Evangelism in the Context of Love and Good Works

Many evangelicals view evangelism as a rational process. Believers make truth claims. Hearers consider those truth claims and make a decision to believe or reject them.  Working from that assumption, the command to make disciples is a command to teach and preach the truth.

Jonah Lehrer in his book “How We Decide” argues from neuroscience that the decisions we make are a blend of both feeling and reason. In an interview, Lehrer says, “For the first time in human history, we can look inside our mind and see how we actually think. It turns out that we weren’t designed to be rational or logical or even particularly deliberate. Instead, our mind holds a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever we make a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when we try to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence our judgment”.

Researcher John Pijanowski at the University of Arkansas developed eight stages of decision making Pijanowski (2009, p.7). He describes the first stage as “establishing community: creating and nurturing relationships, norms, and procedures that will influence how problems are understood and communicated. This stage takes place prior to and during a moral dilemma”. In other words, the first stage of the decision making process is not intellectual, but relational. In establishing community, we choose who we will trust and what assumptions we will bring to the table.

My intention here is not to delve into psychology or neuroscience, but to raise the question: “Is evangelism an entirely rational process of making truth claims, or is there more to it than that?” What more could there be?

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Could it be that our most convincing argument is the quality of our relationships more than the logic of our propositions?

Jesus also said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:18. Could it be that our actions speak louder than words, and that the most convincing argument for faith in Christ might be our charity?

Transformation

God always transforms from the inside out. His work begins in our hearts and works itself out in our lives. He works in us before he works through us.

As followers of Jesus, we have all experienced the transforming power of God at work in us – that quiet work of the Holy Spirit convicting us of wrongdoing, cleansing our hearts, shaping our character, changing our attitudes, and influencing our actions. We also look forward to a time when our lives and communities are completely transformed in the new heaven and the new earth. Biblical transformation is that quiet work of the Holy Spirit, and it is the loud-sounding of the trumpet at the return of our Lord Jesus: shutting up evil and establishing righteousness, justice, and peace for all eternity.

Jesus taught us to pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-11). Transformation is God’s kingdom work. This transformation is a process and an ideal, a present experience and a future hope, a means and an end, a struggle and a victory. God is at work in us and through us today, and he will bring what he has started to completion when the Lord Jesus returns in all his glory.

No Sacred Secular Divide

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

Discovering the secrets of God’s universe is sacred work and the glory of kings. Discoveries that build a nation also glorify God who concealed those truths in His creation for us to explore, discover, understand, use, teach, and celebrate. Every discovery that benefits humanity is a revelation of the glory of God.

Righteousness and Justice

Righteousness and justice are two Biblical concepts that belong together. To separate righteousness from justice is to separate being from doing, faith from works, and love for God from love for neighbor. The call to follow Jesus is a call to bring the whole of our lives under the Lordship of Christ through personal integrity and sacrificial service.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus described his followers as those who would change the world by integrity and service (Matthew 5:1-16). They are the pure in heart that recognize their own inadequacies, mourn the devastating consequences of evil, and hunger and thirst for righteousness (integrity). They are also those who show mercy, make peace, suffer persecution, and do good works that bring honor to their Father in heaven (service).

Because of their righteous character, they are the salt of the earth. They have the capacity to influence nations and change the world (Matthew 5:13).  Because of their service, they are the light of the world. They exert their influence by doing good works that bring praise to their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-16). They reveal God’s glory to the nations by their just and compassionate action.

Jesus declares that those who live in this way are blessed, that those who live under God’s rule also enjoy God’s blessings. We want to be those people.

Putting the Last First

Near the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus described his mission to people in his hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue in the community where he grew up, opened a scroll, and read from the book of Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19)

After reading this, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. With every eye in the synagogue fastened on him, he declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” On that day, Jesus declared himself to be the anointed one of whom the prophet spoke, and appropriated the words of Isaiah as his own personal mission statement. He used these words to explain to people in his hometown who he was and why he came.

The passage that Jesus chose to describe his mission makes it clear that the hurting, the poor, and the oppressed would be the focal point of his ministry. Jesus would take those who had been pushed to the periphery – the suffering, the alienated, and the marginalized – and move them to the center.  The last would be first.

Near the end of his public ministry, Jesus describes a day when he will sit on his throne as judge and separate the righteous from the unrighteous based on how they responded to the needs of the poor. He says to the righteous: “I was hungry and you fed me”, and to the unrighteous “I was hungry and you did not feed me.” (Matthew 25:31-46) Acts of service to the poor are not only characteristic of righteousness, but are received by the king himself. They are not only good deeds, but they are acts of worship.

At the beginning of Jesus ministry, he stated that his mission was to preach good news to the poor, heal the sick, and release the oppressed. At the end of the age, he separates the righteous from the unrighteous based on how they responded to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. Jesus defined ministry to the poor as ministry to Himself. As his followers, we want our lives and ministries to reflect these values.

An Apologetic that Can be Seen and Felt

Allister McGirth in his book Mere Apologetics makes this observation: “The heart of apologetics is not about mastering and memorizing a set of techniques designed to manipulate arguments to get the desired conclusion. It is about being mastered by the Christian faith so that its ideas, themes, and values are deeply imprinted on our minds and in our hearts.” I would add that these ideas, themes, and values are not only deeply imprinted on our minds and hearts, but are reflected in our actions.

Especially in a time when religious truth is private and relative, we need an apologetic that “can be seen and not just heard, felt and not just argued”. It is not enough for people to hear the message of Jesus; they must also feel His touch.

Jesus sent his disciples to teach and preach, but he knew that words would not be enough. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said to his disciples and by extension to his church: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

At the International Wholistic Missions Conference, IWMC, the goal was to be mastered by Christ so that His ideas, themes, values, and actions are reflected in what we say and how we serve. We deliberately let our light shine by doing good deeds that lead people to give praise to our Father in heaven.
Terry Dalrymple

Victims of Circumstances or Stewards of Resources

The economically poor often see themselves as victims of circumstance rather than stewards of resources. The clear teaching of the Bible is just the opposite. Human beings were created to have dominion over creation, not to be dominated by it. Human beings are above creation, not one with it. They are commissioned by their Creator to manage and cultivate the garden in which He placed them.

This truth is empowering. It gives hope for change and vision of a better life. It inspires innovation, creativity, and ingenuity. It frees the human mind from fatalistic notions and passive acceptance of life in an impoverished state. Any belief that contradicts this truth is disempowering. Many of the world’s economic poor are captive to disempowering beliefs that ultimately hinder progress and stunt human development.