed to be common knowledge,” Tyler said, “by our parents sometimeves, by our pastors, by our church leaders and our friends. When we assume Jesus is common knowledge, that’s when He becomes uncommon knowledge …people naturally begin put their faith in, and find their ‘rightness’ in… everything but Jesus.”
As Tyler’s video wraps up, he invites people to consider a sometimes-forgotten truth about Christianity:
“Christians are meant to be good people and do good,” Tyler explains, “but there’s a difference behind our list of dos and don’ts: we don’t do [certain things] to be forgiven, we do them because we are forgiven.
“When you do [good things] to outweigh our evil with good and tilt that scale, it’s often driven by fear, and driven by guilt.
“But when we have confidence and peace that we’ve trusted and relied exclusively on the death of Jesus as sufficient payment for our sins, now we’re driven to do things like go to church, and say prayers and read the Bible and volunteer to help people in need with a whole other motivation. It’s not to score points, but it’s because, ‘How can I not? This is truly good news, and I want to love God and express that by loving people’.”