Thursday, March 13, 2014

This is Your Life!: Evangelism in the 21st Century

Most of us would rather go down a slide of razor blades into a pool of alcohol than share our faith with someone!
 
Well, maybe not.  But nearly all of us are at least hesitant if not heartily resistant to doing it.  Right?
While most of us don’t like the packaging (not to mention the theology) of simple formulaic approaches like the Four Spiritual Laws or the Romans Road or questions like “If you died tonight do you know where you’d go?  (And the answer’s not “into a grave,” you smart alecs out there!)
However, we don’t any alternatives.  There’s an old joke about what you’d get if you crossed a Presbyterian (which is what I am) with a Jehovah’s Witness:  someone who’ll knock on your door but has nothing to say!
But seriously, what would/should we say about Christian faith to an interested listener?
Seems to me there are two aspects:  What is the Gospel? and What does it means for people today?

What is the Gospel?  According to the New Testament the Gospel is the good news of what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ.  What this means for people today flows out of what has happened.
So, what has God done through Christ for the world.  Well, there’s a story.  Rather than the propositional approach of the Four Spiritual Laws, we must become familiar enough with the story of the Gospel than we can share it with other.

I’ll assume that we have a more than passing relationship with whoever we share the Gospel with.  That’s essential, but I hope you already know that.  No accosting strangers on the street corner asking “Brother or sister, are you saved?”
We have to understand what troubles our world as we learn to tell the Gospel story.  In the early church, death, mortality, was the great fear.  So those early Christians told the Gospel Story as the triumph of life over death through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

In the Medieval and Reformation churches guilt over sin was the great fear.  They wondered “Where can I find a gracious God”? So the gospel was framed to highlight God’s gracious gift of his Son who died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin and guilt.
Beginning in the 1960’s the question changed again.  Now it was “Where can I find a gracious neighbor?”  And the Gospel story highlighted God’s desire, indeed, demand, that we treat one another fairly, share resources equitable, enable all to flourish, and find peace between estranged peoples.

In our own day the question has morphed into “Where can I find a gracious church?”  In the wake of the seemingly never-ending cascade of one scandal after another, the church has lost its credibility and must rethink it form and function in the world in order to tell the Gospel story to our contemporary world. 
That’s where we are today – “Where can I find a gracious church?”  Sharing our story today must include the role of humanity in God’s “eternal purpose” (Eph.3:11) and how the church is to demonstrate that role to the world and spiritual forces that undergird it (Eph.3:10).  Telling the story in this way gives listeners a way to identify genuine expressions of gospel living from the spurious.

Here’s how I might do it.
“God had a dream about a world on which he would live in intimate relationship with a group of creature who could reciprocate his love and share love with each other and care for the created world God made for them.

“Now, wherever God dwells with his people, is called a temple.  So God created our world to eventually be a temple where he could live with all of us together.  That’s why the Garden in the middle of Eden resembles a temple.  And why Adam and Eve, already royal children of the great King are also priests in this temple garden.  As such royal priests they are commissioned to spread the boundaries of this garden temple to encompass the whole of creation.
“But we didn’t reciprocate God’s love, love each other, or care for the creation.  Instead, we turned our back on God, fought with each other for dominance, and trashed the world.  We forfeited our primal dignity as God’s royal children and our primal vocation to be royal priests.  And we could do nothing to change that!

“God, however, never gave up on us and determined to achieve his dream by reclaiming us from the bonds that now shackled us to such despair.  And through Jesus, the way he lived, died, was raised from the dead not only broke the hold sin had on us but also showed us the kind of life God intended humanity to live. In his living, Jesus taught us how to die; and in his dying he taught us how to live.  By raising him from the dead God placed his stamp of approval on his life.  He both broke sin’s hold over us and reclaimed us, he also restored us to our primal dignity and vocation.  We can again be the royal children and priests God meant us to be!
“That means we can live now as we were meant to live.  This is your life:  that’s what the gospel offers us.  The opportunity to be and do here and now in the midst of this broken and hurting world what only people who reflect God’s character and will in the world and extend the boundaries of God’s temple so more people can encounter God and live with him here and in the life to come.”  

 

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