Evangelism

The Mission of God=Evangelism?

There is a great book out there by a guy named Graham Tomlin called The Provocative Church. My friend Matthew McClure recommended it to me a couple of years back. It is a wonderful book on evangelism and the mission of God. I especially like it because it has this chapter called “evangelism makes me feel guilty”. Sounds risqué, I know. I like the title because I sometimes feel that way about evangelism. In fact, I have come across many young people in the church who feel similarly. Some feel burdened and guilty because they know they (or at least they are told) should be sharing the gospel with their friends (this might be an appropriate time to remind my readers that this blog is not a place where I write about polished arguments or propose ideas that I am fully certain about, so be sure to keep that in mind). I think there is something very wrong with this. I don’t think conviction is wrong about these things is wrong, but guilt is something quite different. It is not a sign of health when churches contain people who feel guilty and burdened by the admonishment that they receive from leaders and peers to share the gospel as the only way to partake in the mission of God.

I think the reason that many of the students that I know are disenchanted and burdened with guilt by evangelism is because it is often framed as the only way to live a missional and intentional life. Therefore, if it is the only way to do be apart of God’s mission and they are not doing it, then it makes sense that guilt would be a proper response. Perhaps you’d disagree, but it makes sense to me. The problem with this though is that God’s mission is broader than just evangelism. Much broader.

There is another book out there called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson and in it he puts forth the idea that God’s mission is not merely sharing or proclaiming the gospel, but something much more of which proclaiming the gospel is part. He draws from biblical theology and history to describe the different ways in which the church partakes in the mission of God. As a preface to this argument, Dickson says that sharing the gospel is kind of like the “icing on the cake” of God’s mission (which I agree with). He also states that evangelism is indeed for everyone, but at the same time it may not be everyone’s primary activity within the church and the mission of God. Essentially, he proposes that not everyone is primarily an evangelist. My issue (which Dickson addresses aptly) is that living missionally is often assumed to be synonymous with evangelism and sharing the gospel, which can contradict a proper ecclesiology on the body of Christ being made up of many members. This argument is not that complicated. When I look at Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12 I see a description of a community that is made up of a diverse group of people in personality, gifting, and strengths/weaknesses. I am not sure that I give students that I meet with a vision for the breadth of God’s mission and the variety of ways that they can partake in it according to their giftings, personality, and whatever else. More often I treat God’s mission like a “one size fits all” pair of pants– unfortunately, there is no such thing! If being an evangelist worked for that person, then it should work for this other person too, right? Sounds silly, but I think God’s mission gets narrowed when we do not aptly cast vision for people to be part of it in ways that makes sense for them. This is not to say that we should not challenge people in our churches to get our of their comfort zone and do what they are not good at when appropriate, but it is to say that we need to cast vision for variety of ways to partake in God’s mission as the body. If we do approach mission with a “one size fits all” mentality then I fear that we will end up with people who are burdened and guilt ridden.

I appreciate what Dickson proposes in his book. Dickson uses the word promote (rather than proclaim or something like that) to describe the different ways in which the church is able to “promote” the gospel or partake in God’s mission. He says that we can promote the gospel with our prayers, our public praise, our beautiful works, our money, our words, and a couple others that I cannot recall right now. In any case, he broadens the practical ways in which people in the church can actually promote the gospel, and I think it is an important thing to think about for the health of our churches.

The Netherlands and back again…

It has been three days since I arrived home from my trip to Amsterdam and I am still feeling the effects of jet-lag and time change that somehow mess with your biological clock (although I’m not all too sure how that works). Even in light of my current state though, I can positively say that my first trip to Amsterdam is an adventure that I will never forget.

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We had an awesome team of people for this trip. I think some of my favorite moments with this group of people was when we went through times of difficulty together. Whether it was the frustration (and laughter) that from trying to accomplish a simple task like recycling or being discouraged by our attempts at ministry, I think that in any and all of these moments God was able to show his strength. For me, my best friends are people that I have gone through difficult times with and they remain the good friends that they are because they have seen our relationship through even in the midst of challenges. I’m thankful for the triumphs that this team had, but in some ways, I cherish the difficulties even more because in some paradoxical way, I feel that God’s strength was shown in those moments.

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Besides the difficult moments that our team had in seeking to understand a new culture and a new city, we had plenty moments of celebration too. One of my favorite moments during the week was when we went to a city in the north called Groningen. It is a University city and personally, it was my highlight. Here we got into conversations with a number of students, got connected with local ministries and churches, and even got to meet a member of parliament in the building above. It was a wonderful city and our time there was quite rich for only being there for an overnight. Attheend of our stay there’s felt affirmation from God in my plans to continue in university ministry. I felt just as connected with those Groningen students as I did with students here in Kent. It was surprising but consoling.

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The main intent for our trip to Groningen was to discover another city in the Netherlands and the possibilities and/or need for a church plant there someday. What we found through all of our conversations and connections was incredibly encouraging.

Our team did great work, and I was so glad to witness what God did in our hearts and to have had the opportunity to plant more seeds in both cities and fervently pray for growth. While our team did some great things in that city, I think some of my greatest encouragement last week came from our sister church, Amsterdam50.

