Tuesday, December 06, 2005


on sunday dr. james and i had the opportunity to help another local church prepare their new meeting space for sunday worship. one of the guys we were working with was a kind, middle-aged missionary who served with campus crusade international for many years and is a highly skilled audio/visual tech.

side note: if you have a construction project that includes skill of any kind, i would not encourage you to include me in your team. i can't read a tape measure, am easily confounded by a crow bar and cannot be trusted with power tools.

anyway, after we had torn down a few dividing walls, shattered a little safety glass and thrown a couple of aged metal shelves down two flights of concrete stairs, james and i joined the middle-aged pastor and two other church leaders for lunch. just as we were unwrapping our double-quarter pounders and attempting to determine the real content of our chicken nuggets, james mentioned that he and brooke were going to see U2 later that night. one of the guys in the group responded with an affirming noise and another mentioned that he had wanted to see them live for twenty years.

but that's not what the middle aged missionary said. that's not how he responded at all. instead he altered our conversation with a perplexing interrogative: "do you think bono is saved?"

my immediate response was "how should i know? thankfully God hasn't left such determinations up to me." james responded by mentioning the beautiful way that bono advocates for the poor and invests a good deal of his own money in AIDS initiatives and other programs in africa.

the man ignored my response and responded to james by saying, "but there are a lot of unsaved people who do fantastic work for the poor." at that point the conversation ground into a glottal stop and i, for one, was glad to move on because any further response i offered would have been less than gracious.

in the hours and days that have followed that conversation, i have spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the middle-aged missionary's interrogative. although i once would have used such questions as a relational diagnostic, i now shudder to hear them tumble from people's lips. here are a few of the subconscious questions i (may) have heard lurking in and around the man's question.

"is bono one of us or is he an outsider?"

"sure bono's work is commendable, but is his theology acceptable?"

"how can we be sure that bono safe?"

"if bono is a christian, why doesn't he proclaim the gospel?"

"in the midst of his compassion, does bono risk telling people the truth?"

"we always need to doubt celebrities who claim to be christians...except mel gibson. he's the one who will be seated on God's left hand in heaven."

okay, so maybe the latter part of the last question never fired through the middle-aged missionary's synapses. hell, maybe none of them did. however, when someone asks a question like that, these are some of the assumptions that seem underlie their question.

i'm curious. how would you have responded to the man's question? feel free to provide a thoughtful and respectful (let's not slip into our own subtle form of condemnation here - the man is worthy of our respect) response by commenting below.


kidpositive said...

i would have laughed in his face. really. not disrespetfully, but just because a) i tend to laugh alot at things people say, and b) what he said was ridiculous (from my POV), so it would have meritted a spontaneous giggle.

then i would have asked him what he thinks being 'saved' means. if it seemed to possible to enter that conversation, then i would pursue it. however, most of the times, i find those conversations are hard to start, because people have their own ideas so strong in their heads, and have a hard time thoughtfully considering another perspective.

maybe unrelated, but it reminds of the time i overheard my southern-conservative-texan-aunt (on my mom's side) tell my liberal-yet-evangelical-granny (on my dad's side) the following: "well, i decided to pick up that book last week, the faith of george w. bush, and i have to tell you, that book is remarkable! after reading through the first few chapters i thought to myself, this war on terror is really a battle of good against evil."

Before Girl said...

Honestly? By just digging into my food and trying to hide the fact that I was rolling my eyes. It's just lunch, dude.

ahbahsean said...

I would have ignored him cuz I've heard it all before. A lady at church used to introduce me as "This is Becky, her family is Catholic but thankfully God decided to save her for us!"

kidpositive said...

now, on second thought, i think the better approach in such situation is to figure out a philosophy that is as ridiculous to the person as their persective is to yours. then, start talking as though you assume that philosophy, and let them react to your fundamentalism, which might have the effect of shedding some light on their own.

of course, the perspective you take must be more drastic than theirs, yet still on the same 'side' of the politic spectrum. so, for example, just start talking about salvation with an even narrower viewpoint. maybe something like this: "yeah...i know what you're saying. can you believe that there are people calling themselves Christians that can't speak in tongues?!? I wonder what kind of messed up translation of the Bible they're reading..."

i don't really know if that technique works, but I can tell you that it's a helluva lotta fun!

Agent B said...

