Written by Dave Dunbar
Monday, 21 October 2013 00:00
OK, I admit it: I have shamelessly borrowed most of the title of Robert Pirsig’s 1974 novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As you may have heard from our new President, Dr. Frank James, I recently retired from the president’s office to the blessed, carefree life of a Biblical faculty member. As part of my retirement, my wife allowed me to purchase a motorcycle and now I am driving on two wheels for the first time in over 45 years. And yes, October was created with motorcyclists in mind.
Getting back into “biking” has made me freshly aware of the multi-cultural reality of contemporary America. The motorcycle culture has its own distinct qualities of dress, values, life-style, etc. And for the most part this cultural reality possesses little in common with Christian practice or world-view.
But as a Christian who is now coming into contact with aspects of the “biking” culture, I am thinking more about how my Christian life and my “riding life” might intersect. Recently the local cycle shop had a special weekend devoted to store-wide sales, free seminars on cleaning and maintaining your bike, and just having an enjoyable gathering of the community (like church?).
A member of our church works at the shop, and he invited me to stop by on Sunday for their “chapel” service. It seems that members of a local chapter of a Christian motorcycle club regularly come to this event on Saturday and Sunday to give out tracts and have a Christian presence. As part of their activities they have a chapel service at the dealership early Sunday morning.
I didn’t attend the festivities on Sunday morning (although I did drop by on Saturday). However, my friend’s invitation got me thinking about this basic approach to evangelistic outreach which is fairly common among evangelical Christians. It is the approach of creating parallel organizations and inviting non-Christians to join. My observation is that usually the people who join are already Christians. I don’t know if that is true of the Christian motorcyclists, but I suspect it might be. And even if it is true, I still appreciate the effort that is being made to present the gospel in a cultural context where Jesus has little visibility apart from profane expressions.
Of course there are other possibilities for bringing Christian witness to the various subcultures around us. Rather than develop parallel Christian organizations we might consider a program of infiltration. This has been illustrated for me by two friends who are pastors. Both of them are cyclists—that was part of the rationale I gave my wife when I got back into the sport—and both of them ride with secular biker clubs. Both men have developed deep friendships within the cycling community, regularly pray for and with club members, have given counsel and even conducted funerals for some of the members. On the strength of these relationships one of the pastors hosts a “biker Sunday” at his church once a year that features an outdoor service, a barbeque, and afternoon bike tours—they get a couple hundred bikers to the event.
Now I am not suggesting that these two approaches are mutually exclusive . . . if you had time, you could do both. It seems to me, however, that evangelicals have tended primarily to employ the first approach which is “safer” but probably less effective if we want to bring the gospel to other cultures. The second is more challenging and even threatening, but in talking with my pastor friends, it sounds much more interesting!
Dave Dunbar served as President of Biblical for 27 years before transitioning to the role of Professor of Theology at Biblical on July 1, 2013. He has been married to Sharon for 44 years. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren.