Can I be honest?
When I think of evangelism or if the subject comes up in a conversation I get a bad taste in my mouth. I try to wait and hear what people are actually talking about but to be honest I usually think of someone trying to sell something or win an argument or something that is generally bad. Now I realize, of course, that my initial thoughts are not always (actually very rarely) correct but I can’t help but have a weariness toward evangelism.
Why is it that I have this weariness?
When I was a senior in high school I was on the track team throwing shot-put and discuss. Everyday before practice most of us throwers got to the track early and just hung out waiting for our coach. We had conversations that went in all different directions, from what the best flavored Slurpee was to the meaning of life. Most of these conversations have been lost in m memories but I remember one in particular. One of the guys on the team, a freshman kid, was a devout atheist (if there is such a thing) and I was the Christian club president. We got on the subject of Jesus, for some reason, and our conversation began to get a little heavy. We ranged from the apostle Paul to the creation/evolution theory. At this point I my life I’d been pretty well versed in apologetics and I had an answer for everything he brought up. He brought up other possible circumstances that could have rolled the stone away on Easter and I quickly shut him down, saying “if you’re willing to believe these outlandish claims why can’t you believe the one that says God did it?” He brought up Evolution and I shut him down by giving him the odds (God knows where I got them) of evolution being possible. “It’s as likely as putting 1000 monkeys in a room of computers and having them invent Microsoft.” I still wonder where I heard that one. As the conversation went on and on another member of our team showed up and behind the sound of my arrogant rambling I heard him say “what are they talking about.” A friend who had been listening in answered; “They’re arguing about God, and Wes is winning.”
Some people would have felt a sense of accomplishment or pride in “winning” that argument and I wish I could say I didn’t. In my mind I was “evangelizing” this kid. But was I. Whenever I look back on that conversation my heart breaks. I wish I could go back to that bench by the shot-put ring and take it all back. I wish I would have listened.
If ever someone can look at a conversation and say “Wes is winning” it isn’t evangelism… it’s something different, it’s an argument or a fight or a competition.
The word evangelism means “spreading good news.”[i] The Church has managed to make that good news into something that we can’t describe as good. Does it sound like good news that you are a sinner and if you don’t accept Jesus you’re going to Hell? Does it sound like good news that the world is going to burn and if you don’t accept Jesus you will too? Does it sound like good news that if you don’t believe in a certain set of doctrines you’re not a Christian even if you desire to be? Does it sound like good news that you’re a slave to sin and nothing you do is truly good unless you’re a Christian? None of these things can be described as good yet they are examples of some of the most popular methods used by evangelists today. When we use these methods we become less that people.[ii] We become salesmen. Salesmen really don’t have any interest in a person beyond their wallet, if they knew ahead of time that their customer wasn’t going to buy anything they wouldn’t waste their time. They are using people for their business. Now I realize that not all salesmen are salesmen by this definition, they can sometimes be people as people can sometimes be salesmen. This salesmen approach treats people as a means to an end. Relationships are not about caring for and loving each other they are about meeting a quota, an agenda. It’s about profit and loss. Instead of an authentic concern for the welfare of their friend it’s about winning souls. This was why I felt a sense of accomplishment in my “evangelism” at the track that day… I wanted to put a notch on my spiritual belt.[iii]
Kant’s ethics and evangelism
The eighteenth-century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant may have a lot to teach us about evangelism through his philosophy of ethics. For Kant, ethics was based not just on the actions of a person or their habits. Aristotle believed goodness was based mainly on the disciplines and habits of a person which could only exist through application of observations of a good example. Kant reformed this belief suggesting that “only good will is truly good.”[iv] In other words someone’s intention is more important than their actions. Even further, actions are completely dependant of intention for their quality. A good deed can be done for the wrong reasons and is then isn’t good. Could it be described as bad? Not for Kant. Only an action done because you know it is what duty demands, is good. If something is done that duty demands but for any other reason it is neither good nor bad and if duty is disregarded it is simply bad. “Good” is measured in terms of intention. In light of this Kant was probably most bothered by what is called consequetialism, a results based approach to ethics. This approach measures “good” by its result. In other words; good is a deed… When something is done that duty demands it is good in a results based approach, regardless of the intentions. For Kant the value of a person is infinite, unmatched.[v] And sometimes the best results can be achieved by using people. For example; if I buy a friend lunch so that he’ll do something or give me something I am using him and, as you’ll infer, this is opposite Kant’s view. For Kant goodness expects nothing in return.
