Thursday, 18 March 2010

Reformed evangelism

In my congregation at present we are giving thought to methods of evangelism. At one level, evangelism is simply telling another person about Jesus and this can take place anywhere. I can recall many Christians who spoke to me about Jesus in a very natural way before my conversion; their words were the overflow of a heart that was focussed on Christ. I was not converted the first or the hundredth time someone did so. Nevertheless I was aware that they had a warm affection for Jesus Christ.

I have been at a conference this past couple of days and communication of the gospel in our postmodern, post-Christian European society has been one of the topics on the agenda. Personally I don’t think that what is called postmodernism is very new; instead I wonder if what has happened is that thinking people (i.e., those with degrees), who in the past focussed on evidences and theories (modernism), have now caught up with the rest of us who did not place much attention on these details in the first place and merely did what we felt like doing. Perhaps then the way to evangelise contemporary people is to imitate how previous generations did it, making allowance of course for changed environments. For what it is worth, evangelism as far as I can see involves three actions by us (by actions, I mean actions from the heart).

First, we have to look for lost sinners rather than looking at lost sinners. Often, discussions of postmodernism and modernism are merely expressions of paralysis by analysis. I may be able to assess that a postmodern human does not believe in the certainties of technology while he plays with his pocket computer, mobile phone etc, but unless I go and speak to him in a loving way about his need of Christ my diagnosis is merely an opinion heading for the waste-paper basket (or for the delete button in my paperless world).

Second, having looked for lost sinners by making contact with them, we have to love them. I’m curious as to why many Christian commentators give the impression that postmoderns are the first group not to experience true love. From my limited understanding of society, the absence of true love was a feature of previous situations as well (families sending children to work in factories and up chimneys was hardly an expression of a loving society, nor was the presence of starving migrants wandering about the countryside). Was family life so wonderful in previous periods? The church (the true one, that is) has always been the counter-cultural society that showed love to its members and to those outside of it. Love requires involvement and time, and it is hard for a society focussed on its own shallow needs (by purchasing things) to give love to those with deep needs (by sharing things). True love cannot be programmed beforehand and slotted into one’s diary; it can only be given at the place of need. Of course, the love we have to show is the love of Christ, and we can only have this love by spending time with him personally in private devotions and corporately in church fellowship.

Third, having loved lost sinners into the kingdom, we continue to show love to them by loosening them from the chains that they drag along with them from their past. I have been puzzled (mainly by looking in the mirror) by the reluctance of some Christians (who were loosed from their chains by others) to spend time helping new Christians find the meaning of spiritual freedom. One way by which brotherly love is expressed is by spending time trying to find out why a new Christian is not making as much progress as he should. Often, the failure is caused by actions or attitudes which he did not realise were unhelpful and which could easily have been shown to him by someone spending time with him.

I’ll probably come back to this topic later. But it seems to me, for what it is worth, that evangelism involves looking for, loving and liberating those enchained by their sins. I know it can only be done by the power of God blessing the message about Jesus, but usually he conveys his power alongside or through our words and actions.

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