Why we must evangelize

tsslogo.jpgFrom time to time we like to feature parody on TSS.

But this is no joke.

Recently NavPress published a book titled I’m OK – You’re Not: The message we’re sending nonbelievers and why we should stop by John Shore. It was written by a humorist, but it’s not going in the “funny” folder.

The book’s purpose:

“Pretty much every last, single person in America has heard the word of God! The Great Commission has gone a very long way toward being completely fulfilled right here in our own backyard! …

So. Now what?

Well, the contention of this book is that now that it’s safe to assume that all of our neighbors already know the story of Christ and the Bible and so on, it might be a good time to take some of that enormous energy we currently spend on converting those same people, and to focus it instead on ‘just’ loving them as much as we love ourselves.

In other words, I think that here in the great, gospel-saturated U.S. of A., it’s time to shift our concentration from fulfilling the Great Commission to fulfilling the Great Commandment.

I do want to be clear about the caveat, though, of ‘only’ meaning that we should ease off trying to tell people about Christ who haven’t first asked us to tell them about Christ. If someone has indicated to us that they’re open to hearing the Good News, then by all means let us share until we’re hoarse (or until it’s clear they’d like us to go home so that they can go to bed). By extension, then, I’m also not in any way meaning to suggest that preachers should stop preaching, or that stadium-filling Billy Graham-style revival meetings should stop happening. Of course they shouldn’t. Because again: Those kinds of public or corporate affairs are presented to people who have asked to participate in them, who have willingly volunteered to hear the Word of God. Such people are fair game — and have at ‘em then, I say! Praise the Lord, and save me a front row seat” (pp. 14-15).

Wow.

I’m aware this quote probably reflects the sentiments of a broad stroke of American Christianity. So in no way am I singling this author out (he is merely a representation). But so many things come to mind after reading this, I hardly know where to begin. In part, this reveals an overly-optimistic view of our country’s understanding of the Cross, a market-driven evangelism outlook, a misunderstanding of human nature, and a deficient understanding of the Great Commission (as being limited to media saturation and evangelism). Quite obvious is the purposeful disconnect between service and persuasion. Where to begin?

Serving up persuasion

The truth is, our acts of obedience and kindness are used to ‘win’ unbelievers to Christ. “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Pet. 3:1-2). It’s okay to have evangelistic motives behind your obedience. We can (and should) love and serve our neighbors, motivated that God would use that service in some way to radically change them (as He has changed us!).

Cross-centered humility

And our evangelism must be done with humility. Certainly! But our humility comes from realizing that we are absolute failures before God. The Cross tells me I’m not okay with God and my neighbor is not okay with God either. The Gospel tells me (in myself) I am an absolute failure before God because of my sinfulness. Only in Christ do sinful failures have the hope of eternal life. So any pridefulness in Christian evangelism – which is what this book aims at stopping – is a derivative of misunderstanding of the Gospel itself.

If Christians act with belligerence in evangelism, and this reveals a lack of understanding in the Gospel, how misunderstood is the Gospel in the rest of “gospel-saturated U.S. of A”?

Ironically, the assumption of a widespread understanding of the Gospel affirms a superficial understanding of the Gospel, and this fuels pride in evangelism! This book unwittingly incubates what it sets out to cure.

We interrupt this program …

But enough about us, Christ is coming back in flames with a host of angels to “inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thes. 1:7-8). That’s news worthy of interruption.

Remember Paul’s conversion? God apparently did not feel restrained to await Paul’s permission before knocking the Gospel-despiser down blind into the dust (Acts 9:1-9). Even before his conversion, Paul heard the Gospel and knew why the message was dangerous to his self-righteous religion. He was out to stop the spread of the Gospel. God interrupted his program.

But what incredible grace was shown to Paul! How does Paul recall this event in his life? Does he say it was unfair for God to have dropped him in the dust like that? No. Does he reprimand God for not asking permission first? No! He says, “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13-14). The blinding interruption in Paul’s life was mercy and grace!

Conclusion

Paul soberly reminds us from his own testimony that knowing about the Gospel does not disqualify us from being “ignorant” of the Gospel. Which is why evangelism must continue — no matter how pervasive the Christian message seems on the outside, nor how oppressive the influence to “stop” comes from the inside.

Pursue, persuade, serve, and share. But do it all in the strength of the Spirit and the humility so fitting the message.

11 thoughts on “Why we must evangelize

  1. I’d be skeptical of the book mentioned simply because I’m not convinced that most Christians understand the Gospel, much less most non-Christians. As you say, there is a lot of “superficial understanding” going on.

