First things first. What’s triumphalism? Look it up. Dictionary.com It’s a sweet word. Then maybe a couple of my random musings here will make sense. Second, why pics of Seabiscuit and Stephen Baldwin? Be patient, my child, be patient.
I was puttering around on the Next Wave e-zine just a little while ago, and happened to be intrigued by an open letter to Stephen Baldwin upon his conversion to following Christ: you can find it here. I’ve been torn between joy at Stephen’s life change stemming from his housekeeper having the guts to share out of the foundation of their relationship the reality of transformation in Christ and disenchantment with the people Stephen’s aligned himself with following.
The author of this open letter has much to say about effective evangelism all-around that any of us could apply in our daily lives. As I mentioned several days ago in a little glimpse at Walter Brueggemann’s book, evangelism for many of us has carried the image of standing up for the truth, and sharing that truth, and if others don’t accept our truth; well, we hope they enjoy roasting. The rigidity and triumphalism in this view is extremely distasteful to me, and I’d even suggest the people who participate in such “evangelism” carry that distaste however thinly veiled in their subconscious. One of my friends says straight-out, “I am who I am and I don’t change for people. I will not stray from my beliefs. I am thoroughly dogmatic. If you don’t like me or what I stand for, get behind me.” On the one hand, there’s something very appealing about that; that he’s making the claim to be the same person no matter who he’s around. On the other hand, this statement certainly doesn’t invite conversation on why he is who is, or give any room for dissenting opinion. I say all this because in the open letter up above, the writer, in talking about true boldness, makes what I consider to be an excellent point.
“I would hate to see you make the mistake that so many Christians make when they first become Christians. They become hot-heads; judging and trying to tell everyone in their path how wrong and sinful they are and how Jesus can save them. Always in somebody’s face trying to embarrass and corner them. That is not boldness; that is foolishness…It requires more boldness to be separate from the crowd than yelling at the crowd. True Boldness is seen in the young person at high school or college who, despite ostracization from friends, will choose a life of holiness. You are not bold by trying to corner and judge everybody you encounter. Be Bold through your lifestyle. Let your life be your message.”
I would add to that statement that true boldness is being able to live with friends who have dissenting opinions and truly listening to where they’re coming from. As Christians, we’re supposed to be claiming that our lives are defined by a journey; that we are in pursuit of the truth that is represented in Christ…we are not a complete story; we have not reached the finish line. Too many folks claim that because of their life transformation, they represent the truth. This is not at all the message Jesus conveyed to those who sought to follow Him.
So, an appeal from me.
1. Effective evangelism will involve a willingness to listen to others’ lives. They matter to God. Big time. They should matter to you and me.
2. View others as an end, instead of a means. Too many folks in today’s society know they are simply being used by everyone and everything as a means to an end, as opposed to being an end. Wal-mart doesn’t care about your life, and quite honestly, neither do most people. Christians should be defined by the high value we place on the lives of others. In order for them to know that, we need to be in a trustworthy relationship with them. In order for a relationship to exist that makes such opportunities possible, we need to lose the pride, cockiness, and “I have the truth, now knuckle under and listen to what I have to say” attitude.
If God values my life enough to let me screw up and rebel against him time and again, form my own opinions and maintain them for extended periods of time, and yet through life, relationships, and conversations shows a willingness to go one-on-one and never gives up on me; why should I treat others any differently?
Besides, me thinking I hold the absolute truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth should be called what it is. First word? Seabiscuit is a _______ . The second? What’s in the porta-potty sitting behind the ChatterBus in Waynesboro? I think you know what I’m saying. Yeah, you do.