This post is a second part of the post entitled Please invite people to the marriage supper of the lamb which you can read here. To sum up what I said there:
I said I don’t like the word evangelism and the gospel, not because of what they mean, but because of what they have become to mean. Broadly speaking our evangelical tradition spends too much time proclaiming and confronting. We don’t do them in the right place at the right time or for the right reason (both to Christians and non-Christians). Often this part of evangelism takes place at “events” that can be impersonal and lack authenticity. Often the only thing proclaimed is the option to buy into eternal fire insurance (I mean it about the fire, it seems to be more about sinners horrendous hideousness than Gods glory). I have had personal experiences where my friend has labeled that sort of evangelism ‘recruiting’. I say that Jesus is not a product to be sold and the Church is not a war band which needs to go about recruiting. It can do more damage than good if evangelism and apologetics is not done in the right way. This is also not a matter of my friend’s hard heart. Even if it was, we must understand why she felt it was ‘recruiting’ and take her seriously.
I also said that the blog post is not about our peculiar church situation but that it is about the evangelical tradition in general, though our church having recently been involved with a ‘mission’ exemplifies this tradition in some senses and so it was acute to write about what has been bugging me for some time. The post is at points harsh, but the reality I think is that the dangers are even more harsh and so I think it was right of me to say the things I said and indeed how I said them. It is possible I did not say what I intended to say as clearly as I would have liked. However, that is another matter.
At the end of the post I promised I would give folks my notes on a talk we heard down in Hampshire, where Jerram Barrs lectured on the requirement of the Church to invite people to the marriage supper of the lamb. He helped us learn from this lamb, the lamb who is teacher.
However, I have decided not to post those notes despite having spent some time writing them up. Inevitably I would not do justice to the Jerram’s talk. However, I do encourage you to listen to the lectures he gave and take your own notes. Alternatively you could buy his book. (There is a link at the end of the post.)
What I am going to do is combine and regurgitate some important points made in two lectures I have recently heard. They address the issues which I have struggled with ‘out-loud’ on earlier blog posts. The lectures relate to apologetics and evangelism. The first was given by Jerram on evangelism, the second by Andrew Fellows of L’Abri on apologetics. Both focus on Jesus’ ministry and what we can learn from him about these two areas of life (because they are a part of life).
Because I really am regurgitating and combining points from two lectures you will miss what both of them said completely, so I urge you to go and listen to the lectures yourself. This post is meant to be a primer only, though hopefully it will serve to encourage you in invitation writing ahead of the big wedding.
As any rhetorician must, I should establish the authority of the people’s ideas I will be commending you. However, as a young essayist I must remind you that the following is my writing and so any mistakes and theological problems are mine and mine alone and do not reflect what Andrew and Jerram have said. However please see a small section at the end of the post for more information and background on the speakers, I think you will find their lectures stimulating, challenging and indeed deeply caring. Something which I cannot claim for my own writing.
Where God is working, work there also. Work humbly and honestly.
Everything God has made is good. Everything God does is good. God works in people’s lives whether they are followers of Christ or not. Sadly this might not mean that those who are not will become Christians. The fact that God works in them does not make them good. In the same way I am also not a ‘good person’, but it means that where good is present, we should recognize it, affirm it and, where appropriate tell the person or people who are involved in that goodness about why it’s good. We should affirm that goodness with all our heart, as if we are affirming God’s work itself, which we are affirming if we affirm goodness. But it is them we are affirming too.
Jerram reminds us of the verse in Philippians 4 which says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” The verse is not just about your mind and what you consume (as our tradition has often so narrowly taught), but it’s about everything. All of creation reflects the creator God, not least his prize creation, humankind. Look at your friends, neighbors, colleagues and loved ones and see what is good. There are cracks in the reflection of Gods image, but that’s not what we are to concern ourselves with. We are about noticing the good that is recognizable. We shouldn’t be naïve or romantic, but we should look for the good and affirm it.
In this way you will dignify the person that you are talking to, sharing a meal with, in the same room with (and desperately might want to be without). Dignify your work colleague by complimenting him on his honesty at the latest comms meeting. Ask those questions about the motorbike that your friend is thinking about buying. Give your mother those flower bulbs so she can plant them. Encourage the good.
When you are speaking to others ask yourself if you are being faithful to the gospel (we often aren’t). In our apologetics we might actually be out to win an argument. That is not the gospel. But there are other pit falls too.
Never judge. It’s not your job. Judge yourself, not others. If we say that somebody should clean up their act we might be preaching works over grace.
