Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Evangelism and Response

Tom, an anonymous commenter on my last post, wrote this:

'Using anger and judgement as a starting point in evangelism, is without good reason, unbiblical and insensitive'

of a quote by John Piper from the book 'the Supremacy of Christ in a postmodern world' based on messages from that conference. So is he right? As i think about Reading's mission week next week, it's good to spend some time thinking about the Gospel and how to inject it into todays universities.

So when i'm flyering outside the library next week, will my starting point be God's (perfectly just) anger and judgement and incoming unstoppable wrath? Well, no to be honest probably not. I love flyering, i like the window of oppotunity it gives me into other people's lives, the chance to be a bit cheeky to some of them, and of course, the thought that by passing them a bit of paper their eternity might be about to change is pretty exciting. So when would i go to wrath and judgement? later, but i would get there. It is very very diffcult, probably impossible to be faithful to the Biblical account of the cross without mentioned God's fury at our sin. It's impossible to talk about the Gospel, without talking about the cross, because the cross makes the announcement 'Jesus Christ is Lord' the best news there is, rather than utterly terrifying news. So talking about the fury of God about sin will, and probably should happen fairly early on in evangelism. This is not for shock value, this is because the Gospel is not a self help programme.

But enough me, what about Jesus? What about how He did evangelism? Two striking and contrasting examples i've been living with recently are the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8: 1-11 and Jesus teaching on Moses in John 5:30-47. John 8 sees Jesus defends the woman from the wrath of the pharisees. Sure, she had sinned, but who among them hadn't? Let he without sin cast the first stone...only Jesus can cast the stone, but Jesus has mercy, Jesus shows mercy. And if the woman goes and really does 'sin no more' (which i take to mean, live a life of repentance and reliance on the grace of God alone) then this approach works. What about John 5? One of those passages that you read and think to yourself 'well goodness, no wonder Jesus got killed'. He tells His jewish listeners that neither He nor His Father will accuse anyone...but Moses, He will accuse them. Now, imagine how shocking that would have been to the legalistic jewish audience! Moses, he's our guy, we're on his team...this Jesus must be stopped. Now Jesus isn't just using it for shock value, but it sure would have been shicking.

What about Luke 18:9-14? This man (the one who cried out for mercy) went down to his house justified, rather than the other. Very scary... This man tursted in his own good works for his justification, and even thiugh he thanked God for them, Jesus calls him condenmed...not justified. So we can see, just from those three examples, that Jesus used a mixture of care, shock and judgement images in his evangelism.

But even then, i'm not sure thats the point. The Gospel is the announcement, proclamation, the warning of facts, concerning the risen Jesus that affect our present and our future. Judgement is a huge part of that message. It's about Jesus, it's not a cardon copy of Jesus. What about the other Bible writers? Paul had no problem calling people accursed in Galatia, he warned the Corinthian church that people had died for mistreating the Lord's Supper. He even rebuked Peter! Peter called false prophets and teachers 'waterless springs and mists driven by storms, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved', James warned people who did not bridle their tongue that their religion was worthless. John, of course, records the terrifying picture of the winepress in Revelation 19, and tells us that it would be better for rocks to fall on some people's heads, rather than for them to face Jesus on His throne. Now, of course, none of that is mutually exclusive with deep and rich pastoral evangelistic sensitivity, but hopefully it demonstrates that talking about wrath in discipleship or evangelism is not unbiblical. Shocking yes, unbiblical, no.

What about insensitive then? Well, we must be very, very careful when we answer people's questions. Why is there suffering could mean from 'why did my mum die last year' to 'look i just want to cause you problems with my questions' and everything in between. So we need to explore that and be sensitive. But we need not, and must not forsake the holiness of God in our evangelism, and what it means for our sins, and our eternity. If my generation has lost sight of one key doctrine, it is the holiness of God. Isaiah had to reinvent the Hebrew language to communicate God's holiness, He is called 'holy holy holy'. Never 'love love love'. God is coming to make war on sin and unrepentant sinners, He is not a frogiveness fairy in the sky. So is it insensitive? Yes, in some cases absolutley, and we must beware in those cases and be sensitive. But it is a little bit like the Hiroshima business man waking up on 6th August 1945 and saying 'my business is in trouble, my wife is sick, my kids are going crazy...don't come here and tell me about the Enola Gay'. And something much much worse is coming.

"When the author walks on the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right...something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise...it will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up."
- CS Lewis

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post - loved it. Agree with everything. And I think you have agreed with me too.

One problem with your response is that you have straw manned me a bit because I think I used the words 'starting point' and you answered my objection as if I was saying that I wouldn't talk about sin, wrath and judgement. These are different things matey. One is a starting point, the other is the matter of the content of the conversation - if I am honest with you, I rarely mention wrath during the first conversation I have with people. I do get to it fairly fast, but at the same time as thrusting a flyer in their hand - that stikes me as a bit weird - don't you think?