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Archive for November, 2017


What does evangelism have to do with grace? Obviously we want the other person to receive God’s grace in Jesus Christ. But why do we want this? Mike Bechtle ponders this in the short, next chapter of Evangelism for the Rest of Us.

Let’s be honest. We often feel guilty about not sharing our faith. I feel it at times. As I prepare a sermon that touches on evangelism I can feel it. I want to produce conviction, surety of thought, on having it as a priority. But I’m sure it is often heard through the filter of failure and my words produce far more guilt than I’d like.

Evangelism often seems like one more obligation of the Christian life. The type A persons around us (or in us) have it on their To-Do List. It’s about obedience, for the love of Pete.

Yeah, but ……

We miss the point if it isn’t about compassion. The Father didn’t send the Son to save sinners as part of His To-Do List. “Oh, yeah. Time to save some sinners!” We see God’s great compassion for sinners in Scripture. This is most clear in Jonah, particularly chapter 4. Jonah’s compassion was limited to the plant that grew up overnight without any help from Jonah to provide Jonah with shade lacking from his lousy lean-to. Jonah was there hoping God would smite those lousy Assyrians. God, on the other hand, had compassion for this great city filled with people and animals that He made. God sent Jonah to them, not out of sense of obligation, but out of compassion. This is also why He sent the One greater than Jonah. “For God so loved the world…”

Too often we are about obligation, obedience, checking stuff off our list (or growing our church to satisfy our selfish ambitions or pay off our mortgage- ouch!!!!). We simply lack compassion.

He tells of a car salesman who paid him and his family so much attention. He felt connected to this guy who seemed interested in them. But the next day the salesman didn’t pay any attention to them when they came to pick up the van. It was simply the sale he cared about.

As we evangelize, or bear witness, we can be all about “closing the deal.” We can communicate that in unexpected ways. This mentality, not just its manifestations, is wrong. But that is what happens when our motivation isn’t compassion.

What we need more of to bear witness more consistently is compassion and love.

“But the more we love people, the more we will want to share with them. The focus will be external- on them, not us.”

As we grow in love our evangelism will be rooted in grace rather than guilt.

God uses weak people. The treasure of the gospel is in jars of clay. He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn but said “My grace will be sufficient.” He didn’t give Paul super-human strength, but enabled Paul to persevere despite that distracting, disabling thorn. The thorn seems to have become a means by which Paul gained opportunities to bear witness.

We hate pain. We’d rather be pain-free than experience sufficient grace. And that means we’d rather enjoy ease (like Jonah) than be channels of grace by pointing people to Jesus. Graceful  evangelism bears witness from reality, who we really are and out of our circumstances, not out of some fantasy land where Christians have it all together, have plenty of cash on hand, and never deal with sickness and tragedy. God often reaches people dealing with tragedy or illness through people who have or experienced something similar.

As Christians, Bechtle argues, we are to be bilingual people. The language of faith is our second language if we’ve come to faith in adulthood. We are speaking to people who don’t know or understand the language of faith. We are communicating to unbelievers. Graceful witness means speaking their language (I’m not talking about dropping “f” bombs), translating our faith into words they can understand as best we can. We connect it to their world, their needs, rather than keeping it abstract. Graceful witness doesn’t expect them to learn our language so we can share the truth (if they come to faith they will learn it).

This will happen if we genuinely care about people. If we love them and have compassion on them, we won’t expect them to buy a theological dictionary so we can evangelize them.

If we genuinely care about people we will listen to them.

“If I learn what’s important to him, I can find out where Christ might fit in his life.”

The above statement isn’t meant to somehow limit Christ, but to identify the points of entry for the gospel. Because you genuinely care! We want them to come to faith for their well-being, not so you can boast about it, ease your guilty conscience or feel better about spending time with them.

Graceful witness keeps in mind that it doesn’t all depend on me. I’m not just talking about my theological commitment to “the efficient call”, meaning God converts the person. I’m also talking about the fact that God may be using a variety of people in this person’s life. I can show them grace because it isn’t about my timetable for them or somehow showing my methods are superior to yours like some kung-fu showdown. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from.) We genuinely care and so wait on the process and players God is using. It isn’t about my airtight arguments. It not about winning the debate. It is about loving another person.

 

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Over the course of 2 chapters in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle covers 3 “F”‘s. In one chapter he covers the “conflict” between form and function in evangelism. In the second he covers fear which often keeps us from evangelism.

Form vs. Function

He begins with a pastor taking “greet one another with a holy kiss” literally. Strangers were asked to kiss one another on the cheek. In some cultures this is perfectly normal. In Western culture, not so much. The function Paul has in mind is a warm greeting. He wants to further brotherly & sisterly love in the church through warm greetings. The form that took in his culture was a “holy kiss” the form it takes now is a hug, side hug, hand on the shoulder, hand shake etc. But not kissing.

This terminology would be helpful in the “head covering” debate. The function is to affirm authority in covenantal relationship (read: marriage) in worship. The form changes by culture. In Western culture, a woman wearing her wedding ring indicates she is married. She honor that in worship as she prays and (in Paul’s day at least, prophesied).

