Sharing Jesus with Pagan Friends
So, your friend has just told you they are a Pagan. Maybe a bit of a surprise. You ask them what that means for them and they tell you they meet with other Pagans at the local pub to learn about modern Paganism from the university Pagan chaplain. As you get to know your friend, you find it difficult to pin down what they believe and even harder to know where to start in sharing your faith in Christ.
What do you make of your friend’s beliefs and where should you start when you try to tell them of your own?
What does it mean to be Pagan?
Modern Paganism, also known as neopaganism, is a collection of new religious movements. Though they are really only a few decades old, they claim a continuity with pre-Christian or pre-modern religions. There is much diversity among these movements.
The word ‘Pagan’ comes from the Latin paganus referring to rustic peoples who lived in the villages. It was first used by early Christians about the polytheistic peoples of the Roman Empire. Over time it took on a derogatory connotation and was often used to refer to anyone outside the Abrahamic religions.
Today’s Pagans have reappropriated the term, using it in a positive sense.
Pagans believe that they follow the oldest religion in the world. This belief comes from the idea taught by the nineteenth-century theorists, E. B. Tylor and J. G. Frazer, that people were originally nature- and spirit-worshippers but only later developed polytheistic and then monotheistic religions.1
Generally, Pagans are polytheistic (they believe in many gods) or pantheistic (they believe all is god) and believe that nature should be worshipped as divine. Many worship goddesses and reject monotheistic religions as patriarchal and inherently oppressive.
Pagans believe that they follow the oldest religion in the world
Pagans assert that they follow a non-dogmatic form of spirituality. Nevertheless, most pursue their religion within one of the various traditions of Paganism, including those that draw on the older pre-Christian religions of Northern Europe.
In some circles it is common to identify Paganism with Satanism and the New Age Movement. Although there are some similarities and overlaps, Pagans themselves usually deny that the movements are identical.
In the West, Pagans seek to recover an older religion that was replaced with the advance of Christianity over the first millennium AD. As such, Pagans are often consciously rejecting the later Christian tradition that has characterised the civilisation in which they have grown up. One group of Pagans, those of the ‘Northern Tradition’ often prefer to call themselves ‘Heathen’, the term having a similar etymology to that of Pagan, meaning the ‘people of the heath’. Other popular traditions are Wicca and Druidry.
Modern Pagans are not just rejecting the Christian tradition. Many are also disenchanted with modernity, with its philosophical naturalism and rationalism and its elevation of science and technology. In its place is a re-enchantment with the ‘Otherworld’: a world of spirits, such as elves and fairies.
In keeping with indigenous religionists in other parts of the world, Pagans believe that there is constant communication between the natural world and the Otherworld. This can be facilitated by means of divination in the form of trances or reading the runes (usually stones with symbols on them) or interpreting the flight of birds or the patterns of tealeaves left in the cup.
Rituals and festivals
Pagan rituals include the offering of bread, milk or beer to images of deities, along with singing, chanting, and the lighting of incense.
As a nature religion, seasonal festivals are significant, especially in the spring and harvest, and summer and winter solstices. Pagans gather at important sites such as Stonehenge to celebrate the turn of the sun’s course.
The appeal of power
Some Pagans are, in fact, philosophical naturalists – they do not believe in anything outside of the natural order. But rather than be secular, they seek to discern the religious in nature itself. Many Wiccans, for example, are drawn to Wicca by the desire to practise magic, because it conveys a sense of power and because they are attracted to the idea of being initiated into a tradition that has secret knowledge. Magic (also called witchcraft, from Wicca) is generally accepted as a valid activity, except where this is used as an attempt at unfair personal gain or to inflict harm on others. It is not clear how ‘unfair’ and ‘harm’ are defined.
Professor of Religious Studies C. H. Partridge says this:
the appeal of ancient, secret or occult knowledge, power and ritual is perennial. Particularly in an individualistic and selfish culture which engenders feelings of powerlessness and insignificance, the attraction of a small, closely knit group of people who claim to have access to such ancient power and knowledge is hard to overestimate.2
When that knowledge and power are situated in a story that has a primal feel, this attraction is very strong. Although J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, was a strong Roman Catholic Christian, it is interesting that the fantasy world that he created is not so very different from the cosmology of the Heathen tradition. Tolkien was drawing on Germanic myths and legends, originally in an attempt to create a full-fledged English mythology, as an exercise of the imagination. The sense of place and its rootedness in the soil that are so important for the hobbits of the Shire resonate strongly with many younger people, especially in an age of globalised entertainment and commercialisation that are so effectively carried by technology that they leave people feeling rootless.
Tips on Sharing Jesus with Pagan Friends
You will not be able to share your faith effectively if you take no interest in their life.
Stories are important to Pagans, especially those that have an ancient feel to them. We have such stories in the Bible. It may be helpful to memorise Bible stories to retell to Pagan friends.
Talk about your own spiritual experience
This may be very compelling. They can hardly say it is oppressive! What do you do in order to have fellowship with God? What is prayer to you? This may lead on to other opportunities to talk about the basis for such experiences and the guidance that the Bible gives us as we seek to know God.
Seek to grow in maturity as a disciple of Jesus
How do you react when things don’t go as you planned? Do you fret or seek to step up your religious activity in order to get God to deliver? The peace of God should rule in our hearts as we live by faith in the Son of God (Philippians 4:6–7; Galatians 2:20). The refusal to seek to manipulate God but to acquiesce to his will is a tremendous witness to a Pagan. Rather than seeking power for personal gain, the mature follower of Christ seeks to be faithful to him, whatever the cost to self.
Introduce your friend to other followers of Christ
Pagans are attracted to a community in which people can be real with one another and help each other out.
Demonstrate care for the environment
This is an important aspect of Pagan spirituality and they may have the idea that Christianity has done a lot of harm to the planet. In contrast to this popular misconception, the Bible actually gives solid reasons for creation care; followers of Christ can rightly make much of this, not because Earth is a goddess, but because it was created by God himself and deserves our respect and nurture.
Focus on Jesus, rather than the Christian tradition
Pagans, like many others, see the institutional church as a major inhibitor of true spirituality. It would be difficult to disabuse such people of these prejudices. But the person of Christ, as he is presented in the Bible, is always attractive.
Pray for your friend
They may seem to be hopelessly far from Christ, but the Holy Spirit may be at work without you knowing. When the resurrected Lord Jesus met Paul the persecutor on the road to Damascus he said, ‘It is hard for you to kick against the goads’ (Acts 26:14). Who would have thought that that vicious man had been struggling with pangs of conscience? And the Holy Spirit can use your witness, your life and words to lead your friend to Christ.
 There is, in fact, anthropological evidence that seriously brings such a scenario into question. For more on this, see this review of an important book by Winfried Corduan. Mark Pickett, “Original Monotheism”
 C. H. Partridge, “Paganism,” Dictionary of Contemporary Religion in the Western World: Exploring Living Faiths in Postmodern Contexts (ed, C. H. Partridge; Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 2002), 327.