Category: Books

Does the How of Evangelism Really Matter?

Think about the last time you tried to share the gospel. What was going through your head? Were you angling to find an opening to mention Jesus? Or perhaps you were more intentional, looking for an opportunity to lay out a “gospel presentation” over lunch or coffee? This kind of evangelism focuses on what we have to say, not on what others are saying.

This can make our evangelism unbelievable. 

All too often we look to download gospel information instead of considering people’s objections. If we’re honest, we are often content with “name dropping” Jesus in a conversation because our evangelism is more about us and less about them. Saying Jesus’ name to a non-Christian gets us a √. Saying what Jesus did in the first century, on a cross, gets us a √+. This kind of evangelism is more about clearing our evangelical conscience than compassionately sharing the good news with fellow sinners.

This evangelism is unbelievable because it is motivated by unbelief in the gospel. Our hidden belief is that doing evangelism makes us better with God. Or better in front of spiritual peers we esteem.

The Self-Righteous Approach

The Lord certainly uses defective evangelism (Phil. 1:15-18), but that doesn’t mean we should promote it. In fact, the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), watch our life and speech (1 Tim. 4:16), walk with wisdom toward outsiders (Col. 3:4-5), and live with others in a understanding way (Rom. 12:17-18). These texts all add up to tell us how we share the gospel matters.

The gospel can be easily dismissed because of the self-righteous manner of our gospel communication. When I was in college, I often felt guilty if days went by without sharing my faith. I was driven by performance. As a result, I’d end up sharing the righteousness of Christ with others in a self-righteous way. I would think to myself, “If I share the gospel, God will think better of me.” But that actually contradicts the gospel.

God thinks perfectly of us, not because of our right performance, but because of Jesus’ righteousness performance! When we are caught in the performance act, we may come off wooden or uncaring. People need to not only “hear” the gospel but also “feel” it in our speech. Good evangelism results in gospel stereo—Christ-shaped speech and action.

The Sheepish Approach

The gospel can also be dismissed due to the sheepish manner of our evangelism. Sometimes we are indifferent to evangelism because we don’t want to come off as preachy. I was sitting in a Starbucks when a gentlemen asked me what I was doing. I replied, “Working on a sermon.” Oh, great, here it comes. Yep, he replied by waving his hands back and forth, across one another, saying “Don’t preach to me, don’t preach to me!” All accompanied by a nervous chuckle. How would you respond?

I responded by saying, “You don’t have to worry about that.” Really?! I left the poor man with the wrong impression of gospel preaching—that it mounds up not relieves guilt. But the good news of the gospel is that Jesus absorbs our guilt and sets us free. That’s just what he needed to hear, just not in a “preachy” way. My sheepish indifference left him stranded in guilt.

People interpret the gospel by how we say the gospel not just what we say.

But it’s not enough to critique self-righteous and sheepish evangelism. We must reconstruct a biblically faithful, culturally sensitive, and personally discerning way forward.

I propose Gospel Metaphors. You can read more about them at UnbelievableGospel.com

Books on Character (& Virtue Collapse)

In working through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I’m trying to better understand our present moral collapse. Virtues have turned into values, and sins have morphed into mistakes. The new center for morality is the individual, not God, which is quite scary. Christians aren’t the only ones with a “sermon on mount.”

Here are a few books that have been helpful. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

The Road to Character, David Brooks

Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool, Jennifer Jacquet

Losing Our Virtue, David Wells

Back to Virtue, Peter Kreeft

“Sight Unseen” The Hows and Whys of Invisibility, Kathryn Shulz

After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, NT Wright

Resurrection and the Moral Order, Oliver O’ Donovan

 

 

Responding to the State of the Secular Union

In 2008, about 50 million people in America checked the “Religious None” box. Ten million of those are ardent atheists. This means that the rest of these 40 million people aren’t really sure what they believe. The nones account for more than More than Charismatic, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Mormons and Muslims put together. You (hopefully) have friends, neighbors and coworkers that fall into this category.

People like David Noise, author of Unbeliever Nation, are on a campaign to claim the nones for the secularist camp.

Evangelicals aren’t the only people on mission.

What are You Doing About “Secularized” Faith?

But you don’t have to check the “none” box to be influenced by secular thinking. Many people are skeptical about cardinal Christian doctrines such as the incarnation, resurrection, and the Trinity. This may be surprising as the incarnation and the resurrection represent the two biggest holiday celebrations in Christianity.The Trinity, of course, gets at the very heart of God.

As our country fragments, different religious groups are isolated from one another more and more. Evangelicals are seen as militant and uninterested in genuine dialog. They often treat doubt as the eighth deadly sin. But the reality is that many Christians are struggling with the very same doubts.

The notion that God became a sinless baby seems like a fairy tale.

The idea that Jesus beat death is almost sic-fi

The Trinity, well that’s not even rational.

Closing our eyes to rising secularity and skepticism about Christianity won’t do. Mounding up evidence and demanding a personal verdict isn’t enough. We, too, have to take up the mission, but not as we have in the past.

Instead of treating doubt like the enemy, we will need to befriend those who doubt. Climb into their story. Empathize with their church perpetrated wounds. See the incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity from their perspective. And respond to skeptical perspectives with sympathetic dialog.

How Should People of Faith Respond to People of Unfaith?

The most recent survey I read pointed out that the “nones” have jumped to one quarter of the population. If this secularized segment of the population continues to grow at the same clip, the largest religion in the U.S. will be no religion at all.

Over a third of the population no longer attends religious services. This means church services are not enough. We need a witnessing church not just a ‘worshipping’ church. A people confident in the self-authenticating gospel of Jesus who live out its implications in an authentic way. People who don’t just argue others into submission, but submit their own failures in faith.

Our response has to include sympathy and strategy, cultural discernment and confidence in the gospel. We need a whole new line of resources, communication, church forms, and most of all winsome Christlike people to remain faithful to the mission of Jesus.

An Example Response

My friends at Moving Works have produced several shorts that explore the implausibility of the resurrection through narrative with a Terrance Malik, Tree-of-Life feel. If you like it, feel free to use it. You might consider screening the whole 40 minute film in a local theater and hosting a Q&A afterwards. Or host a discussion group over the shorts/chapters in a coffeeshop, home, or church. Invite your friends and learn how to sympathize with doubt and re-celebrate faith in the risen Christ.

I’ve also written a short book to engage unfaith in the resurrection. It’s meant to be read in an afternoon. Study guides and stuff are available. I’m working on two new projects that deal with the implausibly of the incarnation and the Trinity.

More resources are emerging, but we need much more in the form of conversation groups, video, art, and imaginative missional endeavors. You can’t out imagine the Trinity, so let’s move forward prayerfully and winsomely to love religious nones. They aren’t just numbers; they are our neighbors, friends, and coworkers. Each one has a story worth hearing, and once we’ve heard it, we can tell the gospel story in a more loving and understanding way.

For more resources on the resurrection see www.raisedbook.com and more shorts at Moving Works.

Why Christianity is Harder & Easier

Christ says ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.

 

– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 196 (emphasis added)