Now what does this say to us about evangelism? Understand that Kant doesn’t speak directly about evangelism but if we follow in his approach we can see they are very related. Kant’s opposition to consequentialism is an opposition to “using people” or viewing them as a means to an end. We would say, generally, that evangelism is a good deed but it can become something less if it is done for the wrong reason. When we begin evangelizing in order to put a notch on a spiritual belt or to win a soul we’re using people. We’re, in the words of one of my favorite professors Dan Speak, “reducing people to stuff.”[vi] So an appropriate question would be; if you knew ahead of time that the person you were “evangelizing” would never convert or accept Jesus, would you still evangelize them or are you expecting something in return?
What is evangelism… really?Now at this point you might be questioning how it is possible to evangelize without expecting something in return. If this is your question then you probably hold a very popular definition of evangelism. To know what evangelism is we must first examine what God’s role in the world really is. Yes God’s role. As Disciples of Christ, imitators of His perfect example, our ambition is to share God’s heart and to therefore seek the fulfillment of his purposes. God’s role is ours as well.
What is God’s role? In order to understand this we must understand at least two things about God: He is intimate with His creation and He is good.
This is proclaimed and taught throughout scripture. The writers of scripture would not have even thought of talking about God the way many of us do today. This is especially true for the writer(s) of the Torah. “To the ancients, God was not an abstract force, principle, or process; rather, He was Father, Friend, King – all of which implied ‘person.’”[vii] Sometimes it is really easy to turn God into a bunch of ideas rather than a “person” as the scriptures describe. When we do this, of course, it’s with good intent so that we do not lose the sovereignty of God. But when we neglect God’s identity as “person” we could be making a deadly mistake, we may be stripping Him of His most important attribute: He is intimate with His creation. Why is this intimacy so important? Because, without it God wouldn’t be important. He would be some distant floating thing which is totally detached from us, doing nothing for or against our benefit. We would be totally fin in life if we just ignored Him, after all, He’s pretty much ignoring us too right? Good for us this is not true. In the book of Deuteronomy, The writer constantly reminds his readers of this: “remember that it is the Lord who gives you the power to get wealth…”[viii] “Heed the Lord your God and observe His commandments…”[ix] “But if you do not obey the Lord your God… all these curses shall come upon you and take effect…”[x] If we ignored God, according to Deuteronomy, we’d be cursed and in obeying Him we’re blessed.[xi] So it is evident that God is intimate and therefore at work on the world.
Now we must ask what kind of work He’s doing (that was our original question wasn’t it?). To know what kind of work God does we have to refer ourselves to God’s first work. From the beginning of the Bible God is at work. Genesis 1 is a creation poem and it is where we find the first documentation of God at work. If you’ll read this poem you’ll begin to catch a rhythm. In this rhythm God creates something and then it says “He saw that it was good.” He creates something else… “it’s good.” Something else… “it’s good.” The reoccurring theme, you might call it the chorus, is “it was good.” The first work we find God doing in the world is good work. ) It is not until the third chapter of Genesis that anything bad happens at all and according to scripture this is because of man not God. The curses God explained to Adam and Eve after they ate from the tree[xii] were regarded by the Rabbis (experts on the Hebrew Scriptures) as “observations.” God did nothing that we should regard as wrong or immoral. Sin was not created in the world nor brought forth from divine efforts it came in as a foreign invader. So because of His intimacy with His creation and His goodness He refuses to give up on His creation. Every effort of God’s in scripture after the fall of man is to bring Mankind to the rightness He had originally planned for them. From Abraham, to Moses, to Joshua, to Isaiah, to Jesus, His efforts are to do away with the sin that came in uninvited. In Jesus Christ He finally defeated it. On the cross through Jesus, God brought rightness to Mankind, if they choose it. Everything God does in scripture between the fall and the renewal of the world (Revelation 21-22) is reconciling His creation to himself. He wants to bring everything back in sync with His good will. “He’s reclaiming creation. He’s entering into it and restoring it and renewing God’s plan for the world. Jesus is God’s way of refusing to give up on His dream for the world.”[xiii] Daniel L Migliore puts it together for us:
“The Bible proclaims good news in its very first verse: ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth’ (Genesis 1.1). The creation of the world is th first of the majestic and gracious acts of the triune God. It is God’s calling ‘into existence the things that do not exist’ (Romans 4.17). While the good news of God’s free grace has its center in the liberating and reconciling work of Jesus Christ and will have its final and victorious realization when God ‘makes all things new’ (Revelation 21.5), the sovereign goodness of God is already at work in the act of creation the triune God who eternally dwells in loving community also welcomes into existence a world of creature different from God. The creation of the world, its reconciliation in Jesus Christ, and its promised renewal and consummation are all acts of the one triune God, and they all exhibit the astonishing generosity and beneficence of the God.”[xiv]
