Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Random Persuasiveness

I went to lunch with a friend from work yesterday. We went to Penn Station. As the cold wind rolled across my skin my mouthed water for what would be a delicious Philly cheese steak but in one swift moment I was a little bothered and saddened. I don’t know why this bothers me so much, I’m not sure sometimes if it is even healthy to get so bothered by this. We cross the street to be spoken to, not at, in a loud voice about worshipping a living God. Then without even making eye contact this guy hands me a little pamphlet. I took it and decided for once I would put my criticism away for a moment to actually inquire to the internal pages of this little book. After I got back to work I read it. Here are some things I read (in the tract and on their website) that gave me a little bit of concern:

If however, you choose to go to heaven, you must do several things…

First, second, third, you must also, finally…

…only write in if you have made a decision to be saved…

Before I continue though, let me say this; I am all about seeing the Gospel of Jesus spread to the end of the world. It is what we are called to do by Jesus Himself. I believe when Paul says that no matter what the Gospel is being spread and we should rejoice in that, even if we don’t agree with intentions, motives, or methods. I don’t have it all figured out and wrestle between being passive assertive or aggressive when it comes to presenting/preaching/announcing the good news. I’m simply unpacking my thoughts about this experience and the feelings I walked away with.

If you have talked to me within the last month or been keeping up with my blog you know I am reading the book of Matthew. This is the story of Jesus and His ministry. I’ve studied and studied so far and like I have said before, don’t see a ton of what I’ve been taught or told actually in the ministry of Jesus. The title of this particular tract I received is, “This Could Be Your Last Five Minutes Alive” I remember growing up and always getting asked, “Son, if you were to die right now, do you know where you’d go?” Although these questions have importance and are valid because Jesus was all about securing people’s eternal life, I have a tough time believing that people actually respond to this. You actually never see Jesus or Paul open up a dialogue this way.

The presumption of these tracts is that the one receiving it actually believes in Heaven or Hell, or even God. This is a dangerous assumption to make though. If I assume someone knows Spanish I will begin speaking Spanish to them. If I were to be spoken to in Spanish I would squint, tilt my head, and smile nervously because I don’t understand what they are saying. My language is different than theirs so I will naturally not understand where they are coming from or where they are going. Giving someone who does not believe in God, Heaven, or Hell a tract that begs the question where will you go after you die is like that. You are asking them the wrong question.

This tract gives a very clear step process for getting saved. First, second, third, then, finally… I also don’t see Jesus running around with sterile steps. This is not to discount the reality that there are small steps to following Jesus and it is a journey, but I doubt that you can simplify it down to 5 steps. Paul tells the Philippians to continue to work out their salvations. This is not to say one must work for salvation, but it is to say it is a work to continue in it and grow. That looks different for everyone.
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized (Acts 16:29-33).
This looks a bit different from the statement made in the tract, “If however, you choose to go to heaven, you must do several things.”
I’m not sure that telling someone about Jesus is as simple as taking a day off work and standing on a corner yelling at strangers about what they need to do. Hasn’t this hurt people for too long? Ok, so, yes, maybe this has worked in the past, maybe they get an occasional person that responds, but I’d say overall these efforts are inefficient. As I read the Gospel according to Matthew and study Jesus’ ministry, as I reflect on the books of Acts and the early church, I am persuaded that there are never any random occurrences where you tell someone who doesn’t want to listen anyways about doing something they don’t want to do. God softens hearts, we go about our lives telling about who Jesus is and why He is so important, and He will do the saving, not us, not little tracts, not websites, or even cool new age things. I remember talking about this a little in my old evangelism blog too, check it out.
I hope this challenges you to get personal with the message of Jesus. I hope that the question wouldn’t be how to spread the Gospel but why aren’t you? If it is good news, if it has transformed your life, wouldn’t you want to tell people who you know would listen, people you care about, people you have connections with? God’s Word will not return void, but I doubt anyone is actually learning about Jesus through randomly selected scriptures and a persuasive argument about impending death. Hope this stirs some things in you as it did me.

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