Some Problems With Modern Evangelism (We Assume Too Much and Know Too Little)January 7, 2008
The initial problem in evangelism today is that we have false assumptions about how truly dead the un-born of God sinner is. The majority of Christians today have been taught that an un-repentant sinner is more likened to a sick patient rather than a walking corpse. We have this false notion from the outset and our efforts to evangelize are in vain unless God picks up the pieces of our ignorance. The truth is that we ARE evangelizing zombies and walking corpses. No one goes to a grave yard and tries to sell life insurance. Yet this is what we are doing when we assume that sinners are actually searching for forgiveness.
Herein lies the crux of the entire matter. The majority of sinners aren’t looking for forgiveness. We falsely believe they are and so we only seek to tell them that forgiveness is available to them. That becomes all we do. We actually think we are fulfilling the great commission when we’re actually hindering it. Many are fixated with only preaching Christ’s offer of forgiveness through His body and blood. However, once we finally learn that a walking corpse doesn’t think it needs forgiveness, anymore than a dead body thinks it needs life, we might start preaching the gospel God uses to raise dead bodies. That is, both halves of the gospel.
Many of the things I will say on this post are sure to offend. I may hit that uncomfortable “fire and brimstone” preaching nerve that you have disdained so very much since childhood. I just want to say, I assure you my intentions are to share the truth in love, and present a balanced view of the gospel. So here we go…
The entirety of the gospel is not blessings through Jesus’ accomplishments, while this is certainly an aspect of the gospel. The full gospel would also have us be confronted with the knowledge of our sin and God’s wrath to come. It isn’t until we establish the negative parts of the gospel that the joys of the gospel can be fully embraced. North Americans would be more thankful on Thanksgiving if they were forced to eat their luscious meals with gigantic pictures of homeless people in front of them. Likewise, modern Evangelicals would be more thankful for the cross if they ever stopped to think what it would be like without it, namely, to be under God’s eternal wrath. Christians must learn that the good news of the gospel makes no sense until the bad news is first learned. But Christians could give a rip about presenting the gospel this way because they themselves don’t even understand it in these terms! The majority of Christians today embrace a pragmatic gospel which fulfills humanistic needs and gives immediate results. Because of this, we only recognize a dot in the gospel. We are missing the Monet.
When it comes to the first part of the gospel, the bad news, we see that we are at odds with God. It is not that we are good people in trouble with a bad God, but that we are bad people in trouble with an infinitely good God ~ John Wesley. God loves Himself so much that He hates those who are lawless and will judge them with eternal torment for their rebellion against Him. Christ has been offended personally by our sin. We must reckon with Him alone in the end. We must stop waisting away the years in seeking people’s approval. We must divert our attention to how one gets right with God, for He is the final Judge of everyone and every sin.
“Do you mean Christ is the Judge?” Yes. The same Jesus who is portrayed as being on the cover of 1 century GQ magazine is the Christ. The fact that Jesus was not attractive and not white (He was a Palestinian Jew) is not the matter, however. Jesus Christ will Judge every one. All authority has been given to Him from the Father and to Him every knee will bow (2 Tim 4:1, Phil 2).
The same God who died for us is also the same God who will judge us. It is not that Jesus is a sweetheart and God the Judge is the perturbed one. The Savior and the Judge are one and the same person, but Jesus Christ is both loving and just. He is not merely one or the other. Christ is both the lamb AND the lion. He diverts His justice to Himself to show how much He loves us, and He gives justice to those who remain hostile to Him to show how much He loves Himself. This moment Christ reigns in Heaven poised to cause a blood bath on earth when He returns in His own good timing (Rev 19:11-16). Many Christians do not see Christ rightly.
Is what I am saying offensive to you? Have you ever for a moment viewed Christ in this way? If not, you may have a profoundly un-biblical view of Jesus Christ and your own sinfulness. Do you boast in the cross alone? Do you boast in the fact that you were slaughtered vicariously through Christ 2008 years ago on His cross? If you do not, perhaps fighting for the truth and contending for the Christian faith rightly is not on your to-do list.
The gospel is not merely personal liberation and freedom. It also entails fear and trembling because we are not right with a holy and mighty God. The ‘entire’ gospel is where our greatest fears AND our greatest hopes intersect. Some will present the gospel as only fearful and overbearing. “You sinner! You’re going to Hell! God hates fags! You’re not good enough to be saved! Why can’t you be perfect like me!” Then some will wrongfully emphasize love and grace. “Smile, Jesus loves you. Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart. He wants you to open it for Him, but He wont force you. God is ‘crazy’ about you. He thinks about you all the time. He has a secret crush on you. Embrace the cosmic hug in the sky and you’ll be saved.”
These self-righteous and sissy notions are plaguing Christianity today, and plaguing ‘Christianity Today’. We wrongly assume that the gospel is “God hates you” or “God loves you”. It’s either that Jesus stabs His voodoo doll with a sinister look in His eyes just waiting to return and destroy you, or it’s that Jesus provided a way to give you inner-peace, self improvement, emotional stability, physical blessings, a positive self-image, a successful life, a cancellation of life challenges, and a full body massage.
