A Christian “Elevator Speech” for Today - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)
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September 19, 2019

A Christian “Elevator Speech” for Today

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

“Jesus is who He says He is, the Son of God, who rose in His body from the dead and is alive now, and everyone will have to answer to Him someday.”

What is an “Elevator Speech?” I heard a business type on Geneva’s Board of Trustees use the term ten years ago, as though everyone knew it. I had to ask. An “Elevator Speech” is a sales pitch for your company, short enough to tell someone on a ride in an elevator. It gets in the essentials in a way that evokes interest and makes the listener say, “Tell me more about your company.”

Ten years later, I am teaching a high school class the Gospel According to Mark, and I realize that the opening sentence, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” is an elevator speech! “Jesus” names the person you want to talk about, and there are three buzz words that in the First Century A.D. invite the request, “Please tell me more.”

 “Gospel” for both Jews and Greeks meant, “announcing the one who brings peace won through victory.” “Son of God” meant kingly divinity for both Jews and Greeks. “Christ” meant “Messiah” to the Jews, the anointed Son of King David who would claim David’s long empty throne as God’s prophets promised. Hardly anyone in the ancient world could hear that first sentence of Mark and not want to hear more about Jesus. The word “beginning” promises that there is much more to hear.

Unfortunately, Mark 1:1 is not a good Elevator Speech in the Twenty First Century A.D. First, most people hear “Christ” and think it is Jesus’ last name, so it communicates nothing special to them. Second, “Gospel” means either the Christian message in general, or the empty etymological meaning, “Good News” Christians often give it. “Son of God” still carries much of its original punch.

In Paul’s visit to Athens recounted in Acts 17, there is a second “Elevator Speech.” Preaching to whomever he can, Paul tangles with some Stoic and Epicurean philosophers and gets arrested for preaching about two new gods, a male one, “Jesus,” and a female one, “Resurrection (feminine in Greek).” On trial, Paul cleverly clears himself of the charge once made against Socrates, of preaching new and foreign gods, by saying, “I am preaching about the ‘Unknown god,’ whose statue I saw in your city. Furthermore, the God I preach is not new; He is the oldest God, the Creator of all nations. Until now, He allowed them to go their own way, searching for Him, but now He commands all nations to repent [of their idolatry] and worship Him. He has shown His intent by raising a man from the dead, who will be Judge of all.”

Paul’s defense before the Athenian court, the Areopagus, suggests what his “Elevator Speech” was in Athens. “The Creator Himself has sent Jesus to turn you away from idols; He raised Jesus from the dead and appointed him Judge of all.”

Paul’s “Elevator Speech” in Athens will not work much better today than Mark 1:1 will. Why? First of all, “Judge” does not mean “King” like it did to all ancient peoples. Second, Jesus raised from the dead in America is not new news, thanks to our annual Easter holiday and the general knowledge of what Christians believe. There is also a tendency among more kindly unbelievers, to patronizingly psychologize the Resurrection: Jesus lives in the hearts of Christians by faith, but smart people certainly do not believe that a dead body came back to life. An awareness of the supernatural, a Creator capable of acting in our world, is weak today.

So what might a suitable “Elevator Speech” be today? I asked an adult class at Broomall that question recently, after we had discussed Mark 1:1 and Acts 17, and got three quick answers. One, “Where do you think you would be if you died tonight?” Two, “Do you know that you are in an elevator and it is plummeting earthwards?” Three, “You are like a person with terminal cancers.” The trouble with all three of these suggestions is that they are not about the person we want to talk about, Jesus. They are not Elevator Speeches. Each is about the person to whom we are talking, not Jesus.

After I criticized the first three suggestions, a fourth hand was raised. “Jesus is who He says He is, the Son of God, who rose in His body from the dead and is alive now, and everyone will have to answer to Him someday.” I like it. It puts the name of Jesus front and center: he is the man we are talking about. Second, it makes the further claim that he is the Son of God, the part of Mark 1:1 that still immediately gets attention. Third, it asserts the supernatural, historical, bodily Resurrection of Jesus, meaning He is alive now. And fourth, it warns that both speaker and hearer will one day answer to Jesus. Unlike Mark 1:1 in its day, it does not invite, “Tell me more.” It is a little more like Paul’s preaching in Athens, inviting a disputation about the truth concerning Jesus: Paul was always ready to argue his case for Jesus.

This modern Christian “Elevator Speech” does not mention forgiveness of sins, nor how to bridge the gulf between sinful created man and the eternal holy God, but neither does Mark 1:1, or Paul in Acts 17, or Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Peter only gets to sins forgiven after his frightened audience asks desperately, “What shall we do?” when they hear that Jesus whom they crucified is alive and the heavenly enthroned King. However, that we will someday answer to Jesus does raise the question, “What will I answer? How will He judge me?”

Do you have an “Elevator Speech” about Jesus? Every Christian should have one and use it.  

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