Evangelism is the latest dirty word among the hippest, trendiest churches and their soul-patched pastors (leader? facilitators? good-buddies? what do you call a “pastor” in a post-modern, emergent setting? a visioneer?)
What’s wrong with evangelism you ask? It worked fine for 2,000 years as a word. Why is it on the way out?
- Because evangelism is tainted by evangelists: polyester guys with heavy bibles and poofed-hair wives to match. They come across as hucksters to the post-modern seeker. Hey, Yo, Dog (I’m trying to relate here, give me a break)… they come across as hucksters to us old guys too. But that never stopped us from evangelizing…let’s get people saved, okay?
- Because evangelism connotes the impartation of logical information, whereas today’s pomo dudes on the journey to following Jesus are RELATIONAL (can I confess I’m starting to twitch when I hear that word?) and don’t want the info. They want the love. Brian McLaren, the granddaddy of emergentism, writes: For McLaren, the gospel is not primarily informational but relational/missional. That is, imparting information about how to be individually saved is secondary to inviting people into relationship with a king and with members of a kingdom whose foremost concern is wholeness for a broken world, rather than an insurance policy for eternal destiny. Do your eyes ever glaze over? Mine do. He’s splitting an unsplittable atom. How do you “invite people into a relationship with a king” when that king is invisible, and in heaven, and of such unique personage as Jesus WITHOUT IMPARTING INFORMATION? The very information that McLaren and his bearded followers are so eager to pooh-pooh is the ONLY means of by which we may follow said king. You can’t follow the letters K-i-n-g J-e-s-u-s without some logical, objective, factual, doctrinal info about who the heck he is so you can actually follow him. And who he is entails quite a lot of doctrine, theology, and objective facts–the very thing that emergentism is so allergic to.
- Because evangelism is all about “fire insurance” (See McLaren’s quote above) and today’s pomo college students are about curing aids and doing good. I’m having flashbacks. A bad trip man. Twenty years ago, I asked my friend who worked in the inner-inner-inner city how he ministered to kids there. He said, “All I have to give them is myself.” I thought–Who whats that? Give them Jesus. My church in Chicago was the central distribution point for FOOD for our zipcode. We had a clothing distribution ministry: clean, pressed clothes given free to those who had none. We went to seedy areas with sandwiches and crawled into cardboard boxes to feed and love and touch the homeless. The SOCIAL elements of the gospel (the poor, the orphan, the AIDS, the outcast) have always been addressed by the church. We weren’t models of it by any means, but we did our part. More than most. In the 70-80’s, the pendulum swung away from the gospel message to the gospel medium. It was called a SOCIAL GOSPEL, and that wasn’t meant nicely. Emergentism seems to be swinging in the same direction. Deja Vu. Listen, y’all to what I puffin down…. if you don’t save people from hell, you can fix their sick bodies, fill their empty tummies, hug their unloveable carcasses, and invite them all on all the faith-journeys you like. So then what? What happens when they die? I think evangelism MUST be about fire insurance: keeping people out of hell. Is it the only thing? NO. Never has been, never will be. Is it a really, really, really, really big thing? You tell me.
- Because evangelism comes across as having an “agenda.” The complaint is that when Jesus-followers make friends, we’re doing it just so we can get our friends saved. And that puts us in the category of multi-level marketers. We invite people for coffee, but coffee isn’t our real agenda. Our real agenda is getting them to sell soap for us. Which is deceptive, dishonest, inauthentic (the cardinal sin for pomo’s). Okay, I confess, that scenario happens alot, and it is to be eschewed (avoided–maxgrace.com is committed to expanding our vocab- vocubilai- supply of words). My agenda when I get together with people is to enjoy them and have a good time. I hope I will INFLUENCE them toward a defining moment called the new birth (Jesus taught it, not me–see John 3). But if we click as friends, their decision on that won’t affect our friendship, at least not from my side. And I won’t and never have crammed the gospel down somebody’s throat. I believe in living side by side with friends so they see the gospel incarnated. Yes, yes, yes, dogs. BUT sooner or later you have to actually say something about Jesus if you ever want that to happen. Jesus and his trip to Calvary and all that it means. Christ and him crucified. The message of the Cross. The blood of Jesus. All biblical summations of the one work that gains a person life with God now and forever. That’s got to enter a person’s brain: when they’re ready. When they’re open. MY AGENDA is always to be myself. Myself is Christian. Myself believes that all people everywhere should be Christian. Myself believes “how shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard.” If I’m being myself, how can my relationships be “inauthentic?” I argue that it’s Christians who hide the message of Jesus that are the phonies. You guys aren’t being authentic. Could that be what the Bible means when it talks about being ashamed of the gospel?
I’ve got more, but I’m tired and am going back to bed. Most of the objections against good old fashioned evangelism are based on false stereotypes. I am sure that we will all have our bad examples to share. You are welcome to do so. But does that mean we should stop telling the story of Jesus? I’m glad for the people who told me about Jesus and urged me to put my faith in him. One parting verse:
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Colossians 2:8-10, NKJV.