Monday, November 17, 2014

Evangelicals Evangelize – But that word, too, means more than you may think it means.

In a recent post to his blog (“Bait and Switch” at “Uncommon God; Common Good” found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2012/05/bait-and-switch/), Paul Louis Metzger responds to those who would assume that any commitment by Evangelical Christians toward other persons is merely a function of their desire for recognition on account of their success in evangelism.

 To be an Evangelical means to do...what?
I would add another factor in the equation. Some with whom I am acquainted seem desperate to validate their own beliefs by convincing others of their perspective on the truth. Failing to convince others, those engaging in these attempts will then turn to those, they believe, are already convinced. Thus we often seek to “evangelize” those who are already Evangelicals. It’s called “preaching to the choir,” a reference to pastors who punctuate their sermons by turning to the loft behind them and asking, “Can I get an Amen?!” Sadly, what has frequently become strident argumentation with others has been replayed to me by otherwise kind and compassionate Christians, ridiculing the beliefs of those who disagree, even with minor doctrines, even from within our own Christian traditions. It is sometimes as though I, as a pastor, must ally myself with a particular position in order to reassure the reporter of their relational security with Jesus Christ.

In those conversations, as well as those with others outside my particular heritage and tradition, and especially with those outside the Christian faith, I confess that my interests are not only those of mere curiosity and/or diplomatic dialogue. My concern for other persons is always framed by my desire to see the very best for them in their current circumstances, their continuing development, and their eternal destiny. As with Dr. Metzger, this is part of what makes me “an Evangelical.” (Note: that term, for me, carries implications of both “guilt-by-association” and “pride-of-ownership”—depending upon one’s definition of “Evangelical”—which point I belabor in the first post in this series, found here: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2014/11/when-you-say-evangelical-youve-said-lot.html)

Whatever you do is likely to be criticized. (It belongs on the counter.)
I would hold that an Evangelical is responsible to carefully study scripture as the basis for the discussions I would qualify as “doing theology in community.” That discussion must include the depths of twenty centuries from our historical community as well as a breadth of sources within the faith today. In order to communicate as clearly as possible, the current cultural and social realities of our day must also be as fully understood as possible. This requires dialogue with those outside the ranks of Christians, and certainly beyond the narrower designation of Evangelicals—and I can understand why they may not wish to talk as openly with me as I would prefer.

There will always be, for me, two key components to these conversations. First, I need to understand others’ perspectives in order to more clearly communicate (and even refine, as necessary) my own positions. Second, I seek to more clearly communicate my perspective so that others may have opportunity to accept or reject an accurate representation of the beliefs and behaviors of Christ’s gospel, instead of the accretions and adulterations that the gospel regularly attracts, even in my own presentation of it.

Again, this view is influenced by my deep dissatisfaction with so much of the misrepresentation of the gospel, especially by those who seek to abscond with the term Evangelical as a label for their socio-political manipulation, exploitation, and oppression—but even in that, I would hope to persuade you of my position’s accuracy. Why? Well, you’ll have to read about that in the next post.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... what is an evangelical? Can an evangelical who takes the gospel seriously--the gospel which gives offense because of its exclusivity and particularity--not be offensive? Where would the Gentile church be if Paul had decided to be less offensive? I think the question I wrestle with is: how do I communicate a potentially offensive gospel without being personally offensive in my manner, lack of grace, or insensitivity to crafting the gospel message in language which will communicate clearly and truthfully to my listener? I respect Franklin Graham for treading this line as carefully as possible, but not ducking the hard questions or issues. The woman who stood up in the midst of the prayer service in the National Cathedral did us a favor... she pointed to Jesus and the cross. Either He matters, and the cross was necessary, or not. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/15/us-usa-muslim-prayer-idUSKCN0IY2JJ20141115 --Chris.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Exactly, Chris! That's the dilemma I face and am trying to navigate through as a function of speaking the truth in love. I long to communicate the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth...but my own words and deeds are less than adequately ensured to do so, even in those areas where I am entirely convinced of my perspective, definition, application, and formulation of the Gospel (and there are a number of things of which I am very confident, and only perhaps correct). Among the areas that covers, of course, are the questions raised regarding how to identify and/or confront heresy. In that regard, thanks for the link. Would I hope to encourage the kinds of inter-faith gatherings that lead to understand and mutual participation in common goals? Yes, I have, and will likely continue to. But would I allow it to be cast as a worship service in which diverse beliefs are represented? I do that every Sunday at the independent, non-denominational community church that allows me the privilege of serving as their pastor. Like any pastor, I have a healthy uncertainty regarding my parishioners, and I would not be surprised if some were praying to a god that does not fully reflect the attributes, character, nature, and/or communication that has been revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ. But would I allow unchallenged, much less speak myself, the heresy that whatever you call "god" is the same God? Certainly not. While I think the line between my position and the rector of The National Cathedral is fairly broad, I can also sense that some on my side and hers would prefer we take a few steps back away from that line, just in case. Hence, my admiration for the courage of Franklin Graham and others who are willing to take the risk of being biblical, despite the potential for misunderstanding, if not outright misrepresentation by others. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

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