“Much of our misunderstanding of Scripture today stems from emphasizing form over function.”

In discussing evangelism we often get caught up in questions of form, as if one form of evangelism is right and the others are wrong. The real question is what is the best form of evangelism for a particular person in a particular set of circumstances talking to a particular person to fulfill the function God has established. As with the head coverings question, there is a particular function that God has called us to. The form that takes may differ. It is the function that matters. But we often focus on form and judge those who use a different form than us (we could also talk about style of music in this way).

I agree with Bechtle that many of our most heated intramural debates are about form and function, or between principle and preference as a friend puts it. But not all, or even most. Sometimes we really are wrangling about the meaning of Scripture. But often enough we are only wrangling about our preferred form of applying that biblical principle or function.

Because of who we are (personality, gifts, experiences, white middle class) and where we are (North America, Tucson, a suburb etc.) and the person to whom we are speaking (older Jewish man, upper middle class, from the Midwest) and where (kids’ birthday party) the form evangelism takes may differ. In this case, it was a simple statement since I didn’t really know the man but he talked of keeping Torah. So I sowed a seed with “If we can keep Torah, why did Jesus have to die?” I didn’t want to throw down with a stranger on another stranger’s back patio. So a simple comment may produce a nagging question in a man’s mind.

I was faithful in bearing witness in those circumstances. Could I have been more faithful? Possibly. Could I have used a different method? Sure. Was the method I used “wrong”? No.

One of the things Bechtle has not mentioned (yet) is cultural IQ (or emotional IQ either). Both have some role in all this. For instance, in a highly authoritarian culture, it would be unthinkable for a younger man to question an older man’s point of view. Even though we were both in America, his sub-cultural presuppositions could include this. We want to further the gospel, not set up additional obstacles. We want the offense to be the cross, not us.

Bechtle lays out a few different methods in summary. The traditional approach (approaching strangers with a particular method like the 4 Spiritual Laws to quickly share the whole salvation message). This also includes methods like Evangelism Explosion, street witnessing etc. He mentions an approach that became popular in the late 80’s or so, “lifestyle evangelism”. This was a more relational approach, and long-term approach. We could fight over which is better. Or we could realize both have strengths and weaknesses, and appropriate places and uses.

“The important thing is to look at the function of evangelism- to being people to the Savior. All methods people use are just forms to accomplish that function.”

This means that I might use different methods. I can’t use lifestyle evangelism if someone wants to talk with me on the plane. I probably shouldn’t use the traditional method with my boss. What matters is making Christ known to that person in an appropriate fashion in those circumstances. While you may be the “only Christian they ever meet” it is unlikely unless you are on a plane in Iraq. So, don’t feel the need to close the sale, so to speak. Love them.

The reality is that you don’t know how God will bring a person to Himself- the particular evangelistic method during which the coin finally drops and they get it. I know of one man who found a tract in the gutter while on a walk. He picked it up, read it and became a Christian.

Who you are is an important part of this. Bechtle tells of a bartender who became a Christian. As you might imagine some in the local church urged him to change jobs. They grew frustrated when he didn’t. More so when his plans to go to seminary didn’t include ending his career as a bartender. His reasoning? “Who do people share more openly with than their bartender?”. This was a good pool for him to fish for men and women. And the church nearly split since this involved the controversial aspect of alcohol. He is bringing the gospel to them where they are, not where he wants them to be. This man’s ministry isn’t for everyone. Sharing the gospel in bars is not wise for an alcoholic.

He then addresses a topic that I call being “inoculated against the gospel”. Some people are resistant to the gospel because of false understandings of Christianity furthered by some methods of evangelism. Many think they are Christians because they walked the aisle or raised their hand, not because they believe in Christ crucified, resurrected and ascended. You have to “unevangelize” them as a friend says. I did this once when a couple came into my office wanting to be married in our facility. They said they were Christians and I simply asked “What does it mean to be a Christian?”. After hearing their answers (moralism- at which they’d failed because she was pregnant), I was able to unpack the gospel for them and they believed. But many in the community were inoculated.

“Finding common ground means we have to go where the fish love and live among them in an honest way. … Most people would rather come to your house for a barbeque than spend Sunday morning in a church service.”

There is no one size fits all method. But a wise evangelist will use a variety of faithful methods that fit the particular situation and person. That may mean opening up your home for Christianity Explored, regularly having coffee with a co-worker or neighbor to talk about life or many other forms that fit you and them.

The Fear Factor

Most people avoid public speaking. They’d rather die.

Most Christians have plenty of fear regarding evangelism. Fear is to be expected. Some of us allow fear to become a prison.

Bechtle notes two types of fear. There is the fear that keeps you from doing things you shouldn’t do. Fear causes us to analyze whether or not we should do something. I felt that fear while I was roped up and ready to slip over the side of a cliff. I went over, and the ropes kept me safe as I slid down to the base of the cliff. But standing in the path of a moving train, the fear means I should get out of the way.

