As I have been trying to implement this vision for how to evangelize, I have noticed something very helpful when talking with folks. It does not always lead into an exposition of the Gospel. However, it develops report with people in a round-about way. So many people have misconceptions as to what it means to be a Christian. They fall into two ditches: 1) being a Christian merely means that I ascent to a truth about a man named Jesus, but this has no repercussions for my daily living; 2) you have to be some fundamentalist who forsakes the world (which means you don’t drink, dance, or date).
As I love on unbelievers, I have found that confronting these misconceptions head on has opened up doors of vulnerability. What does this confrontation look like? I go about it two ways, depending on the conversation. One way is to jokingly say something off base. So I may tell the unbeliever, “I had a wondeful time at church this morning. We slayed two goats and burned a keg of beer. It was so wonderful!” What is unfortunate is that some folks have thought I was serious, and I had to tell them I was joking!
The second way is to tell them outright, “Did you have a good time this weekend? What did you do?” “I went to a club and got toasted.” “Yeah, I went to a bar with some friends this weekend and we had some pizzas and played cards. And then I went home and danced with my wife… You do know that I play cards and dance, right?” The conversation inevitably leads to issues of alcohol. I like to let them know that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and joy in the Holy Spirit. Of course I don’t blow them away with this, I gently tell them that Christianity is more than tee-totaling.
We need to confront people’s misconceptions head-on. They have oftentimes come back to me and talked with me about crises of faith they have. I believe that much of this has to do with the fact that I am human and can talk sensbily without coming across that I will have to wash seven times after touching them. I have deduced this since some of these folks relay to me an aunt or youth pastor that continually preached on the horrors of alcohol, but they were destitute of grace and love.
May we wake up from our dogmatic slumbers and preach the righteousness that leads to life and not the appearance of religion that leads to death.

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This post has 2 Comments

  1. Appreciate your thoughts. I like too that you are being creative with your evangelism – getting people to think. So many people (Christians and non-Christians) never take time to actually think about their lives. Thought provoking questions are awesome. Did I ever recommend the “Questioning Evangelism” by Randy Newman (not the singer)? I think you’d love it.

  2. Yes, I have skimmed that book. I really like Newman’s approach. I think in our culture, this is better received than the ‘let’s sit down and you’ll hear a tale’ method (yes, that was a lyric from Gilligan’s Island). Newman’s approach seems to be grounded in a type of presuppositional apologetic (offensive that is, without being offensive to the hearer).

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God’s Broad Shoulders

One of the fascinating aspects of my profession is that I come in contact with a lot of Christians who want to engage with their faith in a deep way. Rather than being content with showing up on Sunday or being CINO (Christian In Name Only), these folks want to understand the Bible better and tease out the implications for their lives.

On the flipside of this, many of these same people are afraid to engage with their doubts in a deep way. It’s almost as if, doubts and questions are treated from a distance–“I don’t struggle with this, but…”

The biggest breakthrough in my own journey of faith came through (and continues to come through) engaging my doubts and questions as my own. They are not theoretical. They are honest struggles: problem of evil is the perennial one. I was in the throes of one of these bouts several years ago when a friend told me, “God can handle your doubts.”

I have used this same bit of advice for my struggling friends and self. If truth is not relative. If God is truth. Your doubts and questions will not overthrow this objective, transcendent truth. It’s not as though you are the first to struggle with doubts and fears and pain. The heavens will not collapse under the weight of your doubts. You won’t come up with a question that will cause God to close up shop. You can honestly engage with your doubts and fears and pain and suffering without having to be quick to give the typical and trite answers to matters of faith.

Go ahead, roll your burdens on God. He’s got broad shoulders.

Blow the Roof Off

Reading through Os Guiness’ new book, Fool’s Talk, for an Honors Seminar I’m leading on the art of persuasion. It is EXCELLENT.

