Andy Crouch just recommend this story and it is indeed worth a quick read (it is rather short). One of my favorite and most memorable courses as an undergraduate at Cornell was with Prof. Brian Tierney on St. Francis. It was the last course he taught before retiring and was a graduate course and I was one of only two or three undergraduates. Fantastic and enlightening course, mostly due to the politics that ensued, already within Francis’ lifetime, for control of the order he founded.
Speak the GospelUse deeds when necessary.
I’ve heard the quote once too often. It’s time to set the record straight—about the quote, and about the gospel.
Francis of Assisi is said to have said, “Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
This saying is carted out whenever someone wants to suggest that Christians talk about the gospel too much, and live the gospel too little. Fair enough—that can be a problem. Much of the rhetorical power of the quotation comes from the assumption that Francis not only said it but lived it.
The problem is that he did not say it. Nor did he live it. And those two contra-facts tell us something about the spirit of our age.
The point is this: Francis was a preacher. And the type of preacher who would alarm us today. “Hell, fire, brimstone” would not be an inaccurate description of his style.
… “Preach the gospel; use words if necessary” goes hand in hand with a postmodern assumption that words are finally empty of meaning. It subtly denigrates the high value that the prophets and Jesus and Paul put on preaching. Of course we want our actions to match our words as much as possible. But the gospel is a message, news about an event and a person upon which the history of the planet turns. As blogger Justin Taylor recently put it, the Good News can no more be communicated by deeds than can the nightly news.