I know it feels like marketing sometimes, this “evangelism” or spreading of the gospel, the good news. Back in the day, it was a little different since communication was a personal craft. People who could speak well or or turn a phrase, or read, were the ones who led the way. People who had miraculous experiences were quick to tell (for a season) and eyewitnesses retold what they saw and/or heard again and again. But, have we been playing “chinese telephone?”
The Lord has commanded us to do this. Remember His words: “I have appointed you a light to the nations beyond Israel, so you can bring redemption to every corner of the earth.” [Isa 49:6] These words created two strong reactions. The outsiders were thrilled and praised God’s message, and all those who had been appointed for eternal life became believers. Through them the Lord’s message spread through the whole region. But the Jewish leaders united the aristocratic religious women and the city’s leading men in opposition to Paul and Barnabas, and soon they were persecuted and driven out of the region. They [Paul and Barnabas] simply shook the dust off their feet in protest and moved on . . . [Acts 13:47-51a]
Oral traditions are powerful. The personal telling of a story or episode is always more compelling than a newspaper article or textbook telling of the same event. We have all read about the execution of 6 million Jews in the second world war, but meeting and speaking with even one survivor of the Holocaust will sear the mind forever. Just last week, two bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, we were appalled and even fascinated, watching hour after hour for the smallest bit of news. And yet, the reality of that story was much more immediate when I spoke to Mary whose daughter was in the race. She was there.
Over the Easter season, I watched the old movie, The Robe, again. The phrase that keeps ringing through my mind was, “Were you there?” And this was the point: being “there,” being at the crucifixion was the turning point for Marcellus Gallio [Richard Burton]. And, in the end, when he finally embraces his first hand experience, he is changed.
It is our own first hand experiences that change us as well. Some of those sagas are dramatic and others are not. We cannot all have a “road to Damascus” [Acts 9] story. And yet, there is something personal that moved us from one place to another, from one belief to another, from one understanding to another. Each moment is different and even unique. When did you come to believe?
But I urge us all to take care. We are not longer living in an oral society. We are living in the Twitterverse where Google and Facebook have become verbs, where the image now trumps words, and “reach” means how many “eyeballs” we can accumulate and entice to land on a web page or a flat screen.
The gospel is not a show. It’s not some event that we are “marketing.” The gospel is only as dynamic as your story is for you.
The rest is hype. And just as you get sick of seeing the same commercial over and over again, so people grow tired of hearing and seeing the canned gospel.
If it really means something to you . . . to me, then that is story I have to tell. And if it resonates, that’s great. If not, then I simply knock the dust from my shoes and keep on keeping on. Because I know my story is true. I cannot convince anyone to believe it. It just is what it is for me.