I’m not sure that I would use the world “bold” to describe me. Words like “gentle”, “compassionate” and even “meek” probably fit better, especially when it comes to faith. I grew up in a faith tradition that placed a lot of emphasis on “sharing one’s testimony”. I was coached in how to have conversations with strangers that inevitably included the question, “If you died tonight, are you sure that you’d go to heaven?” I went door-to-door on organized youth trips, trying to get invited into a house in order to share my dutifully rehearsed testimony, hoping that I could then lead the hearer in the “Sinner’s Prayer” and could notch another soul on my belt. (Upon writing that last sentence I was made aware of the eerie similarities between Christian evangelism tactics and vampire legend. I wonder if my reflection was ever present in the mirrors of my victim’s houses?)
These kind of conversations never came easily. Whenever one balked, however, there was someone there to remind us that we should be “bold” in presenting the gospel to others. Bold. I soon began to grow weary of the energy that was sapped from being so bold. In later years I would abandon those tactics, convinced that the best way to bring someone to a real and lasting relationship with Christ is not through clever yarns, but through time invested in relationships. And so the pendulum swung.
I think, though, that it has swung too far. I am very motivated by relationships. I love to hear the heartbeat of a person and help them discover that it is God who crafted that rhythm. Yet I am aware of missing many opportunities to challenge people on their beliefs, preferring instead, as Wright says in his comments on this passage, “to clothe the gospel in smooth speech to flatter a sophisticated audience, making them feel proud to be so clever.” I have clung fast to that oft repeated saying, anecetdotally attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the gospel always. If necessary, use words.” I’ve just made up many excuses about why words aren’t necessary. But they are.
Consider Penn Jillette’s charge to the religious. Penn, of the infamous Penn & Teller comedy/illusionist duo, is an outspoken atheist. He says, however, that he has no respect for adherents to any religion who refuse to proselytize. He reasons that if one believes in an absolute path to heaven or hell, one’s love for fellow humans should compel a person to share that path at all costs. For a touching example of a Christian whose words and actions moved Penn, see this episode of his vlog from December 2008.
Paul was writing of a type of boldness that radiates from the aura of God’s glory that comes from knowing Christ. It is not a question of whether or not we are radiating glory. The question is what veils are we putting over our faces? For me, it is a veil of acceptance. I want to be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), yet I have a tendency to overlook the last part of that verse, which provides the motivation “that by all means I might save some.” I veil glory with my reticence to speak of the source of glory, the Glory-giver.