The Form of Post-Christian of Evangelism: Part I

One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that the form of our evangelism in America will need to evolve.  As the US approaches being post-Christian (especially the more academic types), the arguments made by Christians toward those who do not believe will evolve from the types of evangelism models used in a nominal Christian society.

One of the key differences between the post-Christian and the nominal Christian is respect (or guts).  The nominal Christian still had cultural respect in regards to the bible (or lacked the guts to boldlydefy it).  Think of the bible belt, here.  The nominals did not read the Bible, but still felt guilty when someone told them that the Bible says they were sinners.  Post-Christian types just say, “Who cares?”  Nominals still had some sort of respect for the Bible.  Though they did not read it or care to obey it, they customarily acknowledged that the Text was law.

Not so in a post-Christian society.  One of the principal hallmarks of a Post-Christian society is that of autonomy.  That is, the post-Christian society makes up its own laws.  The Bible may say that premarital sex is against the law (of God), and the nominal would feel a little bad when you reminded him or her of it–if for nothing else than the sheer weight of Christian culture.  The post-Christian responds, “I don’t remember signing off on that law.”

Evangelism to Nominals

The types of methods used when approaching nominals typically proof-texted the evangelical soteriology.  Take, for example, the Roman Road.  One could, easily enough, recite the key texts from the book of Romans and the nominal would be told about sin, punishment, sacrifice, and salvation.  Other “plans of salvation” exist that follow the same format.  They quote some scriptures that claim all men are sinners.  They’ll post another that speak to the punishment that sin costs us, and another–like John 3:16–which show God’s love and condescension towards us.

Before I proceed, I want to note that I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this.  In fact, I think the scripture memory required for this is commendable.  I just think times are a’changin.

The Spirit

I don’t want to be accused of neglecting the spiritual aspect of evangelism, so this needs to be stated.  The Spirit must change a person’s heart in order for them to understand and accept the authority of the bible and of Christ.

Consider, first, the disposition of those who do not believe:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)

And, second, the Lord’s work which must be done for a person to hear the Word:

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. (Acts 16:14 ESV).

So, for all of this talk about methods, tactics, and cultural changes that are taking place, I don’t want to misunderstood.  It is the Lord who saves, not our methods.  But, if we recall, Acts 17 shows that we are to make compelling cases for the faith, and are also to defend it when it is attacked.  We do our part to make the Gospel understandable, and leave the results to God.  There is a tension here that I’m not going to solve.  All I’m trying to do is note some changes that are taking place, and what will be required of us in the future.  And it won’t be the memorization of seven verses.

Counter-Evangelism

Atheists aren’t new.  But a new thing is happening to America because of them.  The so-called four horsemen of the New Atheism sparked a particular type of mindset among those who were suspicious of Christianity in the first place, and further hardened those who were already atheists.  Key to this movement is the attitude towards religion in general, and Christianity in particular.  Nominals, those who really aren’t serious about religion but go to church just because “it’s what you do,” are the ones who are disappearing.  Many devout Christians have stayed Christians through the attacks of Dawkins and company.  But the nominals…Well, that’s another story altogether.  The nominals are falling away.

As I mentioned earlier, the nominal still sinned and still felt guilty about it.  This is a generalization, no doubt.  But an accurate one, I would argue.  What the New Atheists have done is give the nominals a reason to not feel guilty. No need for guilt.  No need for sacrifice.  No need for blood.  Just autonomy.  And it is the liberated nominal that backlashes against all that held him in bondage these many years (Christianity).  All of those times the nominal was called a sinner!

With the help of Dawkins and the other “horsemen,” the work of counter-evangelism begun.  If you want to know what counter-evangelism is, just take what Christians have been doing for decades, twist it, and shout it in an argument with a scoff.  Some examples are in order:

 

Evangelism:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

Evangelism:  “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)

 

Counter-evangelism: “And when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the livestock, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as plunder for yourselves. And you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here. But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes,” (Deuteronomy 20:13-16 ESV)

Counter-evangelism: “He (Solomon) had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines…” (1 Kings 11:3 ESV)

Counter-evangelism: ” He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!’ And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.” (2 Kings 2:23-24 ESV)

The claims of the counter-evangelists vary.  Some say that this shows the bible is contradictory.  Some say that if genocide is an example of God’s love, then leave them out.  What is clear is that now God sits in judgment, and not the nominal nor the post-Christian.

Many of the counter-evangelist techniques are saved for important social issues like that of homosexual marriage.  First the Christians claim that marriage is between one man and one woman, and then the counter-evangelists respond by pointing out that “biblical marriage” would involve having 700 wives like Solomon, possibly.  I’ve responded to this particular claim already, here.