"Would we be having this same conversation if James & Brooke were going to see James Dobson live?"

Agent B said...

uhh...that hopefully would have been my reply to the missionary

Lowery said...

I'm not sure where I would start, Gentry. I cut my teeth on them growing up. I remember when my dad and I picked up Joshua Tree on record.

My suggestion is perhaps dumb, but it's the best I would offer someone. I would ask my friend to do a lot of reading and pouring over of Bono's words. I would point him to the recent RollingStone interview he did. I would have the guy read "Walk On" (which blew my mind) and though I've not read it, that new book he did with some friend of his - a collection of conversations and such. I would have him watch tour DVD's. I would tell him to peer into the windows of the lyrics and read the liner notes. I would have him read Bono's intro to the Psalms.

Experientially, I've seen them on the Zoo T.V. tour, on the Elevation tour and three times on the Vertigo tour this year. All I can say is that even sitting however many rows away, these guys are for real. Bono is for real. The guy speaks it, he prays it, he wrestles with it, he lives it. His insight into the Gospel is humbling to me and even more so, his willingness to live it from here to Africa to the West Wing to Ireland.

kidpositive said...

i'm going to have to disagree with you there, brian. while i think your method is clearly the most reasonable and PC, i've generally found through experience that if a person can boil issues down to "are they saved or not", then they're generally not going to want to take the time to do all the research into a person such as Bono. not that i don't think your suggestion is right on; i just think it would have no effect on such a person.

in fact, given that salvation is such a binary property inside their mind (saved or NOT saved), then they probably also have a very strict criteria by which they make that binary judgment. therefore, unless you can satisfy that criteria, no amount of evidence is ever going to convince them. just take for instance ahbahsean's example above. people don't care whether or not you believe in the resurrection, testify to jesus being the messiah, or that you do the very things jesus commanded us to do (all things that catholics do). all they seem to care about is whether or not your story of salvation can fit into their narrowly defined dogma.

i'm sorry to be going on here so long, gentry, and hope you'll forgive me, but i just see this incident you described as a prime example of the cancerous growth of man-made ideas spreading in and around christianity right now. it really upsets me because of the importance it places on criteria that are not laid out biblically. to my understanding, jesus really never spoke of simply saving people, but rather of people following him, or as john puts it, "who is it that loves God? he who walks as Jesus did."

anyway, sorry to rant on your blog. maybe i should get my own...

g13 said...

excellent responses.

craig & agent b - i think your idea of narrowing the conversation is quite astute. i think that the irony/reversal route would be a good one to take.

lowery - thank you for your well reasoned, passionate response. my only fear with that type of response would be that it would re-inforce his assumptions. in the end, can we, or more to the point should we, seek to gather and arrange evidence concerning someone's salvation or damnation? i dunno. please don't receive this as a sleight or a slam of any kind. i'm just trying to find a charitably subversive way of responding to his, in my opinion, ridiculous question.

ahbahsean and krista - your suggestions were probably the most subversive of all.

agent b - where does james dobson live take place? outside the corridors of congress? in the lincoln bedroom? in tim lahaye's sauna? just wondering. do you think i can get tickets?

thanks to on and all for reading and responding.

Landis said...

I'm a little late on the conversation here...warehouse duties. I would have responded, "Man, I'm not even sure if I'm a Christian sometimes..."

Lowery said...

I don't feel slighted in any way, shape or form. I see your point and kidpositive's point and it gave me/is giving me something to think about. Indeed, my approach would probably continue to foster a "who's in and who's out" methodology and after all, we would get no where because if the gentleman did examine the RollingStone interview, he would immediately dismiss Bono for saying "shit." I just know that I probably would have offered some things to at least consider. There is no way to ever really know, butthere are always things to consider or weight carefully. If not, then I'm not entirely sure why God puts hands and feet to so much. Notice I never said, "And with that, he will clearly see Bono is in." In think in more directional terms and examine situations from many angles with what little bread crumbs I've been given. There are some things that weigh heavily in my mind as I consider what it means to be a true follower or Christ. Much of it cannot be measured and so I simply ask people to think in certain directions and we'll leave it up to God. This discussion has been an interesting one for me to take in.

g13 said...

thanks for the ongoing dialogue brian and craig. as i think more about the missionary's assumptions and frame of reference, i think that the following question might have been prescient: "what kind of fruit is he producing?"

i think that response might have worked.

