The Gift of the Evangelist

The evangel is the announcement of good news.  For the Christian, the evangel is Jesus Christ. Some will say the gospel is justification by faith through grace. Others will say it is certain verses from the book of Romans. Another will say it is the 4 spiritual laws. More will say it is repentance, belief and saying  a certain prayer. These things are good but the reality of the person of Jesus Christ eclipses them all. The problem is these things make the gospel a something and not the person of Jesus Christ.

Mass evangelism – Many an evangelical is familiar with this. Fill a stadium, theater or church building, bring in a great preacher and have a time of decision. The problem is getting people to the event.

Salesman evangelism – This is the method for sharing the things of the gospel in a manner much like a (used car) salesman. The trick is to make the sale by getting the decision. Atheists, agnostics and other religious practitioners are the hard sale, i.e. brush up on your apologetics. The problem is the reduction of Jesus to a commodity.

Rude evangelism – This is similar to above but ignores the qualities of love expressed in 1 Cor. 13, e.g. patient, kind, not boasting, not rude and so on. This is similar to the cold call and we know how we love telemarketers. Why anyone thought this as an effective way to share Christ is beyond me even though I was guilty of this in my younger days. The greater problem is you ignore the love of God. The lesser problem is you look like a jerk. That often causes problems for the rest of us.

Alternatives:

Bar/coffee shop evangelism – Show up regularly to a bar or coffee shop, develop relationships, share your life (which is rooted in God’s life) with others. This takes the love of God into account by showing up and loving others. You don’t force the door open for the gospel but present the gospel in the midst of your life.

Relational/friendship evangelism – Develop friendships with those outside of the flock and provide a safe place to discuss the problems of life. We can express the love of God in friendship by being there and saying, ‘I enjoy the time we spend together and you are important to me.’ Making time for others gets the focus off ourselves, which is something all us Christians need.

Servant evangelism – Serving the poor or those in need with no other motivation than to love the least of these. You come along side of them in their time of need and share in their suffering. This reflects the quote, ‘Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.’

The future of evangelism will take seriously the notion of going into the world. This reflects Bonhoeffer’s view for the future of Christianity: Pray and help those with the problems of this age and enter into their suffering. Can you think of other examples that reflect such an approach to sharing the gospel? How can we share the good news of Christ in the midst of a postmodern culture?

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Space for Questions

Within Christianity is a need for an open place for those with doubts, those with questions or those curious about Christian faith. The question is now, whether such a place should be opened in the Body of Christ or somewhere else? Some churches approach this as a missional opportunity. Some use the Alpha course. Some do a theology on tap or pub theology. Others may have a place in a coffee shop or a restaurant.Or some may have concurrent prayer meetings and question sessions at the church house.

Regardless of where it takes place, the space must be open, respectful and fearless. For some Christians, the thought of questioning matters of faith evokes fear and leads to a closing of the mind. This is a troublesome place to be since one of the great commandments is to love the Lord with your mind. Many places in scripture speak of the mind and need for turning, renewing and transforming (closing doesn’t seem to be an option). The open space to discuss big questions regarding faith can lead to spiritual transformation and a strengthening of faith. [The converse is true as well, some may leave the church and Christianity which might be the root of the fear.]

An open space like this can also provide an opportunity for those curious about Christian faith or maybe even hostile to Christianity. This is not necessarily a platform for Christian apologetics but a place for discussion of what one believes within Christianity and how it is worked out in one’s life. Rhetoric, incivility and vitriol should not find a place of prominence here but civility and open dialog and calm reflection. Disagreements are bound to occur but let respect reign supreme.

The key point in all this would be the emphasis on developing relationships and friendships. This is not for the sake of opening an opportunity to share the gospel, but rather for the relationship itself. This is more about being the gospel as opposed to presenting the gospel as something to be sold. The gospel is free yet costs us our life. We should be giving this gift away in and through our lives. The gospel is Christ, not a set of propositions, a series of scripture passages or the repetition of a certain type of prayer. Seems Jesus was open to questions so why can’t we?

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Question(s)

In the course of one’s life, you eventually will face the questions regarding life’s meaning. Why am I here? What is my life about? Does my life have meaning or is it all absurd? Is there a God? If so, what difference will it make in my life? If not, how shall I live my life? Granted with each person the depth and extent of one’s grappling with those questions will vary. In the life of a Christian, these questions take on a different meaning.

Many people turn to philosophy to answer the big questions of life. Philosophy at its root is the love (or friendship) with wisdom. Much of the work done seeks to justify claims regarding truth and knowledge. The disciplines of metaphysics and epistemology take on and reflect scientific methods to establish what is real and knowable. Although this is the common approach to analytic philosophy, other methods, like those available in Continental philosophy favor phenomenology and dialectic. In the end, both streams of philosophical thought can only go so far in answering the questions.

Theology on the other hand, seeks to get rather specific regarding the questions of life. While seeking to explain faith and belief in God, the theologian attempts to provide clarity and depth to the God question. Granted the answers given often reflect the church and traditions s/he is speaking from, Scripture and dogma also play a part often as the source of authority. To a certain extent, theology is partial and provisional. We do not have all the answers

In the midst of all the philosophy and theology, many are raising questions about church, faith, doctrine and so on. The emergent church poses some of the questions to get the conversation started. This is in part a response to communicate an ancient faith to the contemporary context. Philosophy of religion also plays a part, although diminishing in some circles, to examine the concepts within religion. The encouraging thing with both is that they seek to provide a place for: questions to be asked, doctrines to be reexamined, and concepts to be analyzed. This is a place for open conversation, respectfulness and even transformation.

Jesus Christ provides in his life, death and resurrection of a different set of questions. Instead of us asking the questions, we are the ones facing the question. It is the, “Who do you say that I am?” that was posed to the disciples. The question, “Will you follow me?” faces disciples both then and now. Therefore, we are the ones called into question. How do we answer? How do we follow? These questions are life changing. It is not for us to try to answer definitively, rather it is a matter of submitting to the One asking the question.

Grace and peace,

JWR

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