SWAT for Christ

Some bands rely on squalling feedback, thunderous solos and onstage histrionics in order to put on a good show. However, there is something exquisite about an artist who can hold an audience in rapt attention with just a voice and a guitar.

Though the prospect of getting shoved around a small space by sweaty people has been keeping me away from concerts, I did manage to catch Jonah Matranga not too long ago. Jonah is the influential voice and architect behind Far, onelinedrawing and, until recently, Gratitude. On this night, though, it would just be Jonah, a guitar, and his passionate songs of loss, hopes and dreams—a delicate balance achieved with joy and even laughter.

During one particularly vulnerable song about a difficult time in his life, Jonah repeated the refrain, “What is my way to heaven” several times, slowly fading into a whisper. It was at this moment that someone from the back answered this rhetorical question in a very loud voice with, “JESUS!”

This reminded me very much of my old Power Team VHS cassette where, upon exploding the hot water bottle with only his lungs, the muscular man would flex and shout “Jesus!” Like a teen movie where the host’s parents came back from vacation a day early, this moment was the proverbial needle scratching across every groove of the record as the party comes to a screeching halt. I was somewhere near the front, quietly hoping that this would be an isolated incident, an anomaly.

It would not be.

The evangelist continued to invoke the name of our Lord in his loudest register, even shouting over the music after it resumed. I had a sinking feeling, perhaps a much milder version the paranoia Peter felt when he narrowly escaped being identified as “one of them.” There would be no raining down of curses upon my own head or roosters crowing (though there was an R2D2 solo in one song), but I was just waiting for someone to turn to me, accusing, “Surely you are with that guy for your wide-eyed worry gives you away!”

Please do not misunderstand me. I will gladly identify myself as a Christian, as one rescued by the inexplicable love of God. I am not ashamed of the Gospel or the source of that Good News. I do not want to be someone who belittles or looks down upon “those kind” of Christians (whoever those kind might be).

Though his zeal might have been somewhat misguided, there was nothing untrue about the content of this believer’s message. Certainly, Jesus meant what He said in John 14:6 about being the singular way to the Father. No, the issue here was the method by which the message was delivered.

I was taken back to the summer I spent interning at an advertising firm in downtown Philadelphia. Every day, before lunch ended, I would cross Market Street to a little arcade for a quick game of Bubble Bobble. It was on that corner that I would see the Angry Street Preacher, literally standing on a soapbox, wearing a sandwich board with mean, handwritten messages of condemnation for the all heathens and pagans unlucky enough to pass within earshot of his ranting. And every day, I would take the long way around to avoid his harangues.

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Though I certainly believe in divine appointments for sharing our faith with others, I remain unconvinced that the way to make these meetings is by busting down the front door like a Christian SWAT team (“Freeze, sinners!”). Perhaps in our fervor we misdirect our boldness. We are called to broadcast humility loud and clear: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:5, TNIV)

Again, please do not misunderstand. I have witnessed, despite my incredulity and skepticism, strangers commit their lives to Christ through the use of tracts and “cold call” witnessing. I have also seen how gentle, patient investing of time and energy into certain people’s lives can seemingly fail. However, as a general principle, embodying the truth is as important as speaking it.

If evangelism were simply about proffering the most compelling argument, then our churches would need only to set up Lincoln-Douglas debate stalls around town in order to convince people into the Kingdom. A heated exchange of bumper sticker slogans is unlikely to change people’s hearts (except, perhaps, to raise their ire further). Engaging in genuine dialogue, on the other hand, might create space to share the reason for our hope. If we can begin to see others with God’s heart, then we can do more than form our next argument while they are speaking—we can listen, to their words and their stories.

In some ways this is both an encouragement and a challenge. We are encouraged to know that evangelism is no longer the exclusive domain of the qualified: those with smooth words, go-getter attitudes, good looks and minty fresh breath. At the same time, this brings the call into our everyday lives, not only in our finest spiritual moments. Perhaps the answer is indeed turning it up to eleven, as the great love of God continues to transform our hearts, making our love even louder than our words.

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