To The Random Street Preacher
Recently I encountered a street preacher on my college campus. I tried having certain conversations with him about how he could possibly be more efficient and productive (read: how he can fix his horrible image). Here are some things I discovered in talking to him that I would like to address here. Hopefully some other street preachers read it. Maybe.
So the first thing I tried to politely bring up to him is how holding a sign saying "Ask Me How You Deserve Hell" is probably not the best way to reach people. It's unnecessarily confrontational and judgmental. He might think his sign is successful at getting people's attention, and that may be true, but the kind of attention he is getting is probably not the best.
First, note that Jesus and John the Baptist both started preaching with "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Note that this message does include a confrontation, to a point, in the word "repent." But at the same time, it's asking people to repent because something good has come. Repentance is necessary, sure, but there's no mention of hell. Yes, in a complete gospel presentation, a discussion about why we need to repent and what Jesus is saving us from needs to happen. But I don't think it's very productive to lead out with essentially "you're going to hell!"
Second, note that Paul, on Mars Hill, didn't start off with even repentance, much less hell. He started with what the people knew and then bridged the gap to who God is. When I read that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul all started without a hellfire and brimstone message, to me that means I should not blast people about hell at the start of a sermon or discussion.
Of course, though, this street preacher just responded that his sign was Biblical. Maybe it is in the sense that the Bible talks about hell. It's like saying something is Constitutional or not: if you're saying it as in the sense of it being found verbatim in the Bible, to me that seems untrue. If you mean the Bible talks about hell, then sure, you're right.
I think the problem is that this person in some sense has a self-persecution or self-depreciating mental complex where they enjoy being ridiculed or opposed. They may like conflict, which is a toxic personality trait. Toxic to you. When you read some of the OT prophets that were persecuted, such as Jeremiah, they didn't enjoy being persecuted. I don't think people should enjoy being harmed.
And I don't think people should enjoy arguing. Arguments only cause division. The goal is supposed to be to reach people with the gospel. The gospel is the good news. Does "Ask Me How You Deserve Hell" sound like good news? No. Even Peter on the Day of Pentecost speech said "Repent ... for the forgiveness of sins." Jesus came to forgive and heal.
The street preacher doubled down, saying the sign works with people. That's sort of a presumption. I pointed out that it could be the Sampson phenomenon, where God is using him in spite of himself. He didn't agree.
Then the Judgment Came Out
Then, sadly, this street preacher said that if I do not agree with his sign, I am not a Christian. This is sort of tragic, but it's something I've experienced before. It's essentially a No True Scotsman fallacy, but instead phrased as "No True Christian."
I asked him to find that in the Bible, but of course he could not.
So what does the Bible say?
2 Timothy 2:19 (HCSB) Nevertheless, Godís solid foundation stands firm, having this inscription: The Lord knows those who are His, and Everyone who names the name of the Lord must turn away from unrighteousness.
What does that mean? It means there are two ways in which someone could tell if you are a Christian. One is to have the mind of God, which you cannot do. "The Lord knows those who are His." This means you don't know. The second way is that those who are truly Christians should be struggling against sin. If there is no struggle, there may be no Holy Spirit in you struggling.
Galatians 5:17 (HCSB) For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you donít do what you want.
God says it again in Galatians. The Holy Spirit should be at war with the sin in your life. If there is no struggle, there may be no salvation. However, this street preacher just said it off the cuff to someone (me) that he just met. That's a huge problem. Basically, he just lied. I tried to be as polite as I could to refute his assertion, but he just changed topics.
If At First You Don't Succeed, Talk About Their Generation
Then he went on about how "this generation needs to learn to respect their elders." I found that rather humorous, but I decided to entertain it. I asked him how old he is. He didn't respond. And I think he didn't respond because he knew he just cornered himself.
Because, you see, the day this confrontation happened, I was in my mid 40s. He was probably in his mid 20s by his appearance, but of course I didn't want to assume. If I assumed, I'd be like him.
Instead, I pointed out that people in their mid 20s in my classes were nothing but polite and respectful to me. I asked him where this disrespect was that he claimed existed. So basically he assumed that this generation was disrespectful because of how people treated him. But given his judgmental attitude and his condemning sign, I think he was bringing it on himself.
While I'm on this topic, I think Gen Y and Gen Z are what Christianity needs. They want something authentic. They want real faith. Real church. Real Christianity. The big productions of large megachurches and the hidden racism and homophobia of some churches turns them off. But really, it should turn everyone off. If you want Gen Y and Gen Z to visit your church, be authentic. That's their #1 complaint and it's a valid complaint.
A Conversation in the Cafeteria
I am writing this because today I was in the "chat" area of the cafeteria at my university, eating dinner. Two very young women in the bachelor's degree program for history were talking about Jesus and about Mary Magdalene, but they were uncertain about a few details. I happened to glance over at them, and they glanced at me at the same time, and I asked them if they wanted to know about Mary Magdalene from the Bible. They politely accepted, and I briefly shared who Mary Magdalene was.
They thanked me, and that opened the door for a little more about Christianity. We didn't get to the gospel, but I didn't push them hard. I wanted them to see that Christians can be friendly and not dominate the conversation. Hopefully this should open them to think about what else they believe. I told them if they ever see me in the cafeteria they can come talk to me.
We need to remember that we are essentially Paul on Mars Hill. Let's be salt and light, but not judgmental. Unfortunately, the conversation with the street preacher ended in me calling him a liar. I was right, but I felt that the tenor of the social environment (with students standing around) and what he had said (which was indeed a lie) made for the right environment. I was not profane, but tried to be respectful and truthful. We'll see how that ends up going.
To be honest, I would've snapped a picture of him and made it anonymous enough to post here in public. But I did not think of it at the time.
Christianity has already done enough, in light of history, to make itself look bad. And also in the present with some Christians refusing the vaccine for no valid reason. If we want to win the lost, we need to watch our image. Why would people want to join an organization like the church if all they know about is COVID-19 drama on the news and this street preacher running around judging people? I sure wouldn't. I would be thinking in my head, "No thanks, I didn't need a reminder of how I'm not stupid like you."
Let's be the type of Christians people want
to be, not the type that remind them of how they don't want to
be like us.