Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lord Is in the Room: An Evangelism Encouragement

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Rom 1:20).

...they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them (Rom 2:15).

We interrupt our current series with a brief, but related, encouragement for personal evangelism. At the most recent Men's Theology Breakfast at our church (which concurrently meets here, here, and here every other Friday at 6am, according to this schedule) we discussed "The Necessity of Scripture," which included an encouraging and edifying discussion related to personal evangelism. Especially in relation to "general revelation":
The knowledge of God's existence and character also provides a basis of information that enables the gospel to make sense to a non-Christian's heart and mind: unbelievers know that God exists and that they have broken his standards, so the news that Christ died to pay for their sins should truly come as good news to them.

- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 123
I have found no other truth more energizing for personal evangelism than this: Every one on the planet knows there is a holy God before whom they are guilty. All religions and philosophies are at their root, vain attempts to assuage the unrelenting guilty conscience of sinful men and women.

This is really liberating news for those of us burdened to share the good news of the only Savior! We do not have to start from scratch. Nor do we have to move conversations to an awkward starting-point to initiate the launch sequence for our stock evangelism method. We can also skip the logical hoop-jumping and philosophical gymnastics that come with assuming the unbeliever's mindset is actually rational. We just have to speak to our hearers as if they know there is a holy God before whom they are guilty and as if He too is in the room (both of which happen to be true!). How much easier and less daunting (and more biblical!) to begin with the universal knowledge of God and sin that is expressed by every individual?

For example, I recently received a haircut from "Chatty Cathy." Cathy expressed her frustration with "kids these days" and especially their perverse behavior on various social media (being a non-Facebooker, I was unable to personally relate). Yet, I do believe in the existence of human perversity and, thanks to my copy of the Bible, I know why it is so. So, rather than proceed with a discussion about kids, social media or any other less-controversial issue - hoping that the "sin" word may fortuitously pop-up - I began to discuss what I know the Lord, who was also there at the barbershop, thought about it and what Cathy intuitively knew as well.

So, here's how the conversation progressed:
    Me: "That is disturbing, for sure, but it's not really surprising, is it? I mean, we are all born as sinners and by our very nature desire that rebellious and evil pattern of life from our birth" (e.g., Ps 51:3-5; Eph 2:1-3).

    Cathy: [long pause] "You really think that everyone is born evil?"

    Me: "Yes, of course, and I obviously include myself. You don't?" [with intentional incredulity]

    Cathy: "Well... I guess I never really thought about it."

    Me: "You see, the Bible - God's Word - teaches that we are sinful by nature, which is why there is so much wickedness in our world. That is also why each one of us, including you and I, are in desperate need of the Savior from sin, Jesus Christ."

    [Gospel conversation ensues]
Needless to say, I was grateful for a rather fruitful "haircut." I left praying for the Gospel to penetrate Cathy's heart, as well as for an opportunity to follow-up as my hair will inevitably grow back.

Yet, to our immediate point, our conversation was neither awkward nor artificial; in fact, we began with a topic that she brought-up. Also, I did not capitulate to the world's sinful perspective nor avoid confrontation by wrongly assuming that we can understand anything apart from its relationship to our holy Creator. I only had to ask, since the Lord is in the room, what does He think about what Cathy just said?

I would not consider myself a gifted evangelist (I'm barely competent with interpersonal communication at all, to be quite honest), but I have found help in the reality of "general revelation." Just ask yourself, what does the Lord think about that? If someone complains about anything, that is an opportunity to talk about sin or justice. If someone expresses joy or gratitude for anything, that can be an opportunity to discuss His patience and undeserved kindness. We could go on and on...

To be clear, I do not believe in watering-down the offensive exclusivity of Christ (see immediately previous posts) nor in avoiding Christ's lordship and His command to repent and believe (e.g., Acts 17:30-31). However, I also believe that we do not have to make personal evangelism more difficult than it already is. As well intended as many evangelical "methods" are, they can also come across as manipulative, contrived, "gimmicky," abstract, and even artificial to the point of downplaying the relevance of the Gospel and turning conversations into minor speeches that are given indifferent to the actual person with whom you are speaking (that's true even of those methods that claim to be The Way).

I just prefer to proclaim the Person of Christ to real people, than to try and trap my hearers into a pre-fabricated "sales pitch." Not only does it seem more faithful to the Gospel and to Christian love... it's also, well, easier.

For more on this perspective on personal evangelism, see the "What do you say when... ?" series by those helpful folks at The Briefing. Or, just remember to ask yourself: "Since God is in the room, what does He think about that?" And pray for the courage to say it.

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