Archives For evangelism

Like it or not, a recent article in the Briefing has fired up an old argument on personal evangelism that Gen Ys like me, think of in some way analogous to the worship wars… it happened in the past, and we’re slightly too post-modern to think there’s only one right answer to the question.

In a nutshell, John Dickson’s excellent book Promoting the Gospel (and other work) suggested that “evangelists” are a special category of person, much like preachers and teachers – and while all Christians are called to be part of the body of Christ, which is called to participate, together, in the Great Commission, and perhaps, the “Mission of God,” we’re not all called to play the specific role of heralds of King Jesus, proclaiming, via words, directly, and persuasively, the case for Jesus. Now, he says we should take whatever opportunities we have to give the reason for the hope that we have – but he wants the emphasis to be more on what we can achieve together, and what we can achieve in the way that we live our lives, and love the people around us, pointing people to Jesus. You can read my review of the book here.

Some people didn’t like that idea. They had an argument. Now, Tony Payne, at the Briefing, has (not intentionally), restarted the argument with his piece on Personal Evangelism.

Like a few others, I can’t really tell the difference between what he say the individual’s role is, and what John Dickson says the individual’s role is, which seems to boil down to using the skills God gives you as gifts for God’s kingdom and for those outside it.

It seems most people accept these two truths, but reach different conclusions:

1. We’re each called to serve God with the different gifts he has given us, as we worship him and take part in his mission (or worship him by taking part in his mission).

2. Some people are better at evangelism, and even human relationships, than others.

It’s this last bit of the logical chain that seems to divide people.

3. If people are better at evangelism than others, we should assume that they are gifted in that area and see part of our role, in the body, as freeing, supporting, and equipping those people to serve with those gifts. So that we’re on mission together.

Other people seem to say this is an area where gifting doesn’t come into play – because we all have to evangelise. But we’re all evangelising in that point 3.

I wonder if it’s easier to make a judgment, like Dickson’s, that not all people are evangelists if you are one, and if part of your job is helping clean up the mess that well-intentioned people make – perhaps, for example, those who stand on street corners and yell at people about sin and judgment (this isn’t really a post about the relative merits of street preaching).

Anyway.

I think Paul was an evangelist. That “evangelist” was a role that distinguished him from other figures in the early church. That he wasn’t the only “evangelist” – and that he wanted people to imitate him, in their lives as they were able, even if they weren’t especially gifted as evangelists – because promoting the gospel is about more than words – by sacrificially offering their gifts to the work of the Gospel. And we’re one body. Working for one mission. Together.

“Personal evangelism” is a bizarre outcome of western individualism being applied to the work of the church. We might live in an age of individualism – but part of the message of the gospel might have to be a counter-cultural indictment of that idea.

But each of us is called to take part in mission and evangelism, with the people we know. I’m going to suggest, in the next 3,000 words, that when it comes to evangelism as persuasion, all Christians are called to evangelise by ethos – being Christ like, and to be prepared to do logos (logic and knowledge about God and the Gospel), and I wonder if “pathos” and a strong mix of logos and ethos is what marks an “evangelist.”

So. Here are some thoughts I have, after thinking about how Paul frames his evangelism and approach to communication, that I think are somewhat relevant to the debate. This will be part of my Masters project next year, so shh… don’t tell anybody…

Oratory, Cicero, Paul, and Evangelism

Aristotle literally wrote the book On Rhetoric. He said there were three elements of successful persuasion:

1. Ethos: Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.

2. Pathos: Persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions.

3. Logos: Persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

After Aristotle, these elements were bounced around in different shaped triangles depending on which element you thought was more important. There were literal schools of thought, like the Attic School, who thought flashy eloquence, which played with the emotion, were easier and more convincing than dry, boring speeches that were full of logic. And there were other more classical types, like Cicero, who wanted to try to balance out the triangle into something more equilateral.

I’m fairly convinced that Paul, who was a Roman citizen from Tarsus, was educated in rhetoric in Tarsus, which had famous rhetorical schools (see Strabo, the historian, on Tarsus). Cicero was the governor of Tarsus just after he wrote De Oratore – this is a guess, but I reckon there would have been a bit of Cicero on the curriculum of rhetorical training in Tarsus.

Cicero didn’t like the flashy, insubstantial, approach to Rhetoric championed by the Attic school of rhetoric, and he criticised it extensively.

Paul, in his letters to the Corinthians, is engaging with the rhetorical grandchildren of the Attic movement – the Second Sophistic – and he deploys pretty much the same argument against them that Cicero did, championing the triumph of substance, both in content – or logos – and character – or ethos, over style – the ability to speek eloquently (pathos).

Paul speaks against the Corinthian desire to have the flashiest communicators lead their churches -

Here’s an interesting comparison between something Cicero says about approaching a speech with trembling, and what Paul says about his approach in Corinth…

Cicero:

For the better the orator, the more profoundly is he frightened of the difficulty of speaking, and of the doubtful fate of a speech, and of the anticipations of an audience… While as for him who is un-ashamed — as I see is the case with most speakers, — I hold him deserving not merely of reprimand, but of punishment as well. Assuredly, just as I generally perceive it to happen to yourselves, so I very often prove it in my own experience, that I turn pale at the outset of a speech, and quake in every limb and in all my soul

And Paul:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul is subverting the rhetorical expectations of his audience – but I’d say he’s doing it by harking back to an older rhetorical convention. He condemns the Corinthian addiction to eloquent oratory, and its encroachment on the church. But this isn’t to say that Paul wasn’t capable of presenting well when the need arose – Acts portrays him as a pretty accomplished orator, as comfortable preaching to a group of religious philosophers in Athens, quoting their ancient poets back at them during his Areopagus address (Acts 17:28), in court rooms (Acts 24), and before councils (Acts 23:1-9), governors (Acts 24, 25:1-12), and kings (Acts 25:13-26:32) – all places that orators would commonly perform their tasks as entertainers, philosophers, or advocates.

Imitation isn’t just about flattery

Here’s another cool thing before I get to the point (hint – I think a special role of evangelist might potentially be related to the the orator – whose job it is to persuade).

Here’s what Cicero says about choosing who you copy.

“For nothing is easier than to imitate a man*s style of dress, pose or gait. Moreover, if there is a fault, it is not much trouble to appropriate that and to copy it ostentatiously… he did not know how to choose the model whom he would most willingly resemble, and it was positively the faults in his chosen pattern that he elected to copy. But he who is to proceed aright must first be watchful in making his choice, and afterwards extremely careful in striving to attain the most excellent qualities of the model he has approved… “

This is pretty much what the Corinthians were doing in Corinth and in the Second Sophistic movement – 100 years after Cicero wrote this. So he didn’t convince everybody. Here’s how Paul addresses this practice…

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

This comes a bit after Paul says he is prepared to become all things to all men to win some, in 1 Cor 9, which Dickson really nicely sums up in his book:

“Following the example of Paul and Jesus does not necessarily mean that we do what they did. It means that we live by the same flexible ethos, seeking the good of many so that they may be saved.”

I would suggest that one area where Paul may mean we can do what he did – if our gifts and skill sets allow – is imitating him by being a faithful persuader, or evangelist, for the cause of the gospel. I think Dickson is right to warn that we won’t all have Paul’s training, abilities, or specific calling – so won’t all feel comfortable doing what he does, but, within limits, we can imitate him by using what we have to serve the kingdom of God (cf Romans 12).

The foundational importance of Ethos

Here’s what I’m thinking. It’s not rocket science. But it has the benefit of this oratory stuff backing it up. We’re all called to persuade people of the truth of the gospel, with whatever we have at our disposal – but the most powerfully underrated element of persuasion is not words and knowledge (logos), or fine sounding words that appeal to the emotions (eloquence and pathos), but personal character and living out what you believe (ethos).

I’d say we’re all called to live like Jesus, as an act of evangelism (though also because that’s the goal of the Spirit’s work in us – see Romans 8:29) – but we’re not all called to persuade with pathos (or even logos – beyond knowing the essentials – Christ, and him crucified).

Here’s what Cicero says about the importance of believing your own press (or the press that you’re producing).

“I give you my word that I never tried, by means of a speech, to arouse either indignation or compassion, either ill-will or hatred, in the minds of a tribunal, without being really stirred myself, as I worked upon their minds, by the very feelings to which I was seeking to prompt them.”

But showing your character (and having character to show) is an essential part of Cicero’s approach to persuasion. Though he was prepared to fudge character where necessary.

“Now feelings are won over by a man’s merit, achievements or reputable life, qualifications easier to embellish, if only they are real, than to fabricate where non-existent… Moreover so much is done by good taste and style in speaking, that the speech seems to depict the speaker’s character. For by means of particular types of thought and diction, and the employment besides of a delivery that is unruffled and eloquent of good-nature, the speakers are made to appear upright, well-bred and virtuous men.”

But virtue is important, because bad people can use oratory to bad ends.

“For if we put the full resources of speech at the disposal of those who lack these virtues, we will certainly not make orators of them, but will put weapons into the hands of madmen”

Here’s how Paul shows that he really lives, and believes, his message, when he again defends his lack of eloquence in 2 Corinthians 10-13.

He defends his ministry as a triumph of ethos over the eloquence of the “super apostles” – even though he can out apostle the super apostles. He makes it clear that imitating Christ means being prepared to imitate Christ for others, here are a couple of what I think are the important bits that make this case… in Paul’s reluctant string of boasting in 2 Cor 11:

23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

And 2 Cor 12:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

What Ethos based gospel persuasion looks like

Paul lives his message. I’d argue this is what he calls all Christians to imitate – demonstrating the strength of the gospel in our weakness. Imitating the crucified Jesus.

But he also knows and speaks his message appropriately to his circumstances. I’m not sure this skill is transferrable to all people everywhere, this certainly isn’t the case from experience. This is where I think the evangelist role might kick in – people who are skilled in speaking and persuading people regardless of their background.

For the Corinthians, whose ethos was broken by their pursuit of status-boosting eloquence, he resolved to know nothing but Christ, and present him plainly.

At the Areopagus (Acts 17), he quoted poets, turned his audience against each other by pointing out the philosophical differences between Stoics and Epicureans, and appeared to stick to the conventions of presenting a new God to the Areopagus for their consideration.

When he was in front of a Jewish council, he turned Pharisee and Sadducee against each other because he knew his audience, and knew how to communicate with them.

When he’s talking to Agrippa in Acts 26, he appears to obey the legal rhetorical conventions while also trying to convert the king (Festus, who’s hanging out, listening – says Paul has “great learning”):

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Paul uses legal and religious trials, philosophical speeches, and political engagement to present the gospel of Jesus to his audience.

This is evangelism par excellence. I don’t think Christians fail to be Christians when they don’t speak about Jesus at their school council meetings. But I think an evangelist is failing to use their gifts if they can, but don’t.

It’s interesting that this was also the way the early church saw apologetics – both Tertullian and Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Empire, basically asking for a fairer go for Christians, and each of them (partly to make the case that Christianity wasn’t dangerous), spelled out the gospel for their readers.

There’s an interesting objection to this view of what’s going on for Paul – the idea that he’s a specially gifted orator, based on Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 11:6:

Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”

There are a few cool, and convincing responses to this.

First – the “even if” isn’t really a concession, he’s simply dealing with the criticism that has been made about him – that he writes like a rhetorician, but speaks weakly.

Second  – when he says “unskilled in speaking,” the Greek underlying this is transliterally, “idiot” – and it conventionally referred to people who were trained in rhetoric but weren’t professional orators.

Third, and perhaps more important, Paul is placing a high price on knowledge, and plain speaking –  Cicero did too. He suggested you couldn’t be a good orator without either.

On plain speaking:

“…let us select as our models those who enjoy unimpaired health, (which is peculiar to the Attic orators,) rather than those whose abundance is vicious, of whom Asia has produced numbers. And in doing this (if at least we can manage even this, for it is a mighty undertaking) let us imitate, if we can, Lysias, and especially his simplicity of style: for in many places he rises to grandeur. But because he wrote speeches for many private causes, and those too for others, and on very trifling subjects, he appears to be somewhat simple, because he has designedly filed himself down to the standard of the inconsiderable causes which he was pleading.”

On knowledge:

“Yet I maintain that such eloquence as Crassus and Antonius attained could never have been realized without a knowledge of every matter.”

Ethos-based persuasion and evangelism

Interestingly, Dickson picks up on this when it comes to how he defines an evangelist.

First, a bit of a word study to show that evangelism and oratory basically went hand in hand (as, did apologetics).

In the ancient world the noun “gospel” (euangelion) and its verb “telling the gospel” (euangelizomai) were media terms. They always referred to the announcement of happy or important events. News of military victories, national achievements, weddings, births and, in one ancient text, the bargain price of anchovies at the marketplace were all called “gospels”. The modern media term “newsflash” probably comes closest in meaning to the ancient word gospel…

The most well-known “gospels” proclaimed in the ancient world were those announcing the emperors’ achievements. The caesars’ ascensions, conquests and political deeds were all the subject of the gospels of the empire. “Gospel” was very much an imperial term in the period of the New Testament.

His definition of “evangelist” follows this definition of the good news…

“The word literally means gospeller, that is, one who announces the gospel. The term seems to have been coined by the first Christians (it appears nowhere else in Greek literature before the New Testament) as a shorthand way of referring to those in the church who took on the task of proclaiming the life, death and resurrection of God’s Messiah (the gospel) to those for whom this message was still news”

And he doesn’t rule out the option of having gospel conversations with the people you’re in relationships with (so I can’t see how it’s possible he rules out personal evangelism).

In reality, most of our opportunities to speak about Christianity will occur in passing, in the to-and-fro of daily conversation. It should not surprise us, then, that the two clearest passages in the Bible calling on all believers to speak up for the Lord urge them simply to “answer” for the faith—to respond to people’s comments, questions or criticisms with a gentle and gracious reply (Colossians 4:5—6 and 1 Peter 3:15). Most Christians are not “evangelists” (in the technical, New Testament sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to be something they are not. The Scriptures certainly urge us all to be open about our faith whenever opportunity allows, but doing “the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) is something God’s Word asks only of some of us.

But here’s the fourth characteristic he identifies for an evangelist (after desire to proclaim Jesus, ability to relate well to people, and Christian maturity).

“An evangelist will be clear with the gospel. I do not just mean clear about what the gospel is-hopefully, that will be all of us. I am talking about clarity in outlining the gospel. This point arises directly from the word “evangelist” itself. A “gospeller” must be particularly able to explain the message plainly. I am not talking about having a gift of the gab or even being an extrovert-clarity does not always go with these. I am talking specifically about an ability to take the truths of the gospel and make them plain to others (key here will be an ability to talk about Christ without jargon, in the everyday language of those who don’t believe).”

I think there’s a good case to be made that there is a specific role within the body of Christ for people who are skilled as modern day orators and keen to use those skills sacrificially, as a gift for others and in an act of worship to God. And I don’t see why you wouldn’t call that role “evangelist.”

