BY ASHLEY KLINE
You know the types of Christian books you see at the checkout of Hobby Lobby or in the book aisle at Target? The devotional and study resources written by popular preachers and lay scholars? l I tend to be skeptical of such works due to my presupposition of such resources as being filled with “quack theology” to use the words of my theology professor and renowned Wesley scholar Dr. Ken Collins. I tend to prejudge these books as being filled with ideas about God and Scripture that someone came up with while sitting on their couch attempting to string together encouraging words for the sake of sales, whether they be true or not. I’ve also silently accused the authors of such works as trying to play scholar, attempting to transmit intelligent ideas with good intent but with no proper training in theology or biblical scholarship to ground them in.
Ironically, I was given one such book as a gift recently, which I coincidentally enough saw at the checkout of Hobby Lobby. This work, “The Mothers and Daughters of the Bible Speak” by Shannon Bream, was a surprise as it appears to be rooted in sound theology and biblical scholarship, even making proper use of original languages. It reads a bit too much into the text for my taste, but that’s beside the point.
The book’s chapter on Ruth and Naomi struck me and brought up points about the text that I failed to recognize the significance of. The relationship between Ruth and Naomi demonstrates the importance of relationships to evangelism. Naomi and her family being in relationship with Ruth is what led Ruth to embark upon a relationship with YHWH. It was neither a priest nor synagogue leader that brought Ruth to faith, but an average, everyday family, attempting to make it through day to day by relocating to Moab following famine in Bethlehem. Ruth’s faith flourished as she went through life with Naomi, a seemingly insignificant woman going through the very human experience of grief as she witnessed her family gradually perish. As Bream says,
"So often when we think about evangelism, we assume we need to prepare a three-point presentation, quoting Bible verses and complex points of theology to convince someone to accept Christ. But evangelism isn’t always about a polished presentation or theological defense. Sometimes, it’s just about being with another person-spending time with him or her, building a relationship, living out our faith in front of the person, and talking about God in the natural conversations that arise."
By the time Ruth agrees to follow Naomi in Ruth 1:17, she had formed a connection with Israel’s God possibly equal to that of native Israelites. This is evidenced by Ruth using the proper, divine name of Israel’s God, YHWH, as opposed to the generic term for god, el/elohim. In the Psalms, it is common for the psalmist to use the term elohim to reference God in passages declaring distance or isolation from God (Psalm 22:1-2). When making proclamations of faith, steadfastness, praise, and worship, it is more common to see the psalmist refer to God as YHWH (Psalm 22:8,23,26-28).
When Ruth makes her oath to Naomi stating, “May the Lord punish me severely if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:17), she invokes the divine name of YHWH. We do not know whether she adopted legitimate faith simply through formal talks with her husband and other members of her new family. However, what Scripture does tell us is that Ruth spent her days sharing life with a family of those believing in the Judeo-Christian God. Somehow, by going through life with these believers, her relationship with the Lord surpassed worship of Him for the sake of her husband. Her connection was personal and extended beyond mere formalities associated with being married to a man who worshipped YHWH. This idea is consistent with the themes that permeate the entire book of Ruth. This book focuses upon self-sacrifice, faith and loyalty for their own sake rather than for the sake of adhering to social customs and coercion.
Ultimately, the book of Ruth shows us that it is not simply the job of religious leaders to shepherd and evangelize. Furthermore, we are not to reach out merely through formal proclamations or carefully crafted arguments. On the contrary, we are to evangelize by doing life with others and exemplifying the power of our faith through our actions and relationships. Let this be a lesson to us all!