The Art of Personal Evangelism–sharing Christ in a new cultural dynamic

theartof-evangelism Published in 2003, The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Christ in a Changing Culture by William McRaney Jr. examines the need to change approaches to evangelism in light of a culture shaped by postmodernism. McRaney has served in various positions in state Baptist conventions related to evangelism. He is the founder of the Ministry Enhancement Group and holds a Ph.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Structure

McRaney divides the book into three sections. The first deals with elements of personal evangelism such as God’s involvement and the personal participation of the witness. The second section deals with communicating the gospel. The third section includes aids, suggestions, and tips for evangelism. The book concludes with appendices regarding one’s testimony, objections to the gospel, and illustrations for witnessing.

What I Appreciated

I made a lot of marks and notes in this book. I appreciated the explanation of the cultural shifts in this book. McRaney did not pine for a return to modernism nor did he spend time lambasting postmodernism. He recognizes that both have good and bad and encourages Christians to pursue a biblical view of the world. However, he explains clearly how our approach to evangelism must change to communicate the gospel to those with a postmodernist worldview. The lists comparing what verses relate best to those with a modern worldview and those with a postmodern worldview are very helpful.
Though an academic treatment of personal evangelism, the book is very practical. I hope to go back and work to memorize the scriptures mentioned as useful. The bibliography cites many books that would make excellent additions to any Christian’s library, particularly those with a ministry to equip others to do evangelism.

What I Wished Had Been or Not Have Been

At times, the lists overwhelmed me causing me to have traumatic flashbacks to some of my seminary courses. Occasionally, I did not understand why certain lists fell where they did in the book or what their purpose was. Of course, that confusion could be as much the fault of the reader as of the author. Also, after thirteen years, the book is a bit dated. I would be interested to read an updated edition that considers post-postmodernism and the increasing fracturing of our society between different identities.

Conclusion

I am very glad that read this book. I would recommend it to anyone trying to figure out why the way we did evangelism in the past isn’t working and what we need to do to be more effective. Ministers will want to find ways to present these ideas to their congregations and either discover or develop methods of evangelism training that take them into account.

(Full Disclosure: I received a free from B&H Academic. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

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Christian Citizenship Part 3: The Duty of Obedience and Civil Disobedience

mvlnw09fdoIt has been a while since I have touched on the subject of how we as Christians live as citizens of two kingdoms—the kingdom of God and whatever kingdom we live in this world. Partly because of the election year and the nature of it, I have wanted to avoid political themes.

But I think now would be an excellent opportunity to return to the subject. A few weeks ago, I taught a Bible study on the issue as found in 1 Peter 2:13-17 and 3:13-17. Here are some truths found in these verses.

1. We should submit to the just laws of the kingdoms of this earth. Because God created all humans in His image, everyone, not just Christians, has some understanding of what is right and just. Just because the source is secular, it does not make a law evil. By obeying just and right laws, we silence our critics. As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are free in the kingdoms of this world, but our freedom does not give us the right to disobey the law.

2. We should give to everyone what he or she is due from us. And according to Peter, we owe honor to everyone. So no matter if we like a person’s political views, ideas of sexuality, appearance, or attitude, we owe them honor. We should treat them with respect and courtesy. Yet, we owe special love to the brotherhood, our fellow citizens in God’s kingdom. In a situation with persecution, such as the context in which Peter wrote, the care of each member of Christ body for the other is of even greater importance than normal. Even in that situation, Peter said that Christians should honor the Emperor. We don’t have an emperor in the United States, but the principle applies as we relate to our political leaders as well.

3. But above all else, we should fear God. In Peter wrote in 3:14-15, “Do not fear what they fear or be disturbed, but honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts.” Because Jesus is our Lord, conflict with our earthly country’s laws is possible. Peter instructs us in those cases willingly to endure the consequences and to follow the example of Jesus who unjustly suffered. As Peter expresses it, if we are going to be persecuted and suffer at the hands of earthly authorities, we need to be sure we are doing so for the right reasons. When God’s command and human law conflicts, we obey God and not human authority. (Acts 5:29) But our disobedience is tempered by the other commands in this passage—commands to honor those in authority. (Acts 23:3-5). Even in civil disobedience, we must seek to be redemptive and share the gospel. Our willingness to suffer gives credibility to our verbal sharing of the gospel.

Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Review of Rescuing the Gospel

Rescuing the Gospel is a history of the Protestant Reformation written by Erwin W. Lutzer. Lutzer is the long-term pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. His book is more than a history of the Reformation. It is as the subtitle suggests: it is “The Story and Significance of the Reformation.” The author explains the theological reasons behind the Reformation and why they remain significant today.

Strengths

I appreciate the fact that this book is accessible to most readers. The book would be an excellent supplement to readings on church history in a home school or a Christian school. The price for accessibility is that Lutzer oversimplifies some explanations (for example, his explanation of TULIP).

Lutzer does not whitewash the reformers. This book is not hagiography. He portrays them in all of their temperamental weakness. He also does not ignore the political intrigue and impetus behind their movement as well. Still, he argues convincingly that the main issues were theological and significant regarding the Bible’s teachings on salvation. He concludes that the Reformation was not a mistake, and that significant differences remain between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) today.

