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?

  1. 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? evangelist.jpg
  2. 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.
  3. evangelist-boy.jpg  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.
  4. 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.

Peace out.


15 thoughts on “Evangeli*&!@#$

  1. thanks soooo much for this timely blog as it has been a hot subject of debate out here.
    your encouragement on this subject is GREATLY appreciated and deeply needed.


  2. Amen and Hallelujah! Preach it, dawg!…er bro!…..uh, whatev’….

    Today’s gospel invites you to join the conga line of Jesus followers, as we worship-dance our way to the soup kitchen/Darfur/shelter. It’s ok for me to believe that Jesus can save MY soul from eternal damnation, but it would be arrogant, intolerant and rude of me to BELIEVE that he can save YOURS, and a violation of your rights for me to actually mention it to you!

  3. I want to add my thanks as well, Dr. G.

    It has always disturbed me when churches/Christians try to “love” or “feed” or “clothe” unbelievers into the Kingdom without giving them the Gospel message too. Not that those are bad things to do, but I so agree with you that full tummies don’t get them into heaven. May God help us all see the necessity of sharing the true Gospel message (Christ crucified and risen) in these days of unbelief! Also, that we will align ourselves with churches who see the same vision and support their evangelistic efforts!

  4. Bill, great stuff. I would really like to see your take on N.T. Wright. His insights into theology are challenging & he has much to offer in the way of reforming our assumptions & exegesis/hermeneutics. I think you would appreciate his arguments concerning this subject. Too, he would be a great read for one of your upcoming grad classes & how a post-modern take on Biblical studies is beneficial for our context.
    Your Friend,

  5. Hey Sean,
    Thanks for the suggestion. Anything specific to recommend of NT Wright’s writings?

  6. I don’t understand the point of this discussion. I enjoy conversation and debate, as long as it is done within certain guidelines, which guidelines I won’t take your blogspace to delineate. But what benefit is it to the church, and to the unsaved world, to point out what emergentists (great, just what the church needs—another label) are doing? They seem to be, in the examples cited, in the blog and comments, helping people. They aren’t blocking people from getting into the kingdom. In some cases, they are keeping them alive, so that people who do preach the Gospel, can reach them. So, what’s the point of rallying people against them? If they are preaching directly to people something harmful, cite those examples. I don’t believe you have. Otherwise, from what I have read, here and elsewhere, I don’t believe they have done anything, yet at least, worthy of a millstone around the neck. The emergent movement is déjà vu, many times over, but the church has, and will, survive. I hate when people use false stereotypes, but let’s be sure we are not initiating them about others.

  7. Hi Matt,
    No millstone intended. You ask, what benefit is it to the church, and to the unsaved world to talk about this trend in the emerging church away from proclamational evangelism toward compassionate works AS evangelism. Great question.

    Having lived through the SOCIAL GOSPEL era, we both know what happened when mainline denominations DEFINED evangelism as doing compassionate and loving deeds without necessarily presenting the message of Jesus. What happened was virtually a wholesale abandonment of presenting the message (the gospel: see previous posts on what I mean by that word).

    The next domino to fall was in the realm of exclusivism/universalism. Most of the old, mainline denominations moved sharply toward universalism. It is my contention that this was precipitated by a DEFINITIONAL CHANGE in the concept of evangelism.

    In my work as a pastor, as a part-time professor, and as a participant in a wonderful denomination, and thru my reading, I’ve encountered numerous examples of this definitional change. There’s more in today’s blog.

    I’ve started using emergentism and emergentists as shortcuts for “people/beliefs in the emerging church”.


  8. I do not like the word evangelism myself, but it is for the connotation, not the actual definition. It is for the same reason that I do not call myself “gay” when I am happy, and I think you will agree that is valid. The conotation of a word can be more important even than the meaning of the word on paper. Not everyone has a dictionary with them all the time. Everybody has their own prejudices on them constantly.

    There is a man with a microphone who stands on a street near my office, who tells every person passing by they are going to hell. For real. Completely leaves Jesus and grace out of it and just tells people they’re going to hell. “You there. Do you know that you’re headed for hell?” It is possible that he is crazy, and that does not improve my feelings towards him. He speaks to me like that when I pass. Every day I want to walk up to him and say, “Who do you think you are? I’M not going to Hell, I am a child of God! You can’t tell by looking at me. What makes you think you know that about these people?” I am completely offended, and I am a relatively open-minded Christian sympathizer.

