Saturday, November 28, 2015

Rethinking Evangelism: How Alan Hirsch gets it wrong and Jesus got it right.

“We are in a time when it appears evangelism is on the decline,” reports Ed Stetzer in a “State of Evangelism” article.  And, with evangelism on the decline, many are suggesting that we need to rethink this discipline.

Popular author, speaker and founder of the Forge Missional Training Network, Alan Hirsch, suggests that we need to "reframe evangelism in the task of discipleship” because evangelism gets “done along the way.” Here is what Alan said, from a recently posted article in Church Leaders:
Alan, in this video, suggests that evangelism should happen in the process of discipleship, because "that’s the way Jesus did it." We need to ask is this really the Biblical model? Of course, we need greater focus on "discipling the nations" but with all due respect to Mr, Hirsch, I think his approach is misguided and his teaching isn't Biblical as I will show here in this post.

To make his case for reframing evangelism in the context of discipleship, Alan consider the ministry of Jesus and asks the question when the disciples were "born-again." Hirsch argues that since Jesus’ disciples weren’t “born-again” until some later time after following Jesus we don’t need to give ourselves to the task of evangelism, as a primary discipline, but simply allow it to happen as we “make disciples.” Alan does say we "do get to do it," evangelism, which is great, but his argument needs some rethinking.

 There are a few things that need reconsidering with Alan's reasoning, as expressed in the video above:

1)      No doubt Alan is well intentioned but his  argument is simply bad hermenutics. Alan makes the mistake of isolating an idea from the broader narrative. How Jesus discipled his disciples is certainly instructive but we need to recognize that the disciples experience in training with Jesus was unique. It occurred pre-Ascension and before the sending forth of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians look to the cross and resurrection as the central pivot point in history but neglect the significance of the Ascension. Without the Ascension there is no promised Holy Spirit (John 7:39), the agency of the “born-again” experience (John 3:5-8). More to the point, once the Holy Spirit came, our task is defined as being “witnesses” which is firstly an evangelistic mission (Acts 1:8), so that we get to the “make disciples.” No one can call upon the one who saves without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3) and cannot understand Scripture without the illuminating work of the Spirit (John 16:13-16). Alan also states that we cannot know when someone is saved, but there is no Biblical support for this position (Romans 10:9-10). I for one can you tell you when that life changing moment occurred - January 23rd, 1997.

2)      Clearly the disciples were “born-again” later after following Jesus, were being discipled and were doing ministry with Jesus before their conversion experience. Alan does make the point they were probably “born-again” when Jesus breathed upon them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22), post resurrection. But to suggest that evangelism is done along the way, as we “make disciples” misses the very clear examples of Jesus own ministry and teaching. Jesus went about evangelizing, which simply means sharing the Good News of a new life – the Kingdom life - available through repentance. Jesus preached this Good News in every town and village in Galilee (Luke 8:1). Jesus sent out his 12 and 72 to "preach" that the Kingdom of God had come near (Luke 9 & 10). Jesus evangelized the women at the well before the discipleship of her and her village (John 4:7 ff). Jesus evangelized the demoniac who quickly became an evangelist (Mark 5:1 ff). Jesus tells us the parable of the sower, scattering seed, which suggests a lifestyle of evangelism as a primary focus (Matthew 13:1 ff). 

3)      Much is being made of the Great Commission and the imperative to “make disciples” which is great. Alan uses this command to suggest that evangelism happens is the context of making disciples. Perhaps but certainly not always, as demonstrated by Jesus’ own ministry, and the birth of the church-age on the day of Pentecost. A simple reading of the Book of Acts shows that the first disciples understood their role was to “evangelize” as their first priority. From Peter standing before the crowd of 3,000 (Acts 2:14 ff) to Paul standing before Agrippa (Acts 26:1 ff), the acts of the apostles put the task of evangelism front and center in the lives of Christ followers. The Apostle Paul encouraged his protégé Timothy to, “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5). While the four Gospel accounts use the word “disciple” often, it is at least interesting to note that Paul, Peter John, James, and the writer of Hebrews never use this all-important word - not once. It is informative to note that both Paul and Peter speak of the Gospel being “preached.” (1 Corinthians 1:17, 1 Peter 1:12). We have a tendency today to focus on the directive- "make disciples"- and gloss over other mandates like proclamation (Matthew 24:14).