If our role in the world is the same as God’s then our work is to reconcile the world to God. Evangelism is only good and only really evangelism if it is aligned with God’s plan for reconciliation. We are implementing what Jesus did on the cross, defeating sin and establishing a kingdom of peace here, now in this place. Evangelism isn’t just about what happens when we die. It is ultimately about brining the world, this world to a state of perfect harmony with God. If telling someone about Jesus isn’t done with intent to renew the world we live in then it isn’t good at all and it isn’t God’s work. Evangelism is not about escaping the world we live in and going to heaven or avoiding Hell when we die. It’s about brining heaven here instead of Hell. Heaven is not just a future destination it’s a place here and a way life that can be lived out here and now. “For Jesus, the question wasn’t, how do I get into heaven? But how do I bring heaven here? The question wasn’t how do I get in there? But how do I get there, here?”[xv] Evangelism is bringing heaven here.
The five lies of evangelism
There are a lot of lies that evangelists tell Christians about Christianity and evangelism. We’ll cover a five:
Lie number one: if you’re offending people you’re doing a good job. Last night I went to a Christmas party with my friend’s church. And of course, because it was a youth event, there had to be a message. The youth pastor made a statement that has been stuck with me all day he said “the world doesn’t hate Jesus enough… because we’re not telling them about Him.” This statement assumes at least one of two things about Jesus message and the nature of evangelism. Either it is always an offensive message or it has to be told in an offensive way or both. Many Christians boast about being scoffed at and spit upon because they’ve been told that boldness means not being afraid to “speak truth” into peoples lives even if it means pushing the person to tears. If evangelism means “spreading good news” then we have to evaluate what exactly “good news” is. The “good news” that the angel Gabriel was speaking of when he said “I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide…”[xvi] was given to a world in desperate need of being saved. The angel brought this message to a bunch of shepherds, “A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.”[xvii] Their salvation was tangible, it was something that had to do with their life here and now and not just for their eternity. Salvation to them meant an end to poverty and oppression. They weren’t sad because they didn’t have meaning in their lives or because they were doing drugs, they were depressed because they were poor and hopeless. The reason the angel could even say it was great and joyful event and for it to be true to the people who were receiving the message was because it responded to their need for salvation in the here and now (or at least their here and now). It was good news because it was an open path into harmony with God. Why on earth would harmony with God sound bad enough to offend someone. Jesus message is one of generosity, compassion, peace, and wholeness. The elements of Jesus are only offensive to someone who doesn’t believe it if they are presented with judgment. Of course I’m going to be offended if I’m judged by standards I do not hold. In the scriptures, the people who were offended by Jesus were not tax collectors like Zaccaeus or adulterous people like the woman at the well. The people who were offended by the message of Jesus were the people who should have agreed the most, the religious leaders. Jesus never presented his message in a way that was arrogant or judgmental to the people who needed to shape up. His judgment went out to the people who thought they had it all together. Jesus ate meals with sinners.[xviii] Jesus message is that you are accepted and loved just as you are. The word gospel means “good news” it should stay just that… good. As Rob Bell puts it “the Gospel is good news especially for those who don’t believe it.”[xix] Good news is never bad news, it’s good for every single person who was created by God. “If the Gospel isn’t good news for everybody, then it isn’t good news for anybody.”[xx]
The power of the Gospel goes much deeper than a promise for the future. It is a promise of better life here and now. When the good news comes into our lives we are changed into better people which is good news for everyone who we’re close to. When God called Abraham and gave him good news, that he would father a nation, the good news wasn’t just for him it was for “all nations.”[xxi] Also, if you remember, Moses was given a promise of blessing. Erwin Raphael McManus describes Moses response to the good news like this:
“A coward became a hero; a murderer became a deliverer; a shepherd became a prophet; a wanderer became a leader; an adopted son of Pharaoh became an adopted son of God; slaves became free.”[xxii]
The best part of McManus’ description is the line, “slaves became free.” This change wasn’t just good news to Moses but to everyone, to the slaves.
