Boldness. One of those concepts that is thrown around in evangelical circles, often used as one of the top measurements to rate a person’s spiritual maturity. The more “bold” you are for certain topics, or by standing up on street corners to preach the Gospel, or by attending rallies at Planned Parenthood and holding signs, then the closer to Jesus you are.
But after a few years, this system starts to unravel a bit at the seams. All of the people you boldly witnessed to are no longer attending church. You stumble upon some teachings that bring those bold stances on political issues into question. You drive by a street corner preacher one night in a hurry to run an errand and it hits you – that little snippet of his “bold” sermon you were able to catch makes absolutely no sense outside of the context of the whole 20 minute sermon. So who was it that listened the whole time to you the last time you did that anyways?
Oh, yeah. It was those people that “accepted Jesus” on the spot that are no longer going to church.
I still remember going on a “Jericho Walk” around a local strip club (during the daytime, of course) once in college. The (obviously drunk) owner came out and wanted to see what on Earth we were up to. Our leader told him that we were praying for his establishment and asked him what he thought of Jesus. The owner blurted out “I love Jesus – He changed my life” and then stumbled back inside.
I wish this was an isolated incident, but it seemed like, over time, so much of the “boldness” that I forced out of myself ended up with the same story at the end.
Lately there seems to have been an increase in the number of Christian leaders, artists and others that are going for a shocking and controversial “boldness”: hard line messages that make everyone but the most right-leaning Church members mad. They argue that they are called to be controversial and to shock people, especially in the Church.
After years and years of being a bold, controversial Christian, can I be honest? The bold controversial stuff was easy. Way too easy.
Look, anyone can piss others off. As an artist myself, can I tell you how easy it is to come up with offensive artwork, lyrics, messages, etc. Cussing in a song to get a point across ala Tony Campolo? Easy. Racy artwork to make people uncomfortable and reconsider what they do with their thought life? Too easy. Ranting sermons that take hot button topics head on? So, so, so easy.
What makes them so easy? Sure, you get nervous in the minutes leading up to it. But you know that it will be over soon. You can preach against the sins of the world, hop in your car, and head home. You record a song, but never have to face what people say most of the time – and when you do, once again, it will be a quick confrontation and then it is over.
People like to point at the “fruit” of such methods. Yes, people do respond. There are some people that are just wired to respond to being scared silly. But fear, condemnation, shock, and irritation are all poor motivators for long-term attitude change. That is why you see people respond quickly to “boldness” and disappear as quickly as they came along. Once they start thinking about what happened, they realize they made a rash, emotional response that may not be what they really wanted.
So, ultimately, boldness is not about changing the world, but about changing the one being bold. Or maybe even just about making them feel better about themselves: more spiritual, more holy, or something along those line. And we all need that – we need to grow closer to God and and go deeper in holiness.
But we have to be honest that it is a lousy way to change the world. Because the church is losing ground in what is arguably the nation with the greatest number of bold Christians anywhere.
One day it dawned on me that its really not all that hard to be bold and in your face in a way that offends and scares someone into a temporary change of mind. But it takes a lot of time and talent to ask the right vague open-ended questions that gets people thinking and eventually making a permanent change of heart. But its the model you see Jesus taking with the unbelieving masses. He saved the hell fire and brimstone for religious leaders of the day.
Anyone can be bold and controversial. But it takes quite a bit of talent and insight to do something that makes people think and reconsider their lives to the point that they make long-term, lasting changes. Or even more specifically, it takes a good dose of an area that few evangelicals seem interested in going: educational theory.
Education is really about changing people’s knowledge and attitudes over the long term. But it requires a lot of effort to make people think. It takes a long time, and often requires that you allow people to get it wrong before they can get it right. It also means sometimes asking the vague questions more often than preaching the bold words. Do you want people to take your word for it and never really know why they should, or to figure it out for themselves and know why they should believe it?
So, if we are looking to reach people and change the world, why not look to the field of education for research and strategies? We only seem to look to theology for quick, easy answers to everything, and then when that fails to connect with people we usually blame the people for being “hard-hearted” rather than look at our approach. I say it is time to re-examine the approach and quit blaming the world around us.