Wednesday, June 30, 2004
The Stand: Evangelism
I've gone through Jesus and the Bible, talked a bit on Relationships and Conversations, and finally putting down what I've discovered about Sin & Forgiveness - namely, that we all have done it and all need it, so we should spend less time pointing out the former and more time living a life full of the latter. The next logical (not that logic is driving this, trust me) questions would have to do with witnessing, evangelism, and how this plays out in the world I've found myself living in....
Glad you asked :)
My "best" attempts at evangelism have been "dimmer-switch"-based. That's a new phrase I picked up from TheOffRamp.org, describing how people probably already have some interaction with God before I ever start a conversation, and if in the course of time we turn up the dimmer switch and shine that light a little brighter into the crevices of our lives, then we've done our job. A few years ago, I described the same thing to some friends in small group, saying that I am not a good judge of someone's salvation, but that if I could somehow be used to move a person "one step closer" to Jesus, then I'd been successful. Saved or not, we all need more light, and we all need to take one step closer to Christ in our each of our individual lives - don't we?
I know that Ray Comfort and others espouse a methodology of looking to the Ten Commandments first, bringing conviction into the equation, engaging the conscience before intellect, and then introducing Christ's love and redemption that leads to repentance and a real transformation of life. I understand it, and I see the need to have a focus on repentance in a world where everyone thinks they're saved because they went to Sunday School with Granny when they were little. Billy Graham said that our biggest mission field just might be the Sunday morning pews of North America. In that sense, a focus on the Law and our inherent shortcomings is a welcome message to bring about change. But I have a problem with the tendency to "guilt" people into the kingdom. If we're only talking about "getting saved" and "avoiding hell and God's condemnation", then this is probably the best message for that. Comfort's ideas, along with Campus Crusade's Four Spiritual Laws, the Roman Road, and others came from a search to get beyond the "easy" gospel of "Jesus loves you know matter what, and He will make your life so much better" - but is that "the gospel"?
"Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand" - that's the gospel (Matt 4:17). You could argue that "repent" is meaningless without knowing what you're repenting from. I'd say you were right, but that you've also got too low a view of repentance. It's more than just being sorry for your sin; more than telling Jesus you're sorry for messing up like everyone else. There's a discipleship process, too, where you learn how to live this new kingdom life, where you mature into a person reflecting the glory of God instead of the pride of your old life. New obedience is as much a part of it as confession of old sin. Repentance is a total change of life and mindset that usually doesn't take place outside of relationship and conversation - at least, that's the way it's portrayed in the Bible. We drop the ball when we only think of "evangelism" in terms of "getting people saved" and not also "making disciples". And I feel like I'm better suited towards conversations and relationships, and where those things cross spiritually there's a harvest growing for real kingdom-people living real kingdom-lives.
The norm has been an exclusionist approach to salvation, following the principle Jesus lays out in John 14:6 - "no one comes to the Father but by Me". I don't want to look at it quite the same way, though. What if He was simply sharing that, "if you're looking for God, you're going to have to come through Me, because I'm the only one who can lead you to where He is - come this way and follow Me". What if we partner this verse with, "you will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart" (Deut 4:29; Jer 29:13)? Instead of keeping people out of heaven, He's pointing out a signpost for all to see - and it says "Come On In", not "No Trespassing". I'm glad that the kingdom of God is more *inclusive* than *exclusive*, because it's open enough and welcoming enough for me to come in, too.