Jamie Arpin-Ricci: On Selling Jesus

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today’s guest post comes to us from the always-insightful Jamie Arpin-Ricci.  Jamie is a writer, pastor, and missional church-planter living in the inner city of Winnipeg, Canada with his Aussie wife, Kim, and Ethiopian son, Micah.  He is the pastor of Little Flowers Community, a Franciscan-Anabaptist faith community in Winnipeg's downtown West End.  He is also the director of Chiara House, a new intentional Christian community who share life "on the margins."

Jamie is the author of The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom. He is at third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus, an ecumenical order under the Anglican rite. He blogs at www.missional.ca.  What I always appreciate about Jamie is that he speaks from experience. A lot of folks write books and blogs extolling the importance of community, but Jamie always shares the kinds of stories that can only come from someone who is living in community on a daily basis. Enjoy his thoughts! 



One of my favorite films is the 1999 comedy-drama “The Big Kahuna”, adapted from the award-winning stage play “The Hospitality Suite.” While the whole film is excellent, I return time and again to one scene- an unlikely Hollywood moment where we get to seeDanny Devito give us a lesson in evangelism. 

In this film, we are introduced to three industrial lubricant salesman: Larry (played byKevin Spacey), a brash, but honest veteran of sales; Phil (played by Danny Devito),Larry's friend and a seasoned, yet life-weary salesman; and Bob (played by PeterFacinelli), a young evangelical Christian who, as a rookie in sales, joins the twoveterans at a trade show.

After a long day hawking their wares, they host a gathering for potential clients in thehospitality suite of their hotel. They have their sights set on a potentially major client,but he comes and goes without the two older salesmen knowing it. However, youngBob had briefly met with him and was invited to join him later at a different event. Andso, the rookie departs to make the big sale, while his co-workers wait nervously for hisreturn- their careers may very well rest on this one client.

When Bob returns, he quietly confesses that, while he spent much of the eveningtalking privately with the potential client, he had not made the sales pitch. Instead, hehad talked to the man about Jesus. Larry explodes in anger, nearly causing an all outbrawl, storming from the room to keep from doing something he would regret. Thefollowing scene find Bob remaining in the suite alone with Phil. Here is what Phil had tosay:

There is so much to unpack from this clip, but today I want to focus one aspect thatalways seems to come up when I share this clip with other Christians: Can we neverintentionally direct a conversation towards the topic of Jesus without it being reduced to a sales pitch? This is a fair question. After all, we are called as Christiansto boldly proclaim the good news of God, in word and deed. Yet Phil’s caution deservessome reflection.

Having grown up as part of a conservative evangelical church, I was taught as far backas I can remember to tell people about Jesus, to tell them that by inviting Him intotheir hearts, they would be saved from the fires of Hell and instead spend eternity inheaven with Him. It was my duty and responsibility, as it was for every good Christian. While we wanted the hearer to respond positively to the message, if they did not, wehad at least done our due diligence.

I believe it is this kind of evangelism culture that Phil is warning againstFor me, it was far more about fulfilling my obligation than it was about the person I was trying to “get saved."

The recipient, then, became less important than the task of evangelism itself,thus producing “easy and effective” methods that were able to be applied to anyone,anywhere, anytime. It essentiality (if unintentionally) objectified the “non-Christians” asa means to fulfill our own religious duties.

This is why what Phil shares next about character and regret is so critical. While he lacks the Christian dynamic of redemption and forgiveness, Phil reminds us that it is when we are weak that we are strong. When the world sees Christians today, the term“self-righteous” is all too common a descriptive.

Instead, what if Christians were characterized as a people who acknowledged and confessed their brokenness, taking what was in darkness and bringing it into the light? Wouldn’t such humility and honesty,alongside communities of loving grace and forgiveness, be powerful beckons of hope tothose are languishing in the hidden darkness of their own sins?

In this way, as we live in the light, honest and real in all our strengths and failings, as weask our neighbor about their kids or their dreams, we do so as people who display animpossible and authentic hope. This doesn’t negate the occasional circumstance- thosereal exceptions-where a bold and immediate witness of the gospel is required. We don’t hide or deny Jesus and what He means to us. We won’t have to. Because the work of the cross will be tattooed all across our lives for everyone to see.

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