If offending people becomes our tactic for reaching people who need the good news then we miss the good part of the good news. Offending people usually means ignoring people. When offending people is our best strategy then we excuse ourselves from any kind of criticism, needed criticism. When we ignore criticism we’re not just ignoring people we’re being arrogant.
Lie number two: Every other religion is wrong. C.S. Lewis was asked to write what exactly Christians believe he started out with this:
“I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not have to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all religions are simply wrong all through.”[xxiii]
C.S. Lewis understood that Christianity is not the only religion that has access to truth. We share truth as the human race. Now of course not all truth is available to us. There are certainly questions that cannot be answered by Christians or anyone else. People ask unanswerable questions like, “why did God choose Abraham?” These questions can be dealt with but in the end we can answer them no more easily than “why is the sky blue.” After all it could have been brown or green. But the things we can know and answer can be known and answered by people of all kinds of different beliefs. For example: You believe there is a God right? This is something you believe to be true. There are people all over the world why deny being Christian yet agree with this truth. Non-Christians believe in God just like you do. They are right about something… and they’re not Christians.
Lie number three: You should win every debate. The conversation/argument I had with that kid on my track team back in high school was a success if I was simply trying to Argue. I definitely won the argument, but what cam from it? Nothing. To my knowledge he never became a Christian even thought, logically, he should have. I won right? So he should have just gave in and changed his entire belief structure. I expected him to just step away from everything he’d based his life o n and just believe. He didn’t. When you became a Christian was it because you lost an argument? If you did then how strong do you think your beliefs were in the first place? How many people do you know who accepted Christ because it was proven or well described to them?
The truth is people don’t just change their minds, they don’t just buy into things. If you make people choose between something they’ve always believed and the way you believe their always going to choose their old way. What happens though, if someone sees that the way you believe really makes things better?
Let me tell you a story. I had a friend in high school who was not a Christian. He began going to my church, all the while being openly Mormon. He wasn’t ready to leave Mormonism, in fact he firmly believed it. He was intrigued, though, by this church because his friends went there. As he continued going to church there he found himself catching the rhythm of lives of those around him. No one argued with him about his beliefs and I’m sure, at my particular church, he’d have won just about every argument. He didn’t feel like he had to make a decision, one way or the other, about his beliefs. But, none the less, he began to believe. It wasn’t a set of logical arguments that caused his mind to change, it was the way he was living. Soon his entire life changed.
Lie number four: Alter-calls. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life yet I never fail to feel awkward during an alter-call. You may know what I’m talking about. It’s usually after a very emotional worship session or a dynamic sermon. The pastor says something like “some of you have not accepted Jesus into your heart yet… this is your opportunity. Just prayer this prayer…” The prayer’s basic structure is recognition of one’s sins, their need for a savior, and finally their acceptance of Jesus as that savior. The pastor then asks for people to raise their hand if they’ve just prayed the prayer for the first time. He then waits… every few minutes he says something like “thank you, I see that hand.” After waiting so long he’ll say “now some of you haven’t raised your hand yet… God is tugging on your heart.” Now this is where it gets awkward for me. For as long as I’ve been a Christian, confident as I may have been in my salvation, I always felt like everyone was waiting for me. I’ve probably raised my hand six or seven times because of this feeling. I always interpreted that awkward feeling as a “tugging” from God. In truth I was really just feeling awkward about the whole situation. I’m sure that many people have raised their hand, not out of any kind of dedication but simply because the whole thing is awkward.
Alter calls have been used for years and years and I assume that they’ve been done with good intentions. I understand the tension in churches to “get people saved.” And I also understand that this method has been good for some people. It’s provided an assurance of their salvation. But is it a false assurance? For some it is.