    It is the connotation of THAT MAN that I want to avoid. Maybe he was called by God to do that. Maybe God is doing great work inside that man’s heart, and it is a journey for him that I just don’t understand. I don’t know. I don’t really care. It doesn’t do me any good to connect my personal life ministry with his. And it seems like by using the word “evangelist” that is what I am doing.

    I don’t believe that Christians should stop influencing the world, or stop sharing the full slab of ribs that is the gospel. But I do believe that if BBQ sauce has gone out of style, I don’t mind grilling with another sauce. Language conveys meaning. If “evangelism” conveys something that does not line up with the meaning I am going for, it is not the right word anymore.

  9. I’m not as up on the emerging church as I would like, but reading your blog and the comments I’m thinking, “Here we go again.” When I was in college, a friend said to me that she wasn’t sure the liberals were Christian in belief . . . but she didn’t see that the conservatives were Christian in action, and they sure didn’t sound very loving. The conservative Christian believers I knew were loving, and they showed their faith by their deeds, but that can be hard to see from outside if they’re denouncing you and your friends. One of the harmful effects of the rise of the social gospel was the energy spent denouncing it–which neither fed the hungry nor saved the lost.

  10. Hi Janet,
    Help me out: if somebody tells me (which they did) that “preaching the gospel” means giving a little, inner-city boy a hug, what should I say? If this is what people are hearing and talking about, what should I, as a pastor, say? (see the first comment on this posting–it’s a hot issue).
    Are you suggesting that I say nothing? I’m not sure what you’re saying.

  11. Amy,
    Great post, well written, very funny, and okay–you got me.
    If the word “evangelism” actually hinders the cause of evangelism, then I’ll call it “rose”–it’ll still smell sweet, right? Excellent point.

  12. Pingback: Evangeli*&!@#$, pt 3 « maxgrace.com

  13. I don’t know what you should say. What is the context of the conversation? For that matter, what is the context and meaning of the hug (these days one must be careful!)? A hug may be a necessary precondition to a child’s ever listening to the gospel, so don’t discourage your friend. Ask how he came to know Christ. Chances are, someone told him . . . .Maybe my point is that people who equate hugging a child with preaching the gospel need to hear the gospel in friendship, not treated like enemies who would hinder the gospel.

  14. Janet,
    Good point, except that a hug is not evangelism. It is pre-evangelism. The Biblical language reserves the term for evangelism for the heralding and proclamation of the gospel. In the conversation with my friend, he viewed the hug as sufficient. Of course, I’m for hugging, but it’s not sufficient. Neither is feeding, clothing, or sheltering.

    Jim Queen, one of the most socially active pastors in Chicago for decades, said, “If your ministry isn’t getting people saved, it’s not the gospel.”

    Dr. David Thompson, renowned for starting and growing a jungle Hospital in western Africa says that they train their surgeons to pray and share Christ with every person they treat (most of whom are Muslims). He personally told me that the good works (in his case, healing bodies) are not enough. Christ must be proclaim. He calls the verbal communication of Jesus “the Truest Mercy.”


  15. Of course you’re right, Bill. Furthermore, you’re eloquent, and it’s a joy to listen to you preach–and to read your blogs. So why don’t I just write a hearty “amen!” and let it go? Partly because of my friend (1st comment); partly because of my parents who acted like I was involved in some kind of cult when I visited a friend’s church, got saved, and no longer did the things that evangelical Christians of that era didn’t do, things my parents considered perfectly normal and nobody in their church had any problem with. Partly because I watched in anguish as my new family stayed out of the Civil Rights Movement==and even opposed it, then – appropriately – jumped into politics when it came to the personhood of the fetus [which apparently counts for more than the personhood of African Americans]. I tend to cringe when Evangelicals denounce the 60s because I suspect they want uppity Blacks and uppity women to go back to being second class citizens. I suspect that emergentists carry similar hurts or are trying to reach people who do. I’m afraid your beautiful, true, eloquent words then feel like scolding.

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