I’ve just finished reading Ron Martoia’s book, Static, which has the sub-title: Tune out the “Christian noise” and experience the real message of Jesus. Frankly, I don’t know how I feel about this book. He writes a lot of stuff that I can totally agree with. I usually refer to Christianese where he speaks of Christian noise. (That’s the special language we Christians use which only we can understand!) The book is written in the first person as an account of his experience with two (as far as I can see, fictional) friends, Jess and Phil who are frustrated because they can make no headway in sharing the gospel with a person called Marty. As I read the book I had the feeling that he was trying to do the same as Brian McLaren had done in A new kind of Christian – writing a type of novel in the first person to illustrate his point.
As I mentioned, there’s a lot that I can support: Listen to other people before you try and share the gospel with them; be careful of using words that have no meaning (or may have a “loaded” meaning) to non-Christians; don’t focus so much on life after death that you forget about life before death and much more.
What surprised me more was his accounts of sharing some of his viewpoints with pastors who reacted with shock and indignation that what he had shared with them had never been told to them by their college professors. Some of the things he mentions we had already done in Biblical Studies 1! He elaborates on the issue of the kingdom of God and claims that almost everybody he has spoken to sees this as “heaven”. William Barclay wrote a lovely little book which we did in my first year at university (1976), The mind of Jesus, in which he, at that time, defined the kingdom of God as the place where God is in control, God’s domain, or in the words of Martoia, God’s empire. I’m struggling to believe that so few pastors know something as basic as this.
My main problem with a book such as this is that the author has a problem with people interpreting the Bible from a “modernist” viewpoint and then they seem to interpret the Bible from a “post-modern” viewpoint. Not that I’m saying that there isn’t a lot to learn from this. I think his emphasis on looking at the entire story, from Genesis to Revelations is really great. What I miss in his book is an interpretation of Paul’s view on salvation. Martoia focusses on the gospels and mainly on the gospel of Luke (my favourite gospel as well) but as far as I could tell there is only one single reference to the letters of Paul. Furthermore, nothing is said about the message of salvation as recorded in the book of Acts nor is there any discussion on the emphasis placed on the resurrection of Jesus, which, in the book of Acts is one of the most central messages proclaimed by the disciples.
I agree with Martoia in that I also have a problem with the typical “turn or burn” preachers. I agree that it doesn’t help to get people into heaven solely because they are afraid to go to hell. I agree that there isn’t a “once size fits all” gospel presentation. There’s so much that I agree with. But there is a lot more that needs to be said than what is written in this book.
I think my frustration to a certain extent lies in the fact that he doesn’t seem to give answers. Probably he would argue that it was not his intention to give answers, merely to question traditional viewpoints. Granted. But I have seen many people in my life come into a new relationship with God (I personally also prefer to speak of a relationship rather than conversion) without needing to start with Genesis and working the way through the story of Egypt, Canaan, the first and second exile and the prophets after the exile before eventually coming to Matthew 1.
Martoia is a good writer. The fact that I was down with flu the past two days probably also helped that I could finish the book in a short time. Jess, the one character in the book, says at one point that “it’s so much more difficult than I first thought.” And I wondered whether we are not making things much more difficult than they should be. No, I’m not saying that we preach fire and brimstone until people feel so guilty that they repent. I’m all for conversations about God. I’m all for taking time, visiting people over and over before speaking about Jesus. But if I had been a Christian without much knowledge in evangelism, this book would probably have convinced me once and for all that evangelism is only to be done by professionals. And that, I’m sure, is NOT Biblical.