Evangelism- No Time to Talk

“Are you a member of a good church?”

In the Bible Belt, this is a common beginning to a conversation with unexpected strangers knocking at your door. Granted, that doesn’t happen so often. A few months ago, two kind ladies from a local Baptist church came by while doing some door-to-door ‘visiting’. I answered ‘yes’ to their first question, and then I described our church’s location. I offered that I served as a deacon, hoping to indicate that I wasn’t the backslidden Southern Baptist they apparently thought I was- gauging from their strained smiles.

Given the tenor of the conversation thus far, the next question was unexpected:

“Sir, if you died today do you know if you would go to be with Jesus in heaven?”

Let’s get right to it, shall we? I hesitated: “Yes… would you like to come inside to talk about that?”

They both said that they were just “passing through” the neighborhood and that they couldn’t stay long. They couldn’t stay. They had the time to ask me about my eternal destiny, but not to hear what I had to say about it?

The lady gave one more attempt at nailing a hard answer from me. She asked if I was sure that there was a “point in time” when I “asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior.” I reiterated that I would love to talk with them about that, but since they were in a hurry… The speaker’s companion realized how impertinent they must have seemed because she volunteered that they would love to hear my story.

I invited them inside to meet my wife and children, but I didn’t keep them long. I hoped that they would see that their questions were deeply personal and that they would therefore require personal answers. Again, they were very kind, but I was concerned with the outworking of their sincerely held beliefs. It was as though they thought life’s big questions don’t require contemplation or elaboration. Just answer the question. Bada boom, bada bing- read our tract, pray our prayer, provide the password (a ‘testimony’) so we can move on to the neighbors.

After they left, I wanted to help my kids think through the interview they had seen. I was obviously displeased with what I saw as a flippant representation of evangelism. Besides failing to even ask my name, there was the pervasive sense of mistrust- it didn’t seem possible to them that I was a Christian until I agreed to their- frankly, unbiblical terminology.

roman_road_02However, if I wasn’t careful, I could leave the impression that it is inappropriate to talk to strangers about God. Even now, after months of hesitation, this post feels more bitter than it ought to be. I do believe that talking to everyone about God is one of our highest callings, and I wish more evangelicals were as willing as these women to do so. I wanted my children to appreciate the zeal of these women, while acknowledging with grace that their zeal lacked biblical moorings. I wanted them to learn to go to people where they are, asking hard questions, while also being willing to listen to hard questions in return.

We should aim again and again to do this consistently with the spirit and doctrine of the Apostles. No trick questions, no heuristically chopping the Romans Road into a Few Random Bits of Paving Stones from the Romans Road.

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. ~ Paul, 2 Cor.4:2

 

Thoughts on Faith

This post is by Rich Powell, pastor of Grace Bible Church in Winston Salem, NC. You can find out more about him here or hear his expositions of Scripture at gbcnc.org. Reprinted with the gracious permission of the author. 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. Rom. 2:28-29

Circumcision, for the Jews (the “people of God”), was a ceremonial symbol of identification and distinction. But each one, personally and individually, had to place his faith in God. That is why the “real” Jew, according to the apostle, was not one who just carried the outward symbol but possessed a real inward distinction of surrendered trust in the Creator/Redeemer.

Now that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law for all, we who are in Christ are the people of God by faith, meaning: in my heart and mind- at the level of thought and desire- I am set apart and devoted to Jesus Christ. That symbol of identification and distinction is “circumcision of the heart.”

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The apostle is driving home the difference between real fruit that grows naturally from within the tree, as opposed to aesthetic fruit that is superficially pinned to a dead branch. Externals, symbols, and group identifications do not put us in right standing with God and certainly do not fulfill His purposes.

Reconciliation to God through faith is not by identifying with a group or keeping a ritual, but by a personal surrender to Jesus Christ and singular trust in His sacrifice to redeem me to Himself.

God sees your heart. What is He finding?

