Bumper Sticker Theology

By: Brian Robertson

"We are given two ears and one mouth to use in that proportion. Jesus never commanded us to engage in theological debates with strangers, flaunt four-inch crosses and Jesus stickers or throw out Christian catch-phrases. But he did tell us to work and live in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God we will have earned the right."

-Bill Hybel


The Internet chatroom has replaced (at least to some extent) the late night dorm room discussions about the meaning of life. From my own experiences hosting a chatroom on AOL dedicated to Christian Mystics, I suppose I have gone against at least one point in what Bill Hybels is suggesting -- theological debate with strangers the one I have in mind. I'd like to think "discussion" was a better description than "debate" but I plead guilty without guilt.

Yet so many of the rooms on AOL that are labeled Christian are self-congratulatory chambers, imbued with a kind of smugness of being "saved" that is equaled only by those on the "other side of the fence" who come tripping through and do everything they can to be either shocking, rude or shockingly rude.

If you sit in one of those rooms long enough, you'll catch the drift of what Bill Hybels is saying. The expressions of faith are largely what I call bumper sticker theology, those "catch-phrases" that Hybels refers to. It is the sense that if you talk the talk, even just in cyberspace, you can feel reassured that your soul is safe -- usually in relation to all those others out there who aren't.

But Can One Be So Certain?

It strikes me that the closer I move to the great mystery of Jesus' teachings and into the ever deepening mystery of God, the less I know. Rather than someone offering advice from the finishing line, I realize more and more I am a reporter who happens to have found himself in the race. I am, as one said, like the person who has seen something astonishing and points out the window.

We are not called upon to know every catch-phrase from memory, to quote the Bible by chapter and verse. When Jesus said each person must take up the cross, it wasn't in the sense of wearing it on our sleeves, so to speak, or hanging around our necks lit with a spotlight. Likewise, we are not called upon to be brilliant in conversation so as to put across the mystery of Christianity in words that somehow make the other person feel stupid or inferior so that we ourselves may feel clever and superior.

We are called upon to be joyful to find ourselves living within the body of Christ, to be immersed in the astonishing presence of God so that our very lives become a testimony, so that our hands become the hands of Christ to soothe and comfort. We are called upon to live as Jesus did, to be so in touch with the loving Divine force in and beyond this world that our very life becomes transparent to that divinity.

There are moments in life when that transparency becomes a feature of everything. Perhaps you are walking, aware suddenly the trees themselves are points of epiphany where the energy of God dances, where those whom you see there are vehicles of God's light and love, moments where within and behind and beneath the very motion of the world there is a deep, welcoming stillness against which all the drama is played out in full view.

When, as the quote suggests, we find the Holy Spirit has "orchestrated" an opportunity, we can only hope that we are worthy to be such a vehicle for others, but not in the sense of a sermon or a web site but rather in the sense of a kind word, a gentle touch infused with God's love, a soothing moment of silence in which we are simply with someone.

In these moments we reach down deep into ourselves, but in these moments we have allowed ourselves to be, as St. Francis said to God, "an instrument of thy peace."