I've recently been burdened about the posture the Church is taking toward the outside world. This is driving me to deconstruct some of the conventional thought in the area of evangelism and take a closer look. I have been helped by thoughts from Greg Boyd and also from Brian McLaren's book More Ready Than You Realize.
The central idea that is forming in my mind is based in II Corinthians, which I happened to be reading recently. In 4:2, and again in 5:11, we notice the theme of conscience. I think this is key. In evangelism, it isn't so much about what I think is true, or what you think is false; it's a matter of the conscience, both mine and yours. The miscellaneous shreds of truth that have collected in the bottom of my knapsack may be genuine, but they may not necessarily be the truth-key that will fit the lock on your heart. We have to stop dealing primarily with truths-falsities and get back to dealing with people. Jesus saw the questions, yes, but He also saw the people behind them, and sometimes this led Him to answer in a deeper way.
This has led me to reject most of the law-oriented confrontational evangelistic "formula," advocated by Ray Comfort and others. While I appreciate their passion, and think many of their premises are valid, I'm not convinced when it comes to the method. Boyd argues, and I tend to agree with him, that this approach hearkens back to Old Testament principles and is not necessarily a good way to build the Kingdom:
"The trouble with this approach, of course, is that despite the veneer of civil religion, most people in America aren't worried about whether they break one of the Ten Commandments now and then, and they certainly don't see the logic behind the claim that infractions of this sort warrant everlasting damnation. Just because the evangelist thinks this doesn't mean the person they're confronting thinks this, and the lack of shared presuppositions makes the encounter odd at best."*
Boyd talks next about why a proper understanding of accountability is so important, and then goes on to examine some of Paul's evangelistic methods. Paul quoted scripture to the Jews; it was something they subscribed to and so it made contextual sense. Paul didn't quote scripture on Mars Hill: he quoted pagan philosophy. In doing so he showed some simple consideration of, and appreciation for, his audience. These are basic communication principles! Where did we get this idea that we have some kind of moral wild card to play when witnessing? Why are we of all people exempt from the normative cultural standards of consideration? I wonder, supposing Jesus showed up for one of our evangelistic encounters, with all our talk of holiness and hell, if he wouldn't rebuke us like he did the disciples in Luke 9: "You know not what manner of spirit you are of."
What if, instead of judging and intimidating people, we chose to love them and listen to them? What if we took the time to build relationships and give people a reason to hear us out? Granted, there is much work to do, and time is short, but what if we someday find ourselves giving an account for what we thought were harmless shortcuts?
*Gregory Boyd, The Myth Of A Christian Nation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), p. 156-157
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