The Hesitant Evangelist

Recently, I was in the Piece Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire. There are some very interesting shops in this wonderful old complex, and of particular interest to me, a grand second-hand bookshop which I visit whenever I’m in the area.

I was disappointed to find that the ‘Theology’ (i.e., vaguely religous) section had been reduced to about half of its former size. I’d looked through the books on display in a matter of minutes – picking up a title by Malcolm Muggeridge which I hadn’t read – and moved to the area where philosophy books were supposed to be. As in most bookshops of this kind, these are few and far between and often (as in this shop, for some obscure reason) mixed up with books on psychology.

Whilst I attempted to find even one title on philosophy (a mission, incidentally, that failed), I heard a voice muttering in exasperation from where I had been standing a few moments before. A young man was saying something along the lines; “Won’t find it here.” I asked what he was looking for and he replied “Truth, but I won’t find it here.  I was looking for books on secular philosophy.”

This seemed to me like one of those God-given opportunities (which spring up so rarely) to say something really meaningful and profound.  But, as is often the case when such opportunities arise, the thing I felt I should really say (i.e., that the Truth he looked for could only be found in Jesus Christ) seemed curiously inappropriate, coming as it would, cold and out of the blue, so to speak. (This is probably because someone tried this with me when I was a young man and frightened me away from Christianity for another 16 years of my life!)

And so, I told him that I thought that if he did want to find Truth, he’d be better staying with the theology books in front of him.  I said he was more likely to find Truth there than in secular philosophy which would only confuse him and would ultimately lead to a dead-end. He looked slightly worried at where this conversation might be going and promptly informed me (before I could get more explicit?) that he left ‘religious’ stuff to his friend who was just completing a doctorate in theology at Oxford.  I inwardly thanked God that he had such a friend with whom he could discuss these kinds of issues. Maybe he’d face this question of ‘true’ Truth again at a later date.  And I felt too, in that instant, that maybe I had acted correctly. Maybe my part in the incident was merely to offer a piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, which, by the grace of God, would be ready one day to drop into its appointed place for this young man.

I write this entry as a kind of therapy for myself.  I’ve relived this incident many times in the past few weeks and wondered whether I let the Lord down that day. Was I being cowardly in not coming out with my instinctive inward reaction to that young man’s comment? Was I disobeying the Holy Spirit? Or was it He that ‘applied the brakes’ and made me feel that the situation wasn’t right for me to voice my own, strongly held views too overtly?

If you’d been in my shoes, I wonder what you would have said?

  1. Hope the therapy has done the trick!

    You know, these things are always tricky, but I think you hit exactly the right spot, if the guy had of responded and said, “really do you think so?” I don’t doubt you would have gone for a more direct approach.
    Christians (guess I am talking about me) often either go all guns blazing in their own strength, or walk on by, you took an opportunity and dealt with it thoughtfully .

    Can you imagine the next step? The young man meets up with his theological friend…. ” you’ll never guess what happened to me in that second hand book shop in the Piece Hall”.

    It could be just the opening the friend has been waiting for.

  2. Be encouraged Chris, from reading your account I do not suppose you were being cowardly. I would say you were being especially conscious of “trying to say the right word,” since you did not desire to daunt the man from further seeking or even maybe create a thought in his head that he was being coerced . I too can be conscious of this when a chance comes to share the gospel.

    However, I believe it is important to allow the truth of Gods gospel to be known. Theology books (though indispensable to Christian learning) would not have saved that young man if on that same day he had been (God forbid) “run over” and consequently died. He needed to HEAR the truth in love that day. To HEAR that day the reality that God is angry with sinner every day, that Gods wrath is upon all those who beak His Law (that’s everyone) and after that has been shared to inform him of Gods great love in providing a means by which we can be saved from His wrath.
    We need to trust more in the power of God’s Spirit to work, once the gospel has been preached.
    The Gospel of Christ will always be foolishness to the natural mind, nevertheless Gods light still shines.

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