I’ve had street preachers on the mind since Sunday. We talked a little about them in Sunday School. I am reminded about a little journal entry I wrote about witnessing a street preacher about a year ago. I thought I would share what I wrote then, now:
I experienced a new event in my Christian life the other day. I witnessed a street preacher. I have heard in the past of these preachers being effective in New York in lower class neighborhoods in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. But this I witnessed in Dallas Texas in a tourist neighborhood. A man stood on a chair and offered a dollar for the answer to a question of the most dangerous profession. We went into the restaurant and did not hear the answer, when we exited the man had a different message, still in the role of the man with the answers and authority. He was preaching hell. He described the torment and pronounced this as the end for those who sin in various ways. A group of 15-20 people were gathered around, same when we came out as when we went in. All his age, social group, and conservative dress. Later the group left and the same group came back as we walked around the shops, this time with a different speaker but the same (artificial) audience and message. One person walked through the middle of the group and received scorn at his sin, the man then flipped them off. Another woman stopped a few feet in front of the speaker and asked if he could just come down and talk to her. The man pleaded that “Jesus is calling you into relationship!” The woman just kept repeating “can you just come down and talk to me normal?” Then when the woman did not relent the preacher continued his condemnation of all those in earshot.
I’ve often wondered if a focus on avoiding hell is as orthodox as a focus on gaining Christ. At that moment if someone asked me, while standing there watching the street preacher if I was a Christian, I may have defined the term. As a man who’s never preached a sermon, I might offer quick condemnation. However, I wondered if the preacher would be able to recite the end or just the first part of 1 Peter 3:15 “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” but then that troubling ending: “yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Questions entered my head: Is this street preacher what evangelicalism is supposed to be? Is fear of hell the only thing driving a person towards a “decision”? Is being a Christian even a matter of a decision?
I’ve been instructed to write a “sales pitch” for my class on Evangelism. Well, not a sales pitch as much as a 100-word description of my conversion to communicate to someone else. But when was I converted? Many take Paul as an example, with a road to Damascus experience. Light shines down and Jesus goes from hated to Lord.
But then I think of my “sinner’s prayer” at seven and subsequent baptism. The rediscovery of faith in high school through the writings of C.S. Lewis. The discovery of grace in college in Ephesians and Romans. Which one was my road to Damascus?
Here’s a harder question, when was Peter converted? What if I look back and see a calling out of my boat, a general disbelief at the words of Christ, a total misunderstanding of what it means to be a disciple, denial, restoration, further failure, disassociation with fellow Christians, disobedience and verbal orthodoxy? Which part of the story is the conversion part? What if I’m more like Peter than Paul?
What if God didn’t use a formula in my drawing out, do I need to put my experience into a formula? Well, if I want to get a good grade I do, even though I know there are more Peters than Pauls in Christendom. I know there are many sinners (yet saints) in Christ’s army. All this to say: sometimes I just want to go up to some evangelicals, standing on their chair, and ask them to come down and just talk to me.
(originally posted on Dead Theologians)