Rethinking Evangelism (Sep-Dec 2005)

By Matt Dabbs

By Michael Gose

September – December, 2005

“Evangel” means “bringing good news.” Unfortunately being “evangelistic” often seems more like recruiting for a fraternity or sorority rush where one has only a short, and thus intense, amount of time to persuade someone to join one’s organization. After rush week, presumably, one need not concern her/himself with anyone who has not taken the opportunity to pledge one’s fraternity or sorority. The decision-time to join has passed. Time to start working on new people for next year’s pledge class.

My perception that we evangelists sometimes confuse sharing the good news and “rushing” potential recruits is based on experience. A very good friend of mine once asked me about the agenda Christians have. He had had a Christian couple in his neighborhood, which seemed to enjoy his company, start making a special and regular effort to stop and see him at his house. He enjoyed their visits and looked forward to them. Thus he was dismayed when these visits suddenly ended. He was of the strong impression the visits had stopped because he had not joined their church. I believe that this was probably the case. If so, there’s something quite wrong with that scenario, and I have a strong suspicion that his experience is not all that uncommon. Doesn’t this sudden lack of interest in him suggest that my friend was seen as only a means (increased church membership) instead of an end (someone to be valued regardless of their decisions about joining up)? If so, how truly Christian does this seem?

The hurt my friend felt bothered me deeply. Thus after much thought, this is my proposal for a “new” face for evangelism. First, I think we need to take much more seriously Jesus’ dictum that no one goes to the Father except through the Son. I find that we often seem to have more in common with the legalistic Pharisees than the bumbling apostles. We may be “in the world” but “not of the world,” but in the world we still are. Look at the example of Jesus. He hung out with a lot of seemingly unsavory characters from tax collector to Samaritans, from prostitutes to adulterers. He has created more than a little secret suspicion among us evangelicals for promising one of the criminals on another one of the crosses that he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise. (Luke 23:43: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”) In “my book” this suggests that Jesus apparently gets to take whom he wants to Paradise. If that’s true, it seems to me we need less talk about our own thoughts about who are “lost souls” and a much greater emphasis on simply spreading the good news for those with ears to hear. The Biblical indication is that Jesus decides, not us. My thought here is that we need to be very humble about assuming we know best what Jesus should do. We simply must stop speaking of “lost souls” as if we actually know which ones they are. That’s the work of Jesus; He decides who goes to the Father.

Second, I think that we evangelicals need to take on the role of Abraham as set forth in Genesis 18. In the Genesis account God had decided to “go down (to Sodom) to find out whether or not the accusations which (He) has heard are true.” Worried that some who were innocent might be destroyed Abraham, playing the defense attorney, told God, “Please forgive my boldness…I am only a man and have no right to say anything…but…” and he proceeds in his role as an advocate for the people of the city of Sodom. Given the depth of corruption of Sodom it may seem strange to us that Abraham would seem to be arguing with God about His plans. However, I find something exemplary here on the part of Abraham. By his example I think we also need such boldness to stand before God and make our best case for those we would hope God would spare. Given that except for Christ we would also be condemned, it seems the least that we can do is be willing to make the best possible case for others. It strikes me that we are hypocrites to do otherwise. We should have generous hearts because of the Grace of God; fallible people that we are, we should be so grateful that we would try to put the best spin possible in our advocacy of others. Such behavior on our part would make our own appreciation more genuine. Leave the apparent conflict of grace and justice for God to be God.

In Matthew 25: 31-40 we are told by Jesus that He will come as a King and sit on his throne and that all the nations will be gathered. That He will put the righteous people at his right hand. At least for that scriptural moment the (also very human) apostles weren’t arguing with Him about His right to make such decisions about who was with Him. Perhaps the apostles were remembering Jesus’ earlier admonition in Matthew 7, to judge not that ye be not judged. We are warned not to judge, so the implication is that we should be very careful in even using such terms as “lost souls.” At best it sounds judgmental; at worst it is judgmental.

Thus my argument is that, if we really do have “good news” to share, we should want everyone to hear it, and test it for himself or herself. We have no idea how the Lord may harvest these seeds, so we cannot weigh the worth of our efforts by membership registers, or cut off anyone because they did not join our church despite our efforts. People have to be ends, not means. Meanwhile, we would probably do a much better job of this sharing of the good news, if we focused more on befriending the peoples of the world. I suspect our evangelism would be a lot more real if we never again thought of saving lost souls (which presumably only God can do anyway) and put our emphasis on trying to become such friends with the people of the world that we could stand before God, boldly and somewhat knowledgeably, and make our best case for the ones we would personally want included in Paradise. How great it would be if we the Church had so permeated our society that there would not be a single person who could not have a Christian to argue on their behalf. The Lord knows we don’t really deserve to be in Paradise either. How much happier I think we would all be if we assumed such a role. Meanwhile, I am suggesting that we should be most disconcerted that there might be those in the world who not only had not heard the good news, but who had not had a Christian friend to be their advocate. Thus I am proposing that the “new” evangelical will share the good news so thoroughly that all in God’s creation will have encountered both a friend and an advocate.
New Wineskins

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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