Friday, January 20, 2012

Rethinking Christian Witness -- Part Two

New Orleans - sharing the good news
after a day of gutting this family's
How else have I been challenged in my thinking about evangelism—sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? Fourth, I have found it helpful and necessary, as others have, to question periodically the received tradition. This can bring necessary change and renewed perspective and conviction.  When I visited with George Hunsberger at a local restaurant this past year, he mentioned that for many, evangelism in the second half of the 20th century was based on the sales model. I have to admit as a former Campus Crusade for Christ staff member with a business degree that I recognized and embraced the similarities. The emphasis was often on “closing the sale” by leading a person to pray to receive Jesus. What George mentioned is that there are other paradigms for sharing the gospel such as the journalist model . A journalist is a storyteller, but in order to do this he or she must ask questions, listen to others’ stories, and then write or tell the story.  The goal of the journalist is not “to sell” or “close the deal” but to ask, learn, comment, and then, tell. I appreciate the humility of this model. It communicates that we are here to learn about others, to understand their stories, and as we have opportunity, to share the story of Jesus with them and how it intersects with their stories.  This introduces a fifth challenge that has reshaped my thinking.  In our postmodern context, we must operate with humility, not arrogance that we” know it all.” While we embrace the truth of the gospel, we cannot approach others as though we have all the answers. And we don’t!  While a seminar in apologetics can help us answer questions that we or others may have, it runs the danger of us coming across as experts with all the right answers. The problem may not be in what we say but how we say it. Again, it is necessary to maintain an attitude and posture of humility. As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”We need to acknowledge the limits of what we do and can know.  We need to empower others in conversation by asking questions that they have and then joining them to find answers.  A sixth area of Christian witness that I have been challenged to re-examine is the gospel itself.  What is the gospel? This question makes some nervous, especially since we are “evangel-icals”, those who believe the “evangel”—the gospel.  On this point my former professor at TEDS Scot McNight in his book The King Jesus Gospel says that we have not been proclaiming the gospel but rather a reduced-to-a-minimum, personalized soteriology (doctrine of salvation). I agree.  In contrast, the gospel as told in the Gospels, as well as in Acts and the Epistles, is the story of Israel fulfilled in the story of Jesus.  While this story clearly has application to individuals, it is a story about God’s work in creation, humankind’s fall, God’s work of redemption in Israel, the coming of Jesus the Messiah, his life, death, burial and resurrection. I think we need to be faithful at telling this story and simply invite people to believe.

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