Lowery said...

Yes. I think that's a fine response, because it subtly celebrates the immeasurable internals more than anything and yet celebrates the external as well. And it shadows the words of Christ who pushed us as followers to find the tension between what is within and what is manifested. It is a shame we get into conversations as to who is in and who is it. It is very hard for me to not bark back my own checklists to at least silence arrogance. My typical response is really your first one: "Who am I to call that? Thank God I don't have to!" But then when someone like Bono is mentioned, who I admit has humbled me deeply, I get an itch to bark out my lists. Again, this has been in my head all day and I'm thankful for this conversation.

One more thing - Landis' remarks were right on, too. How often I wonder about myself before anyone else!

With that, I'm done blabbing.

Jason said...


I like your question "what kind of fruit is he producing." Powerfully subversive and gets to the reality that our lives as followers should produce fruit that reflects Jesus. I am sure that this missionary would respond like he did to James about lots of people doing good. He has a point. But with Bono you have a life that produces fruit as well as a life that sees this fruit in relationship to God. I don't know if he is saved or not but I see someone who strives to follow Christ, if that isn't Christian I don't know what is.

I am not so sure it is a problem to try to understand if someone is a Christian or not. A problem is to then to transfer that to say he is safe or ok or if he is not to throw out everything he says or stands for. It is also a problem to define saved by just escaping hell instead of living a reconciled to God life.

W. Wilson said...

My apologies for coming in a bit late on this conversation due to all sorts of stuff going on...

This is just from my own personal experiences within the last few years, especially recently, but I believe a good majority of Christians stake their faith in ways that can only resemble "black" and "white." In other words, I agree with the dude who said that a lot of people's approach to theology are somewhat binary. Unfortunately, this has made something so holy and so incredibly amazing (our own salvation) and has turned it into a "checklist."

It's interesting that a person like this asked you that question. I think in that situation I would respond in a way that goes deeper into his reasoning for asking it. A possible response from me would be something like: "What's your personal experience with Bono and U2?" "Do you believe that what they are doing and proclaiming could be/ is aligned with the overall commission Christ gave the Church?" This would hopefully spill his thoughts/motives for asking such a question and perhaps help reveal his real agenda.

Who knows how effective that would have been, but it does reflect some of my own personal interest as to why he is asking that question.

Agent B said...

Jim Dobson "live":

I don't know. I hear they have a studio audience for his radio show in Colorado Springs. There's probably a heavy screening test just to get in. And having a drivers license that says "MA" won't help either.

stevensM said...

As a very late aside. I grew up in Dublin at pretty much the same time Bono did. We lived in a society profoundly divided by religious apartheid. Bono's mother was catholic and his father protestant. I don’t know where he went to school, but I can promise you regardless, it was an issue.
Growing up surrounded by violence at least superficially based on small differences of doctrine has made my generation of Irish very very cautious about exposing /imposing our spiritual beliefs on others. We have seen close up the horrors that I am right and you are wrong can produce. Ironically, growing up in such an atmosphere makes you understand on a very deep level that God and your relationship to him is one of the most important relationships you have to figure out as you grow up.
I don’t think it a conincidence Bob Geldof and Bono, who are probably Irelands most famous “stars” have dedicated huge amounts of their time to charity work

Jon said...

Quick thought here. I'm an American living in Dublin right now so I've had the 'Is Bono saved?' conversation with people many times, both here in Ireland and with people from the States.

I usually think to myself, 'What business do I have trying to guess the state of someone else's soul?' I don't know Bono that well personally so it's a bit hard for me to guess this, even though his lyrics and lifestyle seem to be Christian. It's like when a celeb is on trial and someone asks me if I think they are guilty. I always feel that I have very little basis to say anything and is the speculation even worth it?

Final thought: I'm really glad that the determination of our relationship to God is in God's hands and not in mine. I'd just go and make a huge mess of things like our middle-aged missionary friend.

miah said...

you should listen to the FREE rollingstone interview podcast available through iTunes.com. It is a very long interview, but the last 1/2 of part one is spent talking about spiritual matters that carry through the rest of the interview. Good stuff when you have a 3000 mile road trip in front of you :) you don't need an ipod to listen to it you can download it and listen to it in iTunes.