Listen. You probably don’t listen enough (I don’t). Spend a lot of time listening to what people are saying, rather than telling them what they should be saying, or what you think they need to hear before they have told you where they are, sometimes even who they are.
Be honest about your own needs to “them”. We can convey dignity through asking for help and showing our own vulnerability.
Be subversive, just as Jesus did subversive apologetics
There are three stages of apologetics and evangelism. The last stage is “proclamation.” It’s the part of the work that we evangelicals focus on, and rightly give lots of importance to. It is through the proclamation of the gospel and only through the proclamation of the gospel and a person’s repentance and acceptance of Jesus that that person will be invited to the marriage supper.
However, in our society there are at least two other aspects to evangelism and apologetics that need to come before proclamation. If the stages don’t come before, nobody will “get” the proclamation (but by some divine intervention). People need to understand the world view, the true world view, in which Jesus’ death and resurrection makes sense. They don’t have to have a comprehensive understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but some sense of what the creation-fall-redemption narrative is about would help.
We live in a society where most people my age have not been to church and heard this sort of narrative. Many teens may be the fourth or even fifth generation of people who have not been to church. This means that some of our basic assumptions, might be very different than our friends and colleagues. They might have never heard the story of David and Goliath.
For many people it will be enough to start with issues of world view in your apologetics, but for some it will be vital that you start from before this point, which is the most important part of apologetics. This is the first and hardest part and the part which we don’t do enough of in our tradition, and if we do, do it, we tend to do it badly.
Many people are skeptics. Most skeptics are radically so. They are the people who will be up for a debate with you. They will treat Dawkins as their prophet and use hearsay about Christianity and all the evils perpetrated in the name of Jesus to push away any argument you might be able to produce.
Don’t engage in debate. You will not change their minds even if you “win” the debate; the person will walk away affirmed in their own faith position.
Do ask questions. Let the questions be honest ones. Tell stories that point to the underlying problems of their world view and above all, love them. This will turn their hearts more readily than any amount of arguing you can do. This is hard. It requires creativity and more often than not, more time than a discussion over a pint or two. But you know what, many of us already do this. I imagine a nurse sitting over a cup of tea with their friends talking about the graciousness of one of the patients they met, the love, compassion and wisdom of one of the people who died the other day. What was it about that person which made them smile even as they cancer patient knew he would have to deal with another bout of chemo? It might help to remember that we already do these things and that this is evangelism.
Ask the questions. Tell stories.
This will work for the another type of skeptic. The type of skeptic who is so “comfortably numb” that they don’t care. Because most of the time they do, its just they dont want to have to. Often they have so much love to give, they just dont know where to put it. Lets help them, and indeed ourselves figure out where to put our love.
So as one things leads to another we will have more opportunity to move from one level to the next. And who knows, it might be that you will be able to proclaim to somebody who you have never met right off the bat. Don’t let these “stages” get in the way of the Spirits work.
Finally and this is my own point and might go without saying, but don’t ever, ever, ever view a person as an object. Never objectify a person into something that needs saving. To do so is a gross reduction of the person. It’s a distortion of who somebody is as a person who reflects the image of God. Because they are reflecting that image, you objectify God by setting your targets too low. Evangelism is about relationship.
More could be said.
Jerram’s lecture and powerpoint presentation including images can be downloaded here.
Jerram also has a number of lectures on the L’Abri website.
Andrew’s lecture is entitled: Jesus Christ, the Subversive Apologist and is under the Giving a word back section in the Communicating ideas section on the L’Abri website. You can search for it via Andrew’s name or by the title of the lecture.
Go research a bit more at L’Abri online lectures here.
On the Speakers
Jerram Barrs is lecturer in apologetics, outreach and evangelism at Covenant Seminary. For a long time he worked at L’Abri fellowship in Switzerland with Francis Schaeffer. Educated in English Literature at Manchester University (he is British) and having a father who was for a long time a committed Marxist makes him a fairly unlikely person to teach at the seminary, which is very much a reformed (Calvinist) evangelical, some might say, ‘American fundamentalist’ outfit. Despite not being very well ‘known’ in the circles most of us tend to run around in, he is worth your time. Perhaps I should add that Covenant Seminary is part of the denomination that Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll are a part of. That should commend him to at least some of you.
Andrew Fellows is the current head of L’Abri in England and has spent a lot of his Christian life working in the field of apologetics and evangelism. He has spent a lot of time listening to doubters, young or old frustrated evangelicals and others. As part of L’abri he has developed and affirmed the importance of community and helped, among other things, to articulate the importance of the notion of ‘participation’ as means to conversion, but more of that another time.