Now, it is the “attractive” side of the gospel that is more emphasized than anything today. Modern evangelicals are packaging and selling Christianity by the truck loads in this fashion. There is a great tendency in modern Christianity to teach that Jesus’ atonement is primarily to make you a winner. This is not the biblical gospel the Apostles taught, such as in Gal 3:6-14. Instead , it is business professionalism intertwined with Christianity. The hilarious part is that businesses actually borrow Christian principles to better function. That means churches are influencing Christians to try and look like business men who are trying to look like Christians!
So we assume that the gospel is powerful to save because it is attractive in all these ways. We think “surely everyone is searching for these things. So let’s present Jesus as the solution.” But as my Pastor says, “humans are more filled with things such as pride than they are empty of things such as love and acceptance.” In other words, our biggest problem isn’t that we are empty inside. Our biggest problem is what Scripture says it is. It is that we are at odds with Christ. This is the greatest predicament we all face: “How on earth can I escape the eternal wrath of God?!” ~ R.C. Sproul
Instead of making the gospel about needing forgiveness from a holy and vengeful God, we make the gospel an advertisement about how forgiveness is included in a package of felt needs. Kind of like batteries being included with a toy. We say “if you act now by chanting the sinner’s prayer mantra you can receive inner peace and purpose… (quickly) forgiveness included.”
Thus we think it is our place to do the Holy Spirit’s job and woe people into accepting the “gospel” by chanting the sinner’s prayer mantra. “Once they say the prayer they’re saved!” we think. Then we tell our Christian friends about our evangelistic encounters. “They got saved!” we exclaim. “They said the sinner’s prayer!”
The crowd lets out a collective “Oooooh!”
“That’s AWE-some” says a voice in the background.
But the true gospel, the gospel that the Holy Spirit most powerfully uses to save, is the one that places both dread and forgiveness side by side. It is the gospel that is offensive as Hell but at the same time as liberating as Heaven. The gospel is offensive as Hell because Hell is offensive and the true gospel touches on Hell. Hell is God’s own flawless, perfect, good, right, and just punishment to our infinite lawlessness. It is Christ’s very own deserved wrath (2 Tim 4:1, Rom 2:5).
The gospel would have us consider this: we will all die very soon. 80 years is what most live up to if they’re lucky and this amount of time is easily swallowed by the thought of eternity. As soon as we die we must come face to face with Jesus Christ our Judge (Phil 2, Heb 9:27). The overarching question to ask is “will it be the most exciting thing imaginable when I meet Him, or will it be the most horrifying thing imaginable when I meet Him?!” Every single person who has ‘ever’ lived will fall into one of these categories. This is why only the cross of Jesus Christ makes way for the greatest peace we could ever hope to have. That is, peace with Christ Himself. So then which of these categories are you in, and does anyone identify themselves with either category when you’re done preaching the gospel to them?
This is the initial foundation of the genuine gospel message. This is the part of the gospel that God sovereignly uses to raise corpses from the dead and give them life. In evangelism, we must not foolishly assume that sinners are poised and ready to receive forgiveness, thus endlessly say “Jesus loves you” all the time. Rather, we must approach evangelism from the correct biblical angle. We must reveal to people their NEED of forgiveness, not simply say “forgiveness is available”. See the difference?
The dead can only begin to see their need of forgiveness when we do our job and expose that they have greatly offended Christ, for all must answer to Christ in the end. If a zombie is left to itself it will not care about forgiveness. It needs to stand next to God to see that it needs forgiveness. I am not saying we need to go about this by introducing people to the machine gun called the “doctrine of Hell”. That will hinder our efforts as well. While we do not blush about the doctrine of sin and judgment, we can share these things in a loving way. We must do 3 things. 1. always find common ground between yourself and an unbeliever and focus on that to build relationship. 2. Ask questions as a non-threatening way to raise spiritual issues. 3. Get involved personally with people’s lives. Go to the movies, get a drink, invite someone over, etc. If you can’t get involved personally then provide them dvd’s, cd’s, and books that might help them. ~ Tom Downs (Finding Common Ground: chapter 10)
But when it comes time to share the gospel, sin must be revealed. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and is revealed by way of the holy commandments (Exodus 20, Rom 7:7). They show us we are not as good as God. Then a bloody cross begins to make more and more sense. It is a sin alter. Not for Christ, but for us through Christ. Once all this becomes clear, forgiveness is not only needed, but graciously available through Jesus Christ’s atonement! Only those who believe and repent will know they are forever right with God, for they can rest assure that God’s wrath was diverted to His Son, not them. They can also rest assure they need no additional slaying or work because Christ rose from the dead proving our sinless account before God forever! (Rom 6:4-10, Rom 4:25, 1 Cor 15:17) When you compare the gospel of Scripture to the gospel of man you may find that it is more wonderful and beautiful than anything.
The church must begin to cherish Christ as He offers the forgiveness that sinners need so badly. We’ve made Christianity a clown show, an ambient chill bar, and a super market for human wants. All this for the sake of appearing attractive and meeting un-checked felt needs. We must bring Jesus Christ back into center focus. But even this is not good enough. We must see Him as we have not ventured to see Him thus far. We must let Jesus Christ back into the church. Can you hear that? “Knock, knock…” It’s the sound of Christ knocking on the church door. Will you let Him in? Will you welcome Him? (Rev 3:20)