“You look like a person interested in faith,” remarked my seat mate on a long flight last evening. While I do not have “I love seminary” tattooed on me anywhere (at least not yet), I usually work theological education into most conversations for it is what I care about most deeply. It was not my obvious piety that caught his eye, however, but what I was reading—a recent theological work. He wanted to talk about an issue of justice that he is passionate about and thought I might offer a sympathetic ear. He proceeded to talk about the inhumane treatment of chickens in the poultry industry. He spoke lovingly of these creatures, praising their sweet temperaments and concerned for what they are forced to endure. He concluded his spiel by saying “whew, that was hard. I am really a shy guy.” He risked this conversation because he genuinely cares about the well-being of chickens.
Being a witness to others was an essential part of being a disciple in my Christian formation. One was always to be vigilant because an opportunity to share the gospel might be at hand, and surely I did not to fail to “give reason for the hope” within. It took courage to speak to the “lost” in this way, but the work of evangelism was non-negotiable in my brand of Baptists. At times the act of testimony was more about self-righteousness than genuine care for the recipient of the witness, but we persevered. Always memorable conversations, these face to face encounters changed both the proclaimer and hearer of the Gospel in some way. Regrettably, this form of witnessing has fallen by the wayside in many traditions. When offered with humility rather than smug certainty, faithful witness transpires and the possibility of new life ensues.
Yet words alone are never enough, as Micah wrote. Doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God require transformative initiatives that are not preoccupied with ensuring one’s own righteousness before God. “Thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil” (Micah 6: 7) are not what God desires; rather God seeks our engagement in God’s own liberative work in the world. As we find ways of doing justice, our words ring true, and we are able to invite others to join in the long story of faith.
Molly T. Marshall
To learn more about Central—the seminary I especially love—visit our website www.cbts.edu