Sunday, July 15, 2007

Should we...because we can?

Rusty links and then comments on a couple of news articles chronicling the cost and experience of a modern day prom night. He then finishes his piece by asking, “Do Christians think, by mimicking such a culture's every move, that they are evangelizing to them?”

I often tell my daughters that just because they can [mimic others] doesn’t mean they should [mimic others]. Of course my admonition is often the exact opposite of what they are hoping to hear because it is usually in response to them asking if they can do something I am less than enthusiastic about. Hopefully, this is a lesson my daughters are learning even as my point goes in one ear and out the other when they hear it.

This principle of purposeful behavior is not only applicable when deciding against bad behavior. Sometimes, even good behavior shouldn’t be mimicked. Just because Saddleback has been successful with a certain Church model doesn’t mean other Churches should automatically copy what they are doing there. Just because one person is successful at personal evangelism doesn’t mean God expects all of us to be personal evangelists. It’s sad how many people define success in terms of what they are good at doing.

In order to salt the earth, believers must be in the world, but not of the world. Of course Rusty is asking a rhetorical question where the obvious answer is “no” because mimicking the world is being of the world. As Rusty implies, most of what passes for Christianity nowadays, is indistinguishable from modern culture. Christians should be noticeably different. Believers in Christ have to offer an alternative to the world focus on self. Followers of Christ should be directing focus away from self and onto the purposes of God.

Just because we can follow others doesn’t mean we should always follow others. It is perfectly OK with God for each of us to be unique. After all, he created each and every one of us as an individual. It is just as OK for our group and our group focus to be unique as long as our purpose conforms to God’s leadership. Along the way, we may attract a few converts who need to break the shackles of modern culture.


Hammertime said...

OK, David, I'm all in.

"Just because one person is successful at personal evangelism doesn’t mean God expects all of us to be personal evangelists."

The first example is relevant and applicable because seeker-sensitivity is not a biblical precept. This second example, however, is quite the opposite.

We are commanded to go and tell. We are not commanded to go and tell like Paul, Peter, or anyone else. Simply point me to a Scriptural basis for avoidance of personal evangelism and I will start to understand your position. As of right now, I can't get anything around it except your personal preference, which we both agree does not trump Scriptural command.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

Haven’t we had this discussion before?

I disagree that the Bible, or Orthodox beliefs, teach that every individual is an evangelist. The Church, the earthly body of Christ, is tasked with taking the Gospel to the world. Every individual, every part of the body, has a role to play, but every individual is not a personal evangelist. Many individuals have done harm to the Gospel by trying to be an evangelist when they were not gifted, or led to evangelize.

I agree with you that personal preference does not trump biblical commands. There are many unbelievers who have been repelled from the Gospel by believers who have no business attempting personal evangelism.

As always, I am open to being shown differently. Does my explanation clarify my position or do you think every believer is an evangelist?

Rusty said...

We seem to follow the secular lead, whether it be in the arts or in humanities. Remember the "We are the World" gathering? It was followed by a Christian artist version. While early Christian rock musicians were decidedly evangelistic, the CCM industry has slid down into the muck of money and fame (albeit with "noble" intentions). Same goes for every copycat TV show patterned off of secular TV.

Will we ever lead?... by example?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rusty,

I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but my guess is that Christians in America will never lead a popular movement based on Christian concepts. My guess is that we are a permanent minority. My guess is that most Christians are more tied to popular culture and fitting in than tied to Christ and standing out.

Within the minority, we may have some leaders. Michael Behe is way ahead of his time in studying random mutations. Off hand, I can’t think of any other leaders. Surely, there must be others.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Christians only followed the morally neutral activities, but many believers are doing damage in the name of Christ by joining the popular culture of global warming hysteria and aid to Africa that destroys the spirit of Africans.

Now I have a question for you, have we turned away from God or has God turned away from us?

Rusty said...

My money is on us having turned away from God. I don't think God necessarily turns away from us, as He did with Israel in the O.T. We tend to view our identity as Christians on a nation-by-nation basis; I'm not so sure that God views it that way.

Hammertime said...

I like your points. I would disagree that God does not turn from us. If he "turned" from those He had chosen before, why would He not "turn" from those He has chosen now? In both cases the "turning" was not an abandonment, but a removal of blessings.

Try these on: Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-16, John :25-42, Acts 1:8, 2 Tim 1:8-14, Rev 6:9, Matt 13:18-23.

Yes, we have had this conversation before - but since you brought it up, I wouldn't mind covering it again! I will merely ask that you be consistent in your interpretation and application.