There is also the fear that comes from a challenge. Most athletes and actors feel fear before a game or performance. It isn’t debilitating. It is a creative tension. Many of us experience this at work when we take on new responsibilities, make a presentation etc. It gets to whether or not I am the best or appropriate person to do something. It is not about danger but about gifting. Some people work thru the fear and accomplish great things (or ordinary ones). This is the fear that I want my kids to face so their lives don’t become really small.

Evangelism is about the latter fear (unless you live in an oppressive system that prohibits evangelism). When we try to share our faith in ways that don’t “fit” us, we feel more fear. Don’t wait until you are “fear free” because there should always be that creative tension. “Eustress is the creative tension that helps us to perform.” It is stress, but not the kind that destroys us.

“Fear is like putting too much tension on a string or expecting it to sound like another instrument. Our job is to discover what kind of instrument God made us to be and allow him to play through us.”

It is discovering the best (not only) way for you to do evangelism. This is about intentionality; how you will plan to go about evangelism. Circumstances may arise when you share in a different way due to the circumstances.

Introverts tend to gravitate to relational evangelism. These are to be genuine relationships, meaning you are their friend even if they never come to faith. In the course of life together there are moments to bring the gospel in, hopefully moving them closer to faith. There may even be moments for great boldness or confrontational discussions. But it is within the context of friendship.

One day you may find yourself on a plane talking (likely against your will) to a stranger. You don’t say “not my gifting” but “Jesus, help me be faithful”. You may share the gospel in a way you are not comfortable. And that is okay. Finding the way that best fits you is not an excuse for never using a method that doesn’t.

Our desire is to feel strong and confident. But often that is not God’s goal.

“God doesn’t work around our weakness; he works through our weakness. Confidence comes through competence. Praying for boldness doesn’t mean doing things we’re not wire to do. It means asking God to work through us, helping us to do the things he has called us to do.”

God has called all His adopted children to evangelism. The form will differ. Don’t be dissing someone else’s form. Some speak. Others write. Some speak to strangers. Others to family and friends. Some in their neighborhoods. Others to Sunday School classes full of kids or in worship services. Someone wrote the SS curriculum through which thousands of people will hear the gospel. That’s a form of evangelism we don’t notice, particularly if our view of evangelism methods is very narrow.

He then deals with some of the more person specific fears we experience and that keep some from evangelism: rejection, failure, not having answers etc. He provides some responses to those fears. These get back to the reality of justification, adoption and sanctification (theology matters!). I’m accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if my message (and even me) is rejected by others. I’m accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if I don’t lead many/any to Christ (that I know of). I’m loved and accepted by God through Jesus Christ even if others see I’m a sinner or that I don’t have all the answers. The fact is God is working in me just as much (or more) than He is working in them. God is not in a rush regarding your sanctification. Nor is He in a rush for their conversion. Relax, resting in the love and patience of God.

Many Christians don’t evangelize because of the 3 “F”‘s. Questions of form vs. function, and fears plague them. The Enemy is satisfied. The Father wants to help us discover the best form for us, and to press through creative tension to be faithful witnesses.

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Who wouldn’t want to read John Calvin on The Secret Providence of God? Well, it depends what kind of book you are looking to read.

The subject is certainly an interesting one. The caveat is that the book is polemical in nature. He’s not simply asserting what he believes on this subject so you and I can be edified. He’s responding to “charges” made by a former student/associate of his, Sebastian Castellio. The editor’s (Paul Helm) indicates some of their prior relationship. But in the final pages of the  book Calvin gives us more information about their relationship. This book reeks of betrayal. Polemics and betrayal make for some bombastic language at times. It may also explain why this book is not as clear as I’d hoped at times (but perhaps this was me having been online too much, rotting my brain, or too focused on the good cigars I’d often smoke while reading this). I read this book intermittently over the course of a few months. Far too long for a book of its size (122 pages), but I’ve been busy with other matters.

All this to say, I’d be careful to whom I recommend this book. I would recommend this for more mature Christians who have an interest in Calvin because they’ve already read his more popular works. It would be of interest to students of the Reformation and theological methods. I would not recommend this to someone struggling with the doctrine of providence or unfamiliar with how to do theology.

Helm’s introduction informs us that this was, in fact, Calvin’s third response to his fellow Frenchman on the subject. I suspect his frustrating was mounting as would mine. They met in Strasbourg. Castellio’s strength seemed to be languages, and Calvin appears to have taken a liking to the man. For a time Castellio was rector of the College of Geneva. It didn’t last long. First, Castellio denied the canonicity of the Song of Songs, calling it a lewd book. Then Calvin worked with him on a translation of the Bible into French. They differed greatly, and argued, about their approaches to translation. As the relationship soured, Castellio resigned from the college. He seems to have accepted at least some of Servetus’ writings, for later in this volume Calvin calls Servetus his master (this could be figuratively since Calvin did consider him a heretic in the body of his response). But the execution of Servetus by the Genevan authorities led to Castellio’s personal campaign against them, and Calvin. He was not open about this, often using a pen name instead of his own.