I wonder if the pay off, for those championing every member evangelism, is that orators were built for imitation – both Paul and Cicero say it’s important to pick who you imitate. And imitation, of good models, will boost the quality of gospel engagement with the world across the board. Our corporate ability to know and tell the gospel – our logos and pathos – will improve if we recognise, equip, and imitate the right people, and work at knowing complex truths and speaking them plainly.

But the pressure is off, a little bit, at least for evangelism, for those who are worried about not having the right skills for doing the logos and pathos stuff well. Because without a Christ shaped ethos – and a good corporate ethos within the Church – our words are powerless. Our rhetorical triangle is flat, or a point with no foundation.

If we focus on doing the much harder work on getting our character, or ethos, to imitate Paul, but more importantly – to imitate Jesus, that’s going to communicate the gospel clearer than any words we speak – and the words we speak will be much more powerful if we, and others in the body of Christ, are consistent with the way we live, both individually and corporately.

The Mayan Calendar reckons we’ve got a month until something really big happens. Either the world ends with some sort of cataclysmic bang or whimper, or the beginning of a new world order.


Image Credit: Sevenstreets.com: The radio cast of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy performing at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

I think, frankly, that’s a load of bollocks. I don’t think the world is going to end in a month. I’m not planning to run out of food, or money, and I’m still thinking about the good things I want to do next year, and in the future.

But I also think, frankly, that there are no guarantees that the world won’t end next month, next week, or tomorrow. It’s pretty clear, if you listen to the Greens, some scientists, or the weird guy at the train station, that our ability to live on this planet is finite, and things are going to come to an end sooner or later – some say sooner, some say later.

It’s also pretty clear, if you are a Christian, that we should be living like the end is near. Because it might be. And because that shapes our priorities in a really helpful way. Knowing that tomorrow could be it, means you spend today on what’s important.

So what if we had a month to go? How would you spend your last 30 days on earth? How would you spend the last 30 minutes?

For some people, getting ready means fleeing to a mountain in France. Sadly, the French government is getting in the way. But how do you get ready if you know the earth is a fleeting mist?

What Jesus says

In Matthew 24 Jesus talks a bit about the end of the world as we know it… and what that means for people who think he’s the promised Messiah, from the Old Testament, God’s chosen king (that’s what messiah means), and what it means for the world – if he is the king, he’s king of the world.

He says, just to make it clear that there’s a bit of urgency in deciding who he is:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

It could be tomorrow.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

He’s speaking mostly to his followers – he says you better make sure you’re not just off partying until your master suddenly returns. Because he’ll smash you, just like he’ll smash his enemies.

A little earlier in Matthew 24, Jesus makes it pretty clear what’s involved in waiting for the end, if you believe he’s who he said he is…

13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Interestingly, he also somewhat figuratively, talks about fleeing to the mountains as legitimate. So there you go. French government… take heed…

16 then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains”

But it’s the other two bits – the standing firm to the end, and the gospel being preached to all nations, that are the important part of the response to knowing the world could end.

This preaching, in particular, becomes the mission of his followers a couple of pages in the Bible later, in Matthew 28, after Jesus has been killed, and, to prove he is who he says he is, been raised. That’s the evidence he offers for his claim – it’s the truth that Christianity is built on. And Jesus says now that you’ve seen who I am, that I am the king… this is a little passage called the “Great Commission”…

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So, I hope the answer, if you’re a Christian, is that you’d do lots of this in those last 30 days – excited by the prospect that Jesus is king, and wanting people to know that so they avoid the pain of not being one of his people.

What Paul says (for those who don’t believe Jesus is king)

But what about if you don’t believe Jesus is king, or that aliens are going to blast off from a mountain in France? What do you do in those last days? Paul has one answer, when it comes to whether or not you think the resurrection happened – which is what Jesus’ claim to be king hangs on, he says if you don’t believe – and that’s up to you – then this is what you should do, in 1 Corinthians 15:

“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

I love how Paul sums up what Christians are hoping for, at the end of the world here – the future for all people, dead and alive, who follow Jesus.

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

What I think is incredibly cool is that his advice for how to live in the light of this is exactly the same as Jesus’ advice – so much for the idea that “Paul invented Christianity”…

58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

What’s the work of the Lord – that’d be the stuff Jesus said in the “Great Commission” – the job he, the Lord, gave those who believe he was raised.

I like that we’re meant to live like the world’s going to end next month every month.

I’ve found John Dickson tremendously helpful at just about every stage of my Christian life – even when he edited a magazine called Zed magazine that I remember reading as a kid. His books are helpful. His take on public Christianity is pretty paradigmatic for me, and his apparent commitment to excellence – particularly as manifested in his approach to scholarship, and the resources he produces – is something I aspire to.

This comes as a sort of disclaimer to be read to account for my bias in this treatment of his exceptionally useful book – The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips.

This isn’t a new book, it has been around for a while, but we’re doing a series at church this term on connecting with people, where the book is suggested as a good way for understanding what evangelism looks like as a church family – it takes the pressure off a little bit, by lowering the bar – and treating evangelism not just as God’s work – which is a robustly reformed understanding of the task, but as the church’s work. A team effort.

My experience while reading this book was quite bizarre – almost an out of body experience. It was like I was reading my own thoughts written to me. This was scary, and somewhat reassuring. Though I hadn’t read the book until a month ago, this is largely the framework I use when I’m thinking about church, mission, and our role as individuals within those contexts.

My take on his foundational premise – that our lives, our whole lives, essentially function as a declaration of who we are, so we should think about that and live intentionally in a way that our lives are consistent with the gospel, in a way that promotes it – means I think it’s an incredibly useful resource, especially as it applies this concept to real life, it’s not abstract, and its incredibly well argued, with occasional references to the author’s PhD thesis, which I read a lot of for an essay once, and found equally helpful.

Here’s a lynchpin sort of paragraph…

“But perhaps the best kept secret of Christian mission is that the Bible lists a whole range of activities that promote Christ to the world and draw others toward him. These include prayer, godly behaviour, financial assistance, the public praise of God (in church) and, as already mentioned, answering people’s questions. All of these are explicitly connected in the Bible with advancing the gospel and winning people to Christ. They are all “mission” activities, and only a couple of them involve the lips at all.”

But wait. You say, observant reader that you are – this sounds exactly like that Sir Francis of Assisi misquote (h/t Gary Ware) that you don’t like: “always preach the gospel, when necessary use words” – you’ve said before that words are necessary. Thankfully, I’ve also said that I think a whole bunch of other stuff that communicates the truth of the gospel, deliberately, and alongside the use of words, also counts as word ministry (how we live/act, how we sing, multimedia, though I remain unconvinced about gospel mime).

I think words are necessary for word ministry, and for mission, but they aren’t the only part of our testimony. I think this book seeks to avoid people saying “words alone” – because our testimony will be much richer if we’re living them out, together, and letting people who are gifted in particular areas carry the load in those areas.

I like this quote from Augustine on the place of good works.

“Now of all who can with us enjoy God, we love partly those to whom we render services, partly those who render services to us, partly those who both help us in our need and in turn are helped by us, partly those upon whom we confer no advantage and from whom we look for none. We ought to desire, however, that they should all join with us in loving God, and all the assistance that we either, give them or accept from them should tend to that one end.”

