We recently got back from a family vacation, which meant we spent quite a bit of time on interstate 95, driving up and down the eastern seaboard. One of the things I always forget about is the number of billboards that dot the highways, along with bumper stickers that look something like this:
You'll also see things like this:
We've all seen a million of these, right? And I imagine different Christians have different reactions to them.
But I can't help but wonder how we'd feel if the billboard looked a bit more like this:
At least for me, if I saw that billboard, here are some questions I'd be asking:
- What if I don't want to go to Kansas?
- What if I don't care about Kansas?
- What if Kansas isn't real?
- Who cares if there is only one way...I don't want to go there? (no offense, Kansans)
- This billboard has the worst design art I've ever seen. Why would I trust these people?
- Jesus was from the middle east. Why does he look Swedish on this billboard?
What this billboard would do is completely miss a HUUUUGGGE group of people. They'd see it, maybe shrug their shoulders, in one ear and out the other, and they'd go on their way without ever thinking about it again.
Because in their mind, like me, they live in a world where Kansas has little-to-nothing to do with their life. It's like seeing a commercial for some prescription drug for an illness they don't have. Maybe the illness exists, maybe it doesn't. Maybe the drug works, maybe it doesn't. Regardless, it has nothing to do with me.
So forget the billboards for a moment and their "effectiveness" as a communication tool. Let's think about some of these "where are you going when you die?" or "Jesus is the only way to Heaven" lines of thinking.
What happens if the person you're talking to doesn't believe that place exists? Or that going there would be a good thing? Or believes there's life after death?
Does this make the Gospel any less 'Good News' to their life? I, personally, still believe there is Good News there. More than we can even imagine. It doesn't matter that YOU think it exists. The point is THEY don't think it exists. Or...let's imagine they do think heaven exists. It doesn't matter that YOU think there is only one way into eternity. The point is THEY think they are good to go as it relates to eternity. It's going to be incredibly challenging for people to begin to hear what we have to share if it requires they have a baseline of thinking that they think is absurd and silly. (And hopefully we can leave the silly billboards behind...)
But if the whole of the Gospel boils down to what happens when you die, we've just removed the relevancy of the Gospel from a whole bunch of people (btw: it doesn't, at least based on Jesus' own words it can't be boiled down to that). Paul clearly got this: In Athens he tailored the Good News of Jesus by starting with what they commonly believed and built from there.
I sometimes wonder if we if we are so stuck in our worldview, if we are so locked into our reduced, simplified and I'd say watered-down-Gospel, that we can't see that people's beliefs are a million miles away from where we are.
A trip to Kansas may be good news to some people.
But isn't the Gospel supposed to be Good News for all people...no matter where you're at? Whether I choose to respond to that or live into that is immaterial. I can be the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 and walk away. We can say that the Gospel will draw some and repel others.
But you just can't convince me that the reason it should repel them is because we refuse meet them where they are at.