Embarrassment and Evangelism
If that sounds familiar to you, then you might find this story from Matt Smethurst’s (forthcoming) Before You Open Your Bible encouraging:
When I lived in China, I got to know a college student named “James”; we’d met playing basketball and had become fast friends. But, just like virtually everyone around him, he had never heard about Jesus Christ.
Over the course of several weeks, I shared the gospel with him a few times. He seemed interested, and asked great questions, but he couldn’t disavow the atheistic worldview that had been ingrained in him for his entire life.
One day, I secured a copy of the Jesus film in his language, and we scheduled a time to watch it together. I had never seen it before and didn’t know what to expect. But given all the positive stories and statistics associated with the movie, I was eager for James to see it. I remember it was my last day of ministry for the semester—the winter holiday was about to begin, and my parents were arriving for a visit the following day. I was in a great mood. And when James and I sat down in my apartment living room and I inserted the DVD, my hopes were high.
I’m not sure if James heard a noise about seven minutes into the film, but if he did, it was my hopes being dashed on the floor. You see, James was a hip and modern college dude who had seen far more of Hollywood’s latest offerings than I had. The Jesus film, meanwhile, is on the cutting edge of 1979. Sure, the script is a verbatim presentation of Luke’s Gospel, but I felt embarrassed to be subjecting James to what I saw as subpar acting and cringeworthy cinematography—Is that Jesus levitating?—for two long hours. Honestly, I feared it would have a counterproductive effect, making Christianity look sillier to him than it did before. I was mortified and regretted showing him the film.
When the film ended and the credits rolled, I braced for his verdict. James turned and looked at me and, with sincerity in his eyes, simply said: “That was the best movie I have ever seen.” I was shocked. That afternoon, James placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
I’ve never forgotten John Piper’s comment on apparently embarrassing means of evangelism: “I like their way of doing it more than your way of not doing it.” This isn’t an argument for not contextualising, or being wilfully awkward; I am completely persuaded of the need for thoughtful, creative, wise and loving engagement, and I teach on it (and try to do it) all the time. But I am also persuaded that failing to do this is not our only danger here, nor even (perhaps) our greatest one. The apostle who became all things to all men (1 Cor 9:22) puts it this way earlier in the same letter: “We are fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Cor 4:10).