Dickson is not denying that the gospel is words – he simply says we promote the gospel with more than words. Importantly he says this:

“Does this mean that people can start believing in Christ without hearing the gospel at all? No. As the apostle Paul makes clear, “faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). First Peter 3:1 shows us that the gospel’s role in conversion is more complex than we sometimes realise. It is not enough simply to affirm that people are won to faith only through the hearing of the gospel. Let me explain. Leaving aside the important theological observation that all conversion is ultimately the enlightening work of the Holy Spirit, let me try and account for conversion from the human side of the equation, which is what Paul and Peter are talking about in the above texts. Humanly speaking, hearing the gospel is the necessary and sufficient cause of faith in Christ. It is necessary inasmuch as people cannot put their faith in Jesus without first learning the gospel about him. It is sufficient in that the gospel can bring people to faith all on its own—it needs no other factor (other than the work of the Holy Spirit). However, none of this means that hearing the gospel is the only cause of faith, or even that it is always the primary cause of faith. Other factors (on the human side of the equation) will frequently play a minor or major role in winning people over to the One revealed in the gospel.”

I could wax lyrical about this book and its benefits for a couple of thousand words – or you could just buy it and read it.

I’ll start with what I thought was a question I would have liked a bit more time spent on, or where I think something could be added – the first is his definition of the gospel…

“The gospel is the announcement that God has revealed his kingdom and opened it up to sinners through the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity… Any account of the Christian gospel that does not narrate the basic content of the books we rightly call the Gospels does not deserve to be called a “gospel outline”. It might be a true and accurate statement of biblical truths—and, for that reason, valuable and useful for our hearers—but it is not the gospel that Jesus said must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10).”

I largely agree. I think the best three word reduction of the gospel is “Jesus is Lord” – if it was six words it would be “the resurrection shows Jesus is Lord” – but reductions suffer because they are simplifications… I’d want to suggest that while this is an incredibly useful description of the Gospel, it kind of cuts loose the Old Testament, especially creation and fall – which, though I have hesitations about the predominant usage of 2 Ways to Live (seriously, how many other conversations do people walk up to somebody, and unless they’re a professional cartoonist, or playing pictionary, say “can I draw you a picture”), though I have hesitations about this use – starting the gospel account from creation and fall is, I think, an essential part of the gospel narrative, I think John’s gospel, in the prologue, agrees with me, as does Matthew with his fronting of the genealogy – so this insight isn’t precluded by the summary above. I just think making it explicit is useful.

God’s role in creation, as the sole author of creation, is the foundation of his commitment to the act of promoting the gospel, so it’s not absent from his thinking. He says:

“There may be different ways of expressing it but I think I would have to answer this question with the simple statement: there is one God. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible makes the resounding, unapologetic declaration that there is just one Creator and Lord of the world. It begins in the Bible’s opening line: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). To ancient readers, this was not simply a sensible way to start a holy book. It was a huge swipe at the entire religious outlook of the time. The opening lines of the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, to give just one example from the period, list no fewer than nine separate gods, each with its own part to play in the events leading up to creation. Saying that “God created the heavens and the earth” was tantamount to saying that no other deity was involved in the universe… If there is just one God in the universe, everyone everywhere has a duty to worship that Lord.”

Tying the motivation for preaching to the Lordship of Jesus, rather than to fear of judgment or as some sort of good work, is incredibly freeing – from guilt, and from any sense of obligation, outside of the joyful gratitude that being one of the people of the true Lord of the universe brings. This is very helpful. He says:

“We promote God’s glory to the ends of the earth not principally because of any human need but fundamentally because of God’s/Christ’s unique worthiness as the Lord of heaven and earth. Promoting the gospel to the world is more than a rescue mission (though it is certainly that as well); it is a reality mission. It is our plea to all to acknowledge that they belong to one Lord.”

To which I say: “Amen”…

I think this paradigm really helpfully anchors the good that we do – promoting the Lordship of Jesus should be behind our care for the environment, and our love of other people – we do these things because both creation and people are good objects to love, but we ultimately do them because we live for the Lord Jesus, not ourselves – and the act declares something about that Lordship. It’s a complex relationship. I think “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“Good deeds must never be thought of as a missionary tactic, a means of getting people onside before hitting them with the gospel (“throwing cakes to children”, as Emperor Julian would say). They are the essential fruit of the gospel. Good works must be done for their own sake, in obedience to the Lord. God’s grace proclaimed in the gospel finds its essential outcome in the godly life of those who believe the gospel. Nevertheless, it is precisely because good deeds are an essential fruit of the gospel that they so powerfully promote the gospel. Although we must not find ourselves “doing good” simply as a gospel ploy, there can be no question that Jesus expected unbelievers to observe our acts of love (for the world and for one another29) and through them to be convinced to worship the source of all love: “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).”

He also says:

“Following the example of Paul and Jesus does not necessarily mean that we do what they did. It means that we live by the same flexible ethos, seeking the good of many so that they may be saved. Every aspect of our lives—including our social lives—can and should be directed toward the glory of God and the salvation of our neighbours.”

Being already convinced of the place of mission in the Old Testament – or the place it should have occupied in Israel’s approach to the nations – I found his stuff on Israel’s role as proclaimers of this truth convincing and helpful. Sadly, there was nothing that specifically supports my theory that the wisdom literature was a model of evangelism through participation in an international wisdom dialogue, as far as I know I’m still essentially alone there… but his understanding of how Israel was to promote the good news of God in their words, their life, their worship, and their distinctiveness from the nations is useful, and surely forms some of the working in developing a Biblical Theology of mission.

The sections relating to what it meant for Israel to evangelise by being Israel is, alone, worth the price of the book. This is one of the money paragraphs:

“Worship by the Book, Tim Keller of New York’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church writes: Israel was called to make God known to unbelieving nations (Ps 105:1) by singing his praises (Ps 105:2). The temple was to be the center of a “world-winning worship.” The people of God not only worship before the Lord but also before the nations (cf. Isa 2:1-4; 56:6-8; Ps 47:1; 100:1-5; 102:18; 117). God is to be praised before all nations, and as he is praised by his people, the nations are summoned and called to join in song. This pattern does not essentially change in the New Testament, where Peter tells a Gentile church to “declare the praises” of him who called us out of darkness. The term cannot merely refer to preaching but must also refer to gathered worship…

Passages like these illustrate just how natural it was for biblical writers to see corporate praise as public proclamation, as a type of evangelism. This doesn’t mean that all gospel proclamation is “praise” but it does mean that all true praise has the potential to be gospel proclamation, for in it we recount the wonders of Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection and return.”

I love it. If you read this post – that won’t come as a surprise.

This leads to a particular approach to how church is conducted – it’s not about being seeker sensitive, but about being clear about who we are praising, about why, and concerned about how we conduct our gatherings – concerned for their quality.

“There are all sorts of reasons some of our churches have visitors – location, architecture, demographics and so on-but, in my experience, the most significant factor is the quality of the church service. By “quality” I do not mean the professionalism of the leader or the standard of technology and music. I mean the degree to which the congregation revels in its experience of praising God and encouraging one another…

I want to stress in the strongest terms that visitor-focused services are not an evangelistic necessity. Normal church meetings conducted exceptionally well will not only inspire the regulars; they will draw in visitors and, through the powerful vehicle of our corporate praise, promote the gospel to them.”

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this book, in terms of its reception, and the bit that I took the most convincing on, is the question of the semantic range of the word “evangelist,” and specifically whether or not everybody has a responsibility to speak the gospel, not just promote it. Dickson’s take is interesting. I feel like he’s onto something. Especially because I’m pretty committed to the idea that the body is made up of different people with different gifts – but I feel like in the absence of other people gifted in evangelism, or in smaller manifestations of the body – people have to be evangelists, I don’t think this is something that Dickson would deny… but I can’t put words into his mouth, here’s what he says:

“We are involved in God’s mission, and so we must allow his Word to shape our part in it. The slogan “Every Christian an evangelist” has a noble purpose, but it is not a biblical way of speaking. For Christians in general—as opposed to evangelists in particular—telling the gospel to others (evangelism) could be described as the icing on the cake of mission.”

His argument essentially seems to be some people are icing specialists (evangelists), some people are cake makers (promoters of the gospel), and that it’s fine to just make cake because that’s where the substance is, and its the harder bit. I guess I’d want to say that everybody should be able to make the icing, and evangelists have to be pretty good at making cake too. Again. I don’t think he disagrees. His tips for picking those people who are especially called, or gifted, as evangelists are valuable – but I do think that each one of the characteristics (keenness to share the gospel, relate well to non-believers, Christian maturity, and clarity on what the gospel is – including speaking intelligibly) is something that all Christians should aspire to.

One other very minor criticism is only really relevant if you’re convinced that Bruce Winter is right about what Paul is doing at the Areopagus, in Acts 17, if his exercise is an exercise in wisely assessing the situation, and meeting a social convention for his audience, which expected to be introduced to “foreign gods,” while presenting the gospel, then I’d say Paul’s speech there isn’t an anomaly, but rather, an essential demonstration of his approach to gospel preaching. I’d argue that rather than simply being an apologetic to their concerns, it is a presentation of the gospel that adheres to how they expect to hear about new gods. But that’s not a point that in any sense undermines this fantastic book.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for me – personally – coming from a guy whose excellence I admire, as someone who is too often tempted to think that my own pursuit of excellence in evangelism will be what produces fruit, came in this paragraph…

“A few years after these strange days, I asked Glenda [the lady who led him, and many of his friends from school, to Jesus] what she put her “success” down to. Without blinking she answered, “Prayer. We prayed earnestly, regularly and specifically for your school, and the Lord in his grace answered us.” As an evangelist who is sometimes tempted to think too highly of skill, style and creativity in evangelism, her words were (and are) a salient reminder that the “harvest” is the Lord’s, not mine. The most basic gospel-promoting task, therefore, is not evangelism; it is prayer to the Lord of the harvest.”

This is really powerful stuff for anybody who thinks too highly of their own God given skills, and ability to think. I thoroughly recommend this book that you’ve hopefully all read already.

This has been bouncing around in my brain all evening.

Partly because of the title, I’m no longer surprised when they say dumb and harmful stuff. But especially because of this line: “They don’t, they don’t speak for us”

Here’s why they don’t speak for Christians. Christians who want to speak for Christians, and for God, have some parameters for their message that come from the Bible.

2 Corinthians 5:20

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Colossians 4:2-6

At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Romans 10:14

“14 How then will they call on him [Jesus] in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?”

Romans 15:18-20

18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation

Luke 4:18-19 (about Jesus)

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Oh yeah, and that has something to do with how Christians should think about themselves… (John 20:21)

21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

There’s a lot of stuff there, and a lot that I didn’t copy and paste, about talking about Jesus, and sharing the gospel – which is talking about Jesus. Not a whole lot there about railing against people you don’t like and calling them bullies.

If I was the type to create Super Apostles then John Chapman would be right at the top of my list. But he’d doubtless hate that. I love Chappo, and he frequently tops the list of “things I love about growing up in a ministry household”… Chappo is a family friend, which is splendiforous (a Chappoism).

Gordo has been posting the transcript of an interview between Chappo and Kel Richards over on his blog (part one, part two). It’s heartwarming and encouraging stuff to read the reflections of a wise saint who has lived his life pursuing God’s glory and telling people about Jesus. I highly commend them to you. Here’s a sample, where he talks about being/getting old…

“John: When you get old, you don’t become a different person. You’re the same person who was always there, only it takes you longer to do things. Why I thought I’d be able to catch up I’ve no idea. See, when you become old, you don’t become different.

One of the nice parts about living in this [retirement] village is, collectively, we’ve got an enormous amount of knowledge. If you want to know how to do something, there’s somebody here to teach you. And, that’s the nice part about living with a hundred and twenty, hundred and fifty people. Amongst us all, we’ve got a massive amount of skills. You want to learn to use the computer, the computer club’ll spend time, and they’ve got it, to do with you. If you want to play chess and board games, there’s someone who’ll play with you in the living, in the sitting room.

Kel: So if old age is just like the rest of life, then older people, even though death is approaching, don’t give any extra thought to God.

John: Don Howard* used to tell a story of a man he visited in Burwood East. And he urged this man to turn to Christ, he was fit and well. And he said Don I don’t need God.

Don said I visited him in hospital where he was lapsing in and out of consciousness. And Don said you don’t have a lot of time left, you should turn to Christ. And he said you don’t think a fit man like me is about to die do you?

Now you see, if you’ve spent a lifetime of saying no, why would you suddenly say yes? There’s no more new information to have. I’m a sinner; Christ died for me; I need to repent; I need to trust him. If I don’t believe that when I’m seventeen, there’s odds on I won’t believe it at 37.”

*Don Howard is my grandfather.

The World Council of Churches has taken upon its good self to release a guideline for converting the dirty heathen. Here is the document – Christian Witness in a Multi-religious world. But for now. This seems:

a) Dumb.
b) Possibly well motivated.
c) Unlikely to be effective.
d) All of the above.

Here’s a Reuters story that will no doubt filter through the interwebs and the media this week.

“It reaffirms their right to seek converts but also urges them to abandon “inappropriate methods of exercising mission by resorting to deception and coercive means”, saying that such behaviour “betrays the Gospel and may cause suffering to others”.

That seems ok. Right? Coercion is bad. But what could they possibly mean by that? Bait and switch “we’ll give you food if you convert” doesn’t really appeal to anybody but the most hardened numbers driven pragmatists.

Here’s what the story suggests…

“Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches.”

The problem, I’m noticing, is that this seems to suggest some sort of dichotomy where we are to seek converts using words and logical arguments, rather than actions. Deeds follow doctrine. Love is an important part of Christian testimony. It should be precisely that we offer the above, without strings attached, that serves as evangelism in multi-religious impoverished countries.

The WCC document actually recognises this tension (and having had a read through it, doesn’t do a bad job)…

Acts of service, such as providing education, health care, relief services and acts of justice and advocacy are an integral part of witnessing to the gospel. The
exploitation of situations of poverty and need has no place in Christian outreach. Christians should denounce and refrain from offering all forms of allurements, including financial incentives and rewards, in their acts of service.

Here’s the media release from the World Council of Churches spruiking its document.

I set out really wanting to dislike this document. Who is a post-modern ecumenical council to try to tell us how to do a job the Bible already spells out pretty clearly? And I’ve decided it’s actually not bad. And it’s sad that there’s a perceived need for a document like this. Have a read and tell me what you think.

In my time as a PR hack for a regional lobby group one of the golden rules I learned for lobbying via the media (or for trying to change opinion via the media) is to stay on message. Over and over again. Make sure you get your point across. Make sure the questions you get asked become opportunities to give the answers you want to give. Done well, this is brilliant. A good message (or platform) is important.

We all hate the way modern politicians seem to simply repackage the same sound bite over and over again in broadcast interviews. When they do it, and get caught out, they look dumb. But most of the time they don’t get caught out. Because journalists, in reality, are after an eight second sound bite. And you’re much better off making sure that eight seconds is going to cover the message you want them to cover, not the message they want to cover. Being mindlessly on message is better than talking about things without being on message.

The best way to be on message is to know how your message, or more correctly, your platform, relates to the issue at hand. For a politician that doesn’t mean banging on about “creating jobs” or “stopping boats” it means giving reasons that the policy decision has been reached in a way that is attractive to a voter. A good way to do this is to involve real people. People like stories about people. But integrating one’s party platform with one’s media statement in a way that is catchy and repeatable is one step towards using the media effectively.

