Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Implications for Evangelism

I concluded Monday's post with this sentence: "Because it is through the preaching of the Gospel that this miracle of the new birth happens, we must consider what implications these things have on the way we evangelize." By "these things" I mean all that we've considered about the new birth in this series. Since man is totally depraved, since that means he can't see the glory of God for what it is, since God is the Sovereign and Free one in salvation, since we believe because we are born again (and not vice versa), since God grants what He requires, how do we preach the Gospel to the lost? How do we evangelize?

The first thing to recognize is that the new birth is the work of God alone, and He tells us that He will accomplish this work by specific and particular means – that is, by the preaching of the Gospel. People do not cooperate in their new birth any more than they cooperate in their first birth. Understanding that people are brought forth (i.e., regenerated) in the exercise of God's will -- not their own -- and by the word of truth -- and nothing else (Jas 1:18) -- instructs us to not appeal to anything in the unbeliever as a natural person. If the nature of the new birth is spiritual, then appealing to something natural will not bring it about.

Some passages of Scripture that we’ve discussed in the series remind us of this (mouse over the references):

  • Acts 16:14 – The new birth happened to Lydia (i.e., God’s opening her heart) on the heels of the preached Gospel message. The progression outlined in the passage is: speaking, listening, opening, responding. We must do ministry that reflects a knowledge of and a faith in this reality.
  • John 1:12-13 – The new birth happens "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Therefore, we must not attempt to preach the Gospel as if the will of the sinner is sovereign. We must preach the pure, unadulterated Gospel, knowing that it is by this that God has said He will sovereignly and decisively act when regenerating His people.
  • John 6:44-45, 65 – We are not to attempt to preach the Gospel as if God was saving some sort of indiscriminate, unknown group of people. The elect are unknown to us, but they are fully known by God. So we are not to go out and appeal to people based on any worldly demographics, because it is by the spirituality that God gives them that their hearts are awakened to reality. So we should employ only that which is spiritual, and nothing that is natural or worldly.

The viewpoint that opposes my own speaks much of the "point of contact" between believers and unbelievers. Apologist Cornelius Van Til, in his My Credo, considers this idea:

[The synergist] assumes that unless one finds a point of contact with the natural man by way of agreeing with him on his false views of man and the world then one has no point of contact with him at all. Against this position, I maintain, with Calvin following Paul, that my point of contact lies in the actual state of affairs between men as the Bible tells us of it.

And that actual state of affairs is, very simply, that they are dreadfully and helplessly sinful, and will die in their sins apart from the living God who created them. Yet we as Christ's ambassadors have a solution to such a predicament. Boiled down, our point of contact is: "You’re sinful, just like all people are. But I have a message of repentance for the forgiveness of your sin."

To look for a point of contact with the unbeliever in the unbeliever’s notions of himself and his world is to encourage him in his wicked rebellion and to establish him in his self-frustration.

That is, if we seek to engage the unbeliever with methods that fire from the vantage point of the world (e.g., engage them with the kind of music they like, the kind of philosophy they operate with, the clothes they wear, the kind of places they like to hang out at, their psychological and emotional felt needs), we’re missing the point and are not practicing Biblical evangelism. Van Til says we're encouraging unbelievers in their wicked rebellion when we do this, and I agree with him. If we’re using these methods to engage the unbeliever from his vantage point, from his worldview, or on his terms, we are by definition not engaging the unbeliever from the worldview of Scripture, because they are necessarily different worldviews (cf. Rom 3:10, Rom 8:5-8).

So, attempting to get unbelievers to identify with Christianity, or find similarities between his own worldview and the Biblical, Christian worldview, is an exercise in futility. And it is precisely this ‘methodology’ that is championed by the Seeker-Sensitive / Church Growth movement as well as the Emergent / Emerging movement. Each brand of philosophy (which is really the same philosophy in different clothes) looks out on the vast majority of society and finds hoards of people not interested in going to church and not interested in Christ. And they wonder how they'll reach such people. And the idea is that since they've declared themselves "not interested," if Christians are to reach them, we can't just take the Good News of the Gospel to them. "They won't hear it," we're told.

And so the appeal is made on the basis of the worldliness of the unbeliever. If the unbeliever doesn't like hour-long sermons and big Bible words, the Seeker-Sensitive movement shortens sermons to 20-minute speeches on fixing your emotional problems and encourages you to leave your Bible at home. Before they'll even get in the door of the church, though, the Emerging movement tells us we've got to appeal to them on the basis of an affinity for exotic coffees, for punk rock music, for tattoos and piercings, for imported beer, for Ultimate Fighting. Once we can show them that Christians are like them -- that we're human and can like the same things that they like -- then they'll be interested in "trying Jesus."

The problem, of course, is that these "methods" are solidly contradictory to the message we have to give them. Appealing to the worldliness of the unbeliever -- whether it be shorter sermons or church in a coffee house -- is not how anyone gets born again. Because the agent of the new birth is not the "will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Trying to massage unbelievers into "decisions for Jesus" is not the means of effecting the new birth. The means of the new birth is the preaching of the Gospel. And the Gospel has, is, and always will be necessarily and radically opposed to the unbeliever’s worldview.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following:

The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian. (Introduction to the Beatitudes)

Christians misguided by homogeneity principles and a distorted understanding of contextualization fail to let at least one important concept rule their thinking: the glory of Christ is that He is not like the world. His own attraction to sinners was His Godliness, not worldliness – how much like His Father He was, not how much like the world He was. As Christians, then, -- as those who follow Christ -- we are called to be godly, not worldly, in order to ‘attract’ the world. Show unbelievers how much you are like your Savior, not how much you are like them.

Because, think about it: If they are attracted to you because you're like them, then really all they're attracted to is themselves. And you don't have to be born again to like yourself and your sin. And so even if they pray a prayer with you and come to church and start reading their Bibles and listening to Chris Tomlin, they could still be dead in their sins. But if they are attracted to you because you are like Christ, then it is truly His beauty that they see and want more of. And it is the spiritual sight of the beauty of Christ that we're after! Because the will of the Father is that everyone who beholds the Son, and believes in Him, will have eternal life (Jn 6:40).

So the theology of the new birth informs our evangelism. People are born again by the imperishable seed (1Pet 1:23), by the word of truth (Jas 1:18), by the word of Christ (Rom 10:17), by the preaching of the Gospel (1Pet 1:25). And so preach the Gospel to people. Conduct both your words and actions in the reality that appealing to what is natural in unbelievers will not move them one iota towards being born again. So appeal to the spiritual deadness of those you witness to, and offer them spiritual life by urging them to behold and believe in the Son of God.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
- 1 Corinthians 2:14 -

1. The Theology of the New Birth
1.1. Man's Spiritual Death (Total Depravity)
1.2. The Dead Cannot See
1.3. The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: The Freedom of God and Irresistible Grace
1.4. Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct

2. Implications for the Christian Life
2.1. God Grants What He Requires
2.2. The Impossible is No Longer Burdensome
2.3. The Means of Justification is the Means of Sanctification

3. Implications for Gospel Ministry
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Evangelism
3.3. Apologetics

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