Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Wednesday, 02 November 2011 00:00
Watch this youtube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhG-tkQ_Q2w
Three years ago when this youtube clip of Penn Gillette first came out, I said that if ever I started a blog, I’d like to blog on this incident. Many people encouraged me to start right then and there, but I didn’t; it’s three years later, but this is still worth talking about. So here goes. . . .
Three times Penn mentions how this man “looked him in the eyes.” (He also mentions that the man was “sane” – so it wasn’t a creepy stare in the eyes, but sincere, serious, unapologetic, and non-defensive, concern and interest in Penn as a human being that clearly made a lasting impression on him.)
The exchange struck Penn at a deep level, even though it didn’t prompt the “conversion” on the spot that perhaps the man was hoping for. Penn was taken aback by the intelligence of the man’s engagement, and his kindness, which set a tone and a context for the reception of the gift the man gave (of a Gideon pocket New Testament – with Psalms).
I would say this was a profitable and worthwhile exchange, in that it “shed new light” for Penn on “what Christians are like.” Penn still has “a deep disagreement” about “very important matters” with this man. (Penn remains a self-identified atheist.) Nevertheless, this exchange helped shape or alter the “category” he has for “where Christians fit” on the spectrum of the conversations he’s interested in pursuing and thinking about.
I’m curious as to what you see and find significant about Penn Gillette’s reflections.
I am not generally an advocate of “cold turkey evangelism,” in that such an approach tends to treat (unbelieving) people as an impersonal “mark,” rather than as people of genuine concern to God (or to God’s people). This exchange managed to overcome quickly the impersonal and confrontational and intrusive qualities of a “cold turkey evangelistic exchange,” even though this was the first substantive “conversation” these two people had ever had. What was it exactly that helped broach the topic of “have you considered the claims of Christ and your need for Jesus as Savior” in a way that addressed Penn more as a friend than a stranger, as a person for whom the man was concerned rather than as just a “target” for evangelism?
These are the kinds of conversations I’ll be pursuing in greater depth in my upcoming elective course, TH 657: Apologetics in a Postmodern Age (which starts Tuesday night, November 15) – still room for you in the course!
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum .