The Old White Guy, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Popcorn Evangelicalism

It is Friday evening and we decided to go out for a free movie…yes, free. There is some anticipation in the air, perhaps different expectations. I, for one, would prefer to stay home and enjoy the quietness of my abode on a Friday evening, but I can be easily persuaded. And so begins our adventure. Adventure! On our way, we stop at the light and as I look into my left I see a familiar face. Is that the old white guy I wonder? Is it Steve Brown? It’s hard to miss that beard, after all, I sat in the front row of his classes. But it’s night and I can’t see too well. Wait! It is Steve Brown. It’s hard to mistaken the bumper sticker: Speak truth to power, or his classic: Choose Life license plate. Perhaps the Old White Guy is headed to see the free movie. Then, as he stops at another light in front of us, the glorious pipe is lit…at that moment I had a sense of relief. Perhaps this will be a pleasant evening, I thought. After all, Steve Brown would not attend something unpleasant. But lo, he turns. As Bono would say: With or without you!

We arrive at our destination and are greeted by a multitude of vehicles. Big, small, ugly, luxurious. All types. As we approach the theater, we are greeted by all sorts of people. Big, small, ugly, luxurious. All types. Finding one lot was an absurdly complicated task, but we found one through trials and tribulations.

They are in line, I shouted! Wait, it’s a free movie, I don’t have to wait in this gigantic line. We went in. Inside there was an enormous table with christian literature and a host of what some would call: Jesus Freaks. How do I know? Well, I’ve seen too many in my life-time. Theater Number 10, they told us. “10,” I said. Deep inside I thought: “Now how does the apostle John use the number 10 in the book of Revelation?” Actually, I didn’t have too much time to think. We ran to our destination to find a seat. We were 7 minutes late to be precise. We were greeted by a mean looking man. He had a thick New York accent, which as you know increases his meanness. The place is jammed, he said. There are about 500 people in there. Suddenly, I thought that our adventure was over. Is it only the two of you, he asked. Yes, we answered. Well, there are a few seats in the front row. As we went in, I overheard him telling the others that they had to be firm and not let anyone in…they had no more room.

We were walking into a free showing of the Pilgrim’s Progress. This has to be entertaining, I said to myself. We walked in the first few minutes of the movie. Christian has just had a vision of the doom to come to his city. His burden grows and he is destined to begin a journey into the celestial city.

This is based on John Bunyan’s great masterpiece. Bunyan was a good Calvinist! The movie is a modern adaptation of the Pilgrim’s Progress. Throughout Christian’s journey, he greets various characters: Hypocrisy, Pliable, Hopeful, Ignorant and so on. What was unique about all characters is that they possessed a certain evangelical flavor to them. I suddenly noticed a series of interjections that sounded unlike the Bunyan I read many years ago. In fact, it sounded like the evangelical culture that I had fled from in my own Christian journey. “Accepting Jesus into your heart” and “Praise the Lord” refrains were thrown in for special “affect” or better, to please their audience. Playing cards, dancing, and drinking were cautiously inserted as a former way of life, not to be compared with the born-again life.

Towards the end of the movie, my wife whispered: “Let’s leave!” But I was too spiritual to go, so we stayed. Remember the mean looking man? Well, as soon as the movie ended, he jumped in with his unbearably loud mic and told us to remain seated. Suddenly, thoughts of deacons standing at the door not allowing anyone to go out ran into my mind. I just want to get out of here, I quietly said. The man with the New York accent was a local pastor. He told us to remain seated. He pointed out a couple of scenes from the movie and repeated himself several times…did I tell you he repeated himself several times? There is no short-cut to heaven, he uttered. No Church membership, youth group, giving money to the poor will get you into heaven! Wait! In the ol’ days didn’t they add baptism to the list…oh it was just a thought. Then, (10 minutes later) the invitation began. The volunteers replete with eager youth members and a couple of seasoned Christians came up to the front to “encourage” others to come forward. Billy Graham would be proud.

Some came, probably not enough because the New Yorker kept repeating himself. Others came…well, maybe three more. My eyes were intent on the speaker. It had been at least 5 years since I’ve heard an invitation call. In fact, I was so intent on him that I noticed a guy on another row kept staring at me as if saying, Go on brother! Jesus is knocking at your door!

In my mind, it is inconsistent with John Bunyan’s theology. But I guess Bunyan was more a means to an end in their mind. His theology probably was not as important. Though good ol’ Bunyan might have appreciated a little altar call here and there. He was after all a rowdy preacher, an anti-Quaker, but a fabulous writer I might add. His times of prison solitude gave him much to think about.

My wife grew impatient and I was about to run out. Finally, he told us we could leave. Actually, he said we could stay and pray with the others. We decided to leave. After leaving the crowded Christendom, we were outside again. Ah…fresh air, I mumbled.

As we approached our vehicle, we realized the car next to ours. On the license plate we read: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” We laughed. We even took a picture with our cool cell phone camera. Then we left. Our free movie gave us some free laughs.

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About Uri Brito

I am the Pastor of Providence Church (CREC) in Pensacola, Fl.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Old White Guy, Pilgrim’s Progress, and Popcorn Evangelicalism

  1. Tong says:

    Hey Uri,

    Sounds like it was quite the (re-)experience. O the good old days of “putting people on the spot” evangelism. It’s so embarassing. Just the other night i was watching one of the left behind series, and I just wanted to bury my head. It was pathetic. Even though i know these people have good intentions, but in the end, I think there is more harm done than good.

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