Yesterday I read the blog post from Scot McKight on Rethinking: Evangelism, and alongside reading Brian Zahnd’s book ‘Water to wine’ found them both very helpful.
McKnight starts by the push back on his own writings of (I summarise):
‘so now then how do we evangelise… what do we say in that 3-5 minutes when that might be the only conversation we have.’
This is a push back when we think beyond a person ‘going to heaven and needed the entry ticket’ – what then is evangelism?
Zahnd’s book is deeply moving as it is his personal journey of integrity. I cannot make the journey he has made (deeply sacramental and – my perspective – a staunch believer in the institution and liturgy of church) but he presented a similar scenario albeit by a different route in the pages we read together yesterday.
Both carry the label of ‘evangelical’, and although I sometimes question the validity of that label, in as much as it means having a centre in Jesus, salvation through his atoning death as revealed through the authority of Scripture then I too am probably happy with the label. The label describes some core beliefs for us all, and it is in that context the question of ‘then what about evangelism’ becomes important. The question becomes a relevant question when the Gospel is seen as broader than the four spiritual laws. And it becomes harder and harder to reduce the Gospel to those (or similar) kinds of laws / statements. The 3-5 minutes under the former viewpoint was easy, now what?
For Gayle and I we live deliberately missionally. In our opinion the call to follow Jesus necessitates that. I appreciate that the first call of Jesus to the apostolic band was to be with him (Mk. 3:13), the apostles were those who ate and drank with Jesus (Acts 10:41), so maybe I miss something in all this. Being (with) before doing and acting. However we think purpose. We think that way because we think all believers are called to live that way. However, we have stopped using that (missional) language because far from seeming to help others find purpose two things happened. A view that it is different for us – ‘you live in Spain’, as if an address makes a difference? (And it does at times – try living in Saudi Arabia, Syria etc… or in some Western nations that have all-but sold out to materialism.) And secondly, it seemed to carry an expectation that because we are living in Spain there are certain things we are / should be doing. So we use the phrase ‘living life’. This might become a less than useful phrase too. What we mean by the phrase is life centred on the values, teaching and person of Jesus, so the whole of life is shaped by that viewpoint, and I hasten to add ‘imperfectly’. Now we all live life – whatever our address, but a follower of Jesus has to be guilty of living life shaped by the One who died for their redemption.
Long paragraph there, but the reason is, McKnight, Zahnd or Scotts, who all see the Gospel as broader than the four spiritual laws have to answer the question of evangelism. We are not Universalists (too many Scriptures there for me), but neither do I automatically submit to all are off to hell at death except for the born-again ones, and partly as I see the ‘hell’ Scriptures as both having an AD70 application and that where they do not the issue is eternal punishment not eternal punishing. So maybe there is an easier, softer-edged approach to my theology, that avoids me living with the imagery that all are in a burning building and our task is to get as many out as possible by whatever means (evangelism that treats people as objects therefore is not too objectionable under that imagery). I still hold to ‘those who receive Jesus are saved’, so I want the whole world to receive Jesus. What then about evangelism?
McKnight used the word ‘witness’ in his post. I found a resonance in that. We are called to be witnesses to Jesus – we read this of course regarding the promise upon reception of the Spirit, where Jesus explicitly harnesses the Israel calling to the nations, as in Isaiah, conferring that on the disciples (Acts 1:8). The Acts 10:41 scripture I referred to above says:
but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
We are witnesses and perhaps all the better witnesses if we eat and drink with him. Lifestyle witnesses. That was why when the bank assistant swore at a reasonably high volume asking me to make some kind of monetary response, I had made a witness. She then said to me ‘I know money is not important to you’. Did I evangelise her, rebuke her for her use of the well known ‘-er’ verb? No but I bore witness. Off the back of that one day, maybe… But I am not about to exploit the situation.
Witnesses to values, based on following Jesus. He is the centre, not some facts about sinfulness and ‘wrath’. We can connect with people, we can confront racism, sexism, abuse, unfettered capitalism (note ‘unfettered’) all on the basis of our Jesus’ discipleship. We can resonate with activist groups that care for the poor, and when there is an opportunity we can explain the reason is ‘this so closely resonates with what our teacher instructed us‘. The witness is to him.
So I commend the post by McKnight – it gives us some language that we are finding helpful. Living life is missional, witnessing is evangelism (good newsing). Living life is eating and drinking with Jesus. If he is important the occasions when we encounter the restricted 3-5 minutes might contain some verbal communication in summarised form about sin and the cross, but more likely the challenge will remain as to how we live life. That is the core element of witnessing, and the only way to effectively plant seeds where people can ‘hear him’ and not simply some approximate truths about him.