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faith, Hell, Preacher

>Peter, Paul and Street Preachers

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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)

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “>Peter, Paul and Street Preachers

  1. >I have had some interesting experiences with those who are known as “Street Preachin Bible Thumpers”. Yes, you know the kind. They wear dark 3 piece suits, they carry their KJV Thompson Chain Study Bibles and ask that all familiar phrase, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” I recall after Christ called me unto salvation having a run in with one of the above types. I remember being on the famous Hill Street, in Oceanside CA, now known as PCH (Pacific Coast Highway), and on my way to eat some dinner. I saw a large flock of about 20 of them dispersing to the various strategic corners of the blocks where US Marines, hookers, drunks, drug dealers and all sorts of mayhem types congregated. I was on my way to have some Angelo’s Burgers. Then, I was stopped by one those brethren, and he got right up into my grill, and although I normally appreciate the odor of fish, I did not on this particular occasion. Anyways, I thought I had answered most of this brother’s questions fair, honest and humbly enough. But when I was asked where I fellowshipped, I said I attended a reformed church and that I have a room mate who was charismatic Foursquare. Then the brother called for a couple of his friends to come and pray for me because he was afraid that I may not really be saved. Then the brother wanted to assure me to not fall victim to the charismatic teachings regarding the gifts, then his Bible pages began to flip back and forth ferociously to point out what I should and should not believe and that I am not to be unequally yoked yada yada yada. Granted, I recall still being young in the faith, I still feel bad for doing it, but when the brother kept hammering me about my room mates beliefs regarding the gifts, (a non-cardinal doctrine imho), I finally told him to show me that passage that spoke of it in the Bible, and when he found it, I asked him if this was the place, and he said yes, then I held his Bible to read it and simply ripped that part out of his Thompson Chain KJV and told him, there ya go, you don’t have to worry about that anymore since it aint in there and handed him back his Bible.Ya, I know, a real stupid thing to do. Way to go hylander! Thats the way to bridge the gap between the various faiths in christendom. A couple weeks had passed and I later purchased a brand new Bible for that guy and personally delivered to him at his church and apologized to him. The next weekend, they invited me to street witness with them, and I agreed, as long a could use my own personal approach. So, a good ending to a story with a rocky beginning. I still love those brothers and I believe that they believe they are doing a service. They do bring them sheep into their church from off the street and actually have quite a ministry. So, Praise God for them!

    Posted by hylander | April 30, 2008, 2:38 am
  2. >EXCELLENT!!! Very good post Jared. This is my first chance to check back in on the blog since arriving in the US.My position is, the Gospel is Good News about redemption and salvation, not bad news about hell. Certainly hell is real but if that’s the only thing that gets someone to ‘make a decision,’ then make a decision is indeed all they’ve done. A decision to choose nice white fluffy clouds over burning hot flames. Anybody would make that decision. In fact it is a quite normal human response: Avoid Fire!But to embrace the folly of the glorious gospel of Christ takes regeneration! Thanks be to God!

    Posted by Mark Mathews | April 27, 2008, 12:38 am
  3. >Preaching solely on hell gives us the same thing that preaching solely on love does—an anemic church with countless false professions.It’s interesting that you just recently encountered your first street preacher, but maybe it’s more common to a generation (mine) rather than geography. I was born and raised in the ‘buckle of the Bible belt” and saw them on many occasions—especially on our college campus. Unfortunately, they left a VERY bad taste in my mouth even though I was a Xian when I heard/saw them!I don’t think writing out (or sharing) our testimony needs to be a revelatory experience/event. It doesn’t even need to provide clear-cut examples or declarations about us, but it MUST include clear-cut examples and declarations about Christ and how He has changed you from what you were (an enemy of God) into what you are now (a sinner saved by grace). John Bunyan’s testimony came to mind as I thought on the contrasts of Peter’s and Paul’s conversions.Blessings on your time during this season of finals!

    Posted by Connie | April 25, 2008, 1:20 pm
  4. >Maybe I didn’t choose my words well. I think that hell does play a role in preaching, I just wouldn’t use it as a conversation starter with a non-Christian.

    Posted by Matt | April 25, 2008, 2:39 am
  5. >Matt- thanks for the feedback!I left my entry as I wrote it a year ago when I reposting it, and if I had to revise it I would say I think there is a place for hell in preaching. If the passage you are preaching on includes hell, you should preach on it. Even when preaching the gospel, I think hell can come up. But as a central feature, I think it might come off as a threat more than the presentation of God as higher, more beautiful and more satisfying than anything on this earth. Hell awaits unbelievers, but Hell is horrible because God is not able to be enjoyed.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | April 25, 2008, 2:14 am
  6. >Preaching hell makes no sense to me. Why would someone who doesn’t follow Christ or respect biblical authority believe in hell? Preaching the Gospel as salvation from hell is effective for people who (1) believe in God, (2) believe in hell, (3) believe the Scriptures, but (4) don’t know Christ. The only demographic that fits this description is the first century Jewish one that heard the apostles preach. I don’t think anyone fits that today.Shouldn’t evangelism start with the person of Christ (especially since even non-Christians respect the historical Jesus)?Writing a “testimony” is a great assignment. Your personal story is the most effective thing that you can share with a non-Christian. they may not believe in hell, but they will be able to see that what you are doing is “working.” They are going to want to know what it is that happened to you to make you who you are.

    Posted by Matt | April 25, 2008, 12:18 am

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