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The first day that we arrived in the city, our team took a walk with some of the staff of Amsterdam50 through memorable places in the ten year history of this churches existence. It was great to hear the stories of this church and all that God has done in and through it. I remember taking that walk and thanking God for the ecumenical church. It is evident oto me that while what our team did was valuable, in the end it was only one week. I’m thankful for the world-wide church and their love for Jesus and this world. Among many other things, God opened my eyes to this reality over the course of this trip. Thanks Amsterdam50!

Helpfulness from Henri Nouwen

It is a painful fact indeed to realize how poorly prepared most Christian leaders prove to be when they are invited to be spiritual leaders in the true sense. Most of them are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organizations, getting people together in churches, schools, and hospitals, and running the show as circus directors. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the Spirit. It is possible that the Church could be accused of having failed in its most basic task: to offer people creative ways to communicate with the source of human life.

But how can we avoid this danger? I think by no other way than to find the courage to enter into the core of our own existence and become familiar with the complexities of our own inner lives. As soon as we feel at home in our own house, discover the dark corners as well as light spots, the closed doors as well as the drafty rooms, our confusion will evaporate, our anxiety will diminish, and we will become capable of creative work.

…Through compassion it is possible to recognize that the craving for love that people feel resides also in our own hearts, that the cruelty the world knows all too well is rooted in our own impulses. Through compassion we also sense our hope for forgiveness in our friends’ eyes and our hatred in their bitter mouths. When they kill, we know that we could have done it; when they give life, we know that we can do the same. For a compassionate person nothing human is alien…

The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen

The Gospel as Narrative

The Bible is the most magnificent epic that has ever been written. This may not seem controversial yet, but what I am about to propose probably will be to some…I think.

The Bible, for those who have read it, heard it, or studied it, seems to come naturally packaged as a story, but from my view, this conceptualization does not seem at the forefront of how we understand the Bible, the Old Testament, Israel, the Gospel, Jesus, mission, or salvation. Sure, we understand creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but does this really sum up the totality of the Bible?? I think this methodology obviously highlights some key points, but it also cheapens the story in a couple of ways:

-The reason we limit the story of Scripture it to Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration is because we want to allow evangelism to be quick and easy.

  • This is not necessarily bad, but it allows for a chopped up story that is not necessarily creating a discipleship-culture, but a soterian(salvation)-culture.

-We want to make it easy for people to understand the flow of Scripture, and we want to highlight the key points needed for salvation.

  • This is also not a bad thing, and some of it has to do with cultural and contextual aspects that will not be discussed here. I think though that in telling disciples that this all they need to know to share their faith is not necessarily the best approach to establish biblical literacy.

This method of creation, fall, redemption, restoration also creates major gaps in the story of the Bible:

-Where the heck is Israel??  (For instance, how can Jesus make sense without King David?)

  • I think many of us can make sense of Jesus without King David or Israel. Isn’t there something very wrong with that?

The shortened version of the story of the Bible is widely used, and is not necessarily bad, but I think it leaves out major happenings in the narrative and cheapens the Bible story  to only be concerned with one’s personal salvation (here is where it might get controversial…if it hasn’t already). While this is obviously important, I do not think this encapsulates the full outcome of the Biblical narrative. I think one of the main issues with this is that it does acknowledge how for instance Israel fits into our conception of salvation, the Kingdom of God, or anything of the sort. This model cannot substitute the rich, connected narrative of the Bible.

There is a scholar out there by the name of Scot McKnight. Perhaps you have heard of him, or maybe you haven’t. Either way, he has a book out called The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Simply put, Mcknight’s beef is with evangelicals today who have equated the gospel story with the plan of salvation (how one receives salvation). He seeks to bring evangelicals back to the true meaning of the word gospel. He promotes a gospel that is rooted in the story of Israel and cannot be separated from it. Jesus as the fulfillment of the story Israel. If Mcknight had to sum up the gospel in three words he would say this: Jesus is Lord. The foundation of his definition of gospel is rooted in  1 Corinthians 15:1-6. What he finds there is that the gospel is encapsulated in the fact that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. That is the gospel. For Him it is the fulfillment of this long narrative of Israel, and not how one is to receive salvation necessarily. I recommend this book, and if what I just described challenges you, then the book surely will, too.

One of my favorite words in Greek is the word ἐξηγέομαι, which is where we get our word exegesis. Exegesis is usually defined as interpretation of or explanation of a text, usually Scripture. In the greek, though, this word is much more specific than that. The word usually means to quite literally “to take someone through something”. Usually this “something” is a story. It literally means “to someone through a story”. I love this because it emphasizes exactly what McKnight, and now I, am getting at. Namely, that there is great significance within the totality of the Bible story because each instance (specially Jesus) is built on what has happened previously in the story. I think that when we begin to read the Bible and ask the question, “How does this fit into the story?”, our understanding of God, His character, and the history of his people will be seen afresh. What is more is that when we understand how everything in the Bible fits together,  we better understand and feel the breadth of God’s love for His creation.