It can be hard being on message in the middle of a broadcast interview, and especially hard if it’s in the form of a debate, which has been the case in many of Wendy Francis’ recent TV appearances. But it is incredibly easy to be on message in a media release, and if a media release isn’t on message it shouldn’t be released, because anything you say that is not on message is a distraction from your real message. Let me repeat that in bold.

If a media release isn’t on message it shouldn’t  be released, because anything you say that is not on message is a distraction from your real message.

Unless you have some sort of key performance indicator that involves distributing a certain number of releases per month, or some sort of contractual obligation,  you should only put out releases that have a point. If you do have such KPIs or obligations you should seriously consider changing them. Nothing is more damaging than a brand than irrelevant and confusing messaging. Because when you have something valuable to say you’re either less credible, or a story will make reference to your previous position on an unrelated issue, or people just won’t listen to you because you’ve become the proverbial boy crying wolf.

Which brings me to the Australian Christian Lobby. And my big problem with how they do PR and how they’re almost never “on message”. Well, they’re not on “gospel” message anyway. A simple yardstick for being on message for a Christian Lobby would be talking about Jesus, wouldn’t it? Given that Jesus puts the Christ in Christian and is the leader of our political party, and that all our interactions with culture should be framed by the relationship we have with him by grace, and his Lordship over the world… I’d say Jesus is pretty foundational to Christian belief, and thus, Christian lobbying.

But not according to the Australian Christian Lobby. Now. A lot of the releases they put out in the Month of May are about good stuff. Serious issues. Issues where a Christian voice is valuable and necessary. And they get copious media coverage. They are nominally the spokespeople for the Christian cause in Australia. They keep getting wheeled out in front of cameras and recorders and notepads. And they keep straying off message. It’s foundational stuff.

Here’s a wordle of their media releases from May. I’ve removed the names of spokespeople quoted because they were a dominant feature.*

Now. You may think it’s unfair to take a sample of media releases about issues where they are on message about a response to an issue which may over cloud mentions of Jesus, word cloud wise. Which would be fair enough. But none of these releases actually mentioned Jesus. There is no flavouring of the gospel involved. Defenders of the ACL in recent days have mentioned that we’re called to be salt and light. Fair enough. But this isn’t even salty stuff. And, lest you think that just picking the word “Jesus” isn’t fair, I conducted the same exercise with the words gospel, God, and Bible. And got no results. Search results on their website reveal that most mentions of Jesus come in mentions of the Jesus: All About Life campaign, which they support.

A media messaging strategy for a Christian organisation of any flavour, but particularly a public voice of Christianity claiming to speak for all of us (they’re not called the Politically conservative Christians from Australia Lobby are they…), should fundamentally involve the issue that Christians of all flavours agree on. The Lordship of Jesus. Further, they should be motivated to see other people acknowledge that Lordship. While addressing injustice is a fundamental Christian activity, doing it in a manner so removed from our motivation is an off message distraction. This is why I think Christians who are interested in moral issues should form some sort of family/morality lobby (maybe stop the charade that Family First is a political party and turn them into a lobby group) and the Christian Lobby should get on with being a Christian voice (a role they try to claim for themselves on their about us page without actually mentioning Jesus, or the gospel, again). They claim a Christian “worldview” and yet don’t articulate it. A Christian worldview must start at the foot of the cross and work outwards, not start with morality and work inwards. The cross makes morality make sense.

Here’s what I think a Christian media strategy should look like, from 1 Peter 3:

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

At the moment the ACL is failing on most counts, but still copping the slander. Why not do the first bit well, at least then you’re being slandered for a reason. And you’re not distracting people from the work of the gospel.

Interestingly, one of the few pages on the ACL site that mentions Jesus (that’s not a daily summary of news from around the traps) is an article they’ve posted from Sydney Anglicans where Michael Jensen talks about Jesus and the gospel alongside gay marriage. He integrates his key message with a response to an issue.

Deviations from the message of Jesus are a distraction from the gospel. But the message of Jesus has relevance to all areas and issues of society. The ACL, at this stage, aren’t doing a great job of integrating these two concepts.

*Data Source: Australian Christian Lobby National Media Releases from the Month of May:

 

To say I’m not a fan of the Way of the Master evangelism methodology is an understatement. The name is misleading – unless by “Master” they mean Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort. Because Jesus didn’t evangelise the way they suggest you evangelise. I share their enthusiasm for the great commission, and for looking for opportunities to evangelise, but to suggest that all proclamations of the gospel should begin with a proclamation of the predicament that requires the gospel is a little misleading (check out their “how to botch an altar call” article.

I don’t like their methodology. I’d say that for every one person they lead to the cross they’ve turned away significantly more by the way they present the message. They’re seasoned with hot chilli, rather than salt.

And perhaps the bit I don’t like most of all is their money tract. Used by cheap Christians instead of tipping all over the US. It’s products like this trillion dollar bill that make me glad I don’t live in the states, because I can’t imagine having to try explaining the lack of monetary tip to the waitress who has done a great job of serving a customer only to be left one of these in the place of actual money:

You can’t pay for your groceries with one of these – and yet there are bozos out there (and I’ve spoken to a few Christian waitstaff who have been given these) who leave these as a substitute for a tip. Perhaps because they’ve actually bought each Trillion Dollar Bill for $5. Here. Buy some of my fake money for $5. That’s a get rich quick scheme.

Ray Comfort suggests that this note is actually a “light hearted way to get the message across” – which it could potentially be, if the message on the back was an invitation to start building a relationship with a church that teaches about Jesus. Instead the blurb on the back reads:

“The trillion-dollar question: Will you go to Heaven when you die? Here’s a quick test. Have you ever told a lie, stolen anything, or used God’s name in vain? Jesus said, “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Have you looked with lust? Will you be guilty on Judgment Day? If you have done those things, God sees you as a lying, thieving, blasphemous adulterer at heart. The Bible warns that if you are guilty you will end up in Hell.”

That’s the opening. Now. It’s all true. And they do get to Jesus. Eventually – but who is going to keep reading? I know one guy who was converted reading some tracts, but only after he’d spent so much time with the lady who gave them to him that he thought “maybe I should read that stuff she gave me”…

Here’s where the blurb goes next.

“God, who the Bible says is “rich in mercy” sent His Son to suffer and die on the cross for guilty sinners. We broke God’s Law, but Jesus paid our fine. That means He can legally dismiss our case. He can commute our death sentence: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Then He rose from the dead and defeated death. Please, repent (turn from sin) today and God will grant everlasting life to all who trust in Jesus. Then read your Bible daily and obey it.”

God loves you. He paid the price. Turn to Jesus. Trust and obey. Great. That’s the gospel. (though it does have huge potential to become pretty legalistic, doesn’t it? Is daily Bible reading really required for those who trust in Jesus?).

There is just so much wrong with the strategy behind this. It completely fails to understand the importance of medium in presenting a message. It’s just awful. How any Christian can not see how important and related medium and message are when we worship the Lord Jesus, God’s word become flesh, is beyond me. If that’s not a case of medium and message being all wrapped up together I don’t know what is.

The problem isn’t just “strategic” – in reacting against something bad (sloppy presentations of an “all loving God”) these guys have gone to the other extreme. And I’d like to see a passage in the Bible where Jesus deals with an outsider by treating them as an outsider. I’m writing an exegesis paper on the story of Zacchaeus today, where a corrupt outcast meets Jesus, who doesn’t turn to him and say “Zacc, you’re a horrible sinner and you must repent before I’ll have anything to do with you.” No. He says: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” And then Zacchaeus responds by repenting. I just don’t get the “way of the master” part of the act of handing out fake money that tells people they’re going to Hell.

