Relationship over Preaching: My First Response to the Street Preacher Part 2

I was happy to get a letter from Harry. To be honest, I’m disappointed at the inability of Christian leaders to carry on a conversation, be¬†criticized¬†and defend their beliefs in public. Generally the consensus from anyone that gets confronted about something is to tell the person doing the confronting that they are being unChristian like and unloving. Harry seems at the least to enjoy the dialogue and want to engage me at this level. So after his four page handwritten letter, I responded with the letter below. A lot of the letter is using his language back at him and responding to direct questions, so keep that in mind as you read it.

Dear Harry

Thank-you for your letter. Thank-you also for stopping by theStory and seeing what we are up to. I will admit, I have been meaning to get your contact information for a while now to speak to you about such matters. I hope we can understand each other better because of this correspondence. I also am open to speaking with you again, and including your pastor in on the meeting. Just as a heads up, theStory is part of the Free Methodist Church in Canada, so we stand by their doctrinal statements officially. I’ll start by answering your questions as directly as I can.

1. The God that I believe in is the God of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac. The God that is revealed in the Bible and the God that sent his son, Jesus Christ.

2. Yes, I do believe Jesus is God. I hold the trinitarian worldview.

3. This is one that I find a little bit trickier to answer. I know the answer you are looking for but I think we probably would understand what “heaven” is a little bit differently. The Bible speaks about the “Kingdom Of God” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” in John’s Gospel. I don’t believe there is a way in which I can give you 4 steps to “get there.” I believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is now, here among us and it is not yet and still to come. I do not believe the idea that heaven is this place that we go to when we die is the full picture of salvation. I also don’t think that how one gets to heaven and how I understand the gospel are the same question. The gospel is a lot larger than personal salvation, it involves the reconciliation of all things.

I believe the gospel is the good news that the kingdom of God is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All those that believe participate with God within the Kingdom here and now and in the age to come, living out a life that is shaped by the values of God by becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the redemption of all creation bringing everything under the Lordship of Christ.

4. I believe the Christian faith is inclusive to the entire world. However I do not believe that we all believe in the same God. People believe in all sorts of things that aren’t God. I do not believe we are all Gods.

5. Not all religions are the same. Some believe in multiple Gods, some believe in no God. I do not believe that as long as you are good you will make it to heaven (as stated before, I don’t believe heaven is what we should be longing for, but rather the Kingdom of God realized here and now and anticipated in a fullness yet to come). So again, I feel like it’s impossible for me to answer some of your questions because we have very different terms for what we believe.

After answering these questions I recognize that we may be on different pages in understanding each other. We are speaking very different languages when it comes to our faith. You see your faith as a very black and white reality with strict doctrinal belief statements. I do not. For instance, your constant reference to “heaven” as this place that you go to when you die is a language that I do not use. I find it harmful to reduce the Christian faith to a simple set of four spiritual laws as a way to get to heaven and not hell when you die. This reduces salvation to a mere exchange of “right beliefs” for an eternity in heaven. I do not see the scriptures giving this kind of understanding at all. There is more to salvation than simply acknowledging certain cognitive thoughts as the right ones. Judging by your letter, this is how you seem to understand the gospel, but I hope to challenge you to see the scope of God’s salvation to be bigger than that. When in John, Jesus speaks about living life to it’s full, this is a lot more than surviving earth and making sure you end up in the right place when you die.

That is just one example of our language differences. But trust me, I believe that Jesus Christ was necessary and I believe that only through his death and resurrection can we know truth and life. There is only one way to God, through Jesus. However, I do believe there is more ways to Jesus than the ways that you are suggesting.

I think you are making assumptions based on our small conversation, but no need to apologize. I don’t think you can skip sin and judgment. How can we? We are all sinners and we are under judgment for that sin now. I just don’t think it’s your job to constantly be pointing out everyone’s judgment and sin. Doesn’t it say in Romans that we are condemned already? How does it help that you continue to condemn them? I also wonder where you would find that biblically it is your job to go out and convict people of their sin and remind them that they are sinners and are going to be judged? With Christ as our example, the only people he convicted of sin were religious leaders (people like you and me) and that was for heaping guilt on people, not extending grace, creating hierarchies and creating an exclusive gospel. Christ commands for us to make disciples not to convict people of their sin. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. You seem to have taken on the role of the Holy Spirit in your weekly preaching downtown.

There also seems to be a sense of urgency in your need to be downtown and tell people about their sin and Jesus. This is also something that I don’t understand where you are coming from? Jesus tells a short parable in Mark 4:24 about what the Kingdom of God is like. There is no urgency is this parable. Jesus also says that by the way we love each other He will draw all men to himself. Salvation is God’s. Not ours. So why do you put this burden on yourself for other people’s souls? I admire your love and boldness. I wish we had more people with that kind of motive. However, I wish you would use it towards loving people and building relationships with them rather than wasting your Friday nights standing on a soapbox.

I think a major part of our difference is strategy (though, from this letter and your questions I think we would have a hard time landing on the same page doctrinally as well). But praise God we are one in the Lord Jesus Christ. I praise God that he doesn’t save us because of right doctrine. God knows that you and I are both probably wrong in half of what we believe. Is it doctrine that binds us together in Christ or is it Christ? I think you and I would both agree it’s Christ.

