They Are Discussing My Articles on Evangelism Over At New Reformation Press

Over at New Reformation Press they are discussing my articles on evangelism.

This is great for a couple of reasons. I’m a writer and anytime someone is talking about what I’ve written, I’m getting paid in high value (and high yield?) currency. But even more I really like New Reformation Press. They are a breath of fresh air in a religious climate full of noxious fumes.

Please go join in the discussion.

Evangelism Redux

For over a year I’ve been fielding questions, having conversations and receiving…ehem, interesting emails over a post called “The Silence of Paul On Evangelism.” I’ve been called a heretic and I’ve received an amazing amount of notes of gratitude. I expected the criticism but not the gratitude. And honestly, I’m thankful for both.

But I think it’s time to say more. I know it is unthinkable to wait as long as I have to say more in a world like our own. Everything so immediate. But the weight of the subject has kept me back from saying much more. But I need to say more and maybe…hopefully close the discussion. Eventually

So I wanted to offer some thoughts that will hopefully clarify further, provoke some more thought and get us on the journey of loving God and neighbor.

A couple things before we begin: First, please read all of these. Especially if you find yourself confused or angry. Second,   I ask that you stop and think before you respond. I do not ask you to agree with me so much as think deeply.

With that, let’s begin.

1. There is no command after Pentecost for believers to evangelize. This is a fact. Paul does not command evangelism in his letters to the churches. Peter doesn’t do it. John doesn’t do it. In the letters to the churches, the command is just not there. This is not an argument for anything. It’s just not there. I know there are some passages which come close and there are examples. But close is not the same. And examples are not commands. There are commands to pastors and vocational missionaries to evangelize but not to ordinary believers.

2. The above statement should not cause you alarm if you love evangelism. If you think it is dangerous for me to point this out, your beef is with reality. With God himself. You are alarmed that someone is pointing to something the Holy Spirit did. Not Matt Redmond. Not anyone, save God. The truth sets us free because it is entirely in step with the character of Jesus. Embrace it and look to it for warmth in the midst of a cold world that denies the power of truth.

3. No one gets reprimanded for not evangelizing in the Scriptures. There are no rebukes. No one is made to feel they have erred or sinned. No one is guilted into doing it more. No tweetable statements making those who have not evangelized today (or lately) feel like they have neglected their duty. There is nothing of the sort. This is in stark contrast where the majority of pastors across the evangelical landscape lean heavy upon those in the pew to be about the business of evangelism. And yet, there is no example for them to do so.

4. The lack of commands in the letters to the churches must be meaningful. If there were many commands we would point to them often. Those who are passionate about evangelism would wield them with ferocity against those who questioned the wisdom of evangelism. If you deny any meaning to the silence, you cannot ask with any seriousness for us to pay attention to the noise.

5. I think evangelism MUST have some place in the Christian life. I just do not think it is the thing. I do not think it is the sign of faith. In other words we have no justification for questioning the salvation of a person who is not engaged in evangelism. But evangelism to some degree may be beyond  a command. Why do I say this? We must speak of the reality around us, within us, beyond us and out in front of us. But primarily because it is reality. To call this evangelism always is to reduce it to something smaller than what it is.

6. The guilt poured upon those who have no desire nor inclination to do cold evangelism is wrong. I do not think we can justify it biblically. We have no cause to guilt someone into a practice which most unbelievers have no desire to be involved with. This is not a blanket condemnation of cold evangelism. But I do not think it needs to be reigned in.

7. Evangelism seems to be the trump card for the evangelical church. This is insane. Think about it. A guy can be a complete jerk, lack any generosity, have a mess of a home-life but if he is known as a soul-winner, nothing can be said against him. For some reason we have exalted a practice the ordinary believer is not commanded to pursue. And we have done this while ignoring the prevailing horizontal ethic of the New Testament: Love. That is what we are called to over and over and will be distinguished by.

8. There has to be a happy medium between those who make evangelism the most important thing and those who would make it nothing. I’ve no tolerance for either position. Both are skewed to the personality. One is a bully pulpit and one is a coward’s castle. I do not know that this happy medium can be plotted on a graph or made into a plan of action. But I do assume if we continue to love God and love our neighbor, believing the gospel of grace in Christ and seek to manifest the fruit of the Spirit, we will see people converted.

