Monday, January 30, 2012

Linkage: Pressing for Decisions

My wife and I have been attending a Sunday School class on evangelism which has raised all sorts of questions in my mind.  This class would not have been my first choice to attend, but I did because the other class is on the book of Revelation and I didn't want constantly bite my tongue on things I didn't agree with. I thought a class on evangelism was a safer bet for me.

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 clich√© 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.


Paul Steele said...

After I had finished writing this I wasn't sure I should post it, but since it took an hour to write and my blog is called Paul's Ponderings I decided to go ahead and hit the publish button. I don't know if it makes any sense, but it has helped clarify some of the thoughts swirling around in my mind.

Liane said...

Paul, I think I know exactly what you mean with your comment - not sure to post it. You touch on some interesting thoughts, which brings me back to our last "discussion"; I've been feeling challenged in my own heart lately about what we're supposed to be and do vs. the cliche that so many things have become and so many being afraid to climb out of that religious box. Sometimes I also feel frustrated, because I don't know what to do with these new revelations in my heart and people look at you like you're crazy - like you've lost your way. Sometimes I feel lonely and sometimes I feel sad. I've been scared to post it - even though wanting to grow in courage to write what is in my heart and not to please people or draw a big following because we just say what they want to hear (read), but I also believe that God is shaking up the world. I believe He wants to do some new stuff and I - for one - want to be part of it. I think it's a good post; your courage to speak your mind encourages me too.

Paul Steele said...

Liane, I understand what you are saying. I have been there myself. So you don't have to feel crazy or alone. I will be praying for you and asking God to provide you with clarity and with courage. Thanks for the kinds words as well.

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