Monday, June 28, 2010

A Fascinating Conversation on Sharing Christ with Woody Allen While on an Airplane

Last year World Magazine published an article that contains a conversation between Christian intellectual and historian extraordinaire Eric Metaxas and Richard Land. Both men are fans of Woody Allen movies.

I have long had this gnawing sense in me that evangelism among Fundamentalists has something inherently wrong in terms of methodology. Many "evangelicals,", some even in the Southern Baptist Convention, will yell and scream the Word of God to lost people -- acting as if the quoting the Bible will bring about a change in the hearer. There are even some commentors on this blog who are in the habit of telling others they are "going to hell" or have "never been saved" or are "in need of Jesus" and glibly quote a Bible verse as if making some kind of shocking statement and backing it up with words from Scripture will lead someone to be converted. It reminds me of street preachers who yell "REPENT" to passerbys and then shout "JESUS IS THE WAY THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE" as if somehow, almost magically, those words will bring salvation.

In the interview between Richard Land and Eric Metaxas (who by the way, is the author of the new fantastic biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer), Land asks Metaxas how he would share Christ with Woody Allen were he to sit beside him on a plane. The first paragraph of Metaxas' answer is worthy of your close examination.

I have to somehow figure out how to connect with him. . . . If you come across as morally superior, that’s unbiblical, that’s wrong, it’s a lie, so you’re confused. But also you’ll push the person away. You’ve got to find a point of connection, otherwise they won’t hear you. If you walk around New York you might see someone, semi-homeless, almost always from out of town, with a hat and a Bible “preaching the word” on the street. Nine times out of 10 they are not preaching the Word any more than Satan was when he was quoting the Bible to Jesus in the wilderness. The words are not magic. Some people will respond, “The word of God will not return void,” and yes, the capital-w Word of God, the Logos, will not return void—but the words of the Bible can certainly return void unless they’re anointed by the Holy Spirit. Many people think that if they just spew out Scripture or something that people are hearing them, but it’s not true. Jesus never did that. He always connected with everyone around him.
Well stated, Eric. Would to God we worked on our connections with people instead of coming across as morally superior.

In His Grace,



Anonymous said...


Reading the biography right now. Excellent!

What was Land's response to Metaxas? BTW, have written a post about the biography at

Amy Downey
Tzedakah Ministries said...


Metaxas has been invited to speak at Emmanuel.

We are hoping he can make it before the end of the year. It may be next spring.

The biography should win "Book of the Year" by Christian Publishers. I agree--it is outstanding.

Richard Land had some good things to say. Click on the link in the post and you can read the entire interview.

Steven Stark said...

As a huge fan of Woody Allen's movies, I would dearly love to see this hypothetical conversation take place. I have a feeling that much hilarity and thought-provocation would ensue!

Chris Ryan said...

Maybe slightly off topic (but at least you brought it up):

Any ideas how this biography compares to the one written by Bethge? I'm a big Bonhoeffer fan, but that biography is incredibly weighty. This one sounds like it is a bit more accessible, but I wonder if it has the insight that Bethge was able to bring to his best friend's plight, or any additional insight that time and distance alone are able to provide. Anyways, just curious.

Jon L. Estes said...

I always thought Jeremiah had it wrong. Thanks for confirming.

How about an both and in style instead of an either or?

Many people have been saved by God's grace as His men have preached loudly, beat the pulpit, used hell fire and brimstone messages, and have responding to an altar call upon the completion of these services.

If it ain't your cup of tea... maybe, just maybe you can recognize God can and still uses these methods.

Rex Ray said...

You said, “I have long had this gnawing sense in me that evangelism among Fundamentalists has something inherently wrong in terms of methodology. Many "evangelicals,” some even in the Southern Baptist Convention, will yell and scream the Word of God to lost people.”

What would be ‘wrong’ with the preacher who’s sermon was on the subject of him sitting next to a man on an airplane (that would become famous) but the preacher never mentioned Jesus?