What is becoming clear is that the nature of evangelism will have to go away from solely proof-texting our soteriology because there are roadblocks now.  Note, I did not say that evangelism will have to leave out our soteriology (the gospel).  I said it will not be sufficient on our part as we go forward because there are verses which appear to contradict our claims.  And these verses will need to be explained.

There are two primary problems we have now.

The first is that the response to counter-evangelism claims are necessarily more long-winded.  The claims (The bible endorses polygamous marriage, God is a ravenous genocidal murderer, if homosexuals can’t marry then you can’t wear cotton and polyester, etc) require a detailed response that takes more time than most people want to hear.  Furthermore, they don’t want to hear it because they don’t like being wrong.

Second, the detailed responses requires a working knowledge of all of scripture.  To accurately explain why the Bible is not pro-slavery and pro-polygamy requires memorization, not of 7 verses in the book of Romans, but of countless narratives throughout the scripture.  Most Christians today are not prepared for this kind of work.  But it is work that will need to be done if we are going to effectively communicate the Bible’s message to post-Christians.

 

Universal Guilt

Have you ever wondered what will happen to people who never hear the gospel? Is it fair that they are condemned when they never had a chance to believe in Jesus? This is a serious problem; if God condemns someone unjustly then He is an unjust God and should not be worshipped. How do we resolve this dilemma? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about the creation of man and woman. “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV)

Here God breathes life into the man and “God [makes] man upright…” (Ecclesiastes 7:29 ESV) Romans 2:15 states that “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” (Romans 2:15 ESV) All people all over the world show day after day they know God’s law. Every time someone tells the truth they are acknowledging that God has placed knowledge of His law in their hearts. And so what we see is that God shows day to day the sin of all people through their own actions. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” (Romans 2:14 ESV)

Now you are probably thinking, okay everyone knows what right and wrong is but we know we can’t keep the law that’s why Jesus came so how can God still condemn those people who have not heard of Jesus? What we need to realize is that along with placing knowledge of right and wrong in humans God has also placed knowledge of Himself. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV) See every single human being knows that God exists and “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21-23 ESV)

All of humanity is guilty before God, they know when they do right and they know when they do wrong, their conscience bears witness against them that they are sinful and under condemnation. Those people who never heard the gospel are just as guilty as the rest of humanity and deserve the just condemnation of God. If those people cannot be condemned because they’ve never heard the gospel then missions is the worst thing we can do for lost people in other countries. If they can’t be condemned then we should not do missions. However, we know that’s not the case, all of humanity is under God’s condemnation and needs to hear the good news of the gospel that is why God ordained His church to do mission work and preach the gospel. This is why you reading this article should be motivated to do missions! People need to hear the good news of the gospel so that they may be saved, as Paul said, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15 ESV)

How Predestination Motivates and Empowers Evangelism

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

-Matthew 28:19-20

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

-Romans 8:7-8

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

-1 Corinthians 2:14

There is a serious problem presented to us in these verses. We are commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. But we are told that sinners will not submit to God, “indeed it (their minds) cannot.” Furthermore we learn that the natural person “is not able to understand…” the things of God. How can Christians possibly make disciples of all nations when sinful man will reject and ridicule the Gospel message? Is evangelism hopeless?

Evangelism is hopeless if God’s sovereign grace through predestination did not breathe life into the dead heart of the unbeliever. Scripture clearly states: “…you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…” -Ephesians 2:1-2. Can a corpse decide to live again? The obvious answer is NO, it cannot! So how can something dead live? “But God…because of the great love with which he loved us…made us alive together with Christ…” –Ephesians 2:4-5. Through sharing the gospel God creates life in the dead heart of the unbeliever and raises them to life.

Now some say that believing in God’s sovereign power to convert the lost kills evangelism. However the opposite is actually the case, belief in the all-powerful sovereign saving God gives the greatest motivation to do evangelism. If the conversion of the sinner is our job and relies on us then we will use methods that appeal to the sinner. We will give them a gospel that says: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” And guess what; hundreds of God-hating sinners flock to our churches to hear that message.

Not trusting in the sovereignty of God in evangelism makes us man-pleasers not God-pleasers. J. I. Packer makes this excellent point: “Apart from it(the sovereign grace of God in conversion), there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.”1

Belief in God’s sovereign grace to convert the sinner motivates and empowers us in four ways. First of all it gives us confidence to share the gospel because we know that when we share it God WILL save people. Second, it makes us bold because we know that God is in control and guides us in our evangelistic efforts. Third, it makes us patient because God could convert someone at any moment, so we do not lose hope. Last, it makes us more prayerful, since God is the one who converts the sinner we cry out to him day and night to save people. My prayer is that God opens your eyes to the beauty of His sovereign grace and the power it gives you in evangelism.

1 J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God(Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1961), 116.