9. C.S. Lewis said, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” And I think this wisdom can be applied to our present subject. I think if we seek after what is explicit – love and all else commanded (did you know we are commanded to live quiet lives more times than we are commanded to share our faith in Paul’s letters?) – we will see what we want to see happen. I think we will see people who cannot help but talk about reality. But as it is, all of reality is filtered through a grid where all information, experience, knowledge and need must pass through the non-commanded command of evangelism.

10. I often wonder if our lack of trust is betrayed by our feeling we must always be talking about something Paul never really talked about… much less commanded. We have constructed a narrative which says you do not trust God if you are not always encouraging and engaging in evangelism. But I wonder if such activity is clouding our ability to see that we really do not trust him. Stop. I know what you are thinking. But I am not a hyper-Calvinist. I believe the pastor should call unbelievers to belief. I believe there are times neighbors should do the same. But I wonder if we are trying to get ahead of God. God’s means just may not be pre-packaged formulas given by spiritual spammers to real people with real beating hearts and real problems and real dreams and real failures. They are often more kind and loving than we are. Maybe we should trust God when he says to love them – by doing so I assume we will be seeking the kingdom and then maybe, just maybe all else will be added. Including some conversions.

Conclusion: I am pro-evangelism. However, I do not think it is a central part of Christian ethics. I think our current teaching on evangelism is out of proportion to the teaching contained in the Scriptures and this leads to misplaced guilt and ends up being a hindrance to the spread of the glory of God instead of a profusion.

What do you think? Why do you think we see no commands in the letters to the churches and yet are so quick to command people to evangelize? How can seeing the lack of something help us do something better?


(Updated: See #10)

1. You may have thought I was crazy when I wrote Food Is the New Legalism but even the NYT agrees.

2. Kinky Friedman is supportive of Rick Perry for President. Weirdly awesome.

3. Every time I turn around someone is making a positive case for my upcoming book.

4. Even Hipsters are abandoning Obama.

5. Moms, you should really be reading my friend Anita’s blog.

6. A great response to Tim Challies’ regarding the SGM controversy.

7. This Frank Lloyd Wright blog completes me.

8. In case you missed it, I have an article over here.

9. A photo album of Condolezza Rice and other bizarre items found inside the Gadaffi compound.

10. I’m being called a “negative influence” on a private forum by at least one pastor because I wrote this after lots of thinking and then reading this. I appreciate the increased traffic. (Update: The pastor referred to above sent me a very sincere apology. A rare thing in this world. I actually had no idea who it was that said this, I just knew he was part of A29. You should be so lucky providentially blessed to have such a pastor as this guy.)

Missional: The Mercurial Shibboleth

Irreligious Thought #3: The whole “what/who is missional?” conversation is weird to me. Shouldn’t we pick words that have been around awhile to get worked up about?

Let me start by saying I am not interested in criticizing those who use the term ‘missional’ per se. They are too respected by me. Too many sincere. And far too many worthy of emulation. The kind of men and women I’d prefer to point to other than myself. Plus I have used the term and will continue to use the term.

But I do think the discussion about who/what is missional is weird. Strange. Off-kilter.

And not because we should not care about the things people say we should be doing in order to be ‘missional.’ I just think it is weird I am being asked to be missional at all.

There seems to be disagreement on the meaning of the term. All of us who use the term ‘Trinity’ should be fine with the use of words not found in the Scriptures to describe those things we see in the Scriptures. But people do not argue about the word ‘Trinity.’ It’s been around a while. So people argue about whether there is a Trinity or not.

But ‘missional’ is pretty new. And hip. No one was using this term when I was in Seminary 10 years ago. We talked about church-planting alot. And we talked about missions, evangelism, apologetics and mercy ministry. But the term was yet to be en vogue.  Now it is used without definition and argued over fairly regularly. And what is mind-boggling is how it is now a descriptor for faithfulness. This is where it gets weird for me and I have trouble understanding it at all.

We have this descriptor – missional. It means different things to different groups of people. It is a new term in the history of the church. It is a litmus test for others – “They are not missional, therefore they are not faithful.” Inevitably, there are arguments about not only who is and who is not missional but what the actual term means.

Let me say, perhaps it worth getting to the bottom of. The subject – regardless of the meaning of the term – has some significance. This is not what is weird about the whole thing. What is weird is that it seems possible the term will move out of usage before we even get a handle on it. It’s got a mercurial quality about it.

Let me add a few closing thoughts:

– First, is ‘missional’ replacing another term? Is there a synonym? Are we describing something which already existed and had a term to describe it or does the word reveal some innovation?

– Second, Maybe we should stop using ‘missional’ as a litmus test. I see no harm in describing your church or ministry as such. But using it to downgrade the faithfulness of others seems rather presumptive while such a new term still unfamiliar to large swaths of the global church. It’s mercurial quality demands this also.

– Third, the word has already become a shibboleth. If you say it with confidence, you are good to go in some circles. Do we really want to trade in words this way?

– Fourth, we may already be there, but the word will soon be marketable. In other words, it will be used to sell books, music, tickets, curriculum, etc. (Prediction: T-shirt with ‘Got Missional?’ on the front.) We need to stop and think.

None of this means, we should stop using it. I should not look down on those who use it. Again, I use the term. But I have to use it knowing it is not a term everyone gets. It certainly cannot be term I would argue over.

Here is the entire list of Irreligious Thoughts.

Random Thoughts for Wednesday

1. In case you were wondering, this is on my wish list.

2. Wait, they still make Zunes?

3. When Jesus said to not practice your righteousness before men, he probably meant facebook and Twitter also.

4. Tryptophan is in my near future.

5. It’s fun when your team is undefeated but not near as fun as when the expectations are lowered and the microscope is on everyone else.

6. I drove by an SUV last night that had vastly more TVs screens in it than my house.

7. I cannot wait to read this.

8. I have yet to find in Paul’s in letters a command to do personal evangelism. Still looking.

9. If Cam Newton is guilty, I’ll eat bacon.

10. Did I mention how much I want this?

The Silence of Paul On Evangelism

(Update on 4/8/11: This was actually written on another blog before this one was even a glimmer in my eye. The original post caused a good bit of hubbub. But it is also was helpful for a lot of people. So, 2 things before you read this post:

First, I thought about this for a long time before I wrote about it. And even now I still do not have a whole lot of answers on this. So I ask you to stop and think.

Second, If you do comment please make sure your comment reflects you have read what I have written.)

(Update on 08/29/2011. Follow-up post here.)

I’ve been mulling over this post for awhile. The consternation, confusion and conflagration of angry comments which might result have made me wonder at the wisdom of it. I decided to go ahead. The subject is too important. And I can only imagine that while it may anger some, there are plenty of people like myself who will find some freedom here.

Ok. Here it goes.

