Archive for May 2014
I’ve never been to a doctor who has given me a prescription without first taking my vital signs, asking pertinent questions, and then given a specific diagnosis. I think sometimes we do prescribe the Gospel before we give a more specific diagnosis in our evangelistic efforts and Gospel conversations.
Gospel Dumptrucks and Hand Grenades
When I was a non-believer I had a few conversations where I certainly felt like the person sharing Jesus with me just wanted me to shut up so they could back their Gospel dump truck on me and verbally unload. Maybe this has been you before – I know I have been on the giving and receiving ends of these conversations. How do we weave the Gospel into our conversations such that we aren’t backing up the dumptruck or lobbing a Gospel hand grenade and running? How can we speak more to the root of the unbelief and less in generalities and/or avoid tangential topics.
Smokescreens and Scuba-Diving
Reformed circles are relatively clear with regards to the essentials of the general Gospel prescription (creation, fall, redemption, consummation). What seems to be unclear is a road-map of how we get to those conversations and how we do winsomely.
The big thing that seems to be missing in all of our evangelistic and/or apologetic dialogue is basic listening and counseling skills. From my perspective most objections to the Gospel fit very broadly into one of three categories: head, heart, or hands. Of the head (intellectual objections), heart (emotive and idol-based objections), and hands (experiential or hypocritical objections) types of objections to the Gospel – so much of our conversations get stuck in head (ie. problem of evil, NT reliability, existence of God…) or hand (ie. ‘Christians are hypocrites’ [duh!], ‘I had a bad experience’, or ‘look at the Crusades’…) type objections to the Gospel. From my experience most of these objections are mere smokescreens meant to derail or parry the conversation away from the idols of their own heart – the real source of their unbelief. For people who have honest (head or hand) questions/objections give them, “honest answers,” as Francis Schaeffer said. To be helpful in our dialogue we must ask questions that get to the heart of the unbelief.
Scuba-diving is the term we use at our church for the art of asking questions that get to the heart and more root level idols. Here are some helpful scuba-diving questions:
-What are you looking forward to?
-What does that do (the potential surface or root level idol) for you?
-If you didn’t have to work (be a mom, study…) what would you most rather be doing?
These are all variations on the basic question, “what do you want?” The answer to the “what do you want” question can sometimes be helpful in diagnosing at least surface level idols (sex, money, laziness). Sometimes you will be able to connect the dots to more root level idols like comfort, escape, power, and control. Sometimes you hit brick walls because you lack the rapport or relationship needed to ask some of these questions. There is an art to scuba-diving where you must re-pressurize every so many feet that you dive and you have to know yourself and your relationship well enough to know how deep you can safely dive.
At the core you are trying to get a better picture of what is more beautiful, compelling, or joyful to them than the Gospel? What is it that they spend their time, money, and thought-life on? What do they want? What the heart wants reveals what the heart worships. The Gospel has so many metaphors, summaries, themes, aspects, touchpoints, and facets. Different Gospel analogies, themes, or metaphors (truth, security, fidelity, fear, anxiety, addiction, adoption, justice, grace, suffering, power, freedom…) can speak more winsomely to different idols. When we take a genuine interest in the other person’s soul we are more prone to ask questions and listen. Questions increase the depth of the scuba-dive. When we see with more specificity what the lost person’s heart wants, then we can speak the Gospel more directly to the idol(s).
Affirmation and Deconstruction
Once we have taken a look at the wants/idols of the person we have something like a diagnosis. Typically, idols are disproportionate manifestations of good things – for example the control idol is the good thing, leadership, absolutized. Before challenging an idol with the sledgehammer of the Gospel consider affirming the elements of it that were once good. Paul did this in Athens in Acts 17:22-23
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
The folks in Athens worshiped the idol of new knowledge. Paul stroked the idol before he deconstructed the idol. Earlier in the passage Paul gets chased out of Thessalonica and Berea and heads down to Athens to wait for Silas and Timothy. While Paul is waiting he goes into diagnosis mode in verse 16:
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.
Paul diagnosed the idols of the city before speaking the Gospel at them. On a more corporate level, this allowed Paul to affirm the Athenians desire for knowledge before he challenged the inadequacy of their gods. How ineffectual does your pantheon of other gods have to be to have an unnamed god that covers up the weakness and inability of all the others?
One might argue that the Gospel itself already has a diagnosis in it and you would be correct. All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. The kind of diagnosis I have in view here is more specific than it is general. The common state of mankind is helpful to draw out in Gospel conversation and is a necessary component of the Gospel. What I have in view here is connecting the Gospel with more specificity to the idols of the heart. Every idol has a short-run payoff but ultimately all idols over-promise and under-deliver. Good diagnosis allows us to show how the idol will not satisfy in the long-run and show how the Gospel will.
When diagnosis precedes prescription it helps to bring more precise focus and clarity as to how Christ is better than their surrogate god(s). May Paul’s prayer for clarity be the same as ours:
At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. – Col. 4:3-4
Racism, human trafficking, and abortion all share a common source to their evil – the fundamental denial of human dignity – more specifically the creator endowed dignity of being made in the image of God. This is unilaterally accomplished by carving out groups of people (by ethnicity, gender, vulnerability, or age) who are classified as sub-human and therefore not treated as equal human beings.
Racism denies the image of God in a particular ethnicity, people group, or tribal affiliation. It seeks to make the persons of such groups or affiliations lesser than your group or affiliation. In doing so it assails the inherent worth endowed by God. There are several idols at work in racism – power, control, pride, and ironically likely both self-love and self-hatred.
Human trafficking denies the image of God in humanity by treating certain humans as not being human at all, but rather property. All sense of dignity and worth must be deconstructed in order to justify the human as property. There are several idols at work in human trafficking, most notably, greed, power, control, and lust.
Abortion denies the image of God in those of a certain size, age, gestation, or relative level of “wantedness.” The human is made to be sub-human because it is small, young, not yet viable, and has not travelled the magical 6″ journey down the birth canal that suddenly and mysteriously imbues it with life, human rights, and legal status. Their are several idols at work here, most notably, lust, selfishness, comfort, and escape.
While perhaps difficult to personally engage heavily on all three fronts, I find it ironic that my own age demographic seem inclined to care about the first 2 of these 3 and not the third. I don’t know if this is for reasons of ignorance, idolatry, apathy, or all of the above. It will be interesting how history plays itself out on this particular issue… but I am willing to wager that our grand children will think of abortion with a similar disdain that our generation holds toward the Holocaust.
The Banality of Evil and Our Cultural Morass
I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to cut up our children for the pursuit of the ideal body, the next ladder rung of the career, or the perfect orgasm. I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow persons to be treated as property for sex or for unpaid work for the pursuit of cheaper goods, uncommitted and intimacy-less sex (rape). I hope we would see ourselves as being more dignified than to allow other ethnicities to be treated as less worthwhile, less valuable, and sub-human for the pursuit of feeling good about one’s own tribe at the expense of another tribe.
There is a certain banality to evil that lulls us into going along and getting along. It was the same banality that anesthetized the very bright German people into the wholesale slaughter of persons categorized as sub-human.
What we want is what we worship and what we worship controls us. This is true if we are pagans, atheists, agnostics, or Christians. We are all slaves to our wants. Those wants drive our ideas… And ideas have consequences… Often dire ones.
What the heart loves, the will chooses, the mind justifies – Thomas Cranmer