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.

No comments:

Post a Comment