I hadn’t expected to meet a witch on the bus, what with their alternative form of transportation. Yet there she was, not a wart to be seen, sitting across the aisle. She had started the ride buried in a book, but her head came up when my friend and I discussed a particular point of theology in a slightly louder than normal fashion.
This friend was on his way to becoming a minister, and theological topics always had the effect of cranking up his volume. I suspected that this was a conscious decision, rather than just an outburst of enthusiasm, since he always talked about how Christians had to be more of a light to the world. And he was a light: a roaring, exploding bonfire of light that could not be ignored by anyone within earshot. Whether we were sitting in a steam room, or hanging out at a coffee house, or sitting on the bus, he provoked obviously unchristian people into talking with us.
This time around it was the witch. A few minutes into the ride she interrupted us to ask us what religion we followed. My friend was happy to explain, and then asked her what church she went to.
“Oh, I don’t go to a church,” she said, “I worship my personal goddess at home.”
The way she explained it, witches (or Wiccans) sounded a lot like New Agers. They did try and cast the occasional spell, but only love spells, and the central tenet of their religion was a respect for all of nature. It was just mumbo jumbo, nothing shocking or new for us, until she started talking about her personal goddess. After listing all sorts of benefits that came from having a goddess on call, she admitted it was nothing but a fabrication. That admission left both me and my conversationally-endowed buddy at a loss for words; we just couldn’t understand how someone could knowingly choose a delusion over a real, caring, and powerful God.
So we asked.
They don’t understand
The question surprised her. “You guys have to understand,” she blurted, “You pray and that makes you feel better, right? So what’s the difference between what you do and what I do?”
The basic fact she didn’t understand, the thing no one had told her before, was that we Christians serve the one real God. This woman had never heard that before. Her Wiccan experience with religion was an openly delusional one, so she, quite logically, assumed that all other religions were similarly based.
I found her ignorance surprising, but since then I’ve found it isn’t unusual. In fact, I had a similar sort of encounter less than a month later. This time my friend and I were making our semi-regular pilgrimage to a display sponsored by our university’s pro-choice club. I always went to pick up as many free brochures as possible, which, once I was out of sight, I would gleefully destroy. It was a small thing – a very small thing – but I thought it was at least as good an approach as the one my friend tried time and time again. He always debated with the pro-choicers.
But what was usually a waste of breath turned out a differently that day. After a heated five-minute exchange one of the young ladies at the table asked for clarification, “Do you mean you really, honestly think it’s a baby?”
“Of course,” my friend replied, “Why else would we even care?”
Well, that just didn’t fit with what she had been told, “I thought you religious types were just using this issue to try to control women.” Her friend nodded in agreement. They didn’t understand – they were utterly ignorant.
I’ve always wanted to believe that evangelism was as simple as living a good Christian life. I wanted to believe I didn’t actually have to talk about God as long as people could see His presence in my life. Actions are louder than words, right? The problem is, in this post-Christian age people don’t have the background – they don’t know the basics of Christianity – to understand our actions. A Christian who doesn’t work on Sunday is just a guy who gets the day off. No sex before marriage becomes the rational act of someone who’s scared of sexually transmitted diseases. Action against abortion is understood as a power grab against women, and even prayer can be explained away as nothing more than a type of meditation or some psychological self-talk exercise.
Actions only speak louder than words when the reasons for the actions are understood. And the world doesn’t have a clue anymore. So, as John MacArthur once put it, we need to “Preach the Gospel and always use words.” The world doesn’t understand so we all have to start talking and explaining. If you already are, you may have to start talking a little louder. And if you’re uncomfortable with cranking up the volume maybe you can just hang out with a conversationally-endowed buddy who isn’t.
A version of this article first appear in the January 1999 issue under the title “Dumb, but not deaf”