I find that too many apologists take the defensive in explaining the Christian worldview. That has a place, but I would recommend that after you listen and listen and listen some more to the person you are engaging in dialogue, that you take the offensive. Of course, this is not being offensive, but taking the offense in showing the foolishness of the worldview. At some point the team has to score. If they only have defense, they will not score (okay, for the nay-sayers, the defense can score on a take-away…but even then there was an aggression to get the ball and not merely to prevent…BTW, prevent defense is such a great way to lose a ballgame, isn’t it?).

Here’s a juicy quote that I have underlined in the book:

From Jesus onward, the dynamic is crystal clear in Christian proclamation. “The tree is known by its fruit,” Jesus said–not by its seed (Mt. 12.33). If you had tried to persuade the prodigal son to return home the day he left home, would he have listened? If you had spoken to him the day he hit the pigsty, would you have needed to persuade him? Always “see where it leads to,” St. Augustine advised when dealing with false ideas. Follow it out to the “absolutely ruddy end,” C. S. Lewis remarked with characteristic Englishness. “Push them to the logic of their presuppositions,” Francis Schaeffer used to say. Too many varieties of unbelief are halfway houses. Too many unbelievers have not had the courage or the consistency to follow their thoughts all the way home –Fool’s Talk, p.118 (emphasis added)

Modern-day Power Encounters

I remember reading in my Perspectives Class on world mission a phenomenon called “power encounters” whereby a missionary would directly confront the idols of the day in some bombastic way to show the futility of such idols. For example, tearing down a totem pole or cutting down a tree (if these were the items of worship) in an area. While the confrontationalist in me loves the idea, I wonder how much was missed in these opportunities to really get to the heart of idolatry–namely, through teaching that idols are nothing (1Cor 8.4). Yet for those who worship an idol, it is very much a real thing.

I am currently reading Roland Allen’s formative text on mission, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours, and have been immensely helped (in tandem with Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret). Regarding the moral and social condition in which Paul preached, Allen makes this side comment:

Incidentally I should like to remark that in heathen lands it might still perhaps be the wiser course to preach constantly the supremacy of Christ over all things spiritual and material, than to deny or deride the very notion of these spirits. Some of our missionaries know, and it were well for others if they did know, that it is much easier to make a man hide from us his belief in devils than it is to eradicate the belief from his heart. By denying their existence or by scoffing at those who believe in them we do not help our converts to overcome them, but only to conceal their fears from us. By preaching the supremacy of Christ we give them a real antidote, we take them a real Saviour who helps them in their dark hours” (pp.28-29)

Allen brings balance. Too often preachers can assume they are preaching the supremacy of Christ, but they never pinpoint what exactly he is supreme over. Put another way, we preachers can preach rather generically. “Jesus is Lord over all!” We declare full throttle. Yet those listening have not been helped.

What is he supreme over?

He is supreme over your doubts of salvation. Your incessant anger. Your slavery to lust and pornography. Your boring and romantic-less marriage. Your bad parenting. Your disobedient children. Your greed. Your self-doubt. Your self-aggrandizement. Your obedient children. Your good parenting. Your healthy marriage. Your pure eyes. Your self-control.

He owns you. Therefore, the world doesn’t revolve around you anymore. Instead, he sets you free to think of others. Even more, he empowers you by his Spirit to think of other more highly than yourself. Your fears that you will be passed over for the job promotion. Your self-righteousness toward your unbelieving neighbor is set under his lordship in such a way that you no longer possess the answers, but are possessed by One who does. You cannot gloat that you understand the world en esse. Rather, you are saddened by the way the world actually is.

So, Christian, we need a modern-day power encounter. Not where we smash totems. But by understanding the world around us and helping others see our need for a Savior. We limp forward together. We bind up wounds together. We use the splint our arm is wrapped in to bind our neighbors’ arms. Thereby we see that instead of hiding the idol in shame, our neighbor is free to admit the idol and know that he will not be condemned but helped.