Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt.9

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant when two guys told me they were in town for an evangelism conference. They told me they were there because there was a world-renowned evangelist who was sharing his resources on how to convert others and start salvation revivals. They left the restaurant, and then came back. When they returned, they came up to me and told me they had a “word” from the Lord. They said that because Minneapolis has such a high homosexual population, that I was going to be a resource of God’s wrath for those homosexuals who didn’t repent and convert to Christianity. Who does that?

I believe in a personal conversion experience. I believe there was a moment in which I was saved. I believe in these things so much, that I believe that I need them every day. When I look at Jesus, he would tell people that their faith had saved them. I think there is eternal salvation, but this doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is talking about. Jewish culture believed in a communal salvation. When we read Paul talk about salvation in Romans, it’s always those who are being saved (implying continual salvation). This is why every single day, I need God to convert me to be more like him. Everyday, I need God to save me from my personality flaws, my dehumanizing habits, and save me from how I hurt the world. I believe that people who need to convert others, like the guys I met a few weeks ago, are themselves the least converted. When I look at the people who are most effective in their working with God to bring new life to others, they themselves are able to do it, not because they have the right words or formulas, but because they have so much life. They change others, because they themselves have been changed. I believe that transformed people transform people. They are their message.

Miroslav Volf wrote these rules for converting others in his book Allah:
1. Witness to others only if you are prepared to let them witness to you.

2. Witness to others in the way you think others should witness to you.

To Flesh these out Volf says we submit to the following:

1. It is wrong to coerce others to accept faith; the recipients have to be able to receive or reject faith in freedom, rather than be forced to cave in under the pressure of a superior power.

2. It is wrong to bribe or seduce others to embrace faith; the faith has to be offered as valuable and attractive in itself, rather than on the account of its “packaging” or the extrinsic rewards associated with it (money or status).

3. It is wrong to compare the best practices of one’s own faith with the worst of the other faith.

There is a certain narcissism when we tell others that they have to convert to not only our religion, but our way of our religion. Like the guys I met, this isn’t the first time that I met Evangelicals who have done things like this (though most I know wouldn’t do this). However, this requires a radical humility and generosity. This means we can’t scare people into heaven with the threat of hell. Being a Christian isn’t about us getting people saved (only God can do that) but us being present to the reconciling work of God. This is the work of loving and serving our neighbors. This work, works towards peace, justice, and hope. This was the life of Jesus. Are we trying to get people into heaven, or heaven into people? As Gandhi famously said, “If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.” I don’t think converting to Christianity would be a struggle for the world if the Church looked like Christ.

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11 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism Pt.9

  1. Joe Lenton says:

    Good stuff. “Transformed people transform people” – nice. It is so important that we look (as NT Wright and others point out) at what Jesus did as well as what he said. So much of what it means to be the people of God is shown, demonstrated, lived out and not taught or packaged into propositional truths. You might be interested in my blog article – “Learning by spending time together”, which comes at this from a similar but slightly different angle (http://joelenton.blogspot.com/2011/09/learning-by-spending-time-together.html). Behaviour is communally influenced (not 100%, of course) and this happens through relationship.So, whether we are looking at Christians or non-Christians, we can influence one another through relationship, through community together, communicating the values of the kingdom. Relationship requires self-giving, love, acceptance of the other – these are things that Christ embodies. Such aggressive “evangelism” as you mentioned above bypasses these key aspects of relationship and community. It is probably worth noting that the few times when Jesus is more “confrontational” are towards those who would already consider themselves “insiders”….

    • Mike Friesen says:

      I agree with you. This seems to be the Jesus way. Jesus understood that his influence came from his love, his compassion, and his tenderness. How do you build relationships with people outside of Christianity?

      • Joe Lenton says:

        In many ways, I don’t really think about different methods for relationship building according to whether they are Christians already or not. Fundamentally, I think that it is important to value (love) the person, help them to feel valued (loved) and to share my life with them (in whatever measure is appropriate). This means that we listen to others to find out what makes them tick, what matters to them and we make an effort to join in with them in things they enjoy if possible (leisure activities, going out for drink/meal, etc.). I tend to find that when you do, they often do the same (join in with and show an interest in our lives and activities) and for non-Christians this can include an interest in my life as a believer. In fact, I’ve found that many non-Christians have been more interested in my theological study and development than much of my church contacts and friends! It becomes a mutual sharing and respect, learning to appreciate aspects of one another. Through this, it then doesn’t feel forced if I speak about an issue from a Christian (or, more accurately, my personal Christian) perspective. Hope that makes sense.

  2. Pat Pope says:

    “Being a Christian isn’t about us getting people saved (only God can do that)…”

    And yet such a hard message to preach in some evangelical churches. Some are so died in the wool to the thinking that it’s something WE do and must do, that any attempts at preaching differently are strongly resisted. I know one pastor who got a visit from a couple almost every week between sermons to be chastised about his messages. In some churches, it’s an uphill battle and sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth preaching or would a pastor be better off moving to a more open congregation.

    • Mike Friesen says:

      That’s so sad about the pastor. How do you create life in your relationships around you Pat?

      • Pat Pope says:

        Honestly, I just try to be myself. I happen to enjoy diversity, so I usually end up in contact with people who are different than me and I’m genuinely interested in getting to know them and in discussing life issues, current events, etc. To me, those conversations are very stimulating and there’s usually some opportunity to share my faith or values as a natural part of conversation. Not something contrived. But I also listen to others’ and their positions as well and affirm them as people. First and foremost, we are all created by God and as such I believe everyone deserves dignity and respect. I entrust the hard stuff to God. That doesn’t mean that I’m not a conduit for Him, but that I try to rely on Him more than on my own handiwork. As we dialogue with me listening as well as sharing, I find people are more open.

  3. Mike,
    GREAT post! Your and Volf’s approach really resonates with two books I’m reading right now: N.T. Wright’s ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ and David Kinnaman’s ‘You Lost Me.’
    Have you read them yet?

    PS Of COURSE I’m going to see ‘Ides of March’ this weekend!

  4. Mike Friesen says:

    Gary,
    What are the premises of those two books?

    I’m excited to see that this weekend. I’ll probably check out real steel too.

  5. Seen this happen myself too many time… it inevitably ends in the ‘converted’ looking to ‘converter’ instead of looking to Christ.

    Great post…

  6. Good post Mike. There are some things I would contend here but overall I like the work. for the most part when it comes to witnessing for Christ people are put into two camps in Evangelicalism. Camp 1: The over zealous!!!!!! Camp 2: The under zealous….

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