There was an old man my brother knew. Though he’s now gone to be with the Lord, he still features in morning stories. By the end of his life, the man was hunched over and hard of hearing. But if anyone mentioned the Pennsylvania Railroad, well then. Like a bear waking from hibernation, he’d slowly unhunch, his dim eyes with coal-fire sparkles, look at him who spoke of his love, and with a crackling, “Pennsylvania Railroad?”, he’d jump into a tale of steel, sweat, and adventure.
Why do I tell you of this man? Well, such men should be talked about. There’s greatness in him that would be hard for someone to recognize if all that was thought about was CNN’s fake news coverage.
Furthermore, the man was a Gideon. In America, Gideons are the guys who put small KJVs and New Testaments in your hotel bedside table. They also went to Dickinson College a few years ago, when my brother was a student there. Positioning themselves at all the junctions of campus pedestrian traffic, those old men confidently handed out their Bibles to students who responded like mountain trolls threatened with sunlight. Angry laughter and obscenities abounded. Bibles were drawn on, added to with devilish phrases, and tossed to the bin.
My brother told me this, and concluded, “I don’t know what I think of that as an evangelistic strategy. I don’t like seeing so many Bibles treated that way.”
My brother’s impulse is correct here. The Bible is a holy book. It’s a shame upon Dickinson and a crime against God for it to be treated thus on that campus. Potentially it is an example of throwing your pearls before swine (yes, the swine are the students, like “student-athlete” but with more pork).
My instinct would be to preach at all those pedestrian junctions, with Bibles at the ready to distribute to the interested.
That said, I want to be slow to try to correct the Gideons in their practice.
An observation and an anecdote.
Observe. Observe the response to the Gideons and their Bibles. I’ve seen plenty of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing in thoroughfares on campuses, and, generally, nobody cares. They’re not a threat to pagans, so pagans don’t get flustered. But what happens when Gideons show up with real, non-heretically edited Bibles? Pagans freak out.
“How dare you come here and belligerently shove your religion down my throat! Don’t you know this book is intolerant! I’m going to take time out of my “busy” day and draw all over your Bible and throw it out! Where is a safe space in which I can recover from your foul presence?!”
I once preached a sermon on fighting the good fight that got me in a cramped, musty dog house. Folks were not happy with me. The week after I was talking about it with a gray-haired, wise pastor, a man who’s faithfully labored as a shepherd for decades.
He asked me, “How does a soldier know that a mortar has hit the target? Rebound. How do you know you’re over your target? Flak.”
Put another way, imagine having a water balloon fight with your brother. He’s standing on the other side of a wall. You can’t see him. So you toss a balloon over and listen. If you hear a splash and growl, you’ve hit the target.
Why did this pastor bring up the idea of mortars and rebounds? Well, in preaching, we’re going after sin, in the hearts of our hearers, sin we often cannot see. Preach a sermon and everyone smiles and nods and thanks you? You gotta wonder if you hit anything. Preach a sermon and get frowns and grumbles? Your mortar rounds hit something. Mission accomplished.
Now apply that idea to the Gideons on campus. If their method of Bible distribution, which, by the way, is far more interesting than InterVarsity’s method of friendship non-evangelism, is ineffective, then why in the world do the pagans get wound up? Why don’t they respond as they do to the JWs? Why don’t they respond like conservative students looking on at a topless feminist demonstration for empowerment (obviously bouncing their eyes the whole time)?
Pagans take the Gideons very seriously. They understand that their entire system is threatened by the presence of these old, white guys shoving King James Bibles in their faces.
So, before you conclude that the Gideons are throwing their pearls before swine, observe the response of liberal college students. Maybe the Gideons and those liberals know something that you’re missing. Maybe.
An anecdote. My friend went to the Strait of Gibraltar, on the Spanish side. He spent a summer passing out Bibles to folks travelling into Morocco. Apparently he’s not allowed to distribute Bibles in Morocco, but, as of now, there is no such law in Spain. The idea is to flood North Africa with Bibles by any means possible.
How many Bibles have been tossed into the Mediterranean because of this ministry? How many have been burned or binned in Morocco? I can only guess a fair amount.
But I promised an anecdote. One man took a Bible. He drove onto the ferry. He parked his car in Morocco and, while walking, tossed the Bible with discussed.
It happened to go over a wall into a lady’s garden. That lady picked up the Bible. She started reading it. She believed the Word of God. She repented of her sin and believed on Jesus Christ as her Savior and King.
Many a Bible in the trash and sea. One in her hands.
Now, I need to think more on the pearls and pigs thing, and how to apply it.
But I ain’t mad to see the Gideons doing their thing on a campus. In fact, I hope I grow up to be like them.