Consider the messages that an alter call represents. First of all it sends the message that it is through a prayer that we become Christians and then it’s smooth sailing from there on out. Being a Christian is hard, for many, it’s harder than the life they lived before they were Christians. Being a Christian involves much more than just Jesus coming into your lives and saving you. This individualistic message is like a “bait and switch.” We draw people in saying it’s about you, your salvation. Then, if they actually decide to live a Christian life, they discover that it’s not about them. It’s about everybody else. A Christian is someone who is dedicated to the welfare of everyone else, spiritually and physically. A Christian understands that Loving people is loving God. “I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.”[xxiv]
Real life change happens among friends, in relationships, small groups. “It is statistically staggering how few people respond to Jesus Christ and the Church through mass evangelism. Most people become Christians through influential friendships and family relationships.”[xxv] If we save people through alter-calls what are we saving them to? This question brings us back to showing the gospel. What are we showing at an alter-call? We are showing a Christian life that involves singing fun songs hearing cool sermons and getting to go to heaven. Do we really want to save people to this life? It certainly isn’t the Christian life.
Lie number five: Jesus wants to be your personal Lord and savior. Bear with me now… I just want to consider a few things about the statement; “personal Lord and savior.” No one is a Christian alone. Christianity is about entering into a community of people dedicated to the same thing. We cannot isolate ourselves and still call ourselves Christians. His is a blessing that blesses everyone through you, not you alone. The Church is a community. We see a picture of this community in the scriptures. In Acts chapter two we’re told:
“A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.”[xxvi]
Community is a consistent throughout scripture. The Bible is all about community, God doing things for and with His people. Even the “Lord’s prayer” has community overtones. “Our father who art in heaven… Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” Even reading the Bible is about community. It was written to whole communities. Romans was written to the Roman people, Ephesians was written to the church in Ephesus. The writers of the Bible never thought that people would someday be reading it alone. As Rob Bell says it the Bible is a “communal book.” And God is a communal God, Jesus is a communal savior. So when we invite people to live a certain way we are inviting them to live it with us. Jesus does get personal with us but always in context of community.
What language are you speaking?
During his ministry the Apostle Paul went to a place called Mars Hill. There, at Mars Hill, gathered a community of religious people and philosophers. When Paul came upon the scene the people asked Him about himself, about his teachings. Now, Paul carried with him into this place a great tradition of YHWH (the God of the Torah) doing great works among his people. Paul had a concept of YHWH, one God who reigned over all things and was accessible to people. The people who gathered at Mars Hill had no concept of YHWH. They had many gods who ruled over many different things. They had a god of harvest, a god of fertility, a god of the sun, a god of rain, etc. They called these gods Theoses. For them YHWH was totally foreign, it was a whole different language, both literally and figuratively. They had no concept of YHWH. Now, Paul could explained, in all his best language, the reason they needed to turn to YHWH. He could have said “all your god’s are fake and mine is the only true God,” and he would have been right. But would his listeners understand, at all, what on earth he was talking about? No, they would be hearing something completely different than Paul was saying and they’d reject Him. Paul could have done a whole presentation of his teachings, been rejected, and walked out saying “those people just don’t want to believe the truth.”
Paul didn’t do a presentation or give a lecture, he didn’t just throw information at a people who had not the tools to perceive it, he took their concepts and stretched them. He acknowledged their beliefs and their concepts. He said:
“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious, for as I was walking along I saw your many altars. And one of them had this inscription on it—‘To an Unknown God.’ You have been worshiping him without knowing who he is, and now I wish to tell you about him. He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is. From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand which should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.”[xxvii]
Paul models, for us, a way of evangelism. He actually cared about the people he was speaking with. He cared enough to observe their beliefs.
This Christian life, this Kingdom of God, is not something we can’t really describe with words. It is Mystical; something that has to be shown.[xxviii] It’s elements have to be grasped more deeply than just our logical thought. We can’t even talk about it until it’s shown or experienced. For example; if I say “God is good” some of you will feel something deep within you bones and respond “yes He is.” The reason you are saying this and feeling this way is because you’ve been show, you’ve experienced His goodness. The words are only a skeleton for what’s really being said, the experience is the flesh. It had shown to you before you could really understand the words at all. Larry Crabb explains it this way:
“No one will conclude that God is good by studying life. The evidence powerfully suggests otherwise. Beliefs in God’s goodness and the worship that naturally flows from this confidence depends on the revealing work of the Holy Spirit. When He ushers us into the presence of ultimate goodness, when our darkest tragedy is pierced by one glimpse of invisible glory, then faith is born.”[xxix]
Putting flesh, real meaning, to words is a lot like learning “how to eat a piece of fruit.”[xxx] Try it some time; take two pieces of fruit (the same kind of fruit). Eat one of them and then examine the other. Examine every detail, take in all its features. As you inspect the fruit think about how it came to your hand. Follow its past. Imagine the fruit being picked off a tree. Imagine what it took to grow that tree; water, soil, sunlight. Where does sunlight come from…? If you trace back farther and farther you’ll begin to truly appreciate the great gift you hold in your hand. Now that you’ve experienced the fruit, eat it. Was the experience of eating the fruit different the second time?
