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Saturday, July 25, 2009

EVANGELISM: How Do We Evangelize?

Bryan Stone, a professor at Boston University School of Theology, in his book, Evangelism After Christendom, (BrazosPress, 2007), relates a line from a recent advertisement brochure for a church ladies function: "An environment of mutual respect is maintained in which members may freely share beliefs and differences without fear of disparagement or evangelization."

He adds, "To evangelize means literally to offer "good news", or a "welcomed message.” Isaiah 52: 7 celebrates the bringer of such good news:

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation,who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."

If evangelism means sharing "good news", how did it become bad news in our culture? How did the feet of the evangelists get to be so ugly?

Former professor of New Testament and Preaching at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Fred Craddock, once went to a victory celebration party following a Georgia football game. The party was held in a wealthy suburban section of Atlanta, with a splendidly restored Victorian style home with a high vaulted ceiling. There were about thirty to thirty-five people present whose ages ranged from thirty to fifty. Everyone was dressed up in clothing that said, “How about them dogs?” Dr. Craddock and his wife entered the house and didn’t know anyone there other than the couple with whom they attended the game. They met the hostess, who was putting out trays and sandwiches and drinks.

Then, a woman who was overly dressed, too bejeweled to have just returned from a football game, stood up and took center stage. “I think we should all sing the doxology!” She exclaimed. And before they had a chance to vote on it, she began to sing. A few people, Dr. Craddock observed, joined in and sang with gusto. Most folks studied their shoelaces; a few hummed along. Others looked for a place to set down their drink as if they didn’t think they should hold it during the doxology. Dr. Craddock acknowledged that he felt a little awkward.

When they finished singing, the woman said, mostly to the men, “You can talk all you want to about the running of Herschel Walker, but it was Jesus who gave us the victory.” Somebody asked, “Do you believe that?” “Of course I do,” she replied. “Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, I’ll give it.” And I said, “Jesus, I want us to win more than anything in the world.” And we won! And I’m not ashamed of the gospel. I’m not ashamed to say it anywhere, because Jesus said, “Shout it from the housetops.”

By that time, Dr. Craddock and some others had moved into the kitchen. They could still hear her talking, and one of the men looked at Dr. Craddock and asked, “Do you think that woman is drunk?” “Well, I don’t know,” Dr. Craddock responded, we just moved to Georgia last year!” The hostess had come into the kitchen and was refilling a tray. The guests had become very silent. “If that woman doesn’t shut her mouth,” the hostess said, “she going to ruin my party!” Then, Dr. Craddock said that before he knew it, he had said something and didn’t know why he did. He asked the Hostess, “Are you a Christian?” She said, “yes, but I don’t believe in just shouting it everywhere and to everyone.” (From Authentic Evangelism, by William Tuck (Judson Press, 2002).

That talkative woman at a football party is a picture of the problem we have with trying to do evangelism in today’s world. While some of us are shouting what we believe in the living room, others are whispering about what they don’t want to hear in the kitchen. Is there any way around this quandary? I think there is.

When Jesus left this earth, he told his disciples: “You shall be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I find it quite interesting that Jesus did not say you “ought” to witness, but he said "You shall be witnesses." The world is watching the church whether we want them to or not. They are watching, but what are they seeing? Do they see the difference faith makes in our lives? Do they see how we build community together as a church or how we use our resources to reach out to others in need? Do they see anything that makes them want to stay in the living room with us, rather than only whispering about us in the kitchen?

I believe our greatest challenge in evangelism today is not, “How Do we Witness," but it is to answer the more obvious question: Can Jesus get a witness through us?

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