I returned home mid-afternoon to a rubber-band wrapped around my front door knob. A small booklet was attached to the rubber-band. The words – “THIS WAS YOUR LIFE!” – were printed across the black-and-white cover, all in caps, bolded, inked in red.
The message inside was the stereotypical doom and gloom: I am going to die. God is going to seek reparations for all the wrongs I have committed in this life.
I had been judged before I had even been loved – a thought I found theologically disturbing and backwards.
As I flipped through the booklet, gratitude washed over me that my boys were not present with me. No need for me to try and explain to their growing minds the multitude of questions I would have been bombarded with by their curious minds. I stood in the hallway and began to look around. To my horror and relief I saw the same booklet attached by rubber-band to the front doors of my neighbors’ homes. Horror because time was running out and my neighbors would be coming home to find this message attached to their doors. Relief with knowledge my neighbors had no idea this message existed on the front doors yet.
In that moment I did the only Christ-like actions I could think of, I started going around to my neighbors front doors and removed every booklet. I threw them in my trash.
The moment was full of irony. I, who worked as an associate pastor, had removed from the doors of my neighbors literature advertising the Gospel message. Correction, someone’s interpretation of the Gospel. Definitely not my understanding of God’s hope for all of creation.
The booklet didn’t even contain any contact information. No one to reach out to, no church to follow-up with. There was another book the booklet recommended you could buy after taking the necessary steps proposed. A book which, again I found ironic, wasn’t the Bible.
I would think a Bible would be the first book someone new to the faith would want to read.
This type of evangelism – honestly, I wouldn’t even call it evangelism – has more in common with those who desired to see Jesus crucified than it does with the message of the Gospel. Those who wanted Jesus crucified made their case by picking and choosing from Jesus’ words, compiling and twisting them to meet their own ends.
This is perhaps what bothers me most about booklets like this one. The booklet selected verses from all over the Old and New Testament, compiled them in an order they wanted, to fit the narrative they wanted to present. Verses were stripped of their context so they could fit the needs of a new author.
Something is wrong when we have to pick and choose. Something is seriously wrong when we cannot let the entire message of the Gospel stand on its own merits.
If I have to pick and choose what verses should be heard, read, or placed in a narrative, maybe it’s time to admit the message of the Gospel isn’t all that compelling. If I feel a need to try and improve the message by arranging the verses in an order I deem fit so others might listen to Jesus’ words, then maybe it’s time to accept the fact Jesus’ words are not as life transforming as originally advertised.
Author Brené Brown in her book, Daring Greatly, writes:
“When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into ‘compliance and consequences,’ rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms.”
Fear is not the primary message of the Gospel. Love is.
Faith, and evangelism with it, cannot be lived out when no relationship is present. The eunuch in Acts 8 doesn’t understand what he is reading until Philip comes and reads it with him. Nicodemus couldn’t understand Jesus’ teachings until his initial conversation by night, which I can only imagine is one of many, as we discover by the end of the Gospel of John, Nicodemus decides to become a follower of this man from Nazareth.
Jesus encountered people with all sorts of histories, people who were traveling very different roads in life. Rarely is any kind of judgement pronounced until these people first knew how much they were loved. And more often than not, the judgment pronounced was one of redemption, these people – lepers, roman soldiers, paralytics, Samaritans and Israelites, children, poor and rich, women who were hemorrhaging, the blind and deaf – were worthy children of God who deserved to be a part of the community of God as much as anyone else.