My innocent Googling of ‘CICCU Main Event’ this week yielded an intriguing result. The Student Room forum proffers a thread with this question: “What’s so bad about CICCU?” (For those unfamiliar with this ominous-sounding acronym, it means ‘Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union’) A flood of responses follows. Top of my list has to be, “They are creepily aggressive in their evangelism…they quite often turn up at your door asking to come in and then stay for several hours.” I worried for the individual who had yet to learn the knack of drawing conversations to a close with the classic sigh and a firm, “Well, I’d better be getting on.” After a bit more amusement, however, I had seen enough truth in the negative things that were said to get me thinking about the issue of evangelism itself.

As a Christian coming up to Cambridge three years ago, I didn’t get a great first impression of CICCU either. It seemed a juggernaut of an institution, efficient at churning out CICCU ‘types’. At times the formulaic conversations about God were stifling, and I got the impression they thought, “Doing things THIS way is doing things JESUS’s way – move aside all other forms of so-called Christianity!” Over time, though, as I undertook the basic task of actually getting to know people in CICCU and what they stood for, my perceptions changed somewhat. Just like a skeleton functions as the solid framework around which the rest of the body – flesh, nerves, everything making up physical life – can be wrapped, so with CICCU. I had taken the framework of “make Jesus Christ known”, with all the events, administration and fixed forms, without catching sight of the real people who breathe it into life: people who live what they speak, speak what they truly believe and (mostly) can laugh at themselves in the process. Christianity’s message is meaningless unless manifested in actuality, and whist I wonder if CICCU still allows the rigid skeleton to shine through too clearly, the manifestation is present.

One overriding view on The Student Room thread was the often articulated idea that faith, being a ‘private’ thing, should not be forced upon others. Except we have so inhaled postmodern thinking that we allow this to mutate to ‘should not be talked about with any conviction that it is true’. Or rather, if that conviction is there, it should never claim to mutually exclude another position. We need to get over our national allergy to someone suggesting we might be wrong, because our insecurity threatens to mould us into one homologous lump of opinion. Controversially, perhaps, I find it refreshing that CICCU does not contort its message to pamper people’s tastes, because that’s not the way truth works. They may need to work on not alienating or offending people in the way they convey their message, but if it’s the message itself which you find antagonistic, ignore it, address it, but don’t drown it out. Tolerance and respect should rightfully be signs of our age, but they are not tautologous with the disallowance of truth claims, the only result of which will be the death of meaningful dialogue.

What of the ‘creepy’ evangelism, though? Let me give you my perspective. I, too, can’t stand having people’s views thrust at me when it is clear they don’t have the slightest interest in listening to what I think or have to say – and that includes Christian views. Yet from my very core, I am convinced that Jesus’s death and raised life has changed me, that the Bible’s claims are true, and that God is, for want of a less vernacular term, flipping immense. Frankly, it would be bizarre if I didn’t want to share that with people around me. I’m not talking about wittering on to people at random, but about conversation in which there is proper engagement. Maybe we should chat less about ‘evangelism’ and more about ‘honesty’?

Different views, especially when they are deep convictions, make for incredibly interesting debate. Call me a theologian, but add to that the fact that these convictions are about the fundamental truths of the universe and surely you’re onto a winner. The trepidation that surrounds all this is unfounded: no-one is able to change your views by force, and trust me, Christians don’t have any voodoo to work on you when they speak about God. As CICCU’s week of talks and events entitled Rescued? approaches, why not consider letting your guard down against the feared beast of ‘evangelism’ and entering into the debate? And if someone approaches you with zero social skills and honed Bible-bashing technique, feel free to cut out and present this verse to them, which Peter wrote to the first Christians: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Then, sigh, mutter something, and slip out the nearest door.