Words are much like fruit. As the fruit didn’t really taste any different the second time it caused something to stir in you, unlike the first time. After you experience God’s goodness the phrase “God is good” has a whole new flavor. Does it still mean the same thing? Yes, but now you’re “bridging the gap between mundane and mystical.”[xxxi] And the words have turned “mental and mystical into something material.”[xxxii] You can grasp it, you can identify it. It’s no longer just an utterance but now it has life, it has meaning. There are many phrases and words like this and some people just don’t have the same concepts that we do. Some people just don’t have a concept of God and salvation and all the things we wish to share. Now we who have this sort of mystical understanding are carrying it with us. What each of us have to ask ourselves is “how can I speak these truths in a way my hearers will really understand? How can I speak their language?” It won’t do any good to give a lecture about sin and salvation to a people who have never experienced any deeper meaning to the words. We can’t just throw information at people who have no concept of what we’re saying. We have to speak their language because sometimes people reject Jesus not because they don’t want to hear the truth but because they have no idea what you’re actually talking about.
This is why Jesus’ ministry involved healing and feeding. Before he could be called a healer He had to heal. Jesus showed and then told. When His disciples went out “declaring the Kingdom Of God” they didn’t just say stuff or win arguments they healed and showed what the Kingdom of God really was. “Then [Jesus] sent them out to tell everyone about the coming of the The Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”[xxxiii] Showing brings people to Christ. Instead of trying to argue someone into the arms of Jesus maybe we should simply invite them into a certain way of living. As Jesus said, “if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”[xxxiv] Notice the order in which Jesus puts it. He didn’t say “know the truth then continue in my word…” Jesus was telling His listeners to live a certain way of life and then they would know the truth, not the other way around. So as the great Saint Francis said, “preach the Gospel and if at all necessary use words.”
Our decisionI was at the mall today shopping for some last minute Christmas presents. I’m back home in San Diego for Christmas so my mom and I went shopping for some mother-son-bonding. We were going from store to store at North County Fair (the mall in Escondido) and we walked by the Christian store. I usually try to poke in and shop around any time I walk by a Christian store. There was an employee standing outside trying to get people to come in and I know from past experience that he was also trying to evangelize to anyone who’d stop and talk. Something inside me stirred and I continued walking. The man looked me in the eyes and said “hey, how are you…? this is a Christian store, come on in. I forced a smile and continued to walk. Something inside me said “don’t give him the satisfaction.”
It’s so easy to become bitter and cynical about evangelism. It’s true it’s been done in very wrong ways for a very long time by very many Christians. At the mall today, everything I’d ever seen done wrong in evangelism became the representation for all of evangelism. I skipped to a conclusion that the man outside the store would think he’d won me over if I’d come in the store. I automatically assumed that to this man evangelism was about conquest. The moment we begin to let the negative things be our example, our assumption, we miss out on the potential and goodness of evangelism. So we have a choice, at this point, to either quit on the whole thing, become cynical and closed minded or we can hope. We have the opportunity to change peoples perception about evangelism and Christianity. If you’re anything like me you are desperate for this change. I desperately want to see evangelism become what I know it can be. I want to see less arguments, less anger, less division over a message that is so beautiful. I want the world to see the beauty of Jesus’ message and for His followers to show it and live it out in a beautiful way. The only way we can see things change is to start living it out. We can either share Christianity with passion, in a way that is a blessing to the world and not a curse or we can be stagnant and complacent, complaining about the way it is and all the while doing nothing to actually change the perception.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[xxxv]
ConclusionEvangelism is usually talked about like it’s a scary and difficult task, and it can be. But it doesn’t have to be. Evangelism is giving the clearest and most honest picture of Jesus and His message to whoever will observe it. How do we give this picture? It doesn’t have to be presented in a five step solution or in a Bible tract. These methods are ineffective and usually very inaccurate and almost always awkward. The difficult aspect of evangelism should never be that it’s awkward. The difficulty of evangelism is the honesty part. Honesty can be really difficult can’t it? We’re easily tempted in evangelism to act like Christianity is an easy solution; easy to grasp and easy to manage. We like to paint a picture that shows that we’ve got it all together and we can handle anything. We like to show people that if they follow Jesus and be good then everything will come together for them. We try so hard to make Christianity attractive that we miss the point altogether. The truth is Christianity is difficult. It’s a life of servant hood. It’s a life of hard work. But it’s a life of beauty and fulfillment and that’s what makes it so attractive to us. We want our friends to see the attractive side so sometimes we candy coat it out of fear that they’ll be scared off. But when our lives show an honest picture of the message of Christ it will be attractive. People will be drawn to us not away from us.
