I once saw a video of a street-preacher trying to convert people at an “adult” film festival. I take that back—he wasn’t trying to convert, he was trying to condemn, and succeeding quite well at it. He had a little bit of knowledge, some of which was accurate, some of which wasn’t, but he had no love. None. Zero. Here he was, in the midst of love perverted. So he took his little bit of knowledge and let those people in on the fact that God hates sin, and sinners go to hell. I bet he went home at the end of the day and checked evangelism off his to-do list. The job was done, because for him it wasn’t about the people, it was about being right.

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What scares me is I remember going through that phase in my faith journey. I probably still value being right more than I ought to in some areas. I remember an argument I had with a spiritual mentor of mine when I was all of 16 years old. We were discussing a pseudo-Christian religion, and I was intensely focused upon the cult’s errant theology. And he said something that made me so mad I wouldn’t speak to him the rest of the evening: “No church can keep you out of heaven.” Actually I did say one more thing: “But they’re wrong!” I still believe their interpretation is wrong, and so did he for that matter, but he wanted me to see the people. He is right: no church, or cult, can keep you out of heaven, or get you in. No one is saved without God’s direct working in the process (John 6:44). What a valuable lesson I learned.

I still believe strongly in orthodoxy (right doctrine), and in the importance of the church, but they can’t be abstracts. That’s what was so disturbing about the aforementioned street-preacher. He spat out words tinged with bitterness, and who knows what response he expected. Perhaps he thought that they would feel enlightened. Perhaps he just was doing his “duty” and really didn’t care what the people thought.

We should notice, in contrast, two very important points about Jesus’ preaching: first, Jesus certainly did discuss hell and punishment, and told people to repent. But, second, he generally reserved these discussions for people who knew better, and needed to get straight with God—particularly the religious establishment. His approach for those “outside” was much more tender—no less firm and no less truthful, but his harshest rebukes were not directed at these people.

Interesting. I think the disciples went through the same phase I did, too (check out Luke 9:51-56). But you know what, Jesus didn’t let them get away with that “being right” attitude for long. And that’s one part of Scripture the street-preacher definitely missed.

Wow. The ministry of reconciliation that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians is born out of the truth that it’s about the people. That’s good stuff. Not easy stuff—it’s much easier sometimes to say, “I’m right, and that’s it.” But it’s good stuff—and Good News.

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