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Members without a Club
by Shawn McEvoy
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me. - John 14:6
"I don't respect [believers] who don't proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and a hell, and that people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever, and you think, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward... how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that? I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn't believe it, but that truck was bearing down? There's a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that."
Wow, great words. Completely sums up what's at stake with Christian evangelism, and why it's so important, not to mention commanded. Who said that? Famous pastor? Leading revivalist? World-traveled evangelist?
An atheist. One who later in the same speech will say, "I know there's no God," and "religion does a lot of bad stuff," but who was nonetheless touched by a genuine gesture that a simple, normal, respectable gentleman made in giving the gift of a Gideon Bible.
The atheist in question is Penn Gillette, of the famous magic act Penn & Teller. You can check out his story of being offered a Bible following one of his shows on YouTube (or you used to be able to - the link has since been blocked by Sony).
I am sure Mr. Gillette and I - and you - disagree on a lot of things. But he's so right about this. Our pastor was recently addressing some of the tough questions about Christianity, including the one about "how can Christians claim to know the true way; aren't all ways equally valid?" And he settled on our verse today - John 14:6 - which is always our beloved starting prooftext for how Jesus himself stated that no other way would work.
While that is blessedly true, our pastor suggested we have tended to invert (if not pervert) the subtlety of Jesus' message here. That is, we've behaved like we're privileged members of an exclusive club, one that has all sorts of rules to keep others out. One that gets to tell them how wrong they are. One that should be full of joy and open arms, but is instead full of stern sobriety and pointing fingers. One that nobody would really want to join anyway, even if it were a club, which it isn't.
For one thing, we're on a journey toward perfection rather than cloistered in a cozy clubhouse, and in the same chapter Jesus told his followers that the many rooms in his Father's house were being prepared. We aren't living in them yet. Our clubhouse is not our current home. We have merely started the trip, and yet...
We forget where we come from.
Christianity is flawed in part because it is full of losers - yes, those who have humbly admitted their own shortcomings and acknowledged The Answer is found outside themselves. My own father - before his conversion - said he viewed Christianity as a crutch for weak people. "Exactly," was my response. "But realize, Dad, that also means you're saying it exists and has real value just as a crutch does."
Christ did not come for the healthy, but for the sick, the weak. That's us whether we admit it or not. We have no claim to exclusivity. The message of John 14:6, similar to how eloquently Mr. Gillette put it, is that anyone is welcome for INclusion, provided they... what? Please us? Donate? Stop being so mean? No. They must simply believe. Our job is to tell them that truck is bearing down, politely and sincerely... to give the Bible and to read it ourselves... to model a life not based on legalism or even moralism, but on the joy of every day's opportunity along the narrow road and the freedom we have to choose to follow it or not... to preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words to do so.
When Jesus told His followers that He was the way and the truth and the life, it was a statement of comfort. He had just told them He would be leaving, but that if they had seen Him (and they Had) then they had seen the Father, and that "you know the way to the place where I am going."
Intersecting Faith & Life: Comfort others with this verse. There are a lot of hurting people in this world who point to this text as the source of their conundrum with Christianity. Remind them that we're not about keeping people out, evoking a membership privilege or condemning them to a more dire fate. Let God do His job. Our own part has so little to do with dos and don'ts, and everything to do with sending out party invitations via grace, freedom, and acceptance. I was lost, and someone pointed me to this road. Many others had tried before, but their words finally took hold and my eyes were opened to see it was indeed the right road. Pure blood was shed for you as it was for anyone who would accept it, repent, seek forgiveness, know joy. Here's a Bible. Won't you read it and join us on our merry Way?