Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rethinking Evangelism: Demostration is the Key - Part I

One of the first training programs I participated in after becoming a Christian, that I was discipled through and became a trainer of was Evangelism Explosion (EE). If you are not familiar with this training program, the student is taught to develop a multi-point story to share the Gospel. By learning small parts of this story each week, over 13 weeks including Bible verses and illustrations, the student incrementally grasps the task of evangelism toward becoming an effective witness. That's the goal of EE and it is a good starting place.

For me, Evangelism Explosion, was foundational in my early years of being a Christ-follower and my first ministry involvement. EE taught me a "story" because it is the retelling of this story of Good News that is central to the task of Evangelism. It is a life-changing, society transforming story because of the Person this story is about. The story needs to be retold again and again. However, it is not the telling of story, in itself, that is key to our effectiveness in evangelism but of the demonstration of that story, in how we live before others. There is also that "salt" and "light" thing Jesus mentioned that needs to be considered. Being a living testimony and giving testimony, sharing the story, about the life, death and resurrction of Jesus are two sides of the same coin.

We need both sides of the coin to be effective however any story that cannot be demonstrated as cogent, coherent and cohesive for all of life, won't have much of a consistent effect on changing people lives, regardless of who the story is about. It quickly becomes just another story without consistency to the values that story is said to represent. The world is full of such stories, especially in our postmodern world. That is why we are commanded not to simply retell the story but to live it well (I'll address this idea in the next post). To say that the sole task of the Church is to "preach the Gospel," as a Facebook friend recently opined with ramming speed forcefulness, is to reduce the story to mere words that have consistently proven to fall short, especially today in our post-Christian culture.

That is not to diminish the preaching or proclaimation of the Word as central to the task of the Church, but as Christian philosopher, Fransic Schaeffer understood, “Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world,”and being ugly just doesn't "get er dun."
Compassion is an important Biblical form of demonstration. When Jesus entered this material realm from his heavenly home John 1:14 says says that the "Word became flesh" and took up residence to demonstrate the Father's love. While Jesus preached the Word, a message of repentance (Matthew 4:17), he lived a life that showed forth the glory of his Father (John 17:4). That is why we must talk about the Gospel in word and deed, with demonstration as the key to evangelism.

We can believe and say all the right words but without demonstration that we are actually living by and not simply believing in the words we proclaim as truth we simply make a lot of noise. This was Paul's point when he began to speak of the "more excellent way" (1 Cor 12:31-13:3). Schaeffer's comment reminds me of the old saying, "people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This has to be true for how we share the Gospel, not just ramrod "Biblical orthodoxy," but trying to live a story that demonstrates we believe what we proclaim - grace, love, mercy, hope, peace and salvation.

Why am I rethinking Evangelism in this way, as demonstration as the key? Because my Facebook friend leveled the accusation that I was understanding the Gospel through a "missional reinterpretation." I'm not sure that that's necessarily a bad thing, because I'm a stated fan of rethinking what I understand. My friends objection however was in response to the fact that I had stated that demonstration of the Good News was part of the task of the Church. My FB friend, obviously of the "Biblical Orthodoxy" tribe Schaeffer infers, insisted we only need to "preach" the Gospel, with an unspoken ugliness of "to the heathen." Our Facebook exchange resulted from this post:

According to my friend, my sin was that I had found agreement with an atheist, on a philosophical statement with evangelism undertones. I was accused of being in cahoots with a "fool" like Penn Jillette. How could I post such a thing because such "heathen" are without honor or truth! What Penn asks does give us pause for thought, coming as it does from a professed atheist. Perhaps, my friend would have had a different response, if I had quoted the great 19th Century theologia Charles Spurgeon who opined rather bluntly, "Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you are not saved yourself. Be sure of that."

I tried to explain that Paul likewise quoted a "heathen," an ancient Greek playwright named Menander, (1 Corinthians 15:33), who just happened to be a comedian too. What is most interesting about Paul's quote of Menander is that it comes as he admonitions the Corinthian Christians to "come back to your senses as you ought and stop sinning" (v 34). Paul evidently understood that how we live in light of the Gospel, after he had just shared the story again (see 1 Cor 15:1 ff), was key. We are called to demonstrate what we say we believe by how we live, not just by what we say. 

Evangelism must be demonstrated to be effective and I'll take up the definition of "demonstrate" in Part II. But if understanding the Gospel in terms of demonstration is "missional reinterpreation," I'm guilty. How about you? It is also the basis for Living Sent Today.

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