My Uber driver pulled up outside my house for my ride to the airport. He was a young guy with a big smile and from his cheery disposition I knew immediately he was going to chat to me the whole way. After the pleasantries about the weather and where I was flying to, he got down to business.
“I’ve been with Uber for a while now, and I reckon I’ve driven about 3000 customers in that time, and I’ve asked every one of them the same question,” he started. “Would you mind if I ask you too?”
Intrigued, I agreed.
“Okay,” he smiled, “according to my GPS, this trip will take around 40 minutes. If you could have anyone in the world, alive or dead, be your Uber driver for this 40-minute journey, who would you choose?”
He’s asked three-thousand people who they would most like to spend some quality one-on-one time with. That’s quite a bit of social research. I was itching to ask him who the most popular answers were, but I knew I should give him my response first, so I said, “I’d want Jesus to take the wheel.”
I don’t think my Uber driver got the reference, neither to the expression nor the Carrie Underwood country song, but he seized upon my answer.
“Jesus? That’s a pretty rare one,” he said. “I reckon I’ve only had around a dozen customers pick Jesus before.”
He asked me why I’d selected Jesus and I told him it was because I loved Jesus. I explained that it was a beautiful thing to love someone you’ve met through the written word and in your spirit, but it still left you with a yearning to encounter that person face to face. We talked for a while about Jesus. I opened up about his wisdom and his compassion, and about the way he faced down the religious elite of his day and lifted up the downtrodden and the overlooked. I explained that I loved his creativity, his parables, his quips, his jokes, and puns. I also shared about Jesus’ miraculous power to heal and control nature. And finally, I landed on his identity as God’s Son, the one who died for our sins and rose again defeating sin and death and the devil.
My Uber driver seemed genuinely intrigued. He said he didn’t know Jesus did all that and he said he was especially impressed that Jesus used puns.
That might not have been the thing about Jesus I most wanted to convey, but it kept us talking. I got a bit nerdy and explained that Jesus slapped the Pharisees down by saying, “You strain out a gnat (Aramaic: galma) but swallow a camel (Aramaic: gamla),” and my driver groaned. I guess puns are bad whichever century they’re from.
I reiterated that Jesus did and said all that cool stuff to show us he was God and because he was inviting us to enter into the world he was recreating, a world of deliverance and justice, a world of joy and peace and healing, and the restoration of all things.
“Who wouldn’t want to spend 40 minutes in a car with that guy, eh?” I concluded.
My Uber driver conceded Jesus sounded pretty cool. He told me he thought it was a bit sad that so few of his customers chose Jesus as their driver. Or Muhammad. Or the Buddha. Or any of the “classic gurus,” as he called them.
So, I asked him, after surveying nearly 3000 customers, who the most popular answers were.
“Do you know who Helen Keller is?” he asked.
“They don’t choose Helen Keller, do they?” I gasped.
“Yeah, a lot of people say either Helen Keller or Stevie Wonder,” he laughed.
I guess some customers just don’t want to get into anything real heavy with their Uber driver. But I pressed him on it, asking who the more serious answers were.
“The most common answers are pop culture icons like Oprah and Kanye and Taylor Swift. Or world leaders like Barack Obama or the Queen. I get Bob Dylan a lot. And Lady Gaga.”
I had to admit that 40 minutes with Bob Dylan would be pretty good.
“Yeah, but you made Jesus sound pretty good,” the driver replied.
Maybe making Jesus sound pretty good is the first step. I regularly hear Christians saying that Jesus still has great currency in society today. Apparently, everyone really likes Jesus, or that’s what I’m told. But in my interactions with people outside the church they appear to know nothing about Jesus. In my limited experience, people appear to be completely neutral about him. He’s just one of those “classic gurus” who are lost in the mists of time. We need help in how to even introduce him in winsome and intriguing ways.
That whole Uber experience got me thinking about who our society considers heroic. We crack jokes about Stevie Wonder driving for Uber, and we’d rather while away our time blathering with a queen (Elizabeth, Tay or Gaga) than getting serious with Jesus. But Jesus and his kingdom is serious business, isn’t it? I mean, Jesus was thoroughly concerned with heavy stuff like the defeat of evil, the salvation of human souls and the rebuilding of human society. He ushered in the restorative sovereign rule of the Triune God, and taught that it must be accepted by us in faithful, grateful obedience. He told us that when we enter into it he will shape us into a redeemed society of persons who trust in God’s present rule but hope for its final revelation, and who are used by God to fashion foretastes of that rule right now. You can’t explain all that in a brief conversation, but you can introduce people to the Jesus who sits at the centre of it all.
Introduce Jesus as your friend, your hero, your teacher, your saviour, your king. Tell people about his exploits, his confrontations with evil, his kindheartedness. Heck, tell people he used puns, if that’s what it takes. But most of all, let people know you love him.
This semester I’ve been teaching a subject at Morling College called “Jesus and the Gospels”, guiding students through the ways and means by which Jesus reveals his identity and purpose to us. It’s a great class, and I can’t help but think every Christian should take a unit like this. Every year. These days, we need to become more familiar with what Jesus taught and how he demonstrated the establishment of his kingdom here on earth. Churches need to be workshopping how to tell Jesus’ story better. Congregations should be incubators for missional storytelling. Because we need the help. We need a new vocabulary, grounded in truth and love, but energised by the common vernacular, to describe Jesus’ story as a challenging, sacrificial adventure that invites all people to join the single greatest mission in human history.
But you can’t convincingly tell a story until you’ve made it your own. Until we allow the story of Jesus to shape our own, to make us more and more into his likeness, we just sound like Pharisees, bleating about religious freedom, insisting on our rights, and demanding the world conform to our esoteric form of holiness. And that’s what people like my Uber driver see. They might be neutral about Jesus, but their views about the church are anything but impartial. Indeed, the reputation of church has never been lower.
As we neared Sydney airport, my driver got around to asking me what I did for work. I told him I was a Baptist minister and that I taught at a theological school. He laughed and I asked him what was so funny.
“Well, doesn’t that make you one of the religious elite Jesus was so down on?”
“Gee, I hope not,” I replied. “I really hope not.”
We pulled up to the curbside at the domestic departures level and my driver shook my hand and told me he enjoyed our conversation. He apologised for his crack about me being in the religious elite. I said he should think nothing of it. It’s not my business to defend myself or the church.
I suggested he look more into Jesus. Because at its heart, the gospel is news about God’s action and his reign, not his institution.