Friday, June 28, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demonstration is the Key - Part III

It has been an interesting week of rethinking for me, since my FB friend objected to my use of the Penn Gillette quote and the word "demonstrate." I took some time for social media interaction on a blog post entitled: "The myth of Friendship Evangelism debunked." I won't bore you with the details but to say that there needs to be a lot of rethinking about this all important subject.

Then I also came across this website article on "Friendship Evangelism," which states in part: 
"becoming friends with unbelievers in order to gain enough credibility so they will listen to the gospel, fails to recognize several important biblical truths. For one thing, believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles. But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever? In light of James 4:4 and Ephesians 5:11, such a relationship is not biblical." 
I don't share this because I agree with the author but because of the glaring misunderstanding of Scripture I think he presents and the very reason I believe demonstration is the key to evangelism. Much could be said about the number of errors in this thinking but I'll just make two points. First, the idea of being unequally yoked is not an admonition to avoid friendship with unbelievers, Jesus certainly never did - all of the Apostles were "unbelievers" when Jesus said "follow me" and they spent the next 3 1/2 years living together. What Paul is speaking to here idolatry in relation to how the Corinthians were living in light of the Gospel. Paul might have something similar to say about our culture Christianity today as well. 

Second, this comment, "But can a believer really have such a relationship with an unbeliever?" speaks to a clear need to reframe evangelism through a cross-cultural mission dynamic of building "bridges of love." The author in the above quote does get it right when he says, "The essence of friendship is mutual respect and affection based on agreement on basic life principles." In the missionary task, building such mutual respect and affection is vital to the advance of the Gospel. Being disrespectful or unloving won't demonstrate the Gospel the way Jesus or the early disciples did, especially in a cross-cultural context. In our post-Christian culture, it would help to begin to rethink evangelism as a cross-cultural missionary because of the vast differences in worldview. 

We should never fear engaging the world or thinking that we're somehow better than "unbelievers." (Romans 3:23). When we know who we are in Christ, we have nothing to fear from this world. Many theologians today say we have a crisis of Christology, not knowing who we truly are in Christ (I'll be blogging more about this in the future). The result is disengagement from the world and the very reason that Christians today are seen as "unChristian." We are all too eager to judge the world and remove ourselves from it, when Jesus entered it and send us out as a sacrifice into it (Matthew 10:16).

Then when we remove friendship from our definition of evangelism, and make it only about the delivery of a "presentation," we reduce the Gospel to a formula we think will "get people saved." There is no lack of "Gospel presentations" available today - with Christian radio, Christian television, Christian websites, Christian books, and Christian churches that present the "Gospel." But have you noticed it is not working. When 60 percent of our population won't darken the doors of a church it's time to rethink our approach.The best way to do that, is to rethink of our task as missionaries.

What is missing today often is the importance of authentic "Christian" witness. Jesus says in Acts 1:8 that his followers would be "witnesses." The Greek word here is martyr and while we may not face physical death, Jesus does call us to a life of willing sacrifice us that others may take notice of our lives. That was kind of Paul's point to the Corinthians when he says in his second letter to the Corinthian Christians writes:
"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)
Notice what Paul says metaphorically: "you are a letter from Christ." And others are reading it. That's demonstration!

In Acts 26:20 Paul says he "preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds." Who would they demonstrate "their repentance by their deeds too?" Obviously to a watching world, that same world that is still watching Christians, so we need to consider that in our evangelism. If you don't think the world is watching how we demonstrate what we say we believe just take a look at this chart (click to enlarge in a new window):

(source: - Franks, major point in this blog post is the world is watching how Christian treat one another.)

Gives you pause for thought, doesn't it? Should we be concerned? 
If demonstration is the key to evangelism - absolutely!

This chart represents responses from non-Christians who have encountered a Christian, possibly on social media, but who weren't a "letter" worth reading. Rather than as a living "letter from Christ, when we come off as "unChristian" and unloving, our story is seen as unworthy of much consideration. This is the result of thinking friendship doesn't play a role in how we share the Gospel, shows a lack of respect for others who are made in the image of God and is without affection and therefore ineffectual.

I'm not saying that there won't be some who will still "hate" Christians (John 15:18), but that is not an excuse to not seek to befriend such people. Such demonstration may actually turn hearts, which is why it is important we rethink how we live in such a way that people see our message is consistent with what we say we believe. One of the best ways to demonstrate that is to be a friend.

Paul further writes, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). God's demonstrated his love, the foundation of the Good News, by taking action - sending his Son to die for the sins of the world. Jesus came to demonstrate the Father's love and power and sends us out in the same way. As sent one's, our evangelism then must demonstrate the love of God for all people in ways that are not only heard but seen by a watching world. Being a friend is the key here.

In Part IV of this series, I will share thoughts from my friend, Pastor Tim Ahlen, as he answers the question posed to on his LinkedIn group - the Great Commission Initiative: "The world has changed. We can change our methods but not the message. How do we catch up with the new world?" Tim offers some thinking from a cross-cultural context to help us rethink evangelism in our changing world. 

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