Weaknesses

If I have one complaint, it is the imbalance between the length of material regarding each of the reformers. Luther dominates the book. Zwingli’s work fills one chapter with his role in the martyrdom of Anabaptists covered in a second chapter. Calvin, whose influence on present-day Evangelicals is greater than that of Luther, receives much less attention than Luther. I would have also liked to have read more about the Anabaptists, the free church tradition, and the Radical Reformation.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Rescuing the Gospel for anyone who wants to understand the how and the why of the Protestant Reformation and to anyone who questions if its importance remains true today.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Baker Books for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship: The Duty of Prayer Part 1

A few weeks ago, I attended a National Day of Prayer observance for the first time. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for our government. However, that is not where I want to begin. I want to start with the church’s responsibility to pray for herself–for the church.

I suppose it will strike many as self-centered to say that the church’s duty is to pray for herself. What about praying for leaders? Well, I plan to cover praying for leaders in my next post in this series. However, I think the church will never be active in its mission—its first duty—of making disciples of all nations unless the Church draws near to God and becomes what God desires.

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When many speak about renewal or revival, they reference 2 Chronicles 7:14. I see one common misapplication of this verse. Many take the reference to “My people” as somehow being a reference to the United States of America. Without getting into if the Founders founded America as a Christian nation or not, we just cannot theologically conclude that this verse applies to all Americans. The people of God, those called by His name, can only refer to those who have a covenant relationship with Him. Under the New Covenant, only those who have trusted in the substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon the Cross can truly be God’s people.

However, some say that this verse only applies to Israel under the Old Covenant. To use it today as a call to prayer for renewal is to rip it from its context. I disagree. “My people” refers to the covenant people of God, and the Church is the covenant people of God. The actions called for in the verse are timeless principles applicable to the church now as they were in Israel. Though the Church does not occupy land as Israel did as a political entity, the Church is in need of healing, renewal, and revival.

As the people of God, we face many challenges. Our influence in society has decreased. Others marginalize us away from public debate. Politics divides. Our society no longer shares the values that we hold, and in fact, many find our values repugnant.

Therefore, in light of the challenges we experience as a result of being both people of this country and His people, we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any evil in which we participate. If we are to have any power at all, it must be God’s power working through us to witness, make disciples, and to transform the world in which we live.

Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

Is There a Christian Hope for American Politics? A Book Review

One Nation Under God

Is There a Christian Hope for American Politics? One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics by Bruce Ashford and Chris Pappalardo purports to be what it sub-title suggests. Dr. Bruce Ashford is provost and professor of theology and culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Chris Pappalardo is the lead researcher and writes and The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. They write with “…the hope of sharing a perspective on politics that tempers the expectations of those with inflated hopes, empowers those with deflated hopes, and equips every Christian to apply Christ’s love in the muddied arena of politics.” In my opinion, they succeed.

Structure

The writers begin by explaining the overarching narrative of Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—as a ground for understanding the role of politics in God’s plan. In this first part of the book, they continue to explain frameworks for Christian political action opting for the model of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper as the best model. In the second part of the book, they explain how the model works with various political issues by providing examples of Christians that they believe have interacted well with these matters. These questions include Life and Death, Marriage and Sexuality, Economics and Wealth, The Environment and Ecological Stewardship, Racial Diversity and Race Relations, Immigrants and Immigration Reform, and War and Peace. They conclude with a chapter that presents Augustine as a model for speaking truth to power.

Strengths

Despite being an academic book, I believe the book is accessible to most Christians who are familiar with these issues. That fact does not mean that the book is not challenging. The Kuyperian model does not fall neatly in line with the cultural warrior model that has served many Christians in their pursuit of political engagement. For that reason, some may think of it as a soft approach, but in reality, it is anything but soft. It requires careful thought and preparation for engagement with the culture in the political sphere. This method will frustrate many who want simple answers, quick change, and sound bite slogans, which also results in weakness. Those who perhaps need the truth of this book most will find it frustrating. It will take a patient pastor or Bible teacher to present these ideas in a coherent and biblical manner. And it will take time.

Each chapter includes a reading list that will prove very useful for someone who wants to go deeper in the understanding of the theology behind the method or the issues about which the authors write. Each chapter also includes discussion questions making it useful for personal reflection and small group discussion.

Weakness

An essential aspect of the Kuyperian model is that inherent in creation are spheres of human endeavor. (Warning: a very over simplified explanation follows.) For example, church and government are different spheres, each created after its kind. In other words each has a God-given role that the other cannot impose upon; yet, each should operate under the lordship of Christ. The Christian’s role in politics is to work toward government action that reflects God’s glory, justice, and will. While agreeing that these spheres exist and have a biblical basis, I do not believe that one can just suggest they are inherent in creation and leave it at that. I would have liked more biblical basis of what the different spheres are, what their roles are, and how they fit in God’s order. It would have made for a longer book, but I believe it would have made the book more convincing to skeptical readers.

Analysis

Evangelical political engagement has been a part of American history since America’s founding (No, it did not begin with the Moral Majority.) Evangelical Christians are adjusting to a new reality that suggests that they were never the majority (at least not in recent years) and that the actual majority sees their ideas as extreme. This book points toward engagement that can break down barriers and that is winsome. It is worthy of reading and worthy of consideration as we face a brave new world.

(Full disclosure: Broadman & Holman Academic provided me with a review copy of this book free of charge. I was under not obligation to write a positive review. Further, I am personally acquainted with both authors.)