We’re studying the book “Just Walk Across the Room” in our church family right now, and I’m deeply conflicted about it.
The method of loving our neighbors is really really awesome in this book. Seriously, it’s similar to “friendship evangelism” but much much wiser because we’re not in friendships to look for opportunities to share the “plan of salvation”; we’re in relationships to love people, to honor and value their story and to simply care for them. When there are opportunities to share, we share wisely (and sometimes take risks), but we put a high premium on listening to others’ stories and looking how we can come alongside them in life. The primary question is “How can I love and serve this person?” rather than “How soon can I take this person down the Roman Road (which I think is a poor way of introducing Christianity anyways).”
This strikes me as a much healthier way of thinking about evangelism, but I’m conflicted because once you get past the method to the meat of the “good news” Christians have to offer their non-Christian friends, the book doesn’t offer much of substance. I explained some of my misgivings in an email to the church folks a week ago that I’ll snip and paste in here;
“Where I experienced deep frustration with Hybels’ approach is the meat and potatoes of what we believe to be “God’s story” that we share with others when they ask us. Hybels sets things up well, asking us to be prepared with a simple illustration or simple story to give people insight into the purposes of God. Now it was at this place in the book that I got extremely, extremely disappointed with Bill, and for two main reasons.
First, how people think about relationship with God, and
Second, how God has shown us his love and “salvation.”
Bill said, “Since the beginning of time, sensing vast distance between themselves and God, people have been consumed with the desire to somehow get over the chasm separating them from God…if they weren’t even living up to their own standards, and God was “other” than they were, then they figured God’s standards must be utterly impossible to reach…everyone seemed to agree that all people had to do to reach God was fly a little straighter, pray a little harder, become more religious, and perform more charitable deeds.”
Now I’m (Nathan) asking you to be honest, really honest right now, and look at your life and the people surrounding you, and ask one question: would you say the people surrounding you are consumed with a desire to be approved by God? Think about this word consumed. What does that convey to you? (willing to do anything to overcome the distance between, willing to go through any roadblock, elevating something to a place of highest importance).
I believe, instead, that many people I know really don’t care that much at all. Where God’s commands are convenient, where his expectations are easy for them to follow, they follow. Where God demands something that will be harder, they disobey. They don’t care. If you think that’s being consumed by a desire, striving to earn God’s good grace, I’m not sure you know what the word consumed really means. That sounds to me to be much more like laziness and spurts of caring, mostly defined by a selfish life.
So that’s how Bill sets up life, and here’s the answer he provides;
“The Bible says something remarkable about how to bridge the gap between God and man. It says that God saw the chasm that separated immoral men and women like you and me from him. He saw the infinite distance for what it really was…so, motivated by love, God took on the chasm-spanning responsibility himself. He built a bridge that went the distance in order to reach sinful man. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross for us- the cross that would serve as the ultimate bridge. So because of the bridge,..Christ found me with a hard hat on my head, trowel in my hand, and a heart fully prepared to work every day on my own construction project. I was 17 years old when I walked across that bridge, finally comprehending that I could take off my hard hat and let my trowel drop to the concrete floor. God had built a bridge, and by faith, I could walk across that bridge.”
Here’s a visual representation of Bill’s drawing (that is ALL OVER the evangelical Christian culture from other sources too):
In this answer, I see a decent dose of truth, but I see two HUGE omissions:
1) Did anything happen before Jesus died on the cross, or is that where the story starts for us? and
2) Is it true that all we have to do is acknowledge what God has done, just walk across the bridge, and we’ll be with Him forever?
I’m suggesting to you right now that the Bible doesn’t give us a picture of people consumed with a desire to know God. The Bible gives us a picture of people consumed with a desire to do what they want, when they want, however they want. I’m also suggesting that there’s no such “chasm” in the Bible. Biblically, all human beings need to do is turn around, realize God’s been pursuing us all along, kneel before the one who made them, and rise to obey. God responds to this movement by grafting us into his holy people, a physical different nation in the world out of every tribe, tongue, and nation; a people obedient to him who will lead the way for the world out of darkness and into light.
