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Friday, November 18, 2005

evangelism and pluralism

I believe in a God of love and grace. I think God extends a measure of grace to all of us, even before we are capable of responding. (In the Wesleyan tradition, this is known as "prevenient grace".) I don't believe God's grace is conditional on our finding the right formula or reciting a "sinner's prayer". I think that, like the Athenians who built an altar to an unknown God, people around the world who may not ever have heard of Jesus might nevertheless have a real relationship with God.

Earlier this month I attended Seminary Weekend at my church. The topic was Evangelism in the Local Church. I was a little apprehensive, given the subject matter. Still, it was a good learning experience, and I even came out of the weekend with a newfound appreciation for evangelism.

The instructor was Dr. Douglas Powe of the St. Paul School of Theology. He started the class by offering a few definitions of evangelism. The one I liked best said (very loosely paraphrased) that evangelism involves inviting people into a transforming relationship with God. Dr. Powe then looked at evangelism through the filter of the words of the Lord's Prayer. He brought a very practical approach to the subject -- for each phrase we not only studied related Bible passages, he had exercises for us to integrate what we were learning into our lives.

One of these exercises was the Lectio Divina I blogged about previously. Another exercise involved thinking about our stories and how they are integrated with the gospel story. Yet another involved looking at our church in terms of the seven churches described in Revelation 2-3.

Within the discussion, Dr. Powe talked about questionable motives and good motives for evangelism. Among the questionable motives are: Preserving the institution; Scaring people; and Expanding the church.

Some of the people who read this blog are "unchurched", and I'm sure those of you who are in that category have probably been exposed to one or more of those types of evangelism. It's a shame, because evangelism done for the wrong reasons is easily seen as being inauthentic. It often drives sincere people away from church.

Dr. Powe argued that there is only one good reason for evangelism: Love of God. During the question and answer session, he was asked to elaborate on that. He changed the subject and started talking about college football, particularly his favorite team, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Now I live in Kansas, and I could care less about a football team in Ohio. Besides, I'm more of a basketball fan anyway. But I could tell that Dr. Powe was passionate about the Buckeyes. His point was that if we truly have faith in God, we ought to be able to talk about our faith in an authentic way -- not to manipulate people, but to share about something that is important to us.

If honest evangelism is about inviting people into a transforming relationship with God, one of the side effects of talking authentically about God is a deepening of the transformation in our own lives. Conversely, if our focus is on God and on our own relationship with God, evangelism will be authentic and honest. It's not really about changing anyone else. It's about changing ourselves.


At 11/21/2005 6:15 PM, Blogger BruceA said...

It's not really about changing anyone else. It's about changing ourselves.

On further reflection, I would amend that last line. I don't think those two are mutually exclusive.

It's not that I want to change anyone; rather, if evangelism is inviting a person into a transforming relationship with God, change is inevitable. And if evangelism is an extension of our own transforming relationship with God, change is inevitable in us as well.

At 12/06/2005 10:55 AM, Blogger monkey czar said...

Bruce - Regarding Acts 17, there's not much that indicates Paul thought worshipping carved rocks was legitimate worship or a "real relationship with God." Paul certainly began his presentation of the gospel on Mars Hill with flattery and without rancor, but he also directly challenged the Athenian's idolatry, highlighted elements of their own values that pointed beyond their idolatrous practices and directed them to repentance and faith in the resurrected one.

Blessings ...


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