Today at my provisional clergy retreat, we looked at Luke 10:1-12 where Jesus sent out seventy apostles. The difference between what Jesus told the 70 to do and how I was trained to evangelize people as a young evangelical Christian is quite striking. He doesn’t say to take a bullhorn and preach hellfire and brimstone on the sidewalk. He doesn’t say to figure out how to use a conversation about baseball to manipulate your way to eliciting a sinner’s prayer from the other person. He tells them not to take any supplies (“no purse, no bag, no sandals”) and basically mooch off of the people in the towns they go to. This strategy really wouldn’t work if Jesus was sending his apostles to the self-reliant white picket-fenced homes of his good suburbanite followers today. They would probably call the cops. But since this is Biblical, it’s worth contemplating whether Jesus’ approach can be translated into our culture today.
I don’t go out of my way to befriend fundamentalists on facebook, but because of the anonymity of the Christian blogger networking world, I’ve happened to acquire a few complete strangers as facebook friends who turned out to be fundamentalists. The other day, I saw one of them holding forth in my newsfeed saying that contemplative prayer was a heresy as well as the “new-agey” concept of “mystical union” with Christ (aren’t the academic Calvinists writing books about this?), so I thought I would weigh in. I failed miserably to communicate, partly because I was a smart-aleck and partly because I refused to answer when the fundamentalist asked me my position on gay marriage since it had nothing to do with contemplative prayer. So I wanted to put out a genuine question to my readers since some of you are ex-fundamentalists and perhaps some of you are even current ones: how can I do a better job of evangelizing fundamentalists?
I’ve been reading an interview with outspoken atheist comedian Bill Maher in the Atlantic. The interviewer asked him a question about God and his answer was intriguing to me. The question was along the lines of Pascal’s Wager: “What if you’re wrong and you’re dooming yourself to hell? Do you ever worry about that?” Here is Maher’s response:
Only a Southern Baptist like Russell Moore would be crass enough to refer to a sitting pope as a “theological wreck.” Moore took exception to some of Francis’ comments in a recent interview with La Repubblica magazine in Rome regarding how Christians should be engaging the world around them. Setting aside his initial tactlessness, I think Moore’s piece is reasonably thoughtful. Francis and Moore seem to have very different views of how evangelism is supposed to work. While I can appreciate Moore’s perspective, ultimately Francis’ approach makes a lot more sense to me. Continue Reading
I was listening to Brian Zahnd’s podcast Tuesday while waiting for the rest of my mission team in the Santiago airport. In his May 19th sermon “Mystery Revealed,” he preaches on the cosmic reconciliation of all creation in Christ described in Colossians 1. Brian cautions Christians not to take a triumphalist, hegemonic attitude about the cosmic reign of Christ as through its purpose is to serve as our self-affirmation. He says, “”The way of conquest and domination is the way of the old gods that are passing away… When we absorb enough of the sin and suffering of the world in imitation of Christ, people are drawn to Christ.” It’s a very fascinating claim about the nature of evangelism and what it means to take up our crosses and follow a crucified savior.
Oh mercy! The evangelicals have so wanted to make peace with the Catholics, because they make for such great allies in the culture wars. They’re not just anti-abortion; they’re anti-condom! So we’ve tried to overlook the whole Mary thing. But then they elected this pope who washes the feet of criminals. And he says negative things about capitalism. And now he says that non-Christians are capable of doing good and are in fact redeemed by Christ. Is Pope Francis a flaming universalist heretic?
Agenda-less fellowship. It’s a phrase that’s been stuck in my head recently. I’m not sure whether it’s from God or not. But I’m feeling a sense that I’m supposed to stand up for it. I’ve read a lot of books about church health which say that the way to be successful as a church is to develop a clear sense of purpose and cut every program from your church that doesn’t support that purpose. But I’m not sure that squares with the way that we see Jesus interacting with people. Continue Reading
I often clash with the gatekeepers of Christian orthodoxy. I’m sure that I get under their skin too. To me, they look like the Pharisees Jesus talks about in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you [who]… shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.” I wonder what Bible verse they would apply to the caricature of me that they see on their laptop screen. In any case, I thought I would try to express where I’m coming from, to the degree that I’m coming from somewhere and not just being a sinfully impulsive loose cannon. Everything that I’m trying to do (as opposed to the things I do impulsively) is shaped by my understanding of Christian evangelism as Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Continue Reading
In the wake of the amazing Missio Alliance conference, I wanted to continue to wrestle with the question of how we talk to strangers about Jesus on airplanes and other places. This reflection was started by Rachel Held Evans’ post on the topic a few days ago to which I responded with a comparison of Rachel’s reflections with street evangelist guru Ray Comfort of Way of the Master. A reader cried foul because it seemed like I was making a mischievous, unstated argument that was “set up,” which was a fair critique since I didn’t share my own commentary. This morning during church, I asked God how should we talk to strangers about Jesus. And the answer that came into my brain was this: assume that they’re angels and breathe the kingdom with them. Continue Reading
I have gone on several short-term mission trips. I love going and think they’re awesome, but not because I think that I can “save” anybody in a week. Actually the reason I go is to be further converted to Christianity by serving people who seem to have a deeper, richer relationship with God than I do. In Methodism, missions is mostly about service and awakening to the realities of global injustice for the person going on the trip. In the evangelical world where I grew up, missions was primarily about saving souls; if you gave people a “cup of cold water,” it was so that you could talk to them about Jesus. But as missionary Laura Parker shares in a recent post, when you use a bait and switch missions approach, what you end up with are “rice Christians.” Continue Reading