When They Will Not Come” (WTWNC) names the social dilemma of the church in post Christendom when we can no longer assume non-Christians will come to church even when they are seeking God. This new cultural condition forces us to change the way we think about every aspect of the church. WTWNC is a series of posts that reflect on the ways the practice of being Christ’s church/church planting must change because of this new cultural dilemma.
Illustration by Ben Sternke of http://benjaminsternke.typepad.com.
In previous posts and writings (here , here, and here) we have covered the challenges of evangelism in the new post Christendom contexts of N America: the cultural condition of “When They Will Not Come.” We have asked what does evangelism look when we can not assume they will understand? When the message cannot assume a cultural hegemony of Christian assumptions.We have seen how the Bridge Illustration, the Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws all struggle to adequately engage the lives of post Christendom peoples with the gospel. In fact, each one has the potential of damaging the gospel for people who have no “Story” from which to make sense of ‘what they might be doing.’ By reducing it in a way that misleads those with no background, it has the potential to cheapen the gospel and malform the new convert (narcissistically) into something other than the gospel. Like most Christendom evangelism, these tools assume too much. They look at every person as the same. Yet, up to this time, I have not really come up with suggestions for a tool/way that can replace these well worn and to some degree proven tools of Christendom evangelism (although many others out there in blogworld have made excellent attempts)
After much thinking and conversing at our church (last spring after Easter we had “think sessions” for seven Sundays before worship), I have some tentative conclusions as to how offer a way for training Christians for “missional evangelism” in the new cultures of post-Christendom. Here goes – starting with two preambles that define the assumptions on evangelism we must change for evangelism in post Christendom.
Preamble One: In our evangelism-thinking, let’s move from “bridge” to “onramp.” If there is one overriding conclusion for me in all this, it is that missional church leaders must move from a.) Training people to offer non-Christians a “bridge” to salvation, that is susceptible to making salvation into a transaction, to b.) Training people to become themselves “onramps” who through their lives offer nonChristians an avenue (i.e. themselves) through which people can enter the work God is doing in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). This concept of moving from a “bridge” to an “onramp” is key for me.
Preamble Two: In our thinking, let’s move from justification before God “by Christ” to living life “in Christ.” A second conclusion for me in all of this is that we must understand that the fundamental issue in salvation is not our forensic guilt before God based in an oversimplified post-Reformational forensic substitutionary atonement. Instead, let’s move towards the salvation that God is doing in the world to “set the world right” (as J D Dunn and N T Wright say it). OF COURSE PART OF THIS IS (an inseparable part of all this!!) the justification, yes the forensic pardon we receive in Christ via His sacrificial death on the cross as a fulfillment of the covenantal promises given by God to His chosen people Israel (of which we have become part). We need to make this shift however from seeing justification as the primary issue in salvation, to seeing it as part of God’s overall covenantal plan with a people to make the world right.
This move gives us the necessary perspective to proclaim the fullness of the gospel for the world without diminishing the grace, forgiveness and new life we as individuals have in Christ through participating in the entire salvation God is doing in the world. It changes salvation from “you receive this and this” by faith in Christ alone – to “put your entire life under Christ” and live under His Lordship over the world. IN THIS WAY, no new Christian can miss that “in Christ” we are going from living for your -self, out of your self, in your self – and all the things that you have become entangled in the process – to living “in Christ” – where every thing, every area of our lives is surrendered to be lived out of one’s relationship “in Christ”
GIVEN THOSE TWO ASSUMPTIONS, here’s some rudimentary pieces that I think the church can train its people into that can shape them into “effective onramps” for the gospel.
Five Things For an Effective On Ramp To Be Able to Do (from 1 Pet 3:14-16)
1.) Listen. Let us give up all the prescribed pre-scripted gospel messages and ways of leading one pre-scripted to a certain outcome. Let us learn how to come humbly before another person and listen to the Other as someone different than me, someone who God is working in, and someone who has issues, needs, understandings which may have nothing to do with the way the gospel has taken shape in my own life.
2.) Trust in God. Let us learn to completely trust in God by His Spirit that He is working and anyone’s salvation is completely His work. Let us give up any coercion and simply become the onramp for the Holy Spirit to use in bringing another person to Himself.
3.) Nurture My Own Participation/Relationship in/with God in Christ. This may sound trite, but we each must have a relationship with God, a vibrant real participation in life with God, in order to witness to this life and be onramps for other people to enter into it.
4.) Tell The Whole Story: We must be able to share the whole story as well as one’s own participation in it daily. We must do it with simplicity yet profound amazement.
5.) Close with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We must learn that a faithful presentation of the gospel eventually proclaims the good news of what God is doing in the world “in Christ” INTO A PERSON’S LIFE. There will be a time eventually in many relationships when the hearer asks how do you live like you do? Given my situation, how I can participate? Join in? Be saved? Here we describe God’s work in Christ making the world right (righteousness) – new creation, restored relationship with God and invite him/her in through repentance, submission and entering into a whole new cosmic way of life under God’s Lordship through Jesus Christ.
On Offering a Place to Start
I think every “onramp” must be able to offer the new seeker a place to start in this relationship we have with the Triune God in Christ. We used to offer everyone the same “sinner’s prayer.” A discerning “onramp,” I think, will have to model the gospel here, describe what it looks like in their real life situations, offer a place to start. Here’s a few “places to start” “onramps” should know and understand in leading someone onto the highway of the relationship we have with the Triune God.
a.) START BY RECONCILING “It’s about reconciling” You are invited into a life of Christ reconciling the world to Himself. Righteousness is about putting things right. “In Christ” means that every relationship you have must always be in the process of being reconciled, forgiven and put right. This starts with your relationship with God, and now this is what God is doing through Christ in the world through you. Are you willing to engage every relationship as if God wants to “make it right” and transform them? 2 Cor 5:14-21; Matt 18:15-20.
b.) START BY DYING “It is about Dying” – You are invited to come and die to things that are killing you and the world. Living in Christ requires the literal ever “putting to death of yourself and the things God asks you to die to” in order that new life might be resurrected in and out of you …Col 3:1-17; Rom 12:1-2 (John 12:24)
c.) START BY ENGAGING GOD-GIVEN TASKS IN FAITH/ DEPENDENCE UPON THE SPIRIT. “It’s about the power of the Holy Spirit” at work in and through you and in the world. In the cross and resurrection, God has conquered evil, sin even death in Christ. You are invited to live in this same power of the Holy Spirit to do and be part of all these things. Recognize in each situation, that “in Christ” under His Lordship, you are the instrument to make manifest his victory over evil. (John 14:12-14; John 20:23).
d.) START BY LIVING UNDER CHRIST’S AUTHORITY. “It is about “His Lordship Over All Things” You are invited to enter relationships under Christ’s authority, denying power to evil, praying for the sick, bringing His peace wherever you go. Put your own life each day under His authority trusting He is at work all around you for His purposes. By so doing we are participating in what God is doing to bring about the new creation until He comes …
e.) START BY PARTICIPATING IN HIS MISSION. It is about “His Mission in the World” -participating in new creation . 2 Cor. 5:14-21(NOT THE NIV VERSION!) Matt 5-7 The sermon on the Mt (The inaugurating of the Kingdom). You are invited to participate in the new age Christ is bringing in under His power until He comes.
Well these are my still evolving (Life on the Vine) communal thoughts on training people to be “onramps” for the Kingdom of God. WHAT HAVE I MISSED? Is this too much? unorganized? Not strategic enough? How would you improve this? How can this be made compact enough to become a suitable teaching means to train people to be post-Christendom evangelists?