“The work provides us with a small window onto the boisterous, argumentative years of the Reformation, not in this case to the main conflicts but to the skirmishes initiated by some of its lesser characters, such as Pighius and Servetus and, of course, Castellio.” (pp. 18)

Helm notes that Calvin was generally gentle and accommodating to those he considered open or friendly to his views. “But he is pitiless and unflattering toward those such as Castellio who openly crossed him.” Castellio, on the other hand, seems less concerned with clear theological thinking as to ridicule and misrepresent Calvin. His goal seems to be to repeatedly jab his finger in Calvin’s eye. If they lived next to each other in Bowling Green, one thinks he’s blindside Calvin and stomp him when Calvin got off his lawn mower.

“To Calvin’s intense irritation, here is a man, once a friend and follower, who is not impatient of the carefully crafted subtleties that Calvin sometimes uses to advance his position, and above all contemptuous of the God whose interests Calvin sought to advance. Even their Protestantism provides them with little common ground.” (pp. 19-20)

Helm then moves into some theological analysis of the book. He critiques Castellio’s method. The antagonist blurs theological distinctions so that he accuses Calvin of equal ultimacy regarding God’s decrees of salvation and sin/reprobation. Calvin follows a typical medieval view of the two wills of God: his secret will (decrees) and his revealed will (declarations & commands). Calvin depends heavily on Augustine in this volume, the only other author he quotes. Castellio’s method also relies heavily on reason while Calvin’s on revelation. Castellio sets reason above revelation. While Calvin obviously uses reason, he understands it to be bound to revelation. There are limits to the powers of reason as well as things not revealed to us. He invokes Deut. 29:29 (as any student of Calvin’s would guess). His introduction is helpful in understanding how each participant will engage in this disputation. Helm also notes, at the end, how Arminius’ own formulations are dependent upon Castellio’s. He built, as Muller calls it, a theology of creation, far more popular than Castellio’s. But both rejected Calvin’s theology of grace.

The book proper begins with a series of Articles, 14, Castellio generates (better, fabricates) from Calvin’s writings. He presents as series of strawmen arguments since they bear little to no resemblance to what Calvin actually wrote. He misrepresents Calvin. What is unclear is how much of this he actually believed and how much he purposely twisted just to tick Calvin off. As he explains these articles you do find instances of confusing logic, conflation of ideas, failure to make distinctions and more really bad theological method. Here are some example of him tying himself in knots (as I noted in the margins of my copy):

“If God wills sin, then the Devil does not will sin. That is to say, the idea that the Devil is God is a complete contradiction. If God wills sin, he loves sin’ and if he loves sin, he hates righteousness.” (pp. 45)

“… if the (secret) will of God often contends with his command, how can it be known when he wills or when he does not will what he commands? … For instance, if God commands me not to commit adultery and yet wills that I commit adultery, and yet I ought not to commit adultery, then I ought to do what is contrary to his will.” (pp. 45)

“Your false God is slow to mercy and quick to wrath. He created the largest part of the world for perdition.” (pp. 52)

“But the God of Calvin is the father of lies who evidently governs sometimes by what he says and at other times by his secret promptings.” (pp. 53)

He’s trying to make Calvin’s understanding of God appear to be a moral monster, and the Christian life not practicable because he can’t make simple distinctions. How you think matters. And this is some seriously stinking thinking. He also appears to operate from a denial of depravity. This is an unstated presupposition of his that seems to infect his reasoning leading to a number of faulty conclusions.

“… if God prompts perverse affections and then he flies into a rage, he hates the same people before the perverse affections arise, for to prompt perverse affections is the work of hatred. Therefore, he hates the innocent. For men are innocent before the perverse affections arise.” (pp. 50)

Castellio also attacks Calvin’s “students” as contentious and sinful. He puts all his arguments into the mouths of Calvin’s opponents while affirming them as personally unanswerable. There is one more claim that his “disciples” depend more upon Calvin “than upon reason.” Here he affirms his view of reason over and above Scripture, and denies that Calvin’s doctrines arise from Scripture.

The main body of the book is Calvin’s point by point response to Castellio. He works through the articles. This divides the book into readable chunks for busy people. Much of Calvin’s argument is that his doctrines are in fact derived for Scripture. He places Scripture above (not against) reason. Castellio argues for common sense, common sense, common sense => theology from below, subject to our judgment. Man is the arbiter of truth.

“But if you allow no other form of reasoning except what an earthly man recognizes, then by such arrogance and disdain you deny yourself access to the very doctrine of knowledge of which is only possible to someone with a reverential spirit. … Everything loses its authority and grace if it does not satisfy your reason.” (pp. 61)

Calvin also notes that he has already answered these objections three or four times thus far. He notes that these articles falsely represent his views. He notes his dependence on Augustine who also faced similar stubborn objections. Castellio frequently didn’t cite Calvin’s works. When he quotes Calvin, he takes him out of context. Some of the accusations he makes are similar to those that Paul faced and answered in places like Romans 9-11. Calvin’s point? “You aren’t arguing against me, but the Scriptures when we examine the tensions in Scripture” is what he’d say. In terms of those tensions and distinctions Calvin asks:

“Truly God invites all men to repentance; therefore, all might return to the road where he offers pardon. Now, what we must here consider is whether the conversion that God requires is according to man’s free choice or is a truly unique gift from God. Therefore, insofar as all men are exhorted to repent, the prophet rightly denies that God wills the death of the sinner. Why does God not convert everyone to himself equally? The reason is in the hands of God’s secret will.” (pp. 71)

He notes that Castellio also has to answer these great questions.

