Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’
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
These books represent the best analysis on the present status and recent history of evangelicalism. This list is meant to be informative and not to be alarmist or disconcerting. I think the classic Dicken’s line, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times‘ will apply the Christ’s church til He return. It is implicit also in this list that works commending a Christian worldview, like Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth, are must reads. I have also omitted more esoteric debates including books on open theism, federal vision, new perspectives on paul… etc. The purpose of this list is zoomed out than those specific issues.
1. No Place for Truth by David Wells [e, p, s]
How modernity crept in and screwed up evangelicalism. Absolute classic.
2. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll [y, l, e, p, s]
The scandal of the evangelical mind is that it is so scarce and scant. You may also want to read Os Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds, addressing evangelicalism’s intellectual laziness and preoccupation with the temporary.
3. The Democritization of American Christianity by Nathan Hatch [e, p, s]
Fascinating analysis of the democritization of Christianity in America. His historical analysis is keen and well-researched.
4. Christianity and Liberalism by J. Greshem Machen [e, p, s]
This classic work delineates the liberalism of the early 20th century as being a completely other faith than the historic orthodox Christian faith. 86 years later it is still relevant.
5. God in the Wasteland by David Wells [e, p, s]
Wells continues where he left off in No Place for Truth, by challenging evidenced consumerism in evangelicalism.
6. The Courage to Be Protestant by David Wells [e, p, s]
The title is a play on Paul Tillich’s The Courage to Be. Tillich’s work was a classic in early 20th century Protestant liberalism. Wells draws connections between the emergent movement as really being a form of rehashed 20th century era liberalism. Wells is also scathing on the level and abuse of marketing in modern evangelicalism. As far as Wells goes, his Above All Earthly Pow’rs s also a worthwhile read: in terms of analysis Pow’rs is to post-modernity what No Place for Truth was to modernity.
7. The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith by Mark Noll [e, p, s]
I am surprised by the lack of press for this book. Noll examines the history of Christianity in America and draws parallels in key growth areas (Southern hemisphere and the East). Noll is actually rather positive amid the torrent of bad press on what American Christians are exporting. This is an important work because we are good to be reminded that American evangelicalism is not the height of church history. Further, the church is Christ’s and she will prevail. I think Noll has his fingers on the pulse of what is going on and what is next, we would be wise to listen to what he has to say.
8. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George Marsden [e, p, s]
This is a must read if you seek to understand our history. Also an important work is Revival and Revivalism by Iain Murray.
9. Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accomodation to Postmodern Times by Various Authors [y, l, e, p, s]
Various heavyweights chime in on the necessity of remaining faithful to the preaching of the Word and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you like this work, I suggest also Os Guinness’, Prophetic Untimeliness: Challenging the Idol of Relevance.
10. Christless Christianity by Michael Horton [y, l, e, p, s]
This books has caused a bit of a stir. You can read John Frame’s book review here. I have yet to read the book, but I thought it a worthwhile mention to engage in present dialogue over the status of the Gospel in evangelicalism. From what I gather, Horton has guys like Joel Osteen in view when he speaks of a Christianity without Christ.
11. Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen [y, l, e, p, s]
This book is an important first look at the growing demographic of young Reformed folk. This is an area that needs further analysis and hopefully a good work will come soon.
12. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges [y, l, e, p, s]
Bridges is 100% right when he highlights several sins that evangelicals strangely tolerate: gossip, anger, pride, jealousy, anxiety, and selfishness to name a few.
13. Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers by T. David Gordon [e, p, s]
Gordon applies Marshall McLuhan’s keen insights to shed light on the dearth of serious bible teaching in evangelicalism.
14. Confessions of a Reformission Rev by Mark Driscoll [y, l, e, p, s]
I think Mark Driscoll is a very important voice in evangelicalism, moreso than many of my fellow Reformed brethren. This book is a humorous yet insightful look into the story of the planting of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. There are many lessons weaved into the narrative that are wise and memorable.
15. Why We’re Not Emergent: From Two Guys That Should Be and Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck [y, l, e, p, s]
The first book is a solid book on the emergent church. I also wanted to end this list with on a positive note with Why We Love the Church. Many times we can get so bogged down in self-criticism that we forget to praise God for all the truly good things he is doing in and through the church in America.
What we need is always adherence to the same three things: orthodoxy, orthopathos, and orthopraxis.
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
I have stated before that there is cause for optimism in evangelicalism. There are some solid movements, positive shifts, and creative/bold people. Broadly speaking, I have concern for evangelical populism and am more encouraged by Reformed evangelicalism (see blog series for why).
Our world is becoming more complex and it is changing faster. We need to be proactive in thinking about these shifts, ready to address them with the Gospel, rather than writing books about the shifts 10-20 years after they have happened. Our thinking about our world/culture(s)/context need to be thoughtful and not intellectually sloppy. Are we positioning ourselves to have influence in all areas of America – transcending class, ethnicity, politics, geography, technology, and social media? Are we seeking balance in our theology, philosophy of ministry, and relationships?
I have hope for the future. However, I think we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.
Up next, there will be a series on book recommendations and online resources.
Mark Driscoll has some nice little worldview vignettes. They are worth watching if you have 15 minutes:
Atheism: Unyielding Despair
Deism: There is No Hero Coming
Pantheism-Panentheism: New Spirituality/Old Lies
Theism: We are Good and Have Great Hats
Christianity: How Jesus is Different