Would you agree the preacher was a good role model of preaching ‘don’t do as I did, but do as I should have done’?

Rex Ray said...

I’m afraid the ‘role models’ of America today – starting with religion and to the ‘top position’ is ‘killing’ what made America great.

Burgman said...

I love your blog! I would agree and disagree with this post. Yes, the idea of just simply yelling is not biblical. But certainly preaching the hard truths as Peter did at Pentecost is a must. . . As for Jesus connecting . . . well what about in John 6, for instance, when even some who were following Him turned away. We should try to "connect," but not take the offense of the gospel away. Conversion not connection is the goal; and only God can do the former.

Thank you for listening. said...

"Conversion not connection is the goal; and only God can do the former."


I just think the Holy Spirit most often chooses to speak in a voice that connects the evangelist with the listener.

Tommy Hargrove said...


There's a great clip of Woody Allen interviewing Billy Graham from his show in the 1960s.(

Anonymous said...


Good post.

But I believe there is an issue to be tackled before we discuss what we would say to Woody Allen if we sat next to him on a plane.

The problem is too many Christians would not get in a position to sit next to Woody Allen on a plane.

Far too many of us have very closed lives. We don't walk in circles that would put us in contact with people Woody Allen.

I also find it interesting that this encounter happens on a plane. Haven't you heard all of the jokes about chatty evanglicals on planes? Why do so many evangelism stories take place on planes? It's because public transportation and chance encounters in confined public spaces is about the only time many Christians meet non-Christians. I find that sad.

Effective evangelism of someone like Woody Allen happens at several levels.

Public preaching, carried over radio or TV waves is a good thing. It salts the culture with some exposure to the gospel.

Chance encounters or "stranger" evangelism is a part, too. Nothing wrong with that.

But the most important component of personal evangelism is Christians living in the world, spending time with non-Christians. Truly befriendng people of other faiths. Sharing meals, going to ball games, having other people over in our homes.

I fear that far to many Christians are so involved in a Christian subculture or are intentionally detached from the broader culture that we lose the greatest chances we have to get into a position to witness to and influence others.

So, we emphasize the hope that we might meet a non-Christian on a plane or something.

I hope that you are still playing golf at the local country club and that you never give that up, or if you do, you find some other hobby that will get you out amoung the broader public, not as a pastor, but just as Wade.

Oh, by the way, if you want to see something fun, go to Youtube and watch the television encounters between Billy Graham and Woody Allen back in the 1960s.


Christiane said...

Thank you, Louis, for that referral to those videos. Terrific!

Christiane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Stark said...

Don't forget that maybe the evangelical Christian could learn something from Woody Allen too! ;)

Tiffany Thigpen Croft said...

Oh how I wish everyone viewed their witness this way. If only people could understand and see how much more effective a relationship and/or connection is than just acting as if they have it all together.
Jesus certainly showed us the way, he connected with people (ALL people) and reached them through relationship. Not through piety nor did He brow beat anyone. LOVE=Jesus

Christiane said...

I have begun to think that the angry contemptuous spirit found in fundamentalism fuels a way of 'communicating' that pushes people away. The extremist fundamentalists' communicating 'style' is replete with aggressive, obnoxious, self-righteous, smug, judgmental language that bears not one remote resemblance to the Way Christ was with people.

This is difficult to see because in some cases, not all, these fundamentalists realize that they are 'using' Christianity as a vehicle to excuse carrying on their own dysfunctional aggression towards other people.

They think that they are rejected 'because of their ties to Jesus Christ'.

How little they know.

As for fundamentalists who completely know what they are doing, are are fully responsible for their unChrist-like behaviors towards other people? And THEN they have the gall to say that people who disagree with them are 'rejecting' Christ?

Well, it just goes to prove that
there are more horses' asses out there than there are horses.

Pastor Bob Farmer said...

For an excellent example of the kind of dialogue that Metaxas talks about, I would encourage people to read Sense and Sensuality by Ravi Zacharias. In this book is a fictional dialogue between Oscar Wilde, Blaise Pascal and Jesus. Worth reading and contemplating.

