See, in your mind’s eye, a street preacher. Someone who, perhaps with a Bible in one hand and a portable speaker attached to his waist, proclaims biblical truth to a public audience. Maybe he is at a major sporting event encouraging the crowds to repent. Maybe he (or she) is at a busy bus depot downtown. Maybe he is in front of an abortion clinic. When you see such a person in your mind’s eye, or perhaps with your actual eyes, what do you think of them? What is your impression?
Most of us intuitively think that anyone willing to be so public with just about anything – religious or otherwise – may have a few screws loose. And, in fact, by Lutheran standards, it is true that many who dare to preach so publicly do hold to different theological views than we do. And yes, some people engaged in street ministry may be downright certifiable. Still, should we write them all off as a little nutty, especially if the words they are saying are a perfectly Biblical presentation of the Gospel?
It may not surprise you that this preacher’s answer is “No.” Public proclamation is a pretty normal occurrence in the Bible. The prophets sure did it. John the Baptist did it. Jesus did it. Peter and Paul did it. You get the idea. And before you say that times were different or the cultures were different, that in itself doesn’t make the practice strange today. Indeed, I would prefer a public culture where the free exchange of ideas can take place in a healthy and robust fashion rather than all of us retreating to our favorite echo chambers on our screens and radio dials.
But, again, granting that some public personalities may be doing it for all the wrong reasons, why do such public presences make us uncomfortable? We tend to lump them all with the more extreme voices (Fred Phelps, anyone?). But in many cases, those who dare to preach in public places are not crazy bigots or unhinged lunatics. They are simply men and women who realize that since the world is increasingly unlikely to enter their church doors, they are going to go to where the people are. Yes, in today’s boundary-respecting era, we tend to think of these people as strange. But I would say that if the best of the street preachers are weird, then every serious Christian is equally weird. And we had better be prepared for that.
You see, we used to be the mainstream. And, not to be Chicken Little, in many ways the Christian view of things still is mainstream. (Indeed, because we are made in God’s image, it should be the most normal thing in the world for God’s Word and ways to be normative for anyone at any time.) But obviously things have changed. A full-throated, unashamed, biblically-influenced view on everything from education to abortion to worship to marriage is strange. Even accounting for all the variation within the many Christian “camps” out there, those who defend the Bible as God’s Word and then purport to live accordingly are considered strange.
Consider, for example, the Christian baker who refused to prepare a cake for a same-sex wedding, whose case is before the Supreme Court. His last recourse of defense is the law. It is not “common sense”, the culture at large, or a local magistrate. It is a well-compensated, highly-educated team of lawyers who will defend the baker, not on moral or biblical grounds but on the basis of mere constitutional language and precedent. If the baker is victorious, it will be because his lawyers did enough to convince one Supreme Court justice that their view of the Constitution is correct. Even if the baker wins, the fact that his case made it to the Supreme Court at all is an indication that we have already lost in the culture at large.
Or consider the preacher outside the abortion clinic. Do we really dare say that he is the weird one? Imagine what is happening inside! The law, the courts, Hollywood, the academy and even some in the church support the doctors, nurses and office personnel that oversee the termination of life every single day, perhaps 100 times a day. They do nothing to stop it. And the guy outside pleading for life…he’s the weird one?
Look, we are not all street preachers; but in many ways, Christians are becoming the weird ones. We had better embrace it and get used to it. Here are some tangible goals:
- Strategic and noticeable withdrawal should become our norm in the future: by not participating in things on the world’s terms, we will be acting “weird” and sending a message.
- More public proclamation is needed: you don’t need to be ordained to have a public presence on college campuses and other public places.
- Use social media: if everyone is on Facebook, let the world know how you live out your faith there.
There you have it. You’re all weird. Now act like it!