Faith Exercise: Checkout Line Gospel

As a former youth pastor I have a lot of rather simplistic “faith exercises” tucked into the recesses of my mind.  One of my favorites is the checkout line gospel.

The explanation goes like this:

Someone you’ve just met finds out you are a Christian.  It is fairly obvious this person has little understanding of the Christian faith (or perhaps they are just very, very inquisitive) and they ask you, “what does the Gospel (or Jesus) really mean to you?

You’ve got a limited amount of time in which to speak (perhaps you are in an elevator or checkout line) and you want to be sure that all of the relevant points get across.  So what, precisely, would you say?

Here are a few pointers for people who haven’t been subjected to this kind of mental torment before:

  1. Make a note of what about faith gives you the most hope.  Is it not being alone?  Is it knowing you are loved? Is it a sense of permanence of eternity, or tradition?
  2. Make a note of what about the story in the Gospels means the most to you.  Is it the miracles?  The Virgin Birth?  The Resurrection?
  3. Make a note of what about your particular “brand” of faith has meaning to you.

Now burn all of that.  There isn’t enough time.  You’ve only got a few seconds, and you need to say something that won’t sound like rhetoric.

And remember:  “Christian Speak” will likely only confuse and/or infuriate a lot of people.  So avoid it.

This is what I say:

God is everything about other people that you want but may never find.  He is pure love and mercy tempered by justice.  The Bible says “perfect love casts out all fear” and through Jesus I have found that to be true.  I no longer have any reason to be afraid, because even if I died the second I walked out that door I would have experienced a kind of love that most people go their entire lives longing for and never finding.  And because God is eternal, this love will never die.

I realize it doesn’t say that much about the Bible, or Christ’s death or resurrection, but for me that’s the point. People have heard the basic story.  It’s not that unfamiliar to them.  Rah, rah, Christ, and here’s a fish for the back of your car! What most people are curious about is why, in this day and age when logic and science and self-indulgence reign, would any reasonable person want to cling to something as archaic and forbidding as faith?

So tell them.

In 300 words or less.  😉

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3 thoughts on “Faith Exercise: Checkout Line Gospel

  1. Let see if I can come up with something:

    I remember.

    I remember, somehow, an existence before this one. I remember a father being I so very much wanted, and still want to be like. It was reflected in perfect harmony by two others– their message to me has been unified and clear. I remember my soulmate. The promises I have made to her in this life were made much, much longer ago, in that other time and place.

    I will not describe much more. It is intensely personal and special to me. But God is a personal and real part of my life. I wish to be one with them, as they, although three separate personages, are so tightly woven in mind and purpose they act as one.

    I have felt such tender compassion and patience in the depths of my pain and suffering. I would that everyone could feel that. Unfortunately, I struggle to extend that to myself and others. That is my hope in life– that I may submit myself enough to that love to treasure it and pass it on.

  2. What a great idea. I’ll have to think about it before I hit my next checkout line.

    Interestingly enough though, I find that few know much about Jesus and the ‘basic’ Bible stories. As a teacher, I’ve discovered that I can’t assume anything and must give a lot of Biblical background when covering poetry and other literature, given that Biblical imagery shows up a lot. I think, however, that this is primarily a cultural difference between Canada and the States.

    But your point is well taken: if people ask about your faith, they want to know about *your* faith and what it means to you, not receive a Biblical exegesis on the difference between justification and sanctification, for crying out loud!

  3. This is great!

    I think the question most people want answered–at first, anyway–is “What can God do for me right now?” That usually involves getting to know the person well enough to know what they need. It also usually requires that you have some context of where the person’s coming from (i.e. I would have difficulty relating to the needs of someone suffering from substance abuse because I haven’t been there).

    There’s salvation as a need, of course, but it’s not immediate enough to begin with, and the “Fire Insurance Gospel” will appear shallow to most (rightly so).

    Trypheana is right: knowledge of Bible stories and Biblical concepts cannot be assumed. And “Christianese” is definitely a no-no.

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