Repentance as Cultural Engagement

…From whence I have often since observed, how incongruous and irrational the common temper of mankind is, especially of youth, to that reason which ought to guide them in such cases, viz., that they are not ashamed to sin, and yet are ashamed to repent; not ashamed of the action, for which they ought justly to be esteemed fools; but are ashamed of the returning, which only can make them be esteemed wise men.  ~ Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Repentance

Pride is the anti-gospel. It promises exaltation but ultimately belittles. In the passage above, Defoe says we’re unashamed to sin, yet we’re too ashamed to repent. I know by experience what he’s describing. In the past, I have worked myself into a shameless rage only to refuse the one remedy to restore relationships and show that I possessed an ounce of wisdom- repentance.

The apostle Paul argued that this problem is deep rooted, permeating any culture that we encounter. Mankind doesn’t see fit to acknowledge God (Romans 1:28), and it replaces a life of praise to God with a life of praise to every god that it can create.

How does this point us to the cultural implications of this problem? Our culture, no matter its strengths or advances, has incurred the wrath of God (Romans 1:18) by its spiraling tendency to self-preeminence.

The church can be tempted to leave it there. “Yep, the world is a mess. It doesn’t know God.” The real brokenness is out there. But Paul wrote Romans 2, among other reasons, to remind us that we stand in the same fearful need. Here is where we have a wonderful chance to remind ourselves of what it means to take the gospel to our culture and see its ability to use us in our brokenness and failures.

If repentance and faith are our means of relating to God, then these characteristics should lie at the foundation of the life of the church. A repentant and believing church shows how powerful the gospel is by demonstrating that faith and repentance aren’t just things that we did at one point in the past- it’s our working out the salvation begun in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you –unless you believed in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

Make no mistake about it, your salvation is still happening. Ultimately, these gospel realities show to the watching world that the gospel matters- all the time. If I am truly communing with the Lord in faith and repentance, the people I interact with will see that, quoth the hymn: “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” He will root out the self-righteousness in me and thereby free me to truly engage culture as an humbled minister of reconciliation.

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. ~ Martin Luther

Virtue and the Question of Your Hypocrisy

In my last post I dealt with the question of whether it made biblical sense to say that sanctification required moral effort. The suggestion that Aristotle made that “we become just by doing just actions”[1] was echoed by Lewis when he wrote that by “putting on Christ,” we were, in effect, “dressing up as a son of God in order that you may become a real son.”[2]

So, if one is said to possess character by doing virtuous actions, does the idea of doing an action without the inward inclination imply hypocrisy? Take as an example that you are wrongly maligned at work. Everything inside you urges you to be defensive and snarky. Are you rightly considered just when you hold your tongue and respond politely?

Putting Romanticism in its proper place

N.T. Wright, in his book, After You Believe, deals with this question as well as the broader question of how Christianity reformulates and eclipses the Aristotelean virtue tradition. For issue of hypocrisy, Wright argues that we’re being tripped up by what he calls “the old romantic fallacy.” He says:

“Let us name and shame, as being totally inadequate, the idea that if something is done spontaneously it carries an automatic validation, whereas if something is done through obeying orders, or after careful reflection, or despite enormous amounts of pressure of various kinds to do something else, it is somehow less valuable, or even ‘hypocritical’ because you weren’t really ‘being true to yourself’”.[3]

As he goes on to say later, genuine artistic inspiration requires perspiration. So to say that working on your temper makes you a bit hypocritical because it didn’t come naturally, would be akin to criticizing Lewis for having to write and rewrite his work for the purpose of honing and sharpening it!

Tell em, Paul!

At the great risk of oversimplifying what Paul has said on this subject, we cannot overemphasize the importance that the renewing of our minds plays into this daily habit-forming transformation. “Do not be conformed to this world,” he explains, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”[4] This line of thinking runs through much of Paul’s writing. Remember from Romans 1 that mankind has incurred God’s judgment because “they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”[5] Paul saw that the Christian heart and mind must be renewed by the daily, patient working and walking with the Spirit in light of how God has revealed Himself in Scripture.

[1] Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. Roger Crisp (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 23

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Co., 1960), 166

[3] N.T. Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2010), 55

[4] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2002) Romans 12:2. See also Eph. 4:13-16; Phil. 1:9-11.

[5] Ibid. Romans 1:21 See also, Eph. 4:17-19.