Too many discussions of evangelism begin by assuming people know what the message of the gospel is and focus on how to do it. In too many circles the Gospel is merely “The kingdom of God.” What kind of message is that!?!? Someone might say, we are to take part in this kingdom. The evangel is how one becomes a part of that kingdom. This is what I will share in these next two posts. These four points come directly from JI Packer’s Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God. I don’t want to take credit where it is due somewhere else. Get the book and enjoy – the italicized portion contained in each point is a quote from Packer’s book. Hopefully this will whet your appetite for thinking through what the Gospel is…then what evangelism is.

1. It is a message about God.
The gospel starts by teaching us that we, as creatures, are absolutely dependent on God, and that He, as Creator, has an absolute claim on us (58).

2. It is a message about sin.
What we have to grasp, then, is that the bad conscience of the natural man is not all the same thing as conviction of sin. It does not, therefore, follow that a man is convicted of sin when he is distressed about his weaknesses and the wrong things he has done. It is not conviction of sin just to feel miserable about yourself and your failures and your inadequacy to meet life’s demands. Nor would it be saving faith is a man in that condition called on the Lord Jesus Christ just to soothe him, and cheer him up, and make him feel confident again. Nor should we be preaching the gospel (thought we might imagine we were) is all that we did was to present Christ in terms of a man’s felt wants. (‘Are you happy? Are you satisfied? Do you want peace of mind? Do you feel that you have failed? Are you fed up with yourself? Do you want a friend? Then come to Christ; He will meet your every need…’ – as if the Lord Jesus Christ were to be thought of as a fairy godmother, or a super-psychiatrist.) No; we have to go deeper than this. To preach sin means, not to make capital out of people’s felt frailties (the brainwasher’s trick), but to measure their lives by the holy law of God. To be convicted of sin means, not just to feel that one is an all-around flop, but to realize that one has offended God, and flouted His authority, and defied Him, and gone against Him, and put oneself in the wrong with Him. To preach Christ means to set Him forth as the One who through His cross sets men right with God again. To put faith in Christ means relying on Him, and Him alone, to restore us to God’s fellowship and favour (60-61).

The Christ who is depicted and desired merely to make the lot of life’s casualties easier by supplying them with aids and comforts is not the real Christ, but a misrepresented and misconceived Christ – in effect, an imaginary Christ. And if we taught people to look to an imaginary Christ, we should have no grounds for expecting that they would find a real salvation (61-62).

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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.

Gospeling at Work (1 of 2)

Should you share the Gospel at work? The short answer: Yes. But before you answer that question we have to re-consider what we mean when we say “gospel” and “share.” So much of out evangelicalism has bought into the notion that the “gospel” consists of four points merely with a decision called for at the end. Sure, the backbone of the Good News is God, Man, Sin, Repentance, Forgiveness.

 

Throughout our lives, however, we are called to creatively interweave the gospel in our lives. In other words, we need to think of the gospel as integrally tied to our worldview. We cannot look at the customer buynig somethnig from us apart from seeing them as made in God’s image and in need of redemption. We cannot listen to the demands of our manager without considering that we are to revere him as we do the Lord. We cannot respond to a frustrated customer wihtout understanding that there are idols of the heart that must be demolished.

Some people have said that we should not “share the gospel” at work because we are not being paid to “share the gospel.” I think I know what they are getting at. Of course we shouldn’t set up a chair at the water cooler and field questions of faith while we should be making phno calls. Of course, we shouldn’t transition from selling a cell phone by saying, “You know how important communication with your loved ones is? Did you know that God wants to communicate with you too?” That would be awkard, it would burn a bridge rather than burn it since people can sniff the farce of the sale.

If, on the other hand, we begin to integrate our lives in such a way that the gospel becomes the thread by which we weave the fabric of our lives, we will not help but share the gospel in every conversation we have (all speech should be “seasoned with the salt of the gospel”). My job is pretty slow by way of customers coming in the doors, so I have the pleasure (sometimes it is a drudgery, honestly) of talking at length with a customer provided there is not someone waiting in line. There are a few folks I have seen once every couple weeks or so. I try to remember their names, their situations in life (college, loss of family member, broke up with girlfriend, etc…sometimes I feel like a bartender!). When they come in I ask them about their life and they do the same.If I am having a hard week, I share it, if a good week I share it. Today, I mentioned to a lady how I am thinking and praying through my life decisions that are coming down the pike. At times I get to ask them how they celebrated Easter, Christmas, etc.  I seek to be human and treat them as humans. When they are frustrated, I try to help them.

A couple came in a couple days ago and they were extremely perturbed, planning on canceling their service with us because they had been told one thing and something else had been done. I looked at them and had genuine compassion on them. I sought to max out their discounts on service and see what I could do to make their lives better. Instead of chaos in their lives, I sought to bring wholeness — shalom in the Hebrew which means a holistic restoration of the broken order. They had been deceived but I sought to bring truth and alleviate their suffering. In a way, this is like offering a cup of cold water to the parched soul.

Gospeling this Christmas

My wife and I have often felt like sharing the Good News of Christmas in a clear way to our neighbors without being overly awkward (all awkwardness won’t be assuaged by a method, but by a heart contentment first). This might be a way for you to open the door to the Good, True News of Christmas this year.

Crossway has a sale going on for the material until November 1st (40% off).

Share the Good News of Christmas Kit