Get it. These are “tracts”… I’ll be here all day. These are from a blog dedicated to such ethereal ephemera called Old Time Religion. They remind me that I should finally start my “bad Christian books” blog – I’ve got about thirty books on my shelf that I haven’t blogged yet, and I still haven’t finished reviewing Help Lord the Devil Made me Fat.





Steven Anderson likes to say controversial things to get attention. It works. Here’s his take on Bieber Fever.

It’s pretty much all because the NIV translators use the word “male” instead of “men”… and being effeminate is a sin. See 1 Corinthians 6:9. In the KJV because that’s Anderson’s preferred version.

9Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

I suspect, given the Roman cultural context of the passage, there may actually be some homosexual undertones to this word (certainly there’s reference to that in the ESV translation notes). The ESV translates it as:

9Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Here’s the Greek – which means Mr Anderson isn’t being very nice to Justin Bieber.

μαλακός,a \{mal-ak-os’}
1) soft, soft to the touch  2) metaph. in a bad sense  2a) effeminate  2a1) of a catamite  2a2) of a boy kept for homosexual relations with a man  2a3) of a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness  2a4) of a male prostitute

Once you’ve jumped on the meterosexual hating bandwagon – here’s how to doorknock… I love the way he listens.

Oh. My. I hope this is satirical. I really do. From a website called Date to Save comes this list of tips for using your looks for the gospel.

From the site:

“Hello, my name is Tamara! As you can probably tell, I’m a Christian woman who loves Jesus Christ and cares for all humans, even the wicked. What you probably don’t know is that I’m hot. My picture below isn’t really that good. I want to use my beauty for GOD, and want to encourage Christian women (my sisters in Christ) to do the same, according to the Great Commission.”

“So, I created this web page for information regarding the calling of Missionary Dating. First of all, it helps that you’re good looking. Romans 12:1 says “to offer your bodies as living sacrifices.” Since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), it makes sense that we should use our beautiful bodies to glorify HIS name, the Holy Spirit will work the strongest since He’s in our body, right? That’s the best position to be in!

Not only can we date hot guys (as only hot Christian girls could do), but hopefully we can lead them to God and help them get saved them from the burning fires of Hell. I’ve outlined a few tips to help you get a date off to the right start, step-by-step. Jesus saves through hooking up with cute heathen guys!”

Ten Tips for Hot Christian Evangelism
1. If he tells you that you are hot…
Tell him God made you hot.

2. If he wants to hold your hand…
Give him a Bible.

3. If he tries to get closer…
Tell him the Holy Spirit is wooing him.

4. If he asks to pay for dinner…
Remind him that Jesus also paid a debt He did not owe!

5. If he reaches his arm around you…
Tell him that nobody will ever be as close to you as Jesus is.
(or ask him if you instead could “lay hands” on him in prayer)

6. If he tries to kiss you…
Remind him that a kiss killed your Savior.
(and you’re not ready to “speak in tongues”)

7. If he asks to come inside…
Ask him if he has asked Jesus to come inside his heart.

8. If he tells you he loves you…
Tell him that Jesus loves him.

9. If he gets angry that you won’t put out…
Clarify to him that W.W.J.D. does NOT mean “Who would Jesus Do.”

10. After you dump him…
Tell him that Jesus Christ will never leave or forsake him.

Chick Tracts: the movie

Nathan Campbell —  January 16, 2011

These are awful. Just awful. They get the gospel right, but the packaging is just terrible. Dude. Dude. Dude.

The Christian trucker has crazy eyes. And Hell (at 5.39) looks a lot like a scene from Lord of the Rings.

“Let me shake you up dude. The Bible says Jesus created you.”

“Listen good dude. Your house is on fire. You’re going to hell in a grease bowl. And Satan’s laughing his head off.”

Insanity prevails

Nathan Campbell —  October 10, 2010

The internet is atwitter (it’d be abuzz if Google’s social networking effort didn’t suck quite so much) with news that the Insane Clown Posse, famously shocking shock rockers who fuse professional wrestling, abhorrent lyrics about sex and gangster violence with clown make up and circus garb, have been covert Christians for 20 years, trying to bring people to Jesus through the power of gangster. If true they are the poster boys for “contextualisation” gone wrong.

Read a couple of articles… like this one, and this one, tell me what you think. There are lyrical clues in some of their songs. But they are alongside such gems as:

“She hit me in the balls. I grabbed her by her neck. And I bounced her off the walls. She said it was an accident and then apologised. But I still took my elbow and blackened both her eyes”

Which is apparently satire.

Or:

“Barrels in your mouth/bullets to your head/The back of your neck’s all over the shed/Boomshacka boom chop chop bang.”

Here’s their testimony in a newly released single to clear up years of “mystery” surrounding the clues they’ve dropped over the course of their career, including a six album series.

“F*** it, we got to tell.

All secrets will now be told

No more hidden messages

…Truth is we follow GOD!!!

We’ve always been behind him

The carnival is GOD

And may all juggalos find him

We’re not sorry if we tricked you.”

Interesting. Undercover gangster rapper agents might not have been quite what Paul had in mind when he spoke of being all things to all men. But here’s the rationale from the two insane clowns:

“You have to speak their language. You have to interest them, gain their trust, talk to them and show you’re one of them. You’re a person from the street and you speak of your experiences. Then at the end you can tell them: God has helped me.”

Even the journalist writing that article could spot a problem with the logic:

“Of course, one might argue that 20 years was, under the circumstances, an incredibly long time for them to have pretended to be unholy, and that, from a Christian perspective, the harm they did while feigning unholiness may even have outweighed the greater good.”

If you’re curious to see what undercover Christian gangster rappers look and sound like, here’s a video from one of their more overtly “Christian” songs. I haven’t listened to the words yet, but doubtless it needs a language warning (as do those links).

This was the last session and concluded with a nice little summary of how these thoughts can be used in meeting culture with the gospel.

Self-rule and self-mastery

If we are to exercise dominion over creation then that should start with the creature closest to us – ourselves. This is one of the things that distinguishes us from the animals. Animals don’t exercise self-control. We can train them, but they are driven by instinct. We are humans who are less than human because we do not exercise dominion over ourselves.

Esau, the hairy baby, is portrayed as a beastly human – a hunter who is at home in the wild.  Jacob is more “ideal” – but he has to cover himself in goat skin, like an animal, in order to trick Isaac.

Esau lives on instinct, like an animal. He sells his birthright to satisfy his hunger. He’s not exercising self control.

This opens up some interesting angles on our culture – we define what it is to be human in degrading, instinctive, animalistic terms – “if it feels good do it” is the modus operandi of animals. Does our advertising sell the human experience or a sub-human experience?

Christian ethics – like abstinence before marriage – is decried as unhuman. It’s a case of exercising self-control.

We need a rich and diverse presentation of the gospel to reach our culture – because not every angle will hit every person.

The good news of the gospel is our hyper-restoration. We’re not just restored to Adam’s status but beyond. We go past the pristine. There’s a way out of our beastialised humanity. There’s a way for us to exercise dominion over creation, and ourselves. The gospel reconceives what it means to be human. The question “What does it mean to be human?” is a great way to address our culture with the gospel.

