Dluxe's World

Saturday, November 11

Thinking caps at the ready! [2]

Well, what a difference being BlogSpotted (r)(C)(tm) makes... I started to publish a follow-up to my initial post re: presenting the Gospel in a post[whatever] context, then I noticed all the links inbound from TeamPyro. So, I decided to press pause for a second. I figured that I could wait and then pull some of the comment content up here to the main page.

I figured it was time to just pull the trigger since the comments haven't exactly rolled in. Nonetheless, a big welcome to those of you who've tuned in for the ride...

To me, two of the first big gotchas that Keller's challenge raised are the issues of Time and Substance. The church in which I grew up got all uppity about the 4 Spiritual Laws as an evangelistic tool one year. I remember boxes of 4SL-based tracts arriving and being stacked neatly in the narthex (yes, we had a narthex) for people to take. Looking back, the appeal to us seemed to rest mainly in two arenas:

1) The 4SL methodology was understandable. This appeal was manifest in two ways:
  • The clear 'method' was critical because I think it's safe to say we were far from well catechized Christians. Our understanding of the Gospel was, in hindsight, pretty weak. So, something like the 4SLs really provided the somewhat-solid foundation for our own understanding of our message.
  • In addition, the 'script' aspect of the presentation gave us confidence... We didn't need to think of 'what to say' or how to respond to questions - it was all right there for us.
2) The presentations were relatively short. The facts of the Good News are plainly laid out and could be presented to someone over lunch, a coffee break, or even just casually talking on the street. There was no need to set aside time or be concerned about 'squeezing everything in'.

Nowadays, both of those past strengths meet new challenges... For one thing, the scaffolding/methodology assumes a certain mono-cultural, semi-white bread, historically Judeo-Christian worldview in the hearer. As Keller points out, that simply won't get you any traction in some contexts today. Say something like, "God loves you", and you might well expect to hear back "Huh? Who is this God guy?" Suddenly the scaffolding and script comes crashing down around you. In the same way, responding to such 'paradigm-busting' questions requires that you invest time into your response (and in the study to arm you to respond).

Tim Keller notes the rising use of the Alpha Program as perhaps the new 'silver bullet' in evangelism. In light of these challenges I think it's easy to see why it's successful. Based on my limited understanding, ample time is set aside for the lessons/Q&A and the material is relatively meaty. So, Alpha presents substantial answers to questions and gives people time to interact with the material in a group.

So if part of the challenge is to formulate an exceptionally pithy presentation of the Gospel to post[whatevers], I think we have a problem. The challenges of a multicultural, pluralistic, post-Christian era mean that we have to be prepared to start from ground-zero and build things carefully.

Setting aside the issue of time, to focus on content... A couple of the comments were especially on-target and helpful, IMHO. Eddie Beal (aka Taliesin) kicked things off by saying that 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 provides a good framework for dealing with both the 'Christ-haunted' and the completely profane people we meet. I think that is a great place to start. As I have been chewing on Dr. Keller's challenge, I had in my head a framework like this:
  • Present Jesus and the Resurrection as historic fact. Postmodernism has created a truth problem, and I think at least one way to tackle that would be to present the historicity of the New Testament Gospels. Jesus was born, lived, taught, died, and rose from the dead. These events are way more than just historically 'plausible'. This discussion could range all over the place, from philosophical, epistemological challenges to real questions about evidence for Jesus having walked on the Earth...
  • Present what Christ taught about Himself. Not only was Christ a real person, but He certainly cast Himself as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world"... Why did He come to earth? What is sin? What is my condition thanks to sin, and how do I get outta this mess? I suppose the goal would be to weave together both the propositional, concrete, systematic theological statements and the overarching story line of redemptive history. I think that this is really at the core of what Keller's driving at. I suppose I don't understand enough about the value of 'story' to the postmodern worldview to flesh this out much more.
  • The Existential Rub. What are the real, personal questions in this person's life to which Christ is the answer? It might be feelings of guilt or shame, facing death, a craving for justice, or any number of things. But how can allow the Gospel to impact their worldview and answer their struggle now? As Frank Turk (aka centuri0n) noted in his comment: "[T]he Christians were presenting this [God] who intersects with reality in the man Christ Jesus, and is working out History for His glory and the salvation of us lousy sinners." Christ is not just ! He is here and now!
  • How then do we live? Assuming that we get this far, how do all the points above impact our day-to-day life, both at the level of worldview and of practical living.
In thinking that through, the one thing that became crystal clear to me was that any of these discussion demand of us that we know what we believe... I noted above that at least part of the appeal of the 4SL and similar programs was that they gave us a theological crutch.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to have internalized much more that a script. Though there's really only one message/lesson (the Gospel), we need to be able to articulately bring that truth to bear on a number of possible challenges or objections.