4)      Jesus tell us in Matthew 28:19 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” There are two emphasis Jesus is making in the Great Commission: 1) to “make disciples” and 2) "teach them to obey everything” he had commanded. The church has fallen short on both accounts, as studies bear out. And, because we have, we have lost our evangelistic zeal to spread the Good News everywhere, so Alan does have a point that evangelism training should happen in the context of discipleship. It was in that context that Jesus taught his disciples to evangelize. But that’s not the only space in which evangelism should happen. Matthew 28:19-20 is not the only Great Commission passages Jesus gives us. In Mark 16:15 Jesus commissions his church to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” In Luke 24:47, Jesus commissions his church to preach “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” to all nations. Jesus’ focus was on the message which is Good News, the “evangel,” for “all nations.” 

While we rethink evangelism let’s not de-emphasize the important task that Jesus gave us to as evangelists. We need to be very intentional in our efforts to teach, train, and live a life of Good News. As Ed Stetzer concludes; "we need a lot more evangelizing going on…"

There is a Great Commission also found in John 20:21. There Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus was the greatest evangelist of all time. He was very intentional about evangelism. Let’s follow his example for Living Sent Today.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Threat of ISIS, Syrian Refugees and the Ultimate Answer - 10 Rules to Live By

There has certainly been a lot of news, blogging, posting, tweeting, texting, and every other form of communication about the Syrian refugee crisis following the horrendous Paris bombing by the Islamic State. All of which has produced much debating, arguing, blaming and heated exchanges from both sides of our politically divided and opinion laden populace.These are confusing and dangerous times. 

Given our technology, everyone thinks they are an expert on everything simply by benefit of having a Facebook account. Many are ready, willing and able to express opinions instantly but are we willing to be thoughtful as we look for answers and try to make sense of life at the beginning of the 21st Century? 

Freedom of expression is a God given right but perhaps its time to to rethink and self-regulate what we express, especially in light of these present day tribulations. Allow me to suggest 10 ideas, maybe rules to live by, for responding to the refugee crisis and the very real threat of ISIS, even as we work to assure that we do not let any unwholesome posts appear on our FB walls, tweets, or instagrams but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who read (Ephesians 4:29).

1)      Let’s be Noble

No one really talks about being noble any longer. Noble is the characteristic of having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals. One of the highest ideals foundational to the forming of our now very troubled nation was the free expression of ideas. Personally, I don't align myself with the politcal Left or the Right on all issues. I support ideas I deem worthy and oppose the ideas of either side that I find troublesome or wrongheaded. I refuse to simply buy a "party-line." I do try to align myself with the truth, dig for the facts, and then reason from there. I think it best to remain independent in our thinking, read widely to include opposing ideas and examine the available information as best we can. Let’s be thoughtful in our thinking, not reactionary. We may find we disagree but let’s be like the Berean’s who are described as “noble” in their pursuit of truth (Acts 17:11). 

2)      Let’s be Respectful

While we may disagree we don’t need to be disagreeable in our relationships with others. Reading social media posts about any issue these days is to see the level of disrespect that Americans, even Christians, have toward “one-another.” No one wins when our national discourse is mean spirited and contentious. Our responsibility as Christians calls us away from harsh and thoughtless rhetoric and to speak the truth in love, respectfully. These are difficult times and we need to rise to the challenge of not giving into the emotions our media frequently preys upon. Rather, “valuing others above ourselves” is the Biblical mandate (Philippians 2:3). That simply means we respect the opinions of others as they may in fact have something to teach us. 

3)      Let’s be Truthful 

The leading candidate on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, said recently that Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism. Our President has failed to call the threat of Islamic terrorism what it is. This certainly is disingenuous at best, as the clear and present danger is from a group calling themselves the “Islamic State.” ISIS believes they are representing Islam. But other Muslims are the number one target of this egregious aberration of the Muslim religion. Extremist views are dangerous no matter the underlying belief system. They are called extremist for a reason and should be called what they are. Extreme views originate in base doctrine, becoming excessively dogmatic and dangerous. We won’t properly address the situation until all parties are honest about it. But ISIS only represents 1 in 20,000 Muslims, globally, who do hold various views of their religion so let’s not generalize either. 

4)      Let’s be Judicious 

If in fact, the majority of Syrian refugees cannot meet our entry requirements, as some have reported, then they should not be admitted and we should oppose any circumvention of our laws that would seek to do so. Governments are established for our peace and safety (Romans 13:1-5) and need our prayers (1 Timothy 2:2). We should certainly be diligent in our vetting processes, make improvements as we can, and not give into thoughtless compassion for compassions sake. Thinking biblically requires proper discernment and understanding. We don’t invite the one who comes to “steal, kill and destroy” into our homes, even while we understand that our fight is “not against flesh and blood.” But justice also calls us to think well and not give into stereotypes. 