“This knot is also for you to untie. Since no one comes near to God unless the secret influence of the Spirit draws him, why are not all men without discrimination drawn, if God wills all to salvation? For from his discrimination it certainly is to be concluded that God has a particular secret way in which many are excluded from salvation.” (pp .73)

Calvin also unearths some of his other presuppositions: “Nor will you accept that the causes of wrath are in man himself” (pp. 74). Castellio rejects the depravity of men as the root of God’s judgment and man’s temptation to sin. He espouses a weak view of foreknowledge, separating God’s “power and his prescience” (pp. 75). He is judging God by feeble sense, to quote Cowper’s hymn on the subject. Calvin warns Castellio of dualism.  He reminds him that God uses primary and secondary causes (pp. 191). He schools him in the doctrine of concurrence- two or more persons willing the same action but for different reasons (God’s being good and Satan’s and men’s being evil).

There are moments you have to stop and think (especially if you’ve been distracted by your children) to sort out the argument. He will trace out Castellio’s argument at times so keeping the train of thought is essential.

He responds to the questioning of Calvin and disciples’ character with observations about Castellio’s.

“When I fed you in my home, no man had ever appeared to be more proud and more deceitful or more destitute than yo. Whoever does not perceive you to be an imposter and a cynic devoted to shamelessness, and a buffoon barking against piety, they are absolutely without judgment.” (pp. 118)

“But it must certainly be that you were too dull, because you were not able to understand what I have taught you, both in the familiarity of my own home and also what you heard when I so often preached in the public assembly.” (pp. 119)

“… you boast among your followers that study is empty and frivolous (the same study that is employed in philosophy, logic, and even theology) in order that you might gain more disciples for yourself. … You, on the other hand, request that untutored men who despise all learning and are inflated only with the breath of arrogance appear in public so that they may audaciously make judgments concerning the mysteries of heaven.” (pp. 120-121)

You see here the sense of betrayal that drives his harsh words. Still, these words are mild by some of today’s standards. We see a picture of Castellio as something of a fundamentalist Arminian. He was anti-intellectual; anti-scholarship in addition to exalting human reason. He was also, in Calvin’s estimation, a heretic. He didn’t just disagree, but held to views that Calvin put him outside the bounds of the Church. And so he ends:

“May God restrain you, Satan. Amen.” (pp. 122)

There is much here that is important to learn in terms of doing theology. There is some here that we should likely avoid in terms of doing polemics. We should continue to speak the truth in love. Lay out presuppositions to the light of day for evaluation. Clearly make proper distinctions. Reconcile the tensions found in Scripture instead of just proof-texting. Bur resist the temptation to denigrate the other person. Truth in the face of lies (even half-truths), and love in the face of animosity. I believe Calvin did the former but at times failed in the latter. May God have mercy on us all.

 

 

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As I prepared to preach on Jonah I wanted to pick up a new commentary. I’d preached thru Jonah (a mere 4 sermons) during a stint as supply just before moving to AZ. I struggle with reading books over again. I wanted a fresh look, so I took a look.

I came across Kevin Youngblood’s volume Jonah, part of the Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament Series. This was a new series to me, and relative new. I liked the section of the Introduction I read on line and decided to buy it.

I was not disappointed. This volume was greatly helpful to me as I thought through Jonah and prepared to preach it again.

This is a more technical commentary, but not overwhelmingly so. Youngblood did a good job of making the literary and grammatical features of Jonah understandable, and indicate their importance to the text.

Each chapter gives you the Main Idea of the Passage, Literary Context, Translation and Outline, Structure and Literary Form, Explanation of the Text,  and the Canonical and Practical Significance. It packs in quite a bit of information. It was understandable. It was not overwhelming in sheer volume. Many of his thoughts found their way into my preaching on the text as I pondered the original meaning and made the epochal adjustment for application.

This is a series I’ll consider using in the future as my technical volume. I really enjoyed how it was set up. The information was pertinent and assisted my preaching. One weakness would be it was a bit light on connecting the text to Christ. There was some, but there could be more to help those less experienced in using typology to get at the gospel in OT texts. This is a worthy addition to a pastor or teacher’s library.

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It has been a very long time since I’ve watched All in the Family. But one of the “bits” that I remember periodically is the argument between Archie and Meathead about how to put to socks and shoes. Was it a sock and a sock, then a shoe and a shoe, or a sock and a shoe and a sock and a shoe.? Meanwhile, the whole reason Archie was there was they were running late to go fishing. Now they were even later. And angry.

A number of arguments and discussions about the best method of evangelism are like that. They keep us from doing what we actually should do (evangelism) and we become frustrated with one another. Perhaps it is the little Pharisee in all of us but we want everyone to know that our way is best. The rest are just pretenders.

Mike Bechtle is not going to argue for one way as the best way to evangelize in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. He does start with his informal research in bookstores. First, he found that most Christian bookstores had few books on evangelism. The clerks would tell him, “There isn’t enough interest.” What few he found were “heavily slanted toward the traditional extrovert perspective.” He had two thoughts:

  1. According to Scripture, God has a real passion for people. He wants us to be godly people, but he also wants us to intentionally influence others toward faith.
  2. The percentage of books I found that dealt with “outreach” (evangelism) was tiny compared with the percentage of books dealing with “inreach” (growth).

One of the tensions we’ve argued over, generally speaking, is like Archie and Meathead’s argument. Which comes first, believing or belonging? In some circles (largely pietistic, baptistic and modern) evangelism happens “out there”. They believe and then become part of a local church. In other circles (Westminster Confessionalism and postmodern) the person becomes part of the congregational life and comes to faith thru the witness of word and deed (and Sacraments) of the church.

My confessional standards, the aforementioned Westminster Confession, point to the ministry of Word and Sacrament being the ordinary means. Our children are baptized and participate in the life of the church and then believe. We invite unbelievers to hear the Word preached and hope they believe. I think that is ordinary, in the terms of the Confession.

But not exclusive. There are some people who won’t accept an invitation to worship, community group etc. Evangelism necessarily takes place out there in the hopes of getting them in here.

Arguing for one, not both/and, distracts us from engaging in evangelism with the people both in our midst and those in our circles of influence. Here Bechtle makes a (small) mistake. He brings us Philippians 1:18. Paul was rejoicing that Christ was preached despite people’s motives. Bechtle is focused on different means. Just be explicit about the shift.

Another area Bechtle seems to struggle with is a clear grasp of the gospel. Or rather expressing what he means by presenting the gospel. You may present different aspects of the gospel based upon needs, or the direction the conversation has been going. But people have been known to have unproductive discussions over the content of gospel presentations.

Bechtle then explores 7 misconceptions about evangelism I’ve tried to simplify.

1. Evangelism bears witness to the whole plan of salvation. Eventually it will. But you can really be evangelizing and only get to a small part of the Christian message. Jesus didn’t walk around with His version of the 4 Spiritual Laws (that we could worship) but met people where they were and … asked questions of them. So, don’t feel like you need to give an information dump and call that evangelism. Evangelism is a process, not an event. You may only have one evangelism opportunity with them, but God’s work is bigger than you.

We recently went to a wedding. We knew only the bride and groom, who are not Christians. We ended up at a table with her former co-workers who all happened to be Christians. They had been sharing the faith with her for years. The burden was not on my wife and I, but we do need to participate in the process.

2. Success is measure by conversions. Many books (and sermons) have a sales pitch view of evangelism. I’ve closed a few deals, so to speak (and I hate speaking like that). But I was successfully sharing my faith even though the person didn’t come to faith in the course of that conversation. It is not our job to convert. God does that (this opens a bigger can of worms). The means He uses is these conversations with Christians who speak the truth in love. The push for a conversion can produce manipulative practices that lead people to think they are a Christian when they actually aren’t. Success is sharing your faith, perhaps moving them an inch closer (from a human perspective).

3. If you don’t share the gospel with someone, their blood is on your hands. Some people use Ezekiel 3:18 to guilt-trip the average person. Taken out of context, it could mean that, but we are to keep Scripture in context. It was a message to Ezekiel, not to the people. He was to be faithful as God’s prophet to God’s people. Ezekiel didn’t have a messiah complex. You shouldn’t either. Don’t share the faith out of guilt and fear. You are not the only person God can and will use in that person’s life. It is NOT all up to you. Relax…. it is a process in which you may play a role.

He notes the “search for the one” to marry. This is similar. It is the notion that there is one person out there who is perfect for you and your job is to find them. Where Blechte struggled with the logic was he couldn’t control “the one’s choices”. Not only could he mess it up, but she could and then he’d be stuck with a lousy marriage. Marriage isn’t a means to perfect bliss because you marry “the one”. Marriage is about two imperfect people facing their problems and clinging to Christ. It is about God changing us both through the process. Evangelism is kinda like that. God’s got it all under control, just be faithful and let him worry about all that other stuff.

4. Witness early and often. It is like voting in Chicago. Fact is you are surrounded by a wide variety of people. You will struggle to communicate with or identify with many of them. God has put plenty of people in your life you can bear witness to. Don’t think you’re supposed to reach them all.

5. You have to be bold. Boldness is also a process. As we grow more assured in our faith we’ll grow more bold. But few of us are naturally bold, or made supernaturally bold instantaneously. “But boldness really means doing what God has asked us to do in each situation, relying on his strength.”

6. “You shall be my witnesses” is a command. He’s referring to Acts 1:8. It is a statement of fact rooted in the empowering presence of the indwelling Spirit. You are a witness (part of our identity), so bear witness as opportunities arise. As Americans we can focus on doing. He’s trying to remind us that being leads to doing.

7. God loves you when you witness, and doesn’t when you don’t. Many of us wrestle with self-righteousness. We think we still live under the covenant of works. Therefore when we fail we think God now hates us. We don’t have an understanding of union and communion. United to Christ we are secure in God’s love, just as a child is secure in the love of a good parent. When we disobey, God responds like a good parent. He may be displeased because He loves us, and disciplines us, but we don’t fall out of favor or kicked to the curb. Lose the performance based relationship you’ve likely been having with God. Faith rests in Christ’s perfect obedience on our behalf. This frees us to share out of love and gratitude, not an “I have to” mindset.