The good news of the gospel is not just about Christ – but about Christ and his Spirit. We’re often Christocentric in a way that forgets the Spirit. It can seem like evangelicals are a bit embarrassed by Jesus’ humanity – we like to focus on his divinity. Our definition of true and normal humanity is skewed – we talk about our reality, normal humanity, as though our fallen selves are the norm. Perhaps Jesus’ humanity is the norm – and is in line with our created identity (ie that which we were created to be prior to the fall). Jesus is the true bearer of the divine image. The true human (in his sinlessness). It’s not super humanity but true humanity.  It’s where we’ll be in our resurrected state. Sin is the aberration. We say “to err is human” but that’s really a definition of what it means to be fallen humans.

Jesus may, in fact, be no more than humanity as it’s meant to be. The resurrected Jesus is as humanity was always meant to be.

The writer of Hebrews reads Psalm 8 as a prophecy about the Messiah. “We see him for a little while made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour.”

True humanity submits to God’s authority – which is what Jesus did, in the extreme, at the cross.

The writer of Hebrews doesn’t limit this picture of glorified humanity to Jesus alone – but puts it as the destination for humanity through Jesus – the purpose of Jesus’ resurrection is to bring many sons to glory. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again so that we might become like him as “sons of God” – not in a vague liberal sense that we’re all sons of god, but to be what Adam was supposed to be.

The doctrine of glorification (eg Romans 8) – we need to think about this doctrine as a now but not yet doctrine – yes, it’s our condition in the age to come, but the power that will transform us (the Holy Spirit) is already at work in us. Mostly it’s not yet. But that power of transforming us into glorified people is already at work in us. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us human in a way that God’s breath into Adam made him human. We’re being made a new people, now glorious.

When we are speaking about what it means to live as true humans Jesus should be our starting point because he is the “true human.”

Ethics

Living as true humans has to mean living in Christ. Once you come at it this way, Christian ethics are simply to live humanly (rather than animalistically).

If we are to understand our fallen humanity as “beastly” where we live without self-control and on instinct. Peter uses the analogy of “brute beasts” when describing those who blaspheme – “creatures of instinct born only to be destroyed”…

Our tendency is to live by instinct. We should, instead, be living via the fruit of the Spirit, a redefinition of what it means to be human (Galatians 5), where self-control gets a Guernsey. Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 9, with an athletic comparison, also uses self-discipline as a key for life as a Spirit empowered human. The new human is united to Christ and empowered by the Spirit and so is beginning to exercise the dominion that Adam was meant to exercised over creation.

Self-control is about every area of our lives – not just about sex. It’s about our tempers, about controlling our tongues, about controlling our diets, it’s about controlling our passions. This is counter-intuitive in our culture, which regards self-control as an unnecessary prohibition.  Our world looks at self-control and calls it a vice (cf Romans 1).

When we look at the fruit of the spirit we should think “this is what it means to be human, no more and no less.”

Fresh angles on evangelism.

We live in a world where everybody is questing to be truly human.

Every religion and ideology, every political vision, is built on the question of what it means to be truly human.

Our political debate is just an expression of what it means to be truly human. The health care debate in the US is also underpinned by what it means to be truly human. The debate about gay rights, our popular culture (eg Twilight), just about every expression in our world is undergirded by this question of what it means to be truly human. We say that the definition of true humanity focuses on the question of Jesus Christ – who shows us what it means to be God, and also what it means to be truly man.

We say “consider Jesus” the one true human, defining humanity by any other starting point is defective. We, as Christians, should be modeling what it means to be human. We are the ones living the truly alternate lifestyle. Our task is to live humanly and model what it means to be truly human.

We are united to Jesus and have begun the process of becoming truly human. We don’t get up and pronounce that we’ve got something that others don’t – but we do model this fuller picture of humanity. As we become more “godlike,” as the Spirit transforms us, we become more human, and then we become advertisements for the gospel.

Our gospel message is redefining and modeling humanity in a way that is hopefully attractive to the people around us.

Deuteronomy – when Israel keeps the law the nations go “oh what a wise God you have…”

Australia is ahead of the US in terms of being a “post-Christian” society – the US is moving that way and grappling with the question of what that will look like.

Kim Dale is a Pressy minister in Queensland, he does a fair bit of thinking on apologetics, and in particular the issue of worldviews. He was essentially converted through apologetic dialogue with a Christian. He’s our guest lecturer today. These are my notes – unless indicated they are rough or direct quotes from Kim.

Apologetics: The written and spoken defense of the Gospel where there is opposition, and it’s done in love.

This definition prevents apologetics just being “argument” for argument’s sake. There may be times when it might seem like that.

On Walk Up Evangelism: One of the drawbacks is that you don’t actually want to get engaged for a long time – we need to think about the relationship between apologetics and evangelism. There’s an organic relationship between apologetics and evangelism.

We have to be ready and prepared to give answers – but we need to be doing that in a loving way.

Francis Schaeffer, in The Mark of the Christian calls love “the final apologetic” – if we aren’t demonstrating love then we may get really frustrated in the attempt of sharing the Gospel. Schaeffer says we need to be able to give the message of the gospel and be prepared to actually give it when the situation arrives. Schaeffer uses John 17.

Apologetics needs to take place, where possible, in a community of Christians – there needs to be some exposure to the nature of Christian relationships and Christian people in order to see the genuineness of Christian love. That’s part of the deal of apologetics. Sometimes it may seem artificial to get people involved. Even if it seems that way at first they need to see the genuine love of God – which is often beyond us as individuals.

There can be situations where we don’t want to bring anybody to our churches – because of the presence of hypocrisy – where all our arguments will, as a general rule, fail on the basis of love.

There might be times where what you’re going to do, so far as apologetics is concerned, is just show love. Rather than rehashing old arguments. Getting to know people and where they’re coming from is a good move. We can get overly defensive or offensive when it comes to the gospel.

Where do we do it?

Normally we would think of apologetics as something we do outside the church, with non-believers. But we have to defend the gospel in the church. It has an important place inside the church. The overwhelming amount of information available in modern culture can be overpowering. We have to expose ourselves to this information, and it can be enjoyable. But we have to be prepared to take a break.

The religious and philosophical scheme is so diverse that it’s inevitable that the church is effected on the inside by what is happening on the outside. We need to defend the faith from the pulpit – people within the life of the church will doubtless call on you to make such a defense.

We’re to be “on guard,” but it’s not just defense – we need to be prepared to correct or destroy ideas (in love) to dismantle and break down harmful ideas both within and without. There’s “knowledge” that sets itself up against God. And that has to be dealt with. Sometimes these moves should be in public (and we see books published addressing anti-God arguments). There is an offensive strategy that we need to embrace.

Part of apologetics is clarifying other people’s thinking for them – asking “how can you make the judgment?” and “on what basis?” Get people to question basic assumptions.

Areas where having thought about apologetics have helped Kim.

  1. Going through the membership vows – and the person says “I believe that, but I also believe in reincarnation”… where do you go from there?
  2. Some people wanting to become members said “we used to belong to the Presbyterian Church, my wife taught Sunday School”… and in going through things like the divinity of Christ and they say “yes, in the same way that I’m divine too, as a son of God.” Where do you go if they’re not going to change on those positions. You explain the faith, and you deal with the consequences.
  3. When receiving an email after a sermon that said “when you were preaching there was a halo around you and three angels standing behind you” and then went on with a bunch of numerology stuff…
  4. God can’t act until we pray” said from the pulpit when doing prayer in the morning.

What if he’d said “yes” to all of those – you need to make sense and be doctrinally consistent. That’s the necessity of apologetics inside the church. We need to have some interactions with the other ideas that are out there.

How do you deal with people when you know they have odd ideas?

Try to get to know them, outside of the Sunday morning context, get them in a situation where they’re learning (eg a Growth Group), it can, for individuals, take a tragedy or difficulty and you being there pastorally.