I was wandering on the Catholic Answers site, and somebody asked, “Does God want Bible Thumpers? I wrote a lengthly reply, and decided to post it here.
First… let’s look at the stereotype of the “Bible Thumper”. This person, if the stereotype be true, is one who knocks on the doors of strangers, who accosts them in lines at the grocery store with a message. Then he asks if you believe in Jesus. He then proceeds to give one reasons, threats and tracts based on various memes associated with Christianity. He is often holding a bible, but not always. They are known to have many lines memorized for any occasion. If we can agree that this is what we are talking about when we say the words “bible thumper” than we can proceed to the next step.
What does God want from us? Well, that’s a big sort of question, but we can narrow things down a bit. Is this what God wants from us? I’m not so sure.
You see, he DOES want us to spread the Good News, to be gracious and kindly to our neighbor and to care deeply about the Eternal consequences of actions. But were the missionaries who were truly successful do it in the way of the Bible Thumper?
What does this man have to offer the sinner? Did Jesus rebuke the sinner? He rebuked the pharisees the people who thought they were blameless and without blemish– and in many cases ABOVE the Law. He knocked over tables in the temple. He chased out the money changers. He called them (like John the Baptist) a brood of vipers. He accused them of being poisonous leaven. And he mentioned that when the apostles were arguing over who was the greatest.
He rebuked the woman at the well only after she said she desired the Waters of Eternal Life. Only after she honestly revealed her soul to him. He called her on covering up the truth of herself, to look honestly at her wounds and repent. She was ahead of the game by even knowing she sinned, because she bothered to hide it from someone she wanted to impress. She knew she yearned desperately for love, and admitted it to him.
After the death of John the Baptist he told everyone to repent in hard terms. He even went to the land of the Gentiles to do so. This is a troublesome event for those who would argue that facing down the sinner in his own den is not God’s will. Then there’s that whole, early church thing, where millions of Christians were killed– in ugly, public ways– before Constantine. It happened afterwards, too. But some folks only pay attention to the before part.
The Nazis struck with brutal reprisals against anyone who protested their horrible behavior. The ever enlightened intelligentsia of the time blamed the Catholic Church for baiting the SS and “making them do it.” Because the Pope incessantly spoke out against them, not because they supported it.
They KNEW what he was saying, because there were prophecies available, and everyone in the community knew what was happening.
He freely opened his healing to those who were outside, and welcomed the gentiles in his midst. But he never approached the gentiles with the same knotted cords as he did the Pharisees, Sadducees and their Jewish brethren. Because they could understand, and the gentiles had to learn.
This is what he meant about pearls before swine.
He taught them with stories from their own lives. He did not speak directly of the scriptures in his public ministry. He referenced in metaphorical ways. He told basic stories, and spoke of love. Most importantly, he talked about how the law of Love works, and how simple it is at it’s heart. But because life is complicated, being loving is more than being nice. But he talked about how love even in this complex world leads to a just society– and the failure to love, even in the name of being nice– leads to tyranny.
He spoke of how the real and the eternal are interlocked, and reflect each other at many levels. He left those seeds to be planted in whatever soil it found itself.
It is easy to think ‘Well, everybody knows Christianity exists these days, we just have to remind them.” The problem is, we don’t. Most people think we do, which is yet more dangerous. The Pharisees at least read the Torah and knew it well, yet interpreted it to their wants and desires. Then the people were taught by these men, and knew no better of what they were taught. Today, people think that the spiritual twinkies and fizzy drink that has been promulgated for 50-100 years are the Body and Blood of Christ.
So how on earth can you possibly know what that stranger knows about God and the Truth? Saying “Christian” by itself can mean so many things these days.
The only way to really do evangelization in this way is to foster a relationship with the stranger. So you can’t just open with a line about believing in Jesus. They could say yes, meaning that they believe he existed in history, or perhaps a lovable guru who founded a religion a long time ago.
It used to be that people would go to the public square just to listen to folks speaking on street corners. It was sort of like watching Youtube today. You never knew what sort of freaky thing the next guy was going to say. In those days of Christ and his apostles, everybody was their own philosopher. There were also all kinds of mystery religions and foreign gods, and people would often just wander around to listen, with a voyeuristic ‘collect the whole set’ sort of mentality.
What was impressive (from a purely physical perspective) about Christ is that people would not just listen, but stay. They would follow him out to the wilderness to hear His words, risk long treks with no food and drink. Granted, a part of that came later when they expected to be fed, and wanted him to perform miracles so they could see the goodness for themselves.
The upshot is, people haven’t changed much. We still want to see the goodness for ourselves. We want to see it, touch it, taste it, and devour. But that goodness doesn’t make sense without the dust of the street. I’m not talking about relevance, necessarily.
The Truth itself should be relevant– as it applies to all peoples and all times. Even today we have death, and we fear it more than ever. Even today we have sin, and we ignore it more than ever. Today the ugly outcroppings of sin hurt us more than ever. Sin is a weed that when ignored grows ever stronger and takes over the whole greenhouse. But how do you say “Repent” when people do not know what sin IS, or that SIN is even bad? The culture has completely divorced the conditions of their lives from the actions that they take. You can no more talk about morality than controlling the weather. They may not believe in badness as a concept!
So “Bible Thumping” is a useful concept only in a limited respect. It only works on people who are Christians already. We passed outside that event horizon 60 years ago. But making relationships, speaking from the heart, and not keeping your mouth shut when a person knows does wrong is important. Being honest is important. And you can’t do it with a sound bite. Your words become weapons pointed inward rather than potential crack in the armor of sin.