"Francis of Assisi is alleged to have said, 'Preach the gospel always; if necessary use words.'  That may be a great medieval sound bite, but it falls short of what the Bible teaches about evangelism."

I used to like that quote, and the evangelism models it leads to, and felt comfortable in thinking that the street preachers (and other more direct evangelism models) had no place in actually making a difference in people's lives.

But, while spending the summer at the Ocean City Beach Project (speaking of community in my last post, OCBP was a good community experience for me, not perfect, but perhaps that is what real community is) in 1997, we went to New York and traveled on the Staten Island Ferry and there was a lady who was (almost) yelling at the people, talking about heaven, hell, God, Christ, etc. and I couldn't see anything good in what she was doing - various people were turning away from her and making comments about Christianity, etc.  Apparently, none of the other students that I was with seemed to care much, and my original tactic was to avoid her by going to another part of the boat, but she ended up in the same section I was...  At one point our eyes connected, and I asked her if she thought she was doing any real good in anyone's life.  She sat down and we talked for a while.  She said that she didn't always know if it was any good, but that "[God's word] shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)" and that she didn't always preach, but some days she felt a prompting to bring her bag of tracts and speak to the people on the boat. (She worked in the city, and so rode on the ferry every day).  I was not at all convinced that God was pleased with her actions, though I did appreciate that she didn't simply preach every day, but desired to follow God and believed that He had certain people for her to talk to.  But, as we were talking, a rough looking guy came up in tears, (Rob, from last week in the Dominican would say that he "had his skirt on") and said how much the words had struck him, and talked about circumstances that he was going through, and how life looked hopeless in different ways. I don't know about the long term effects on his life, but at least the short-term, we prayed for him and his wife and his job and I believe that God did speak to him that day.  And to me too - as I no longer look disdainfully on people preaching on the street.  I am still not convinced that it is the "best" way, and I don't really ever expect to find myself preaching, but definitely God uses those that do.

The second thing that God taught me about evangelism was when a number of us went to a "Contagious Christian" conference put on in Pittsburgh by the evnagelism director of the Willow Creek Church.  There were various things that were good that weekend (including a strong validation of the gift of discernment that God has given me - I look back on that weekend whenever I start to doubt that maybe I'm just crazy and probably just making up things when I see into people's (particularly the "random" people on the street) hearts and minds), but as far as evangelism goes the only quote I remember is "there are all kinds of Christians to speak to all kinds of non-Christians".  He gave various examples of people in his church, from the praying 90 year old woman who hardly ever made it out of her house or spoke to anyone to the street preacher to the guy who was the most relational guy he ever met, etc.  The question the workbook asked was, "What kind of evangelizer are you?"  I think it is probably stated a little strongly, as I do believe in diversity of gifts, and that while we should all seek all gifts, in the end, God gives different gifts to different believers.

"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.

For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many." - 1 Corinthians 12:4-14

Back to Total Church:

"Before they are preachers, leader, or church planters, the disciples are to be lovers!  This is the test of whether or not they have known Jesus."

The authors go onto say that though doctrinal orthodoxy, ingenious strategizing, commitment to preaching, innovative approaches to planting, are all important and necessary in their own way, it is "our cross-love for each other than proclaims the truth of the gospel to a watching and skeptical world."

We were talking the other night with some friends about church splits and why does that even happen at all and particularly "ugly" conflicts.  Certainly, there will be differences of opinion, and even differences over important and essential truths (is there any truth that isn't important?  Maybe.) But, why would it ever have to be ugly?  I suppose the easy answer is simply "sin", but I think to trivialize sin is a dangerous course of action, and we shouldn't expect sinful actions to drive our community, but love, forgiveness and walking out our faith in holy fear.

One challenge to the street preachers is the example of a street preaching friend of the authors:

As the conversation began, it was clear that George thought we were selling out in some way.  But as we talked about sharing our lives with unbelievers, about evangelism that was 24/7, about opening our homes, George's tone changed.  At the end of our conversation he admitted, "I'm not sure if I'm up for that kind of commitment."

I love the end of Ephesians 3, particularly the King James Version, that so clearly shows how big God is, and how much He desires for us.  He doesn't merely pray that "Christ would dwell in your hearts by faith, and to be filled and know the love of Christ," nor merely that God can "do anything", but he prays much bigger statements than that:

"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." -- Ephesians 3:17-21


Posted by Jon Daley on March 23, 2010, 12:00 pm | Read 11986 times
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And I guess if someone were making all three points, I wouldn't really address any one of them, as there is probably a bigger issue at stake - say - have they ever actually read the bible and do they believe what it says is true, or merely a nice collection of stories that probably don't have anything to do with events that actually happened.

Posted by Jon Daley on April 11, 2010, 8:05 am

I'm sorry, Jon - I tried hard to be clear, and it appears I failed completely. I'll be happy to parse what I said into pseudo-code [If ((rich = true) or (frat = true) or (birth control = true)) Then Christian = False], if you think that helps. I was tempted to do that, but it seemed quite condescending, and prone to error since I'm not a skilled programmer.

