October 2, 2012

Ahh, The Old Swap-the-Cup-Trick eh?

Gotta love “the Old-Swap-The-Cup trick” on Get Smart.  You think you are getting a cup of coffee to wake you up, but in actual fact you are getting the cup of coffee that sends you “nighty nights”!  For some people evangelism is a naughty word – often akin to the “old-swap-the-cup” trick, in which someone gets what they didn’t think they were getting and it does them harm. Let me explain what I mean.

I have found that it is often hard to “win” when you speak to people about doing evangelism.  The suspicion among Christians about methodology can fall into two distinct camps; firstly “The Old Swap-the-Cup-Trick” method, and secondly the “Control” method aka “door-to-door evangelism” method.  I sometimes wonder if, when we say we are going to evangelise, we are in a lose-lose situation (I like those odds – Ed). Here’s an overview of the two.

1. The Old Swap The Cup Trick (aka Bait and Switch)The idea behind this is that, much like the cup of coffee, or a tasty worm on a hook, we entice people to an event or enter into a friendship with them in order to, and only in order to, hit them up with the gospel.  At its most crass it is inviting someone to a cunningly disguised church event that has some sort of attractive activity going on, only for the person to discover – too late – that they are locked in (not literally, unless you belong to a cult – Ed) to hearing a gospel presentation as well.  Understandably this does not always have the desired effect on the person “hearing” the gospel for the first time.

2. Control (door-to-door evangelism).  It is what it says, really.  Walk up, front up, “Have you heard about Jesus?” to people who have not solicited any advice or asked any questions of you.  It has all the hallmarks of you controlling a situation and imposing your perspective on an unwilling subject. It is described as arrogant and uncaring, not taking into consideration the spiritual/emotional/psychological state of the person confronted.

Interestingly I have received a little bit of flak for being a purveyor of both of these – indeed in one case, criticism from the same person for being too sneaky by using “Swap-the-Cup: and then for being too obvious by using “Control” evangelism!  What’s a boy/agent to do?

Firstly, don’t panic!  I find that what is being rejected is usually a caricature of sound evangelistic methodology.  I know of no mainstream group that would even countenance “Swap-the-Cup”. These days it is mostly left to the outriders – usually hyper-pentecostal groups skewed towards younger people whose attrition rate means they have a turnstile on their roof rather than a cross. Developing an evangelistically-driven rich,safe and enjoyable communities that allows people to develop friendships with non-Christians, with an ultimate goal to see people come to Christ, is not “Swap-the-Cup”, no matter what detractors say.  It is living as 1Peter says that God’s people should live – as a people who declare the praises of him who called them out of darkness into his marvellous light.  Such a community wants  more people to glorify God, but also wants that to happen in a God-glorifying manner.  I have found that if non-Christians hang around groups of Christians long enough they initiate the conversations.  There is nothing “Swap-the-Cup” about it.

Secondly, ask some questions of the person who is questioning your evangelism methodology. The problem is less to do with methodology and more to do with message. Is it arrogant and controlling to knock on someone’s door unsolicited with the aim of having a friendly, open dialogue (as opposed to a monologue) about spirituality in such a way as to bring Jesus into the conversation?  Not if your conviction is that the person is in danger of God’s judgement should they not respond to the gospel.

Now here is where it gets tangled up. In our culture to hold such a conviction is considered the height of spiritual arrogance, especially given the number of competing world-views out there. Of course the culture “out there” does permeate the culture “in here” and we are now seeing a re-appraisal of the exclusivity of Christianity in many sections of the evangelical branch of Christianity.  This has led to a confusion among some about whether we should be evangelising at all.  However it CANNOT be arrogance that drives someone to do front-up-evangelism if their primary conviction is that King Jesus is coming to rule and judge the world and that a day of reckoning for all humanity is approaching.  While it may be considered arrogant to believe the message, the methodology is akin to a mad-man warning a town of a coming (though fictional) flood.  Do we question his concern for the towns-folk? Of course not.  Do we question his warning? Yes, but we don’t dismiss it completely – sometimes madmen get it right! We observe the situation and determine if his concern is fuelled by his madness or by truth.  The first sign that a Christian may be moving away from a traditional Christian perspective on the coming judgement is when door-to-door not only scares them (it’s not for every personality type after all), but irks them.

Thirdly, the question can be asked, “What’s the alternative?”  The Bible doesn’t give us an alternative to proclamation.  Right from the start we have a speaking God who, in order to be known, reveals himself to people through words. There is no osmosis!  That from the start God has chosen to do this with words, and in both OT and NT uses people to proclaim those words means that we have little choice but to follow that template.  The prime example in the NT that covers both message and methodology is that of Cornelius in Acts 10.  He is God-fearing, alms-giving  honourable man.  But it isn’t enough – he needs Jesus.  He is visited by an angel from God. But it isn’t enough – he needs to hear about Jesus.   Right at the start of the church the message and the methodology are brought together.  The end result? Acts 11:18 – Glory to God, repentance that leads to life for the Gentiles.

(Good thinking 99 – pop-culture Ed)

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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