There was a subtext to the evangelization method I was taught that went something like this: “God is really ticked off with you. He’s mad as hell – literally. And if you don’t pray this prayer, believe the way I believe, and don’t hurry to the baptismal waters as quickly as possible, then he will likely strike you dead before I’m finished talking to you.” I would then scurry away before God’s vengeance fell like fire on the sinner and I was caught in the collateral damage.
Again, there wasn’t much good news in such confrontations, because there was no sharing of God’s love. Love? Forget it. God didn’t love, God hated. God didn’t invite, God demanded. God didn’t plead, God prosecuted. God wasn’t pursuing wayward children as a heartbroken parent; God was dogging hardened criminals like a trigger-happy bounty hunter, a ready execution order in his hip pocket.
I no longer share with others my faith in an angry, perpetually irritated God who only wishes to stamp out humanity because I no longer believe in such a Deity. In light of Jesus, and the love of God he came to reveal to the world, evangelism can radically change. We are now “compelled by love,” to employ a phrase from Paul.
We share our faith not to coerce, force, intimidate, or to instill terror. We share our faith because of and for love’s sake – the only worthy compulsion. We have learned that God loves us, remarkably so, and loves our neighbors with equal measure. This love changes us; cures our dysfunction; and gives us new life. It really is “good news.”
This reminds me of an ancient story about a man named Demosthenes, a skilled orator from Greece. But he was not always a skilled wordsmith. As a young man he had a terrible speech impediment. This became painfully evident when his inheritance was stolen and he had to argue his case in open court.
His speech was so bad, they gave him an ambiguous nickname in the Greek, meaning either “stutterer” or “sphincter” (While neither is flattering, I prefer the former over the latter). He was laughed out of the courtroom. But Demosthenes was determined. He secluded himself in a cave and began studying the methods of the great orators of the past.
He stuffed rocks in his jowls, a crude form of speech therapy, forcing himself to slow down when he talked. Then he shaved off one side of his facial hair so that he would be too embarrassed to go into public. That way, he had to remain in isolation practicing until his hair grew back, and would face no one until he was properly prepared for the task. This would be a good practice for most of us.
Before we breathe a word about the gospel or “good news,” we should be properly prepared. What is the proper preparation? Well, it’s not about having all the theological answers or a collection of “gotcha” responses to objections. It’s about having God’s love consume our hearts. When we can share the love of God by speaking of the ever-loving Christ, while loving those to whom we speak, only then are we ready to open our mouths, and not a minute sooner.
If we must, we will shave our heads and hide our faces. Let us go live in a secluded cave, if need be. Maybe we should stuff our mouths full of stones (or at least cover them with duct tape). It would simply be a good idea not to speak a word about religion, church, God, or the gospel until love is the means, message, and motivation for everything we say.
If we can shut our mouths for just a little while, it just might open our hearts – to the love of God – which really is “good news” for all.