Everyone's a philosopher nowadays - so we need to be able to present Christ as Truth rather than just an option on the buffet table (Luke's illustration). Everyone is also 'spiritual' - so we need to be able to show the Gospel as superior to all the false faiths and ideas that our sin imposes on us. Everyone wants justice and peace - so we need to show that justice and peace cannot be had without the Gospel and Reign of Christ. For us to be able to do this, the message needs to be especially real and alive to us.

This has turned into more of a rant than a systematic post, and I'm sorry about that. But I'm tired, and I don't feel like re-writing this anymore. I'll try to do better next time. In the meantime, I hope more of you chime in.

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  • Dluxe - thanks for stopping by at my blog and posting this key question: "I guess what I'm wondering is how do you wrap-up all those things into a compelling presentation?"

    I think that what we have to realize is that there will be no standardized presentation, but there can be a standardized (for the process of equipping others to proclaim the Gospel) process. That is where we miss the boat. There will be no postmodern version of 4SL.

    As Christians we agree that there are certain essentials in our worldview. The truth that is proclaimed in the Bible (BTW you are right that we have to be able to articulate that the historical truth of the resurrection and reliability of the Bible) touches on every aspect, trial, tragedy and joy of our human existence. When we proclaim the gospel to others we first connect to their lives and needs then we point to stories (true stories narratives etc.) in the Bible that might resonate with that other individual (environmental concerns, concern for those in poverty, guilt etc.). Then we show how that issue fits into God's overarching plan for his creation (entire Gospel story). As we do this we highlight facets of systematic or Biblical theology that we know relate to this person to whom we are speaking. We must include the essentials of the Gospel, but how and when we weave them in will change with each individual.

    If there is a new paradigm to follow, it would be that we need to move beyond our current limited vision of Christianity (4SL, ticket to heaven, meet my felt needs etc.) and see it as a total worldview that makes a claim on every aspect of life throughout the globe. The typical evangelical is not equipped for this task. Instead she is equipped to tell her story. But the Gospel is much bigger than our individual stories (not to mention that the stories of followers of Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson are also very engaging). Postmoderns must be shown that global claims of Christ and that Christianity is much, much more that a personal decision, a pity prayer or passing time in the prayer closet.

    Thanks for provoking the discussion…I have a few more controversial thoughts and if I can pull them together I’ll post ‘em on my blog. Does this help answer your question?

    By Blogger nancy, at 3:21 PM, November 13, 2006  

  • Dude:

    Keller and Don Carson (as if I knew him well enough to call him "Don" and not "Mr. Dr. Professor Sir") both hit on the fact that we are in a Bible-ignorant society. I thought the main point they were trying to establish is that we can't take anything for granted.

    That is: we can't even take for granted that people understand what we are saying when we say, "God Exists". It's a sort of mind-numbing thing to realise that when you say "God", people today really may have no idea what you mean. If you are a well-formed Christian, you realize that "God" means triune Creator, Sustainer, Savior and King (among other things) -- but if you are talking to another Christian, they may only get 1 of those 4 right. Most would get none.

    So Keller's point, I think, is that we are in a place where tract evangelism isn't enough. Maybe we need 13 tracts, as Carson sort of alluded to. But we need a way to get the full Gospel to the people who are here, not the people we wish they were.

    I live, as many people know, in the middle of the so-called "Bible belt". But it's somewhat ridiculous to talk to people about anyting past their love of Christian pop music. At the bookstore, we come in contact with people every single day who have gone to church their whole lives but, when they hit a rough patch in their marriage, don't turn to Christ-likeness and humility and suffering service to make sure their marriage prospers and thrives: they turn to books about romance and dating. When their kids start asking questions like, "Dad, how do we know that Jesus rose from the dead?" or "Mom, if Jesus loves me, why don't I have a lot of pretty and funny friends?" they have no answer -- because for these people, the parents, the questions are unanswerable. For them, we have no way to know Jesus rose from the dead and sadly, we ought to have pretty and funny friends.

