I few days ago I was talking with a friend who asked me, “How would you explain the gospel?” I shared with him what I saw as the essential “nuggets” of the story. He expressed surprise that I started my explanation with God created a very good world. This got me thinking about where people generally start when they are asked to explain the good news of Jesus.
My friend David Fitch just wrote a lucid examination of why the traditional “You must admit you are a sinner in need of God!” evangelism strategy doesn’t work in the cultures of post-Christendom. I recommend you go read the entire post, even though he uses the word “paradigmatic.” He argues that Christians need to be taught at least three things about how to bring people toward Christ in these new cultures:
- Sin is a complex doctrine – it’s just just about breaking God’s law and guilt, it’s also about oppressive powers and missing the mark and being broken.
- Sin is a language we learn in community – this is so true! Most of my awareness of my sin has come through my interaction with others in community and family.
- As witnesses we are therapists of sin – I especially appreciated this. Therapists rarely go out of their way to convince someone they are sick. Instead they probe, asking questions and digging deeper until the person is ready to see what has been there the whole time. In the same way, as witnesses to Christ, we sit with others and listen, asking questions and encouraging deeper reflection, remaining sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit, who is the one doing the convicting anyway. I am convinced it almost never is fruitful to try to intellectually argue someone into believing they are a sinner. They have to see if for themselves, and that only happens when the Holy Spirit begins to work in someone’s life.As such, this kind of gentle, listen-ful witnessing needs to be coupled with prayer.
Sometimes people get nervous when I say we need to re-think evangelism for post-Christendom cultures, but, like Fitch, I am in no way proposing we ditch the doctrine of sin, just the way we have been formulating and talking about it.
IMonk (aka Michael Spencer) re-posted Patrol Magazine’s excellent “Get Over It” article a few days ago. (By the way, I linked to via Twitter. Most of the time the way I link to interesting articles, etc., is via my Twitter account, as opposed to putting them on my blog. All this to say, follow me on Twitter to get the linksy things.)
But what I was going to say was that in the comments under IMonk’s re-posting of the Patrol article (whew!) there was a comment by “Justin” with several provocative questions directed toward the “traditional” evangelical understanding of the Christian faith and gospel. These are the kinds of questions many people are really asking today, not how they can be cleansed from the guilt of their sin or how they can be sure they make heaven someday. Instead they listen to the traditional gospel spiels and ask:
- If we call on God as Our Father, why do act as though he is Our Executioner?
- Why did God create the Universe only to destroy it later?
- What did Jesus actually accomplish on the Cross if the vast majority of humanity will end up in Hell?
- What good is a creed [if] it’s revised every couple of generations or by the church down the street?
- Does the world know the disciples of Jesus by their love for one another, or by their doctrine and denominational distinctives?
- Is it a sin to doubt God?
Until we have intelligent, thoughtful, respectful, humble answers to those questions, we won’t have a place at the conversation table with this generation.
David Bosch said that evangelism was one aspect of mission, and defined it thus:
in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to
repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins, and
inviting them to become living members of Christ's earthly
community and to begin a life of service to others in the power
of the Holy Spirit."
– from Transforming Mission, p. 11.
Scot McKnight apparently recently took a stab at a brief gospel presentation that manages to de-stabilize the individualism of most presentations I've heard. He preached a gospel that manages to keep the church front-and-center in God's purposes (as it should be, I think). See what you think:
you and everyone else have a sin problem that separates you and
everyone else from God, from yourselves, from one another, and from the
good world God made for you.
The good news is that Jesus lived
for you, died for you, was raised for you, and sent the Spirit for you
– so you all can live as the beloved community.
If you enter
into Jesus' story, by repentance and faith, you can be reconnected to
God, to yourself, to others, and to this world.
Those who are
reconnected like this will live now as God's community and will find
themselves eternally in union with God and communion with others.
who preach this gospel will not deconstruct the church. Instead, they
will participate in what God is doing: constructing the kingdom
community even now.