Michaela and I had a strange encounter the other day whilst walking around Keswick.
We were stopped by three boys- all aged around 12-13, two of them standing slightly to one side and letting the bravest one do all the talking. He stuttered and stumbled his way into asking us if we minded answering a ‘small questionnaire’. We were in no hurry and they seemed like nice lads so we agreed. We assumed it was some kind of school project (although I had this nagging suspicion…)
The lads had no prepared written questions, nor any apparent need to write down our answers- and the conversation went something like this;
“Erm, have you ever, erm, told a lie?”
I replied that I had not- apart from what I had just said- but then realised that irony was pointless so just said that I had indeed told lies.
“What do you call someone who tells lies?”
We agreed that they were called liars
“Erm, have you ever hated anyone?”
A little bit, I replied, and we settled on the fact that people who hate were called haters.
“Erm, Ok then, right, so have you ever, like, stolen anything? Even like, a tiny little thing?”
I said that I had but Michaela said that she had not- which if you know her is quite believable. The boy however seemed highly skeptical. We then agreed that people who steal things are theives
Then things got rather surreal.
Ok, have you ever looked at a member of the opposite sex with lust?”
The poor lad flushed up a bit and his two mates shuffled their feet and looked pointedly away. I was tempted to point out that I was stood next to my wife and lust had indeed had a part to play in our relationship, but in the end just said that I would never dream of doing such a thing. By now of course I knew exactly where the conversation was heading, as I am sure you do too.
The lad then brought out his killer line; his closer; his hook; his sales pitch;
“The Bible says that if you do any of these things in your mind then it is like you are doing them for real. If you look at anyone with hate you are murdering them, and if you look at them with lust you are raping them.”
He then wound himself up a little and looked at me- not Michaela.
“You have just told me – I have not said it, it came out of your own mouth – that you are a liar, and thief, a murderer and a rapist… what do you think you need to do about that?”
Michaela and I could take no more, and politely pointed out that these were not new issues for us and that we were actually Christians. We wished the lads well and went on our way.
Which was a shame really as both of us wanted to know where the lads were from- what Christian group would send them out into the crowds of a holiday town with that kind of material, and whether they really believed they were doing something good, something right.
Both of us were troubled by our encounter.We shook our heads and raised our eyebrows for about an hour afterwards.
These questions still linger with me;
- Did the organisers of this group of kids really expect us to be convicted of our sin by this kind of approach; to repent and turn to God on the spot?
- Does this kind of evangelism ever work? Are we not all innoculated against it now, and if not- how many encounters are required for even a single conversion? How many are required for a single meaningful conversation even?
- Is it not just a little creepy to set young boys on the task of asking about the lust-fullness of a random middle aged couple? Then to tell us that we are murderers and rapists?
- If the real issue was shock- training for the boys in holy boldness and firmness of their own faith, then what might they be learning from these encounters? Chronic embarrassment or the power of the gospel let loose on the mean streets?
- Where is the creativity, the playful engagement with culture, the relevance to the relaxed holidaymakers in a busy market town?
- Where is the honesty? Sucking people into a conversation like this, only to sting them with what some people might find offensive?
Of course, viewed through the lens of conservative evangelicalism all of these are non-questions. What the boys were doing was to follow the purest expression of the Great Commission. They were giving people the opportunity to save their souls from the eternal torment that is our just punishment for sin. This was what Jesus came into the world for and any other Christian activity is subservient to this task.
The passage that the boys had built their ‘questionnaire’ on is of course Matthew chapter 5- the sermon on the mount. Jesus takes on the surface religiosity of the Pharisees and turns it on its head.
And religiosity always needs to be turned on its head.
I really hope that the faith of these boys will survive their encounter with religion.