  2. Thank you Micah. It’s hard to tell sometimes where the American church stands on the gospel. I just don’t know how accurate broad statements can be. But you are right, to assume the pervasive message is accurate is also an assumption we cannot make. Good point! T

  3. I’m reminded of a moving message that the late great Dr. Ed Clowney delivered in the winter years of his life, entitled “The Beautiful Years.” Dr. Clowney drew from the Word in Isaiah that the grass withers, and the flowers of the fields fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Dr. Clowney compared this great promise to the surmounting novelties of the postmodern era, and the spiritual emptiness that people know in this present age compared to the light of the Word. I never forgot how vividly Dr. Clowney described, with all the dying tone of his senior voice, the downgrade of Jean-Paul Sartre’s life from the quest for nothingness and secular freedom to the horror of nausea.

    The sad thing about this book by John Shore is that it points people to trendiness about personal opinion, and not the rock solid foundation of living hope beyond death. Shore not only thinks that he can live for himself on his own terms, but also that this should be the enduring fashion for humanity. And it only perpetuates the spiritual nausea that Sartre would find so horrifying (even from an atheistic view of life).

    I believe it really is true that for all the fads we encounter in our generation, and in future generations, nothing compares to the light of the divine Word that will live forever, and that we may find true rest and a life of the beautiful years in this Word with the Lord. Only when we seek to be satisfied to the cross of Christ and think small of the worldly beauties of life do we find true beauty of enduring relationship with Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last Word on all things.

  4. I believe if you go out and do enough Evangelism Explosion type questionnaires you’ll find out quickly enough how many folks don’t have a clue about the Gospel and I’m talking about down here in the Bible belt. Furthermore, the guys on White Horse Inn routinely go to “Christian” conventions and ask folks basic questions about the Gospel.The ignorance by “christians” is staggering.
    Tony, for example you reviewed Spurgeon’s biography a while back. There is a chapter in the first volume I believe on his soul winning efforts. He mentions how in his day educated Englishman were ignorant of the Gospel and beieved in some sort of salvation by sincere obedience! He said the Gospel of Martin Luther was almost unknown. I believe that is even more true today in the US. I’d argue that there needs to be a rediscovery of the Gospel in America today.

  5. Frankly Tony

    To say that 10% of America actually understands the gospel in any intelligent way, in my opinion, is quite a stretch. How many persons would be able to honestly say that “you and I each justly deserve the wrath of God save for Christ’s mercy alone” ? This is basic yes most church going folk don’t even grasp this.

    John

  6. John Shore wrote: “it might be a good time to take some of that enormous energy we currently spend on converting those same people, and to focus it instead on ‘just’ loving them as much as we love ourselves.”
    I’m really surprised He thinks we are spending enormous energy on converting people. I don’t see much effort to get the gospel out compared with “mercy” ministry.
    If we don’t care if someone comes to know Jesus through the gospel then how can we claim to love them?
    “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Chirst Jesus my Lord”. So Jesus knowing Jesus is the best thing the ever happened to me. So if I’m to love someone else as I love myself won’t I want to share Christ with them?

  7. I enjoyed your article. I think that a lot of the folks that author thinks are ‘familiar with’ the gospel are actually ‘inoculated against’ it. We have created many false converts in this country with our ‘easy believism’ and it can be very difficult to witness to someone who thinks they are already a believer. The Billy Graham Crusade will likely tell you that when they follow up in cities where the crusade has been that only a small percentage are attending a church. What happens to all the people who came forward and it didn’t ‘stick’? These are the people who are ‘familiar with’ the gospel.

    What are we to do then? I would suggest that Paul gives us the best plan for sharing the truth about God:

    “1 I solemnly charge [you] in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season [and] out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” (2Ti 4:1-4 NAS95)

    It sure sounds like we are nearing the time referred to in verses 3 and 4.

    In His service,

  8. I am a different Bill R from the poster immediately above, although I agree with what he said. I would only add that I think we can now safely strike Inter-Varsity Press from the list of evangelical publishers. It is sad, however, as I received much benefit from IVP books back in my college days.

  9. “News worthy of interruption.” Amen, my brother, preach it! God has given you such a wise and understanding stance in so many ways. I am blessed through His good gift of you to His Church.

  10. […] Reinke with a response to a thought John Shore has about today’s evangelism. Shore thinks we have spread the gospel far enough and wide enough that it is now a time to […]

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