An Unlikely Source of Conviction

For those who don’t know of him, Penn Jillette is an oustpoken Athiest comedian, illusionist, and writer, most famous for his Showtime television series, Penn & Teller: Bullspit! (Apologies to Penn & Teller for changing the name of the show – they don’t really say “spit” – but this is a family-friendly blog!)

While I rarely agree with him, and can by no means recommend his unwholesome show, I have always found him to be a truly fascinating person, particularly in his writings and video blogging. He is a libertarian, having endorsed Ron Paul during last year’s primaries. He is an adherent of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which I’ve studied at length in the past (to me a very depressing worldview, as it is nearly the complete antithesis of Biblical Christianity; Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead is a novelization of her philosophy – highly recommended reading). His first child is named Moxie CrimeFighter Jillette… how can this not be an interesting man!

Penn Jillette is brash, abrasive, and often cruel in his attacks on those with whom he disagrees, yet he is also provacative and thoughtful, rational in his reasoning. And occasionally, his “tell-it-like-it-is” (or at least, like he thinks it is) attitude shines a light on some uncomfortable areas of my own life. There is a conviction in his speech that, on those points where his worldview intersects God’s Truth, forces me to think critically and objectively about my faith. Do I really believe what I say I believe? More importantly, do my actions demonstrate my beliefs, or is my faith merely words?

Watch this video, as Jillette reflects on an encounter with a believer following a performance of his live act in Las Vegas:

Is that not an indictment on Evangelical Christians today? That a man humbly and authentically sharing his faith in a non-confrontational way would be such a rare occurrence as to make such an impression as this? While Penn Jillette is still firmly planted in his atheism, this is exactly what the Church needs to be doing today. All too often, we fail to share our faith because we assume that those who are not believers have already heard and rejected the Gospel, or we believe the responsibility for proselytizing lies with others within the body of Christ.

People, we (and I’m definitely including myself here) need to start taking our faith seriously here. We have got to start acting like we really believe that God is real, that Christ died for our sins, and that He is coming back soon! Is it any surprise that many of those who are lost perceive Christianity as a judgmental and intolerant religion of hate? Sure, those who are actively spewing hatred in the name of Christ (Fred Phelps being one of the vilest examples) are a vocal minority, but Penn hit the nail on the head when he said, “How much must you hate somebody to not proselytize?”

Today’s watered-down, seeker-friendly churches aren’t doing anybody any favors. “Feel Good Christianity” is a shallow, weak-minded faith, and anybody who takes the time to put any real thought into it knows that. When we become over-dependent on the emotional aspect of our faith — the “passion” that makes us feel like we must really be encountering God — two things happen. First of all, our self-image, and our perception of our standing with Christ, become dependent on how we feel. Our emotions are fickle; our God is unchanging, and we are called to be like Him. Second, we tend to be equally passionate about “issues” — particularly political and social issues — that go against our beliefs. Passion manifests itself in anger as often as (if not more so than) in love. When we get defensive (let alone offensive) about things like abortion, marriage, taxes, or any other issue, we have a tendency to speak truth in anger, rather than in love, which turns away the very people we are called to reach!

There are a lot of Penn Jillettes in the world; people who, though rejecting the Truth of the Gospel, really are seekers of truth. I believe many athiests fit this mold. If the only encounter with Christ they have is through the compromised witness of Christians who are too eager to be a part of the world, can we blame them for rejecting that?

Sadly, most Christians have no desire to engage in serious study of the Word, and are unable to give an answer for the hope that is in us. In a world where the very concept of truth has eroded away, people are hungry for Truth. How are they to ever find it if those of us who have the Truth keep it to ourselves?

Paul set the example when he said, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” We can’t sit around and expect people to come to us and ask for the truth. We have to meet them where they are, ministering to their needs with compassion and empathy. We have to remember that, though they may despise us, they are not our enemies! They are merely what we were: sinners in need of a Savior. Note that Paul said “might save some“. Not everyone is going to listen to what we have to say. But if we truly love people, we MUST make the effort. We cannot be afraid to offend, so long as it is not we who are offensive, but the cross of Christ.

There IS a truck that’s about to run over a lot of people. Penn Jillette was right when he said we need to be shouting that truth, even when people don’t believe us. I just wish more Christians had the wisdom to see the truth in that analogy. Are you willing to “tackle” somebody for God? Am I?

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