Garen Martens said...

The first line "I have to somehow figure out how to connect with him" is key.

When I was a young adult, "Friendship Evangelism" was the big buzzword and training technique. I always thought all those training sessions were kind of goofy and besides, I wasn't selling Christianity to my friends any more than I would try to sell them some pyramid soap scheme.

As I've grown older, I find that my own feeble witnessing efforts are ALWAYS strengthened by the relationship I have developed with that individual. Whether I've helped them with a problem, developed a friendship, or just treated them respectfully, that connection is a most important part of being heard. Having the Holy Spirit intervene doesn't hurt either.

Oliver said...

Dear Wade,

I hope, I correctly understand what you were trying to say. Surely the heavily confrontational "in-your-face" style of evangelism is often abrasive and not overly useful. I do however find, that a belief in the life-changing power of scripture itself is not unfounded, and by that I really do mean that the simple collision of a lost ear with biblical text has the potential power to cause regeneration of the soul. The Word of God itself confirms this. It is the sharp two-edged sword, that cuts soul and flesh. I would like to remind of Martin Luther's famous hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is our God.
Speaking about the devil, Luther writes: "One little word can fell him."

I recently heard the testimony of a man, who was at a sporting event when somebody on the other side of the stadium held up a sign that simply read "John 3:16". Not knowing what this meant, the man investigated and later found out that it was a reference to a Bible verse. He looked up the verse and was struck immediately and gloriously converted.
I would also like to point to the book "I Dared to Call Him Father" in which Muslim convert Bilquis Sheik relates her own conversion experience. After having been given a Bible, she was reading not in earnest seeking, but rather out of sheer curiosity and came across Romans 9:26-26. After reading the verses, she states: "I caught my breath and a tremor passed through me. Why was this verse affecting me so! ... The words burned in my heart like glowing embers."

Establishing a close personal relationship with a person that we seek to share the Gospel with is of course desirable. However, in the end, it is neither our love, our presentation, our skill, our ability, our technique, our friendship, our persuasive skills, our rhetoric, our tenderness, not even our care or compassion, that effects conversion and regeneration, it is the Word of God. This conversion can be brought about by a single verse, or by taking somebody in expository manner through an entire biblical book. A verse may be hurled from a distance, it may be presented on a silver platter, it may be whispered into the ear, it may be proclaimed from the roof, but still, the power to convert rests with scripture.
With saying this, my intent was not to contradict you, but to add to what you have said.

I also have found out in the past, that sometimes the order of things is reversed. Instead of first establishing a relationship and then delivering the Word, the relationship arises out of the Word. Sharing the scriptures with somebody tends to cause deep feelings and connection. Expounding the Scriptures for another person may lead to a deep personal relationship, where there was none before. When somebody takes you to the Bible and shows you truth, a common response is a visceral feeling of love for that person that can hardly be explained.

You have my sincerest appreciation for all your work.


Joshua said...

Wade, I appreciate this post very much. Obviously your interviewees deserve the greater commendation—and of course, God himself deserves the greatest. I agree with their stance on evangelism and I even more appreciate their explicating of the cases between the different "words" of Scripture. Brother, please hear me when I say, out of my love for you in Christ, that one should word their discontent with other sinners more humbly. In one sentence you chided with a superior tone ("as if it magically made them converted" sounds very condescending) brothers for quoting scripture. Wade, does it not warm your heart that there are men out their that hold Scripture so dearly to their heart? Are you not convicted in the least by their fervent devotion to it? I certainly am. I agree with you that quoting scripture alone (or sometimes ever) is indeed not ideal methodology. But, brother, please, find inspiration and conviction that they pleasure themselves in scripture so much that they are driven to quote it despite the fact that all it will do is bring persecution (Matt. 5:10). I certainly am convicted and encouraged by their devotion. It is a devotion that should never be condescendingly chided, but rather, humbly reguided.

A wretched sinner who makes grave errors,