March 12, 2008 / David Fitch


There has been a broadening discussion out there on the ways we initiate people into salvation. Notice this post. Notice Tony Jones’ contest for new metaphors for communicating what happens in salvation. Notice Dwight Friessen’s heuristic thoughts on U-theory from a couple years ago (Thanks to someone’s comment on this blog). Notice James Choung’s book and video offering a new way to present salvation that addresses the issues raised on this blog concerning the Bridge Illustration. Thanks Andy Crouch for that link. I don’t have any immediate suggestions for a new tool (I use the word “tool” hesitantly). Based on conversations at our church and over this blog however, here are six things I’ll be looking for (in our own church discusssions) in a new initiatory tool.
1.) MAKE THE STORY HUGE When we tell the story, from the beginning of all creation to the coming of the New Heaven and New Earth, we need to make it huge. The story needs to be so huge that my life can only be caught up into the Triune God’s work of bringing in the new order, of Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5). I haven’t a clue as to how to go about this. Can the evangecube help here? I don’t know much about it, just asking.

2.) PUT A DISCLAIMER ON THIS TOOL because no tool will work outside of an immersion into a community of Christ, a living breathing way of life where the language and stories of the gospel can make sense. Let’s put a disclaimer on the next evangelism tool: Can only be used from within the living interaction a real living community of Christ.

3.) CHANGE THE CONTEXT OF THE TOOL. It seems that the Bridge is a metaphor for the middle class. It focuses on the issue of life after death or a personal relationship with God. Indeed these are parts of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. Yet as has already been said, this reduces the salvation won in Christ. And it reduces it to elements that are appealing to a middle class Christendom. For you have to accept some of the basics to believe this pitch, i.e. heaven, hell. And you have to already desire a better spiritual life. These are characteristics of middle class Christendom. In addition both of these emphasies of salvation can be domesticated to the middle-upper class lifestyle without significant adjustments (am I being too cynical?). I believe the mission field in America has decidedly turned away from the middle-upper class. The real harvest is with the poor of all kinds in our declining society. A tool for evangelistic initiation should now focus on the poor, the desperate, those with addictions and foreclosed houses. Here people must be given a way to understand the bankruptcy in our real concrete lives within our equally bankrupt society. We must give a way of hope out of this desperation now that begins with life eternal now.

We need a way to invite people to “Come and die” (Bonhoeffer). For I am convinced … that no salvation in Christ really begins until one has died in some way. This has been too cushioned in the Bridge. And I believe it is the reason why I meet countless people saved under these methods who have little sense of the kind of discipleship we’re called into and the kind of freedom and new life that awaits. Right up front we need to help people see the way to life is through death, mortification of the enslavements, whether they be materialism or addictive drugs. Strangely I think this kind of appeal will have some resonance with the poor, at least those who have come to the moment of truth that they need God. It will not appeal to those who are happy with their current attachements. But to those who have come to the place where they realize everything they have lived for is worth crap (Phil 2:7), this will be a relief.

I think most conversions happen when a lacuna is revealed in a person’s cultural Narrative (something like “worldview” but slightly different) they are living. This usually happens in an encounter with another person’s life, how it is lived, and the Narrative that undergirds it. It throws everything you believe up for grabs. By the Spirit, an authentic life as witness does just this. This new tool we’re looking for should tutor Christians how to live the life of non-coercive simple hospitable authentic witness to the Story of Christ that throws people’s lives (outside of Christ) into “epistemological crisis” (McIntyre).

The Bridge Illustration reflects the traditional evangelical obsession with the penal view of the atonement. In the words of Scot McKnight in Christianity Today, this gospel is too small. We need a broader metaphor. I might recommend Heim, McKnight and Boersma as a few places to start. I like Oscar Cullman’s metaphor of the war resistance in WW2 occupied Europe found in his classic Christ and Time.

The evangelistic tool we use at our church is built on the model of Hyppolytus in the third century. I learned it from Bob Webber in this book. Every year we have a 4 month initiation, beginning after Christmas all the way to Pentecost. It follows Hyppolytus‘ path of catechesis. We go from seeker (the understanding of the basics of conversion), to hearer (the understanding of Lord’s Prayer, Apostle’s Creed), to kneeler (self examination in the Spirit and the learning of Rom 6-8), which leads to baptism on Easter morning. It is a rehearsal of the Story of Christ. The goal is that all newcomers, or people seeking, or just wanderers wandering around our community, can be asked “are you ready to take the dive?” It’s powerful. But it obviously is not portable. And it takes a four month comittment (In the third century it was a three year commitment). Even with this, to get people there, we are sensing the need for a more portable yet engaging tool for evangelism.

Peace … and blessings as you walk next week in the path of the Holiest of Weeks.