During the 1950s Joseph Bayly, a Christian publisher and author, began writing modern-day parables. One of his parables was called The Gospel Blimp, which became a low-budget movie in 1967.
The story is a satirical look at evangelism; or more specifically, The Gospel Blimp portrays how Christians invent ridiculous ways of sharing Jesus, while ignoring the simple path of personal, consistent, hospitable witnessing. Here’s a summary (from IDMB).
George and Ethel are concerned about the salvation of their neighbors, but don’t know how to reach them with the gospel. During an evening get-together with George and Ethel’s Christian friends, everyone is captivated by the sight of a blimp flying overhead. Then Herm gets a bright idea: why not use a blimp to proclaim the Christian message to the unchurched citizens of Middletown?
The group incorporates, buys a used blimp, hires a pilot, then commences to evangelize their hometown by towing Bible-verse banners, ‘firebombing’ folks with gospel tracts, broadcasting Christian music and programs over loudspeakers. But a series of misadventures puts the blimp ministry in jeopardy. George becomes increasingly uneasy about the methods and business practices of International Gospel Blimps Incorporated and its “Commander”, Herm.
Running parallel to these good news messengers gone bad, are George and Ethel’s neighbors, fellow church members who are looked down upon for carousing with the unbelieving neighbors. In the end, however, it is these Christian carousers who win the neighbors to Christ.
The morale of The Gospel Blimp is simple: personal witnessing is more effective than elaborate schemes of gospel marketing.
Bayly’s parable came a couple decades before American Churches ‘de-churched’ themselves to accommodate the preferences of unbelieving seekers—what is known today as the “Seeker-Sensitive Movement.” But it also reflects the truth seen in Titus 2 that the best way for Christians to “adorn” the gospel is through humble, hospitable lives that regularly interact with unbelievers and introduce them to the message of grace and truth.
Reaching the Unreachable
This same truth was reiterated last week, as I listened to Rosaria Butterfield’s testimony at the ERLC National Conference. (If you haven’t listened to her interview with Russell Moore, you must). Rosaria is a former professor of English and lesbian, who came to faith when a local pastor (Ken Smith) and his wife befriended her, invited her into their home, regularly visited her home, and held a long-standing conversation about the claims of the Bible.
She tells her story in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, and she begins with these jarring words:
When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was at the finish of a PhD in English Literature and Cultural Studies. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Woman’s Studies Departments in the nation. I was being recruited by universities to take on faculty and administrative roles in advancing radical leftist ideologies. I genuinely believed that I was helping to make the world a better place.
At the age of 36, I was one of the few tenured women at a large research university, a rising administrator, and a community activist. I had become one of the ‘tenured radicals.’ By all standards, I had made it. That same year, Christ claimed me for himself and the life that I had known and loved came to a humiliating end.
In so many ways, Rosaria’s testimony displays the power of the gospel, but it also displays how the gospel was brought to her by an old-fashioned pastor who thought the best way to reach the unreachable was by regular, fireside conversations in his home after a well-cooked meal by his wife.
Evangelism with a Personal Touch
This kind of evangelism flies in the face of modern market-driven evangelism: it doesn’t promise numeric results; it takes time, invites hard questions, and requires Christians to rub shoulders with the ones who are “ruining our country.” Sadly, Rosaria relates how many Christians condemned Ken Smith for spending time with her.
Nevertheless, it is this kind of evangelism that the church needs to grow in. It is the kind of evangelism I need to grow in. It is the evangelism Jesus modeled when he dined with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16). And it is the evangelism found in Titus 2. After rebuking the false teachers ungodliness (1:10–16), Paul commends true believers to adorn the gospel of God by means of living godly lives in the presence of unbelievers (2:1–10).
Paul assumes that Christians will live, move, and have their being around unconverted people. And in this context, their godliness will protect the Word of God (v. 5), silence opponents (v. 8), and display the beauty of Christ our Savior (v. 10). This is the normal way of Christian living. And when it happens, God reaches the unreachable through the twin efforts of gospel witnessing and patient, humble, attentive, loving Christian hospitality, friendship, and love.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds