Thursday, September 11, 2008

PRAGMATIC EVANGELISM


Shane responded to a question that I left on his blog about being pragmatic in his approach to evangelism. It put him on the defensive a little bit. I thought it was an innocent question.

Before continuing, know that I admire Shane. His writings are what really inspired me to start this blog. We are very much alike, and I agree with most of what he writes. I am very excited that he has returned to blogging at the WesleyReport after a long absense from his old blog, which has been taken over by a cyber-squatter. Too much information, maybe, so let's put that rabbit back in the cage. Needless to say, I think Shane is great. I am not angry at Shane. I just disagree with Shane on this topic.

Be sure to read his entire post, but here is one excerpt:

"Does the average person give a crap about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral? (No offense to the late Albert Outler. I actually like the WQ.) How much does Disciple Bible Study appeal to the average single mom? Don't worry, I'm not knocking theology and academic-style Bible study, but when all is said and done, I don't want to face God and tell him that I didn't win any souls, heal any sick, or cast out any demons but I sure taught a lot of inner-city kids about the Q document.

Give me a break."



I'm all for evangelism. We live in a fallen world that desperately needs to hear the truth of the gospel. There are real people with real hopes and real dreams and real hurts. I remember more than a few times in my life that I looked out my old bedroom window and apartment window and teared up over the number of cars that drove by. Each car represented a person or people that were going through motions, trying to make it in life. Some may have been outwardly successful, some may have been down on their luck. Regardless of their status, the people in those cars were real people that need to hear and respond to the real gospel. And then I began to think about those that don't have vehicles. The homeless. The lonely widow sitting at home with nobody to talk to. The single mom who had her car reposessed and needs to go the store for milk but can't.

I'm all for evangelism. My wife is into reality television, and although I can't stand it, I watch with her sometimes. There are moments when I become angry at what I see, to the point that my wife thinks I'm too judgmental. But there are other times when I see the lives that people are living,and my heart breaks for them. How badly they need to hear and respond to the gospel! How badly I need to continually be reminded and be responsive to the gospel!

But it is wrong to present a Gospel Lite message so that it will be more effective. It is wrong to fill the church with people by telling them how to Be a Better You or how to have Your Best Life Now or Experience God or how to live A Purpose Driven Life or how to relate movies to one's spiritual life. It is wrong to evangelize people by telling them what they want to hear. It is wrong to spread the gospel but leave out our sinfulness, God's Holiness, and our desperate need of a Savior. It is wrong to preach and teach about Christ and leave out the Cross. It is wrong to reduce the Bible and the Gospel to a self help book on tape series. Yet, this method works and is being deployed by mega churches all over the country. And people are responding. It works. It's pragmatic. It's wrong!

I don't want face God and say that I helped fill seats in a Sunday School class or a pew in church or even pack a church by only telling part of His message.

I don't have the responsibility to make the message of the gospel relevant. There is nothing more relevant to our culture today. The problem is not with the message or (necessarily) the messenger. The problem is that the receiver of the message doesn't naturally want to hear it. They only hear foolishness. The message of the gospel is timeless and applies to all cultures for all times. When people respond to a message "that works", what are they responding to? The call of the Holy Spirit or the emotional appeal of a message that is only half true and personally appealing to them?

"Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." 2 Corinthians 4:1-5

And what do we do with those that respond positively to the gospel? Do we tell them to read the Bible and let it speak to them, without any guidance? Do we even tell them to read the Bible? Maybe we tell them that whatever they feel God is telling them is the truth, because that is what will work for them.

I say "No Way." Being able to read, interpret, and apply what the scripture teaches, as well as having some knowledge of theology are very important for spiritual growth. False and heretical teachings are rampant within the church today, and it is important to take the responsibility upon yourself to learn and guard your heart against it. New believers can't do this unless they are taught. If we don't take the responsibility to teach doctrine, it leaves open the potential for very misguided if well intentioned views of God.

I am teaching a Sunday School class for college students. I am basing the class loosely on the book Knowing Scripture. There are many Christians who say they would read the Bible, but just don't know how, or where to start. This study teaches why and how we should read and interpret scripture. I have been criticized by some close to me that say this material is too deep for college students. They want a class that speaks to them where they are. We should make the class more relevant by having topics that they feel are relevant. Knowing God's Will, Dating, Sex, coping with Stress, Time Management, and Money. Studying Scripture would be relevant for seminary students, but not for the average college student.


Not relevant? Really? Biblical illiteracy among Christians is staggering, and comments such as these are a contributing factor. Being able to read, comprehend, and apply scripture is a foundation that all other topics must be based on. Every Christian has the responsibility to not only read the Bible, but to study it and make life applications. Relevancy has become confused with priority. Since it has a low priority it is seen as less important.

I have not had a lot of people attend the class. I'm going to continue to build relationships (honestly this is one of my weak points) and make contacts. But I'm not going to change material in order to gain attendance. It's not that I think the topics listed above ought not be taught or discussed in Sunday School, but if we talk about these and have a flawed or misguided image of God, something is very wrong. The focus should always be on God and His character and nature. This is where our applications should come from. Our wants and needs don't dictate God's character and nature. We submit ourselves to God; He does not submit Himself to us.

I'm not against having lessons and discussions on these topics, and I will at some point. However, they must be grounded in scripture and not a feel good discussion that leaves people with an everything is ok God is in control attitude. I will continue to let the scripture guide the discussions instead of somehow working some magic and twisting scripture to apply to a topic.


Would this class be appealing to a single mom? Not taking into account that it is a college class, I would say it still may not be appealing (subjective) or feel relevant. However, the topic is relevant. Wouldn't it be great to have a single mom hear and respond to the gospel, and then instead of continuing to struggle with doubt and fear because it's not all roses like she was promised, continue to grow in her knowledge of God and faith in God? Wouldn't it be great for her to become hungry and thirsty for righteousness and to realize that she was bought with a price and must daily deny self? Wouldn't it be great for her to know that while she is a sinner, she is now a new creation with a new life ahead of her?

Unfortunately, we don't teach these things a lot of the time. That whole bought with a price thing seems primitive. Let's leave that out. That whole take up your cross thing may make someone think they have to give up too much. Let's leave that out. That whole we are all sinners thing may seem cold, uncaring, and judgmental. It may damage one's sense of self worth. Let's leave it out. But the part about being a new creation is good. Jesus loves you, and wants you to have a good life. You are a new creation, a child of God, and God only wants the best for His children. His footprints are next to you in the sand during good times, and the single set of footprints during the hard times belong to Jesus as He carries you. It's true, but it's only half true.

From a pragmatic standpoint, it may work. Many people may respond. From a biblical standpoint, it is a dismal failure full of half truths. Fewer people may respond. I know which I think is best. I take the plain message to those that need it, and pray diligently that God blesses it.

6 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...
    This whole post is your interpretation, yet you post it as truth. Should we only teach your theology? Nobody will come to your class unless you change and try to make lessons that relate to your students.
    Brett said...
    normally when someone says "that's your interpretation" it is a way to dismiss everything that is said without having to think about it. Tell me specifically what's wrong with my interpretation, aside from the fact that it's my interpretation.
    Maybe I'm wrong, maybe you're wrong, maybe we're both wrong.
    I don't know how to respond to your last statement. All I have to say is I hope you're wrong.
    Anonymous said...
    amen, brother! Where did you find that sign? Is it a joke?
    Shane Raynor said...
    Brett,
    I appreciate the kind remarks but I'm not sure how most of what you wrote applies to what I wrote. I don't think I've advocated leaving part of the Gospel out of evangelism. Nor have I said it's ok to leave out the cross when presenting the Gospel. In fact, my post wasn't about evangelism, but about Christianity in general. It was about taking theology out of the realm of theory and doctrine and bringing it down to earth. It was about empowering common people to do theology and not just read boring books by out of touch scholars.
    Brett said...
    Perhaps you are using the word in a different sense or not to the same extreme as what I think of when I hear the word pragmatic. When I hear the word, it automatically puts my mind on high alert.
    The post started as a response to your post, then turned into a rant.
    Anonymous said...
    Hey Brett,

    I like it, but as always, I have my two cents (which may not be worth a penny). When discussing the various routes people take in evangelism, I can't be too critical. To me, it makes sense sometimes to sugar-coat the gospel. I know what you are thinking, so let me explain. It really depends on your target audience. For example, if you are directing your speech to those who have not come to Christ, the best approach would be to focus on his teachings on how best to serve God and how to live morally. With this particular audience, your purpose should be to bring people to their Savior. If you began telling them how immoral they are and that Christ died for their sins, they will percieve it as cliche. That is exactly what they would expect you to do. Therefore, you should have a more uplifting approach to bringing them to Christ. No one wants to hear that they are bad. People are looking for answers but don't want to be pushed into religion. People shouldn't feel obligated to worship Christ, they should love to.

    Once they begin to reach out to Christ, they will begin surrounding themselves with fellow Christians. This is when they will start looking more indepth at their own immorality and make changes. They will seek the deeper meaning of the Gospel. For a bad analogy, allow me this: When an acoholic becomes sober, it becomes a process. They cannot simply say 'I quit, I'm a new man,' because they are addicted to the substance. Sin is the same way. People are addicted to it more so than a drug. It is something they can never quite get out of their system. With substance abuse, a baby-step program is needed to be rid of undesirable urges. The same goes with finding faith. Those who transform themselves overnight into a Christian, have little substance to their faith. You cannot grasp the true depth of our Lord overnight. You can however, accept Jesus overnight, but the changes which occur come with time. You begin growing more every day.

    So, the question is this: Will I be immoral if I preach part of the word, so that people who are growing in Christ will feel good about thier growing faith or should I be more disciplined and teach the deeper meanings? There may be a happy medium, I guess, but I don't personally see anything wrong with preaching the 'feel good' stuff. More indepth study is better taught in open discussions such as a Sunday school class.

    Personally, I would rather hear a sermon with substance rather than hearing the monotony of hearing part of the Word. Having said this though, I understand not preaching above a person's head.

    I hope you understand my position. Keep up spreading the Word, you are doing great.

Post a Comment



 

blogger templates | Make Money Online