A few weeks ago I heard someone say something to the effect of, “You cannot/shouldn’t consider yourself a Christian if you are not sharing your faith/practicing evangelism.” And it really got me to thinking. Something felt wrong about it. But I couldn’t put my finger on it.
On one level this sounded right. It accorded with almost all I had ever heard growing up in the midst of evangelicalism. So it sounded right. Or at least familiar. But something about the statement just ‘felt’ really wrong. It felt wrong as a fact. (Like saying the capital of Alabama is Birmingham.) And it felt wrong morally. (You should look down on everyone who does not live in Birmingham.)
So I quickly went through Paul’s letters to the churches in my mind as much as I could. Could I think of a place where he commands the members of these churches to share the gospel – to tell unbelievers about the gospel? I was pretty shocked to not be able to think of any place where he does anything like this.
Nothing was said, of course. But I filed it away in the front of my mental filing cabinet. My mental filing cabinet is grey, if you must know. Nixon administration grey.
Over the next few days I looked into the Epistles. Really, I thought I would find something. I mean, all the importance we place on evangelism and the urgency we show in preaching and teaching and writing on it, should show up in Paul, right? RIGHT?
I found nothing. Zilch. Nada. Zip.
Paul never commands the ordinary believers who belong to the churches to evangelize. There is no call for sharing your faith. There is no call for witnessing. He never even encourages it. And he never rebukes them for not doing it. He tells them to stay away from orgies and to practice kindness and to live quiet lives but there are no commands to evangelize. Implications? Maybe. But never outright commands.
Paul describes his own desire to do so and he defends his apostolic ministry of doing so and he commands Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. He also tells us there are such things as “evangelists” in Ephesians 4. But he never talks as if the carpenter, the shepherd, the soldier, the fisherman or the wife of any of these is called to evangelize.
I know, I know…there is the ‘great commission’ given by Jesus. In only 2 of the 4 Gospels. Never repeated again. By Paul. Or anyone else ever in the Scriptures. Why is it called ‘great’ again? I mean everything Jesus has said and commanded is technically speaking ‘great.’ But I mean, if it is so absolutely ‘great’, why is it never repeated by Paul or John or Peter or James or Jude. Before you get upset with me, the designation ‘great commission’ did not come from on high. Jesus did not call it ‘great’, someone else did.
Stop. Right now there are 2 kinds of people reading this? The freaked out and the ticked off.
Let me address the freaked out first…You doing OK? Stop. Take a breath. What? Of course you can quit EE. Hm? Yes, I was a little freaked out also. No, you do not have to tweet about this, you will lose a lot of followers.
OK, all who are angry…What have I said to make you angry? I have not said, “You should not tell other people about what Jesus has done for us.” Have I? At least not yet…just kidding. You really need to calm down. All I have done is point out an indisputable fact.
Let me say it again. It is an indisputable fact that there is no command by any of the Apostles in their letters to the churches to evangelize. You may not like this fact. You might assume nefarious reasons behind my pointing this fact out. But you cannot deny the fact while there are many varied commands in the NT for the ordinary believer, there is no command to evangelize outside of “the great commission.”
“So what?” you might ask? Here are my initial thoughts:
1) The way we talk about evangelism is certainly out of proportion to the way Paul or anyone else in the NT talked about it. We act as if it is the litmus test of being a Christian. If it was – if personal evangelism as we know it – was a litmus test for being a believer in the gospel, ummm, wouldn’t Paul have admonished his people to do it? We talk about it as if it is the THE THING for Christians to do while on earth. “Sure, we are to glorify God and all that but the best way to do it is to tell every living breathing soul who just wants a quiet flight to the ATL.” Maybe it is not.
2) We have got to quit guilting and bullying people into doing cold evangelism. It feels weird and wrong and inconsiderate to almost everyone. There are a few who feel comfortable walking up to strangers and talking to them about Jesus but they are the exception. They are not more spiritual, they are just the exception. Maybe the reason why they are the exception and the reason why so many do not like walking up to strangers simply to talk to them about their sinfulness and need for salvation is because – wait for it – we have not been asked to do such a thing. Perhaps it is not part of the Spirit-led DNA. Regardless, beating up on people for their not evangelizing enough is totally out of sync with the NT.
3) It may be that our present philosophy of evangelism stands in direct opposition to the explicit, repeated and unwavering command to love people. In other words we are terrible at loving one another, our enemies and even our own family members. I know it. You know it. And God knows it. If we actually loved people -wives, husbands, children, minorities, democrats, republicans, lefties, ugly people, the obese and the socially awkward – perhaps, just perhaps you would never have to walk up to someone and tell them about Jesus. They would walk up to you. And then you could simply explain why you want to be a loving person. “Hey man, you asked!”
4) We tend to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel of grace we have in Jesus is tell people about it. Why is that? Paul seems to think the greatest thing we can do with the gospel is believe it. Believe it in the midst of tragedy. Believe in the midst of beautiful Spring days when all is right with the world. Believe it on your death bed. Believe it when your sin is huge. Believe it when your heart is hurting. Believe it. Hang onto it. Never let go of it. Believe no matter what, if you are in Christ, you are loved beyond all comprehension. You cannot sin yourself out of his love and grace and mercy. You are loved, you who believe the gospel. Persevere in your belief. You are saved unto life everlasting because of what Christ has done. This cannot be undone. Believe the gospel. Believe.
5) There is no folly in assuming the NT writers and those whose records are recorded there really wanted people to hear the gospel and believe it. This is a safe assumption. However, we need to think deeply on why they do not talk about evangelism the way we typically do in Western Christianity. Do we assume we care more than Paul about evangelism? Peter? John? We should probably think long and hard about all of this. I know I need to. Our being so out of step with the tone and content of the Scriptures might actually be to the detriment of others believing the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ.
All of these are thoughts which have been around for some time in at least seed form. The study I have been doing over the past few weeks however has emboldened me to at least talk about my doubts. To say I am sure of myself here would be untrue. I am not thinking and writing entirely in confidence. The one thing I am sure of is the need to think deep and hard about all that is in and not in the Scriptures. And I am pretty sure there is the need for freedom to ask hard questions and be taken seriously in asking them.
One last thing. I was not enjoying thinking about this by myself. So I sent a note to some pastor friends and asked what they thought. One friend (who will remain nameless) told me about an article called Wretched Urgency by Michael Spencer. It was the first thing I had ever read of the sort. And it was the first thing confirming I was decidedly not crazy…or if I was, I was crazy along with Spencer. And I’m fine with that.