Having deconstructed some of our false views of evangelism, Bechtle tries to reconstruct a healthier understanding of evangelism.  Here are the 5 things he says.

  1. Evangelism is a team effort. The Body bears the responsibility and each of us has a place in that in keeping with our place in the Body.
  2. You have to hang out with non-Christians. Paul sought them out, and so should we. One problem is that we often misunderstand Scripture and avoid them. Paul told the Corinthians to avoid the immoral person who claimed to be a Christian. “Most Christians have separated themselves from the world for fear of being corrupted instead of praying for protections as they live among unbelievers.” Too many of us have no non-Christian friends. To bear witness to them, you have to spend time with them and love them.
  3. We don’t “do” evangelism- God does. Our task is to bear witness. God converts. How we bear witness may build walls or tear them down. He notes one guy started asking people if he could pray for them. He would follow up as he could to manifest love and concern. Some of those walls came down when they were genuinely cared for.
  4. God uses us the way he made us. He gave us gifts, a personality and personal history that are useful for the task of bearing witness. You bear witness uniquely as a result. There are people you can identify with, and people you can’t. When we try to do things we aren’t equipped for, we will botch it and be frustrated. Not every method is for everyone. There is no “best method” but many that are better for you or worse for you. Some will better match up with how God made you. Use those. This is why much evangelism training frustrated me- it was asking me to be someone other than God made me.
  5. Satan does the opposite of what God does. Oh, there will be some truth in there to hook you. But there is enough falsehood to get you off track. He’d rather you try to bear witness as someone else instead of relying on what God has given you.

“So is everything we’ve been taught wrong? No. It’s just incomplete.”

Put on your socks and shoes, and bear witness as only you can do.

 

 

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No, I’m not talking about belly buttons. And neither is Mike Bechtle.

He moves into the different tendencies among introverts and extroverts as the next chapter in Evangelism for the Rest of Us. He begins with a helpful illustration of shopping for ski goggles with his son. They chose different colored lenses. Then discussed the color of clothing. They couldn’t agree because the colored lens affected all they saw.

While not necessarily as obvious because you’ve always worn them, the “lenses” of introversion and extroversion color how you see the world, people, events and, well, everything. They form part of the way we view life. It is one of our presuppositions through which we filter information.

Like McHugh, Bechtle notes that the majority of people are extroverted. As a result, many introverts hear the message that their is something wrong with them, and they have to change (we ALL have to change!).

He brings up another real life example to help us see this. He was at dinner with a very extroverted friend. They saw a man eating alone. His friend felt bad for this solitary diner and wished he could just go sit with him and keep him company (apparently he hadn’t thought to invite the man to their table). Brechtle thought “Lucky guy, a peaceful meal.” He wouldn’t want someone to come over to “keep him company.”

The day before I read this I experienced a miscommunication and sat alone in a restaurant waiting from someone who wouldn’t show. I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I thought. I called my dad to wish him “Happy Birthday”. I was good with dining alone and would have struggled to find time for that call otherwise.

He taught a SS class about the differences between introverts and extroverts. “The class was receptive to these concepts and was friendly to the discussion about the place of quiet personalities in evangelism, but the extroverts were the ones participating in the discussion.” Many of their comments were about the introverts changing, not discovering how God can use them as He made them.

He reminds us that we are talking about a sliding scale. Introversion and Extroversion are on a continuum, not hard & fast, sealed categories. Most people are not at the extremes but grouped toward the center. There are few “pure” introverts or extroverts. Most of us will find we share some characteristics of both, but more of one.

It could look like this:

Introvert ——————–Ambivert———————– Extrovert

Or this:

Introvert ————————————-

————————————–Extrovert (WordPress won’t let this look right, only some overlap_

“But most of us aren’t at either of those extremes; we’re somewhere in between.”

He offers a 2 page self-test that looked a bit different than the ones I’m used to seeing. He then briefly describes the categories of results.

“Introverts don’t need therapy- they need renewal.”

He digs slightly deeper into personality theory, briefly describing the formation of the Myers-Briggs personality indicator. He also brings in the temperments developed by David Keirsey. There are 4 different continuums, not simply introversion/extroversion.

  1. Extroversion (gaining energy from people) or Introversion (gaining energy from being alone).
  2. Sensing (taking in information through the senses)  or Intuiting (seeing patterns and possibilities)
  3. Thinking (making logical, objective decisions) or Feeling (making intuitive, personal decisions)
  4. Perceiving (recognizing a banana) or Judging (deciding the banana would taste good). (pp. 39)

So you end up with 16 different personality types. Many people find this information helpful. Some don’t. But “we’re a unique combination of temperament traits.” Those traits shape how we see and interact with the world and people around us. This means our personality impacts how we evangelize. It is not the only thing, but it is an important thing. As a result, in evangelism training, some attention should be paid to understanding and apply all this.