Hammertime said...

For the other part of the question I thought it should be addressed separately:

Many individuals have done harm to the Gospel by trying to be an evangelist when they were not gifted, or led to evangelize.

That is a truly horrifying thought, if one believes it. Do you truly believe that there are people who will go to eternal punishment because someone presented the gospel to them improperly? Do you think that the difference in a person's salvation is a function of the presentation of the person preaching the gospel? Do you truly think that God gives us the right gospel, but that we can willy-nilly mess it up and someone else pays the price for my foolishness?

Moreover, do you consider that, if you are incorrect and you should evangelize, that there are those you should be witnessing to that will not hear the gospel and will suffer the judgment of their sin because you didn't tell? Aren't these the logical conclusions of your positions? That the results of witnessing are a function of how smart, wise, nice, clever, understanding, willing or savvy I am - whether the listener or the speaker? How exactly does that play out, if not how I have described?

David M. Smith said...

Hi Rusty,

At what point did God stop dealing with nations? Was God involved in stopping imperial Japan? Was God involved in using America to stop Japanese aggression? Nazi aggression? Was God involved in the formation of America in the first place? Just asking; I’m not sure either.

It seems to me that a Calvinist would say God has turned away from us and an Armenian would say we have turned away from God as a nation. On the other hand, it seems like God is still blessing some groups of Americans and withholding his blessing on others.

I know the believers I worship with are different from non-believing Americans. However, the difference is very marginal. From my perspective, the difference should be greater. I pray God will change our hearts and renew his blessing on America.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I always strive for consistency. How am I being inconsistent?

I read every one of your Bible references and I remain unconvinced that every believer is expected to be a personal evangelist. I can see why you would believe the verses support your claim if you start with the assumption evangelism is an individual responsibility. However, when I read the verses, it sounds to me that evangelism is a corporate, Church, responsibility. I didn’t read a single verse directed at all believers.

I have no way of knowing if anyone will be missing in Heaven because of inappropriate evangelism techniques or ungifted evangelists. I assume everyone who will be in Heaven will be there because God chose them to be there and the set of citizens in Heaven will be a complete set.

I do know that I resisted the Gospel for many years because of the people who approached me about the Gospel and the techniques they used. God, in his mercy, bypassed all of those klutzes.

I am prepared to share my faith as well as defend the Gospel at times I consider appropriate or at times I sense God’s prompting. I hope I am being used by God to impart only the truth.

Interesting that you should include a verse from Revelation because the book of Revelation begins with God’s judgment on Church group failure. Likewise, I am much more concerned with the failure of modern Churches than I am concerned with the failure of individual Christians. One of the issues causing the Church to fail is the insistence on personal evangelism from believers who are not capable of influence.

Rusty said...

Hi David,

Of course God is involved with nations, in the context you've given. But the context I was speaking of had to do with God's chosen nation of Israel and how He specifically dealt with nations that interacted with Israel. We're given clear indication (as they were) of God's intentions and involvement, through His Word. By contrast, we have no indication that God has chosen the U.S. or that He is involved with its direction as He was directly involved with Israel in the O.T.

In the N.T. we don't see God's involvement with nations - rather - it's an involvement with people.

Hammertime said...

What is it about these injunctions for the church to evangelize that make it applicable to some, not applicable to others. Perhaps this couple of analogies will help:

"I think that giving is a corporate church duty, not individual. Thus, those not given the gift if 'giving' should not give to the church."

"I think that service is a corporate responsibility, not individual. Thus, those not given the gift of "service" should not try to serve."

To be consistent, I would think you would have to agree with the above statements.

I don't mean to imply that every person is a street corner evangelist. I do imply that we should share our faith. Your statement "I am prepared to share my faith as well as defend the Gospel at times I consider appropriate or at times I sense God’s prompting" seems to indicate you see it similarly to me.

David M. Smith said...

Hi Hammer,

I do think there are differences. I can’t give to the Church without my wife and children also making a sacrifice. My gift comes from my family, not just from me. My gift is a group gift, not an individual gift.

Groups are comprised of individuals. Each individual can participate in group service, but each individual must still make an individual contribution.

Evangelism is [should be] a group endeavor. Individuals have a role in the group endeavor, but individuals are not [should not be] the sole methodology of spreading the Gospel. This is not to say that a talented Evangelist can’t win souls by individually approaching non-believers and presenting the Gospel, it is just to say, most individuals do more harm than good as lone rangers.