5)      Let’s Understand 

In the process of safeguarding our nation, let’s not stigmatize a whole class of vulnerable people – refugees – nor hold any prejudice against a whole group of people – Muslims. Entering the U.S. as a refugee is the hardest way to get here. Refugees must pass through a rigorous and lengthy vetting process. This infographic explains the process. Refugees are escaping persecution, war or natural disaster in the home that they love and the culture that they know.  No one chooses to be a refugee. They travel a very dangerous and long path, lasting potentially years, to be granted asylum in the U.S. What we also need to understand with respect to Muslims is that they have a very different worldview. They see the world much differently than we do. Addressing that is beyond our scope here but it should inform us to at least be understanding when they don’t act like we would expect. Let's try to be understanding in our thinking and wise in our response (Proverbs 1:5). 

6)      Let’s Not Fear 

We often fear what we do not know and what is different. The result is many have demonized Muslims, stereotyping 1.6 billion people and believed in generalizations – “All Muslims are terrorists.” Now due to the recent Paris bombings, some Americans, including some notable Republican Presidential candidates, are responding in a greater fearful manner, suggesting extraordinary and unconstitutional measures.  Reacting in fear, a group recently staged an armed protest outside of a local Mosque in North Texas. We must be careful that our fears do not impede upon civil liberties for other Americans. It would not be the first time in our history such as been the case. We cannot give into fear, especially as Christ followers. What would be better is to befriend a Muslim and try understand their worldview. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and we cannot love what we don't know.

7)      Let’s Stay Concerned 

This past week’s uproar about the Syrian refugee crisis arose from the Paris bombings. But this crisis has been going on for months. Many who had not given much consideration to this ongoing tragedy reacted to the news. But like with so many crisis, Americans tend to have short attentions spans and will move on to the next news item, while the plight of millions, really billions of poor, oppressed and suffering, remains tenuous. Inscribed on a plague in Lady Liberty in the New York City Harbor are the immortal words – “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Those words represent a profound value of our nation that does make us exceptional, and should inform us to stay concerned for the plight of the less fortunate, wherever they come from. No, we cannot help everyone but we should help those in greatest need, be it here in the U.S. or aboard. 

8)      Let’s Pray for Solutions

Allowing some, even 10,000, Syrian refugees into America is not a stand-alone solution. Inevitably, some will qualify for refugee status. There is a recent Syrian population already in the U.S., with 875 Syrians entering our nation in 2015, predominantly Muslim. But these refugees represent a very small percentage of the total. We need thoughtful policy and interventions that bring an end to this conflict and provide a safe-haven for the 4 million displaced individuals in their war-torn country. Better would be a solution that returns them to their homes. That may seem an impossibility at this point, with the existential threat posed by the Islamic State but with God all things are possible, right? So let’s pray for solutions.  

9)      Let’s Love as Commanded 

There are two commands that must inform how we live today – “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love your enemy.” Jesus’ calls us to continuous concern for our fellow human beings, without prejudice, bias or fear. When we begin to see others as made in the imagine of God, as one people, the human race, as fellow citizens of this planet who are all equally in need of God’s love, and the Gospel of his grace, we stop labeling, stereotyping, or classifying the “other.” What the radicalized Islamic State fighter needs is not our hate, but to know they are loved. Certainly not for what they are doing, but rather because of who they were created to be by God. Yes, that is a high calling but in Christ we have all we need to live with love first. 

1)  Let’s Incarnate the Gospel 

If you are a Christian, your first responsibility is to God. Jesus didn’t save us so that we could live a comfortable life in the safety of our nation and one day live forever in heaven. He left us here to represent him, be a witness to his Good News, to demonstrate his mercy, grace, love and peace. Incarnating the Gospel means living our faith, even before other Christians, so that we let our “light so shine before others."  When we don’t live with the Good News as our first priority we’re not living as we’re called by Christ. What a Muslim needs is a Christian friend to show them what sacrificial love is and lead them into the Word of God so they can discover who Jesus is for them. The Gospel is the ultimate answer to the threat of ISIS, the tragedy of Syrian refugees, and the fears of Americans.

A provocative article entitled “How ISIS is Spreading the Gospel” concludes with this question, “The proto-evangelists (ISIS) are doing their job (in driving many Muslims to reconsider their faith). Are we doing ours (in reaching and loving them to Christ)?”  [edits mine]

We have a great opportunity before us for living sent today. Carpe Diem!