You will tend to evangelize in certain ways. Instead of finding a method that is “foreign” to you, develop the one that “fits” you. Think of it as throwing a ball with your non-dominant hand. Why would you do that except in emergencies? Don’t do it in evangelism.

This also means that the people you meet know have different personalities. How the gospel is presented to them matters. They will have a harder time hearing it from people with radically different personalities. Obviously God can choose to work above and beyond means, but He generally chooses to work with ordinary means. Different people will reach different people.

The church, being made up of differing personality types, works together to bring people to Christ (again, speaking of God’s ordinary means). You aren’t alone and aren’t expected to reach everyone or see anyone through the entire process. Some may be gatherers, making the initial connections, while others better at clarifying the truth and pressing it home to make the choices clear.

Too bad he limited himself to only one continuum! I’m intrigued at who the 16 personality types (8 of which would be introverts and yet quite different) would shape how we make Jesus known. Because they would!

My mind also ran down the rabbit trail of the three-fold office of Christ and our gifts as prophet, priest and king. Surely those affect how we approach evangelism.

But he’ll spend the rest of the book pondering how introversion matters in God’s great mission.

 

 

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I’ve been studying the subjects of introverts and evangelism. How introverts evangelize to be precise. I want to help the introverts in our congregation to bear witness. This quest led me to Evangelism for the Rest of Us: Sharing Christ withing Your Personality Style by Mike Bechtle. So, if you are tired of reading about introversion, read no more. But I invite you anyway so perhaps you’ll recognize their faithfulness that went unnoticed by you before.

Bechtle begins with his own relationship with the Great Commission. Some of the stories are funny (I’d probably enjoy having lunch with him). Like many of us, he went to evangelism training seminars, had to do evangelism at Bible College, participated in campaigns to evangelize etc. It all didn’t “feel right” or seemed so very unproductive. He experienced increasing dissonance.

“But something didn’t make sense. I knew God wanted me to witness- but I always dreaded it. I knew God was supposed to give us power and boldness if we asked for it, but it never seemed to help.”

So, much of his evangelism was motivated by guilt. Been there? Most of us have.

He didn’t “relish the idea of an impending conversation with complete strangers.” Some people feel that way. Some people love those conversations. If we think THAT is evangelism, well ….

He also thought about those moments when Christians came to share their faith with him. He wondered if non-Christians felt that way when we shared our faith with them (some do, some don’t). He didn’t want others to feel the way he felt (a thought that often comes to me as an application of the Golden Rule). Maybe we should evangelize in the way we’d want to be evangelized (which doesn’t include anger-filled debates for most of us). But I get ahead of myself, and Bechtle.

“I wondered how many other people put up thicker emotional walls against Christians because of the evangelism encounters they’d endured.”

So he wondered. For himself, and for many other people.

“The seed was a simple thought: What if the problem isn’t obedience? What if the things I’ve always been taught about evangelism aren’t the full picture? What if there’s more to it than I’ve been told? What if God has a variety of ways we can share our faith- ways that are different from the traditional methods we’ve been taught?

His goal isn’t to dismiss the methods he’d been taught. His goal is to say there are other effective means too. That effectiveness is rooted in being appropriate for each of us based on who we are as the evangelist. Faithful effectiveness will look differently since each of us is different. There is no one-size-fits-all method of evangelism. He wants each of us to discover ways in which we can engage in evangelism in a way that honors who we are and the people we evangelize so we do see people coming to Christ.

His second chapter focuses on how function follows form. We are not talking about inventing something to fulfill a function. We want to be faithful in light of who God made us (and His work of sanctification in renewing us in His image- Belchte overlooked that part). Life goes better when all works as it should. When we use the right tools to do what they were designed to do. God makes us like snowflakes. Not to melt under heat, but uniquely.

There are moral absolutes. And there are differing methods to fulfill many commands. We are to sing in worship. We can sing in many styles, keys, notes etc. We can sing accompanied by a variety of instruments, or not. How your church worships is not how every faithful church worships. How you evangelize is not how every faithful Christian has to evangelize.

“We’ll find our greatest fulfillment and joy in doing the things God designed us to do and the greatest frustration when we work outside our unique, God-given design.”

Part of our creation is being introverts and extroverts. These parts of who we are affect how we evangelize. This book explores that. This chapter notes common themes he encountered as he talked with Christians.

  1. I really want to evangelize.” The problem is that method they learned, or what they think it means to evangelize is intimidating or poorly suited for who they are.
  2. It would be easier if I were more outgoing.” Like Adam McHugh, he notes that western civilization seems to be structured around extroversion. When it comes to evangelism, many introverts feel like square pegs being forced into a round hold.
  3. I’ve tried, but I don’t see any results.” While he doesn’t include God’s providence, there is that factor. But it can also be that we are using a method that is not the best method for us.
  4. I don’t know how to lead someone to Christ.” Some people have never experienced training. They don’t know how.
  5. There has to be a better way.” This is what drives the book, finding better ways for each of us to bear witness to Christ, His sufferings and subsequent glories.

Let us consider ways to share our faith that may feel more “natural” to us, and be more effective.

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