Some have asked about the current status of the vision for St. Patrick’s—Grandview, since I am no longer an active Anglican priest, and we originally expected the new church to be an Anglican parish. I will take up that matter in my next post. I’ve already written it, but as I was writing, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to deal with another important issue preliminarily. That subject is evangelism.
I grew up believing that the main reason unbelievers were not Christians was that no one had adequately explained the “plan of salvation” to them. Evangelism, then, was primarily a matter of clarifying terms and providing instruction for what steps to take and in what order. I genuinely believed that the gospel was so logical and so persuasive that anybody who heard it clearly and coherently presented would not be able to resist its logical conclusions.
That’s what I believed, in fact, until, as a Bible college student and then as a young pastor, I met people who listened carefully to my straightforward and passionate presentation and then responded, in effect, with a polite “No, thank you.”
I assumed that my presentation must be flawed. I surely must not be saying what I needed to say, what I meant to say. So I polished my spiel and consulted all the available resources designed to enhance my effectiveness in evangelistic witness. And the results were about the same.
Eventually, I came to realize that evangelism—by which I mean the process of sharing the “good news” of Jesus Christ with nonbelievers in such a way that they can understand what it means to believe in Jesus, experience the grace and love and forgiveness of God, and follow Jesus as the Lord of their lives—includes some truly supernatural dimensions and faces some truly supernatural obstacles.
The Apostle Paul, who knew a little bit about evangelism, observed in chapter four of his second letter to the Corinthians that…
3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (New International Version)
Here’s the way Eugene Peterson translates those verses in The Message:
3-4 If our Message is obscure to anyone, it’s not because we’re holding back in any way. No, it’s because these other people are looking or going the wrong way and refuse to give it serious attention. All they have eyes for is the fashionable god of darkness. They think he can give them what they want, and that they won’t have to bother believing a Truth they can’t see. They’re stone-blind to the dayspring brightness of the Message that shines with Christ, who gives us the best picture of God we’ll ever get.
Those verses, especially when they are read in the immediate context of the rest of chapter four, as well as the broader context of that entire letter, make it clear that effectiveness in the task of communicating the Christian message involves far more than mere technique and methodology. There is a sinister power, a supernatural adversary, at work in the world, “blinding the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see (understand) the light of the gospel (the ‘good news’ at the heart of the Christian message).”
In light of this reality, here are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, evangelism is spiritual warfare. Paul’s imagery in 2 Corinthians 4 ( e.g. “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers”) calls to mind what he says later in chapter 10. Once again, Peterson’s translation in The Message is appropriately graphic and urgent.
3-6 The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.
Any suggestion that sharing the gospel is hardly more complicated or involved than telling someone how to register to vote is misguided—naïve at best and dangerous at worst. That leads to the second thing we should keep in mind as a result of the truth Paul teaches in 2 Corinthians 4. The gospel, which is at the heart of the Christian message and is the essence of what we communicate, present, or share in evangelism, must surely be more than a formula to ensure that people go to heaven when they die. Would such a relatively benign message be enough to generate the drastic and supernatural opposition which Paul attributes to our adversary in 2 Corinthians 10?
Let’s keep all this in perspective. My goal in this post is not to scare you out of doing evangelism. I am plowing ground here, preparing the soil for a more involved exploration, in future posts, of the need for evangelism in contemporary America and the way the church should engage the task in a postmodern culture.
In the process we will need to rethink our definition of the gospel to make sure that what we are communicating is indeed “good news.” For example, we’ll need to ask what Jesus meant when He commissioned His disciples to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. We’ll also need to ask whether our assumptions about evangelistic outreach may need some revision in light of contemporary cultural realities.
I think I’ll leave it there for now. I hope I have piqued your curiosity a bit as I’ve tried to lay a foundation for what I want to say next time regarding the vision for St. Patrick’s Church.
Thank you so much for reading, and as always…
Soli Deo Gloria.