So here is my illustration that I think captures the heart of the Bible’s “good news” for human life:
It is my contention that human obedience to God is the heart of the Bible’s message of good news. Period. Not some assurance of afterlife or anything of this nature, but rather assurance of different goals, different lifestyle, and true joy that other goals and lifestyles can’t even sniff at. And when we commit to this life, the God who made us gives us the opportunity to enjoy his fellowship and the fellowship of others for all time.
Why do I say this? Well, this message of obedience holds true all the way through the Bible. Here’s some examples.
Genesis 2:15-17 “The LORD God took the Adam and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the Garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will certainly die…(Adam and Eve disobey) by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Genesis 12:1-4 “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people, and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.”
Exodus 19:3-8 The LORD speaking to Moses, “”This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
Isaiah 1:13-20 “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths, and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hid my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.
Matthew 7:24,26 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man…but everyone who hears these words and do not put them into practice is like a foolish man.”
Matthew 16:24-27 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward everyone according to what they have done.
And maybe the most direct teaching on this in the New Testament;
Hebrews 10:26-31,36-39 “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mind to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The LORD will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God…you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘in just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delat.’ And ‘ but my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”
Now, it’s important to note here that the author of Hebrews is not developing a picture of a God who is a cruel taskmaster; one who whips us when we fail and makes us feel like a pile of dirt all the time. What they’re saying is that if we know that something is sinful and we bluntly choose to do what we want, we have trampled the Son of God underfoot and insulted the Spirit of grace. Certainly God recognizes that we are imperfect people, that we struggle to know what is healthy and unhealthy, sinful and good, but that doesn’t negate that the commitment to obedience, courageous obedience, is at the heart of this passage AND at the heart of the Bible itself.
These verses, along with the rest of the Bible, show that God expects his people to seek transformation now, to strive with all they are to obey, and he expects them to do so if they want to be called his children. So if the answer we give to generally selfish, lazy people is one that only requires them to walk across a bridge that God made 2,000 years ago and doesn’t demand anything more from them, we’re simply not communicating God’s gospel to them. Period. This equally applies to Bill’s Do/Done illustration and the “Morality Ladder,” because they keep the same idea going. My way of life does not matter according to these descriptions; the only thing that matters is what God has done.
We can do better.
How can I say this in a more positive way, now that I’ve offered my critique? I’ll put it this way; The Bible shows us a God who initiates everything by choosing to create and breathe life into what He has made. This good God gives human beings a simple way of life; obey what He, their Creator, commands and we will have joyful, purposeful life. So, if persons would suggest we should or can earn our favor with God through what we do, the answer is no. God simply told us how to live and we choose to obey or disobey that way of life. If we don’t want that way of life, then we confess we’re not God’s children; if we do, we are.
Now we have to be honest to say that obedience is a struggle because the world has been in rebellion for thousands upon thousands of years, but that doesn’t negate the deep Biblical truth that God commands and expects obedience. When we commit to this, then God shows himself to be a graceful, merciful, and forgiving God.
Do you see the difference between this story and Bill’s? In Bill’s, God did something two thousand years ago that just requires me saying “Yes” to, and my sins are forgiven and I can be in relationship with Him. What I do is irrelevant. In my story, God has been doing something for thousands of years; to convince his creation that obeying Him is the best thing we can do. Jesus is the pinnacle of that story, the fullest expression of God’s love, and he showed us that love by his great teaching that we are to obey, his death to show his enemies the fullness of his love, and his resurrection that sets us free from the power of death. Our response to that great love, then, is to do what we’ve been created for; obey Him. Why? Because we were made for it. God’s in charge of the rest; forgiveness, mercy, grace, afterlife. That’s in God’s hands. We control what we can control by simply obeying Him. Period.