I am disgusted by Pastors who believe the only reason someone doesn’t believe in Christ is because I, you, or any other individual, has not told them about Christ. 99.99 % of America has heard of Christ. [I made that percentage up, ok : - ) ] Americans get messages about Christ in the media and from their friends. Both sources tend to distort and misrepresent our historical and living Savior. Many of the friends who do the misrepresenting have been told to evangelize by their Pastor.

We live in a sophisticated multi-media age. Corporately, the Church needs to present the true Gospel in a sophisticated manner or we will not reach the next, even more, sophisticated generation. Very few, if any, companies nowadays sell products to individual consumers by individual salespeople. Individual to individual is a failure in the corporate world. Multi-level marketing was the last gasp for individual to individual sales. People respond to logos and branding and advertising. This is the reason mega Churches attract crowds, even if they don’t produce disciples.

50 years ago, individual to individual, was about the only way to spread the Gospel. Although, I bet 50 years ago there were still good hearted believers who did more harm than good. Today, individual to individual leaves most believers discouraged. Church leadership needs to get with, and then get ahead of, the times.

Hammertime said...


This is where I ask you make a concerted effort to be consistent. If you are not married and have no dependents, can you abstain from giving because you don't have the gift of giving? Can you abstain from service because you don't have the gift of service? According to your description of why one can abstain form personal evangelism, you can - unless I misunderstand.

I don't hold that we are all to be street preachers or stage evangelists. I can even sympathize with the part of your argument about "playing a part". The thing is, people who don't believe they should personally evangelize tend not to play a part at all. Some valid ways I could concede might be to pray when you know someone else is evangelizing specifically. However, this is a highly uncommon act.

All that said, I think the challenge for your position is not a matter of biblical command (for the commands to go and tell take the same forms as the giving, serving and praying commands), but a theology of salvation.

You posted at length once about how , as Christians, we are not to use "influence" to move people. I agree! Yet, aren't you saying that successful evangelism is about the modes/methods, and therefore, how well we influence?

In agreeing that we shouldn't be attempting to influence, I would go further and say that our methods are almost of no effect. You see, when I share the gospel with someone, my goal is not their conversion - it is to glorify God. I believe that no one comes to Christ unless the Father draws them, and that God is glorified in their acceptance or rejection of the gospel. I do take measures to make sure my methods are Scriptural and not offensive - that is, the only offensive part is the gospel itself, not my mannerisms or attitude or word choice.

I would recommend you stop by the "Way of the Master" website. That program shows effectively why we see evangelism with poor results or false results.

How do you contribute to evangelism if not personal witnessing? It might help me see your point more clearly.

David M. Smith said...

Hi again Hammer,

The purpose of evangelism is to present the truth of the Gospel to unbelievers throughout the world. Done right, evangelism does bring glory to God; done poorly or incorrectly, God is not glorified or even pleased. Done right, the Holy Spirit is involved in both the presenter and the hearer. I agree with you we can’t be overly concerned with the results because we don’t control the response of others, but we must be obsessed and meticulous with the methods because we can and should control the methods.

I never argued against using influence; I know of no way to present the Gospel correctly without using influence. I did argue against using manipulation to change behavior. The truth of the Gospel must be presented in truthful ways; not deceptive ways.

Perhaps, your definition of personal evangelism is different from my definition of personal evangelism. From my observations, unbelievers are just as likely, perhaps even more likely, to be repulsed by ungifted individuals who attempt evangelism as they are to accept the truth of salvation. Presenting the truth about Christ becomes increasingly difficult as more and more unbelievers get stuck with misconceptions due to bad Gospel presentations.

Groups, like TBN, also create a hurdle that must be overcome in presenting the true Gospel. It is now time for the Church to present the true Gospel in modern ways. It is now time for the Church to reject multi-level marketing.

There are plenty of ways to contribute to evangelism without being a personal evangelist. Prayer for unbelievers, financial support to a gifted evangelist, financial support to a Church that uses modern advertising techniques, serve, serve, and then server others some more without ever serving just to manipulate others.

Buz said...

To get back to the original post, there was a booklet I read when I was a teen called "Others May, You Cannot." It was a real drag because it spoke of all the worldly things that Christian kids shouldn't do.

The odd thing about crowds is that while they may ridicule someone who is different from them, somewhere deep inside they admire someone who has the courage to be themselves. That doesn't necessarily comfort the kid who is the object of mob ridicule, but comforting is the job of a wise parent.


Buz said...


I don't think it really helps teens to idolize "christian" musicians who mimic worldly musicians. I think that the lesson that they learn from that is that you can be popular if you mimic the world.

I am glad that one of my son's favorite Christian artists was Keith Green.