When I was 11 going on 12, fifty people came from the U.S. to Adelaide, South Australia for a "Campaign for Christ." This was the better part of fifty years ago. (I will be sixty in November.) The "campaigners" knocked on doors all day trying to set up Bible studies.
What sticks in my memory is their use of a teaching tool called, 'the Open Bible Study' series - OBS, for short. These four lessons walked the prospective convert through a series of scriptures, punctuated by "Yes" or "No" questions linked to each scripture. The OBS lessons were very effective when used with people unfamiliar with Scripture. In less than a month around 100 people were baptized.
I was 11 going on 12 and watching with big eyes. I was not a precocious Bible student. I was eleven years old and paid about the average amount of genuine attention to my father's sermons and teaching, which is to say, not very much. All my fault; I was a distracted kid.
But growing up in my home with two godly parents - and missionaries, to boot - I couldn't help but absorb more Biblical knowledge than the average eleven year old. So I remember thinking, even then, the OBS lessons were pretty thin stuff. Cherry picked texts, with leading questions, and all detached from anything resembling a larger story.
Within a year many of those 100 newly baptized believers were not longer a part of the church.
That made an impact on me. I fault no one, although the author of the OBS series and leader of the Campaign, left a memory more military than personal. After the flush of events connected with the campaign, and as the newly baptized receded away from the church, the seed of question took root in my young mind.
"Why do some believe the gospel and some do not?"
It would be rewriting history to say I dwelt on this question. I did not. But seeing how (relatively) easily and quickly some people could be led to profess faith, and then walk away, made an impression upon me. The better of part of 50 years ago the evangelistic strategy of month-long, intensive campaigns was viewed positively. Who could argue with 100 baptisms? Further, some did remain ... and praise God for that!
But the question of why some believe and some do not, lingered.
John 12, verses 37 through 50, addresses this very question of unbelief. Over time I have come to realize my question is probably backward. It seems to me, now, the more Biblical question is ...
"Why do any believe ... at all?"
The default response to Jesus in a fallen world is unbelief.
Belief is a spiritual miracle of amazing grace. Belief will not be generated by cherry-picked texts and leading questions ... and the rush to baptism. The overwhelming majority of the people in Jesus' day - who saw His signs and heard His preaching - rejected Him and killed Him. If Jesus can be rejected, then who am I to imagine my slick presentation of Jesus will always elicit faith?
This did not stop Jesus. It ought not stop me ... or you ... or the church. But perhaps we can begin to cultivate a little more humility in the presence of the mystery of faith.