A deadly mistake we can make in evangelism, and one that is often made, it to treat and think of people as a project or a “possible conversion.”[xxxvi] They are people and “each individual is made in the image of God and, therefore, has worth.”[xxxvii] As God takes value in His people regardless of their spiritual pr physical state so must we. Regardless of weather or not a person will be “saved” or not we value them and bless them. Real evangelism recognizes everyone as irreplaceable. We affirm Immanuel Kant in saying that the life of one is worth the life of billions.[xxxviii] And so, therefore we build relationships instead of damaging them, we accept instead of condemning, we love and do not choose favorites. As Brian McLaren put it “count conversations not conversions,”[xxxix] this is real evangelism.
[i] Brian McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as a Dance In The Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing 2002) 41.
[ii] I believe this line came from Danny DeVito in the movie The Big Kahuna (New York: Franchise Pictures,
Trigger Street Productions 2000)
[iii] Watch all of Rob Bells Noomas and buy them at www.nooma.com… this was said in his Nooma: Bullhorn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishers 2004)
[iv] Steve Wilkens, Paul Shrier, and Ralph P. Martin Christian College, Christian Calling: Higher Education
in the service of the Church (Lanham, MD.: AltaMira Press 2005) 18-19.
[v] Wilkens, 20.
[vi] Wilkens, 21.
[vii] W. Gunther Plaut, The Torah: a Modern Commentary (New York: Union of American Hebrew
Congregations 1981) 21.
[viii] Deut. 8.18, Jewish Publication Society: English translation of the Torah
[ix] Deut. 27.10, JPS
[x] Deut. 28.15, JPS
[xi] This idea is all over the bible but specifically found in Deut. 28.2-28.14
[xii] Genesis 3
[xiii] Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan publishing 2005) 157.
[xiv] Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing Company 2004) 92.
[xv] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 147
[xvi] Luke 2:10, The Message Bible
[xvii] Luke 2.11, The Message Bible
[xviii] Luke 15.2
[xix] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 166.
[xx] Bell, Velvet Elvis, 167.
[xxi] Genesis 12.3
[xxii] Erwin Raphael McManus, The Barbarian Way (Nashville: Nelson Books 2005) 139.
[xxiii] C. S. Lewis, What Christians Believe (New York: HarperCollins and HarperSanFrancisco 2005) 3.
[xxiv] Matthew 25.40 New Living Translation
[xxv] Jim Burns and Mike Devries, The Youth Builder (U.S.A.: Gospel Light 2001) 87.
[xxvi] Acts 2.43-47 New Living Translation
[xxvii] Acts 17 New Living Translation
[xxviii] This definition shows up several times and is explained by Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Tractatus
[xxix] Larry Crabb Jr., Finding God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing 1993) 104.
[xxx] Rabbi Alexander Seinfeld, The Art of Amazement (New York: Penguin Group Inc. 2005) 103-107.
[xxxi] Seinfeld, 111.
[xxxii] Seinfeld, 111.
[xxxiii] Luke 9.2 New Living Translation
[xxxiv] John 8.31-32 New Revised Standard Version
[xxxv] Matthew 29.18-20 New Revised Standard Version
[xxxvi] Bell, Nooma: Bullhorn
[xxxvii] John Frye, Jesus The Pastor (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan Publishers 2000) 30.
[xxxviii] Wilkens, 20.
[xxxix] McLaren, More Ready Than You Realize: Evangelism as a Dance In The Postmodern Matrix (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Zondervan Publishing 2002)