There’s a debate going on at the moment about the noise that electric cars make, or rather the lack of noise. In fact with an electric car the sound of the wheels turning on the road surface tends to be louder than the sound of the engine itself. There’s no roar of a traditional super-car here; no VROooOM for the lads from Top Gear to salivate about.
The trouble is, a silent car is a dangerous car. Without the familiar sound of a petrol engine turning over, or the deep grumble of a diesel, how can you tell if one is rapidly approaching you from behind? How many pedestrians could get caught out stepping out from the pavement, the lack of sound suggesting their way is clear?
So what to do about this silent menace? The obvious answer is to give it a sound, an audible warning of its approach. But what sound? One answer is to make it sound just like a petrol engine so that it is immediately obvious what it is. Whilst the petrol-heads out there might approve, not all are so quick to give this suggestion the thumbs up. Perhaps now is the chance to do something about the noise pollution in our cities caused by the convoys of combustion engines blocking our streets each day? All sorts of alternatives are being tested and it will be interesting to see what is adopted.
So what is such automobile talk doing in a church newsletter? There is a similar debate going on regarding how Christians (electric engines) interact with non-Christians (petrol engines).
Broadly speaking there are two responses. The first is that of accentuating the differences, ‘look what we’ve got that you haven’t’, in the hope of attracting people to switch from one camp to the other – a bit like putting a new sound on an electric engine. Much of traditional evangelism has taken this proclamatory tack. This has the advantage of apparent clarity of who we are and what we believe in, but can come across as condescending (I’m better than you) or judgmental (you’re damned). The other approach seeks to downplay the differences, and instead encourages us to find points of commonality with others or ways of engaging with them in the hope that we can then bridge the gap between us and enable them to cross – this would be like making an electric car sound like a petrol one. This incarnational approach meets people where they’re at rather than demanding they listen to us on our terms, but can risk the blurring our distinctiveness or having ulterior motives for showing concern rather than caring because it is in itself a good thing.
I believe that both have their place, they have both been used with success in the past. My suspicion, however, is that today a lot more VROoOM is needed and maybe too many Christians are too quiet to be heard or noticed.
Article for church newsletter, 22nd May 2011