One of my initial problems with classes on evangelism is that there is always a guilt factor that is associated with them. We are made to feel guilty that we are not going out and telling others about Jesus. While I understand that we are to do things that we are not comfortable with, and I am not comfortable with doing evangelism as it is normally presented, I am just not all that certain that evangelism is what Jesus had in mind when He commissioned His followers to make disciples.
Yesterday during Sunday School and Church I was very frustrated because of this, but I really couldn't express my thoughts very well. Then I read this post, Pressing for Decisions, by Scot McKnight and I started to have a little clarity to my thoughts, or at least I could put a name to my frustrations.
In this post McKnight begins to review the book Transforming Conversion: Rethinking the Language and Contours of Christian Initiation by Gordon Smith.
American evangelicalism, and what I mean here is “revivalist” American evangelicalism, is shaped by and oriented toward decisions for Christ. What’s more, revivalist evangelicalism has a soterian gospel designed to precipitate decisions that can be used to measure who is “in” and who is “out.” Which is also to say that revivalist evangelicalism creates a “salvation” culture. (This is all sketched out in my The King Jesus Gospel.)Continue reading Pressing for Decisions.
Out of the twelve themes McKnight mentions I want to pull out four that will validated my thoughts yesterday.
The first theme McKnight identifies is Conversion is equated with salvation (Smith says salvation is the work of God; conversion is the human response). What we tend to do is focus on getting a person to make a decision so they can be saved. We feel like we have done what we needed to by getting the person to "make a decision," and thus they are saved. Problem is that our evangelism drops the ball on the hard work of making disciples. We are taught that the main point is getting people saved so they can go to heaven rather than making disciples who living like Jesus.
The second theme I would like to mention is Revivalism is ambivalent about the intellect and is often anti-intellectual. This I think is one the cancers that is destroying the Church in the United States. American Christians have a faith built on experience and cliché rather than truth and wisdom. Most people's faith, including many pastors, is so shallow. The result is that we don't have anything to offer people that really gets on the core problems of life. I witnessed a classic example of this reality this summer. I was at a camp this summer and the teens who staffed the kitchen were not all believers. I came through food line and only caught the tail in of the conversation, but one of teenage boys was talking with the guy who was leading the music. The young man was having trouble accepting that with all the bad things in the world, and in his life, that God was indeed good. The song leader told the young man, "But God is so good." To which the young man replied, "You only think He is good because that is the way you choose see Him." The answer the song leader gave blew me away, "Just give Him a try and God will show you He is good." He offered no reasons for why God is good, just go and have the experience. If I had to rely solely on my experience I would not conclude that God is good. I declare that God is good in spite of my experience because the truth of Scripture and the wisdom of people like C. S. Lewis who have used their minds to reconcile the existence of a good God in and evil world.
The third theme I would like to pull out is Revivalism is ambivalent about or even anti-sacramental. (Including baptism.) Evangelism, as mentioned before, focuses on a person making a decision and so in order to get a person converted and to help you feel like you accomplished your good work we have to person say the "sinners prayer." The importance of baptism is down played, even though Jesus himself said that it was a key component in making disciples and the apostle Paul wrote that it was in baptism that we are united with Jesus (Romans 6).
The fourth theme is The church’s mission is to obtain conversions. This goes back to the thinking that what is important is to get people saved so they can go to heaven when they die, but I don't think that is ultimately all that we are called to do. If we look back at the original design and mission for humankind we see that we are called to be stewards of God's creation and fill creation with people who bear the image of God. We see in the ministry of Jesus how He not only proclaimed the truth about God and set people free from the oppression of the law, but He also met their physical needs. In Matthew 25 Jesus said those people who meet the physical needs of people: providing food, clothing, and companionship, those are the people really serving God.
I have rambled on long enough. My main point in all of this is to say that we need to challenge our assumptions about what it means to be a Christian, what evangelism is, and even who God is. We cannot allow ourselves to be push by the currents of cultural Christianity, we have to pursue the Truth God has given us, even when it forces us to go agains the flow.