If you could help me by either saying what you think you might have understood or what parts you didn't understand, I'll try to express it differently, but with "I don't understand most of what you said" I have nothing to work with, no idea of how I can say what I meant to say in a way you can understand clearly.

That said, you understanding me isn't the main point. ;-) I think we may be closer to agreeing than is immediately obvious. My point is that some truths are more important than others. You say you would address the "bigger issue at stake - say - have they ever actually read the bible and do they believe what it says is true" - which I think amounts to nearly the same. There are true statements to be made about the relationship between the Christian life and birth control, or wealth, or fraternity memberships, but searching for these truths is less important than searching for the truth about whether the Bible is true and has meaning today!

And thank God it is, and does!

Posted by Stephan on April 11, 2010, 1:25 pm

Basically, I am not good with double (and triple) negatives, so I can't parse those sentences, without rewriting them entirely, and so them perhaps lose the meaning of what you are trying to say.

Posted by jondaley on April 12, 2010, 12:04 pm

I don't know if this will help or hinder understanding, but I did enjoy thinking about how I would answer the question. ("If you only had a few minutes with the person saying "You aren't living a Christian life if you are rich, join a fraternity, or practice birth control," which of the three statements I just mentioned would you choose to make first to make sure that person stood corrected? ")

My reaction, by the way, has nothing to do with the truth or falsity of those specific examples, as they are only examples, and there are hundreds of similar statements.

Since the person in question -- unless he is being disingenuous or sarcastic, or taking the devil's advocate position -- believes that each of those statements is true, I wouldn't begin with challenging any of them. In all likelihood that would only make him defensive and close, rather than open, doors. Even if his statements were truths, focus on them misses a much larger, more important truth, and focus on the larger truth will eventually correct whatever might be wrong with the others.

I would instead introduce the idea that the Christian life is marked by increasing evidence of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, to wit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This isn't an exhaustive list, of course, but it has the advantage of being succinct and having an unarguable grounding in Scripture. I would also point out that, as C. S. Lewis has said, a person's position is not nearly as important as his velocity. Okay, Lewis didn't put it in those exact words, but that's what he meant. Two people might be at the same point in terms of their stated beliefs and observable behaviors, but one getting better and the other worse. Or perhaps the rich, birth-control-practicing frat boy has actually come a long way from the beginnings of his Christian life, whereas the father of 12 who tithes 75% and leads the worship team may have progressed very little or even regressed.

That's what I'd say, and I wouldn't let the conversation get sidetracked by debating lesser issues.

At least that's what I'd hope to do. In reality, I'd stutter, get upset, trip over my words, and wander down endless useless rabbit holes.

Posted by SursumCorda on April 12, 2010, 12:50 pm

That must make you a positive person, Jon!

I suppose I did go a little overboard with the negatives. I can try again, if you want, but I'm happy to let it go, if the April 11, 2010, 1:25 pm post made any sense to you.

Posted by Stephan on April 12, 2010, 4:07 pm

I can easily focus on the negatives, though I wonder sometimes if I am an optimist or a pessimist. I've often said that I think I'm a "realist", but I assume that both optimists and pessimists think they are seeing how things really are....

As for your 1:25PM post, I was going to point out that you made a common error (assuming the language that you are programming in distinguishes between two operators (= for assignment, == for comparison)) that many early programmers make...

I am not convinced we are seeing things the same way, however, as perhaps the example wasn't so good, as I don't see any of the three issues spelled out completely clearly, and so to me it isn't a "greater" truth versus a "lesser" one, but more a matter of how confident I am in the bible teaching one or the other.

I guess perhaps I have two buckets - one bucket for things that scripture teaches, and another bucket for anything else. And the things in the scripture bucket are all true, and I don't know that I have "levels" of truth to distinguish between them. As far as what order I'd pick to argue different doctrines has more to do with how much they affect how you live your life, versus whether one is "more" true than another.

Posted by Jon Daley on April 12, 2010, 5:03 pm

That shows I've been fiddling with VBScript lately - it doesn't distinguish between = and ==. Were I to switch to a big boys' language, I'd likely run into just that problem, along with a host of others (variable type declaration and conversion comes to mind.)

I went back and I'm not sure we were discussing whether certain truths are "truer" that others, but whether certain truths are more important than others. How much a truth affects how you live is one way to differentiate truths by importance, and if I understand you correctly you are saying differentiating truths by importance is possible (and perhaps even useful).

I wouldn't argue that differentiating truths by how true they are is very helpful. I'd say it's possible, but I'm not at all certain. Your point of distinguishing truths by how well we understand them (how confident we are in them) is much more useful. If there is any difference in "trueness" of truths, then it's most likely obscured by the difference in how well we understand the respective truths.

Posted by Stephan on April 13, 2010, 12:40 am
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