June 19, 2013

Ten (Okay Five) Simple Ways to Be Evangelistic

Apologies up front to the Ten Simple Ways to be Missional crowd, but it seems to be my observation that after you have done all of those – and more – for a while, the problem that overwhelmingly confronts many Christians is that they would still love to see someone – anyone – become a Christian, but they simply don’t see it.  So in light of the fact that the concept “missional” in its current iteration is now in its second decade (10th birthday balloons well and truly saggy and deflated, lying on the floor), it seems pertinent to raise the dreaded “e” word once again.

The founding planter of Providence Church here in Perth made an a priori commitment when he planted that he would only ever use the word “missional” in a sentence if he also used the world “evangelistic/evangelism” in that same sentence.  Granted, it doesn’t make for the best prose, but as he said at the time, it’s more likely that evangelism will drop off the radar, given just how hard it can be, than for missional to drop off the radar.

Now I have nothing against the missional lists, and Tim Chester’s list is a great one, but at its best it still won’t make you open your mouth and proclaim the evangel, and at its worst it will lull you into thinking that you have discharged that particular calling, even when you have not.  And I am not speaking from the bleachers, I’ve been there, (still there very much, in fact), and was part of Tim Chester’s set up for some time.

And as much as I love Alan Hirsch (Are you kidding? – I base my life on Alan’s teachings! – Bart Simpon Ed), this article says all of the right things but sorta shuns the “e” word for the “d” word – discipleship.  I don’t disagree with Alan’s conclusions, but do feel that in the current evangelicalism clime that we need the “e” word more than ever. The things that “go without saying” need to be said.

Alan does makes the insightful observation that the first disciples were not born again when they started following Jesus.  True, and leaving Pentecost aside, there is certainly a need to disciple people who are not yet Christian towards an understanding that there might even be a God and that he might even have come to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Yet is that description of the seeds of the New Israel also the universal prescription?  It is notable that at the outset of John’s Gospel, (2:35-51) there is a chain of events in which John is called by Jesus, then goes out and tells his brother Simon Peter about him.  It then happens again when Philip is found by Jesus and goes and hunts out Nathanael with the same message – “Check this out!”. So, yes, Alan is right, let’s not make the mistake that “evangelism” is decision day; the day you are born again; the time that you sign on the dotted line, so to speak. But  that is our ultimate aim isn’t it?  Our aim is that people are presented with the Jesus of the Bible in all of his facets and angles in such a way that, one way or another, they have to decide! In speaking about Jesus, John and Philip couched their language in the context of the as-yet unmet hopes of Israel. John told Simon Peter he had met the “Messiah” – a loaded term if ever there were one -, whilst Philip told Nathanael that he had “found him of whom Moses and the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Simon and Nathanael were confronted with a choice: Were they willing to test the theory that this Jesus was indeed all that their brother and friend claimed him to be, and which they indeed were longing for themselves?

I know what Alan is driving at, but as I said, in the current clime, evangelism is the whipping boy of all things missional and discipling.  Which is a great pity, because proclamation is so central to the “gospel” (given what the word means and everything – sharp-as-a-tack Ed).  

Of course, the other concern with “missional” cut loose from “evangelism” is that it is possible to be missional and to be anti-evangelistic.  Don’t believe me?  Check the blogs. Whilst there seems to be a number of people who are into “evangelism”, but pooh-pooh “missional” (not my position), there are also a growing number who are deeply suspicious of evangelism, and point to bad experiences, fundamentalist backgrounds and in-your-face or manipulative techniques as the grounds for their antipathy.  My suggestion: Don’t universalise those experiences. Explore ways to share the message in the same way, and with the same focus, as John and Philip, introducing people to the Jesus who fulfils all of our unmet (and often unspoken) desires.

And as a footnote, it’s possible to be “missional” and come to a universalist position as far as salvation is concerned, whilst there is no chance you can be evangelistic and a universalist.  Am I bagging out universalism?  Absolutely.  Not because I wouldn’t, in some fractured, fallen way, want it to be true (I have family members too, you know), but because the whole weight of the Bible moves forward like a 100-carriage goods train in the opposite direction. The weight of the Bible is clearing moving towards a need for people to turn back to the living God whilst there is time – in other words, whilst they are alive, or whilst his patience holds with the sin of the world. Evangelism drops away as you move towards universalism. There is no solid, sustaining argument in favour of being a disciple of Jesus here at the end of the ages (the crossover between the old and the new), if this decision has no bearing on whether or not we participate meaningfully, and with joy in God’s actual, visible presence, in the age to come (I am willing to debate this).

And my “Five Simple Ways to be Evangelistic”? That’s for next time 🙂

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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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