The strategy that I would criticize is not the content of what you are saying on a soapbox in downtown Sarnia. It is the very fact that you are saying anything at all. I don’t believe that soapbox preaching is loving, inclusive, truthful or graceful. It is full of judgment (that should only come from God). It is full of missed opportunities for real conversation and relationship. The medium is the message. If you truly want to lead people to a relationship with Jesus Christ, don’t you think the least you could do is have a relationship with them? So again. I don’t think it is worth getting into a doctrinal argument about salvation. I do however think that you are missing the mark and doing the Kingdom of God a disservice with your preaching. You are not preaching a message of hope and redemption, even if you think you are; no one is hearing the hope that you and I both believe in. You are preaching a message of condemnation and despair. Or at least that is what people have expressed to me and that is what I hear when you preach.

theStory has been downtown for five years now and we have built relationships with all the storefront owners and artists and people that have come into our midst. We are exactly where God wants us. Building long-term, meaningful relationships with the people that he loves. Hurting people, broken people, Christians, Muslims and atheists. We attempt to make disciples of those that are interested. We attempt to give to the poor. We serve in the capacity that we can. We practice being among the marginalized of our community. We display the fruits of the Spirit as often as possible. We speak truth into people’s lives when we are welcomed to. We preach repentance and and the forgiveness of Christ. We create a place where Christ’s love can transform people.

You on the other hand, show up downtown, with no relationship with anyone from downtown and tell everyone that they need Jesus or they are going to hell. Most people only hear half your message. Nobody knows who you are. This is because the message of God’s salvation is not one that can be “preached” simply with words in five minutes. God’s message of salvation is to be the actual incarnation of good news in a neighbourhood. Look at the greek word for “preach” it is the verb form of “good news.” This means make the good news (the gospel) into a verb. Live it out. What does the good news of God’s salvation look like lived out in your life? Who cares about arguments and words. Words mean nothing if you aren’t willing to do the hard work of relationship. People are bombarded with words all day long from thousands of sources. You are just one more source. The gospel is not a gospel of words and right beliefs. The gospel is the total transformation of creation and bringing it under the Lordship of Christ. You can’t explain that through words. You can only live that out in your life and through relationship. Believing something is true does not save a man. Only Christ’s actual physical death and resurrection can save someone.

You made a few mentions of theStory and accusing us of mixing ‘pagan’ practices into our service. To start, I don’t think we mixed any pagan practices at all into our services. ‘Celtic’ is not pagan. It’s simply a tradition of Christianity whose prayers we can appreciate. Is there anything in our prayers that made you think they were pagan? What was it about the Eucharist that we shared that was pagan? The songs we sing mix some of the beautiful imagery of the scriptures along with contemporary imagery to understand our God and Creator. Spend a few hours in Song of Solomon if you really want to get confused about the language his followers used to describe him, or how about Revelation?

Let me suggest, and I do this with all the Christian love I can muster, that Harry, you are deceived right along with us (borrowing language from your pamphlet). The way that you use and understand the scriptures borrows heavily from the evangelical movements of the past 100 years and strays far from the message of Paul, Jesus and the early church. The way you understand heaven, hell, other religions, eschatology, hermeneutics and preaching is far from biblical and mixes in more ‘pagan’ ideas than I think you would care to admit. The arrogance of coming downtown and thinking that how you understand salvation and God is the way that everyone needs to understand it tells me that you have been indoctrinated with a belief that turns salvation and grace into a farce. You use scripture to prove points that only you understand and are not relevant to anyone you are preaching too. You have based your beliefs on how you understand the Scriptures and have not done them service by understanding their context or meaning. I suggest that you spend some time and read how Paul was a missionary. See who he was talking to. See how he talked differently to Jews then he did to Gentiles. See what he chose to use to teach (ie. how many times he quotes Cretan [pagan] prophets) and to guide people to Christ. See how he builds relationships. Read the Bible alongside of Christian scholars like Wright, Hauerwas, Piper, Newbigin, Calvin, Luther, Barth, Moltmann, Witherington and Volf. See how encompassing the salvation that Paul talks about is, especially in Colossians.

I would love to continue this conversation, and I hope I don’t come across as unloving. My fear though is that a lot of the things in your letter are written to what you think I believe and not to actually what I believe. You throw around words like ‘style’ and ‘pagan’ and ‘true repentance’ as accusations or not thinking that I actually believe the same things as you. I am sure some of things that I am saying are coming as a shock, and if you would like further reading material on any specific topics I would love to provide you with some.

To sign off my letter, I would like to request that you do not come downtown during Artwalk, or any more at all in the way that you have been coming down here. Members from our church actually operate and organize the festival and it would be a disturbance to the peace and annoying for everyone participating. People there have already heard what you have to say and I hope I have convinced you that it is actually keeping people away from heaven and making it more difficult to enter in the narrow way than bringing them closer. I hope you can acknowledge my request, from a brother to a brother. I would love for this correspondence to continue though so we can both understand each other better.

Nathan Colquhoun

3 thoughts on “Relationship over Preaching: My First Response to the Street Preacher Part 2”

  1. Very diplomatic, yet firm, reply, Nate. I hope that he will see the positive side of what you are communicating to him.

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