Surprised by Hope: Evangelism

[The Surprised by Hope series will continue during my hiatus, because I have to get ready for class Sunday, no matter how I feel.]

In his chapter on mission, Wright makes several insightful comments on evangelism —

The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the sense of being “left behind”), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God is God, the Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God’s new world has begun. … Of course, once the gospel announcement is made, in whatever way, it means instantly that all people everywhere are gladly invited to come in, to join the party, to discover forgiveness for the past, an astonishing destiny in God’s future, and a vocation in the present.

Now, this is different from what we usually preach — because it’s bigger! Some people will find forgiveness attractive. Others not so much. But others may find the call to Christian vocation appealing. Or be excited about the promise of a fully realized Kingdom.

By defining “salvation” as exclusively about going to heaven when we die, we preach a too-narrow gospel that fails to appeal to as many as it could. We are saved. Yes. But we are saved for a purpose, and for many, the purpose will be more exciting than the being forgiven!

And we’re saved into a community with a mission. We will, in accepting Jesus, for the first time truly belong and truly matter.

Wright continues,

But how can the church announce that God is God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil, corruption, and death itself have been defeated, and that God’s new world has begun? Doesn’t this seem laughable? Well, it would be if wasn’t happening. But if a church is working on the issues we’ve already looked at — if it’s actively involved in seeking justice in the world, both globally and locally, and if it’s cheerfully celebrating God’s good creation and its rescue from corruption in art and music, and if, in addition, its own internal life gives every sign that the new creation is indeed happening, generating a new type of community — the suddenly the announcement makes a lot of sense.

Ah, there’s the rub! We’d rather grow by hiring consultants, taking surveys, and starting up programs that meet felt needs. Wright suggests that we actually be the church. I like the plan.

Wright points out other advantages —

Second, to see evangelism in terms of the announcement of God’s kingdom, of Jesus’ lordship and of the consequent new creation, avoids from the start any suggestion that the main or central thing that has happened is that the new Christian has entered into a private relationship with God or with Jesus and that this relationship is the main or only thing that matters.

What’s so wrong with a “private relationship”? Well, of course, Jesus relates to us as individuals. But if we see that relationship as separate from our corporate relationship through the church — and quite sufficient — then we have little motivation to work as part of the Christian community. Rather, we set our own agenda and do our own things. These may be very good things indeed, but they will be small things.

The church is big. It’s timeless. It’s the body of Christ on earth. It’s Jesus presence here. And if we separate ourselves from the work of the church — the mission — then we weaken Christ.

And we can hardly invite people to become a part of the Kingdom if the Kingdom is a personal, private experience. And we just can’t do much to overcome the powers, to defeat poverty, or to bring justice as individuals — working as individuals. And we can’t push the church to be more like what the church is called to be.

In short, one of the most powerful attacks of any force is to divide and conquer. And when we work as individuals, not as part of Christ’s body, we are divided. Satan couldn’t be more pleased.

Notice also that “obedience” is broadened and redefined. Rather than being primarily about sexual purity and honest dealings, obedience is also about living a life of sacrificial service to build up the Kingdom and help the weak and vulnerable of society. It’s not either-or. But the emphasis changes. Rather than an emphasis on what not to do, we are told to be about our Father’s business. And having such a purpose as part of an ancient, worldwide, faith-community is much more appealing than being told not to sleep with your girlfriend or cheat on your taxes or else you’ll go to hell.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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5 Responses to Surprised by Hope: Evangelism

  1. Alan says:

    Some people will find forgiveness attractive. Others not so much.

    I'd be very concerned about the state of someone who doesn't find forgiveness attractive. It sounds like they aren't aware how much they need it. Maybe they think they're already a pretty good person without forgiveness. And therefore maybe they aren't really repenting of much of anything.

  2. Joe Baggett says:

    You are right Alan. Very few people in the church even know specifically how much they need God. When you ask someone at church what sin they are specifically working to overcome very few can even tell you that would. This is dangerously close to place where John says "If a man says he has no sin the truth is not in him". Very few people really ever repent. They might say they are sorry or something like that but very few ever really struggle against sin to overcome it.
    If we were more open in the church about our personal struggles with sin we might help others to see their need for God.

  3. Jay Guin says:

    Guys, guys, you're taking me out of context.

    Now, this is different from what we usually preach — because it’s bigger! Some people will find forgiveness attractive. Others not so much. But others may find the call to Christian vocation appealing. Or be excited about the promise of a fully realized Kingdom.

    By defining “salvation” as exclusively about going to heaven when we die, we preach a too-narrow gospel that fails to appeal to as many as it could. We are saved. Yes. But we are saved for a purpose, and for many, the purpose will be more exciting than the being forgiven!

    I probably could have said it better (as is nearly always the case), but "not so much" doesn't mean "not at all." As the next paragraph says, "for many, the purpose will be more exciting than the being forgiven." And I hope that's true for most of us!

    You see, I think we tend to see forgiveness as both the beginning and the end of Christianity. It's ALL about getting forgiven.

    But forgiveness is just one step toward God's larger purpose in building his kingdom through the people he saves.

    What should motivate the Christian to do the good works to which we've been called? Well, gratitude for our forgiveness works just fine. But it's not the only or even the best motivation.

    Rather, surely the best motivation is love for the lost and needy of this world. I mean, Jesus didn't come to earth, take the form of a servant, and preach the good news of the kingdom and serve the needy out of gratitude for his salvation. He came out of love and a great compassion for those who need him.

    Just so, I think we should call one another — and the lost — to a life of loving service. Do I exclude gratitude for our salvation as a reason to do this? Absolutely not. Do it see it as the one, proper, best motivation? No.

    I insist that my children love each other. If I have to, I remind them to do so out of gratitude for my bringing them into this world (and not taking them out!) and for feeding and clothing them. That can work.

    But it's by far my preference that they just love each other because of who they are. Indeed, I'd prefer that they outgrow their gratitude, so that they are, in their deepest natures, people who love and encourage love in others.

    I wouldn't mind if, as adults, they do things out of gratitude for what I've done for them. That would be nice. But that's not the goal. The goal is that they be men who love because they see others as God's children and because God's Spirit has reshaped their hearts to be like Jesus.

    Finally, I really do think that our evangelism would be better if we taught in terms not only of forgiveness but also of mission. Rarely do we teach mission to our converts, in my experience, and as a result, we teach a salvation that is often self-indulgent: "I'm doing this for me!" rather than "I'm doing this for God and to be a part of his plan for this world!"

  4. Alan says:

    I just don't think a person contemplating conversion should be focused on the mission. They need to be focused on being reconciled to God… repentance, Lordship, and forgiveness.. and gratitude for the opportunity.

    The gospel sermons in Acts talk about Jesus being the Christ, about his death and resurrection, and about the judgment to come. They call for repentance and submission to Jesus as Lord. That's pretty much the extent of what was taught to prospective converts prior to conversion in the new testament. Those "mission" topics you mention are conspicuously absent from the gospel message the apostles taught prior to someone's conversion.

  5. Pingback: Surprised by Hope: Evangelism — In Response to Readers’ Comments, Part 1 « One In Jesus.info

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