Friends With Benefits: Re-Imagining Evangelism, Part 3

We’re continuing an adventure in re-imagining evangelism. If you’re new to the discussion, I would suggest you go back and read the past 2 posts here and here. They’ll offer some context to the discussion at hand. Thanks for taking the time to stick with this topic. I trust you’re finding it worth your while!


The Inciting Incident

When I read what happens next in this story, I’m immediately reminded of a term that is used in Hollywood movies. The term is called, “The Inciting Incident.” The inciting incident is the moment in a movie when a person is brought or forced to a place where everything changes. As consumers of movies, books or stories in general, we have a desire to watch the main character of the story evolve and mature. We want them to improve. We don’t want the “idiot” at the beginning of the story to still be an “idiot” at the end. No, we want the “idiot” at the beginning to be a smarter idiot all while still getting the girl at the end of the story. We want to see progress. Well, the tool used in story, and something that’s very true about us in our own lives, is the tool of the inciting incident. It’s the moment in a story when everything changes. Through a person or a situation out of the character’s control, we witness as they are forced to make a decision: change and grow, or stay the same and wither away.

To put flesh on this, I’m going to nerd out for a second. Have you ever seen “The Lord of the Rings?” Remember in the first movie when Gandalf finds the ring in Bilbo Baggins house, and then gives the ring to Frodo? Did Frodo just go about his daily life? No. That little ring changed the course of his life, and the lives of the rest of middle earth forever.

How about in Casablanca? Remember the moment when Ingrid Bergman walks into Humphry Bogarts bar. Was either of their lives ever the same? Ingrid Bergman walking into that gin joint let to some of the most famous lines in Cinematic history.

The Inciting Incident for Zacchaeus

Looking at this story, we can read through it and see when it all comes to a head. Zacchaeus’ life altering moment doesn’t involve a sermon, nor does it involve a solid, philosophical treatise on why God is really the one true God. Jesus doesn’t have a bullhorn, and Jesus isn’t convincing Zacchaeus of anything.

The inciting incident in this story involves Jesus looking up, sensing that someone is living in a moment of choice, and makes a simple statement that changes Zacchaeus’ world.

Jesus looks up, and tells Zacchaeus that he “must” come down because He wanted to go to Zacchaeus’ house.

In today’s language, we read that as self-invitation, and that feels rude. But in that day and time, to say you wanted to go stay with someone placed public status and validity on a person and their standing in Society. When he says he must go stay with Zacchaeus, he’s saying that it doesn’t matter what society thinks of him, Jesus finds worth, and sees the goodness within him. He is saying that he has not gone too far, and is not too corrupt to be transformed by the good news (what evangelism really means) that Christ’s life and death means for us all.

And the brilliance of this invitation is the response….

check it out tomorrow!


5 thoughts on “Friends With Benefits: Re-Imagining Evangelism, Part 3

  1. Pingback: Friends With Benefits: Re-imagining Evangelism, Part 4 | Michael Palmer

  2. Pingback: Friends with Benefits: Re-imagining Evangelism- A Recap | Michael Palmer

  3. Pingback: “Story” according to Kurt Vonnegut | Michael Palmer

  4. Mr. Palmer,

    Thanks for the info on the “inciting incident!” One question, however: was Jesus really saying he saw good in Zacchaeus, or was this more about the “must” of God’s sovereign will being carried out in saving a sinner in whom there is nothing good? I know that if God had to find something good in me before Jesus could save me, I’d be lost forever!



  5. Joel, thanks for taking the time to work through these posts, and thanks for the question! A bit of about my theological background/leaning; I am a son of the Wesleyan tradition, and so, while our tradition agrees that none of us, apart from Christ’s saving grace and forgiveness, are able to save ourselves, we do believe in the prevenient grace of God… meaning that we believe that God is at work in us before we even realize it….wooing us, speaking value into our lives, showing us that there is a better way than the way we have previously chosen. We also believe that, even though we have sinned, and are without hope, we still are immensely valuable to God. Proof of this being that God sent his son to earth to die in order that we might be saved. The major point being that our worth is found only in our relationship to God…and that our worth is proven through an invitation from God to belong.

    I hope this explains it enough! Feel free to respond back if you have any further questions.

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