    I like your post here. I like the idea that whatever it is we ought to be doing with and about the Gospel, it ought to be real like payday is real. If the Gospel is only a bunch of propositions, it's just talk. But if it is not propositions, it's not even talk: it's smoke and dust.

    By Blogger centuri0n, at 9:54 AM, November 17, 2006  

  • Anecdote:

    My wife was working in the bookstore the other day, and this guy came in and told her he needed a "salvation card". She wasn't sure what he meant, so she asked him what that was, and he go very indignant with her.

    "I suppose we don't have to offer people salvation anymore," was one of his more-enjoyable epithets. He was looking fo something the size of a busines scard which offered someone the plan of salvation.

    Well, we're retailers. We have a whole rack of tracts -- in Spanish and in English -- and my wife showed those to him. Believe it or not, that just made him more angry. "I just want a card," he said, "to send to someone: a small card for salvation."

    Now listen: if that's the kind of people we have in the church today (and I'll admit something -- it's not; most people don't care this much about the offer of the Gospel) we are in serious trouble. If only that card which this guys has seen maybe once in his life is the way to declare the Gospel, maybe we should laminate it and keep it in our wallet or something rather than get burned up over 4-color tracts which probably say more than will fit on a business card.

    I might have had a larger point when I started writing this, but this kind of thing always leaves me a little slack-jawed in amazement.

    By Blogger centuri0n, at 10:03 AM, November 17, 2006  

  • cent:

    You headed me off at the pass with your 2nd comment...

    Let me try to respond to a couple things:

    So Keller's point, I think, is that we are in a place where tract evangelism isn't enough. Maybe we need 13 tracts, as Carson sort of alluded to.

    Absolutely right... I think 'tract evangelism' has, at least in my own experience, been a real negative in many people's growth in Christ. I and other at my church acted like we had it all down pat once we learned the 4SLs.

    On one hand, that's just crazy talk... There's no way I could completely distill the Gospel to fit on a note card without 'limiting' it in some way. That's not to say Gospel summaries are bad, but they can't provide the depth and/or multi-faceted glory of the Gospel. I've heard Keller say, "If you think you get it, you don't."

    In another way, tract evangelism - taken to an extreme - is like eating too much candy at Halloween... It might taste good, but it rots your teeth. If we stop with a superficial understanding of what the Gospel is we will fail both as evangelists (because we lack the depth to respond to probing questions) and as believers (because we will not be constantly impacted and transformed by the richness of Christ).

    I like the idea that whatever it is we ought to be doing with and about the Gospel, it ought to be real like payday is real.

    I read some fortune cookie quote that said something like "To win a war, you must first win the battle within your own mind." In a narrow way, I think this is important. People in this world have been taught to have questions, whether or not they really come up with them from their own reflection. We need to be able to respond out of something that's really [started to] transform us.

    I'm not saying that we need to have all the answers or that our words are going to hinder the Holy Spirit's ability to rescue someone... But I am saying that our faith needs alive, vibrant, and grounded if we're going to be able to speak truth to people in a compelling way.

    If only that card which this guys has seen maybe once in his life is the way to declare the Gospel, maybe we should laminate it and keep it in our wallet or something rather than get burned up over 4-color tracts which probably say more than will fit on a business card.

    I worked in a Christian bookstore the summer before my wife and I got married ('96). I think I met this same guy...

    Keller also spoke at the Reform and Resurge Conference. In one address (on preaching the Gospel), he states that the way to preach to believer and unbeliever is to go after idolatry. The unbeliever has made a "good thing an ultimate thing", and the believer does the same every time they sin.

    I guess what I am wondering is what worldview ideas or idols are universal enough today to allow you to hit someone where they live get a hearing for the Gospel?

    Two closing notes:
    No matter how 'universal' that pitch is, we have become a society rooted in dialog. To that end, we need to have depth behind the script in order to be able to really address a person's questions.

    Also, though I hate the term 'lifestyle evangelism', I do think that how we live has an increasingly large impact on the perception of our beliefs in culture. People are so cynical nowadays... We must live lives that show the reality that we claim with our mouths.

    There... Another long ramble to follow yours. :-)

    By Blogger HeavyDluxe, at 10:32 AM, November 17, 2006  

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