Farmers, Not Salesmen

workplace graceIf you’re a Christian, I predict one of these two scenarios probably describes your experience with evangelism:

Scenario #1: You’ve never been taught evangelism at all. Your Pastor talks about it sometimes, you know it’s important, but nobody in church leadership has ever taught you how to do it, what it’s about, what it entails, what it means, and what “success” actually is.

Scenario #2: You’ve been taught a pre-scripted, rote, memorized way to share the Gospel. You know, deep down, that you sound like a cheesy salesman, so you don’t usually bother to do it.

Scenario #1 is unacceptable, and your church leadership should put some energy and effort into fixing this – now. Scenario #2 is unhelpful, and very bad. Pre-scripted approaches are unhelpful because you cannot script a conversation. It’s more important you actually understand doctrine, so you can better explain it to people with the time you have. For more on this, see my lesson entitled “Teaching the Gospel to Kids” (audio and handout are at the link).

The truth is, Christians are not salesmen – we’re farmers. I’ll let a good book explain the rest:

Many Christians learned a mechanical, aggressive approach to evangelism. We attended workshops and read books based on techniques developed by people who have the gift of evangelism. That is the problem. When those of us who are not gifted evangelists muster up the courage to try these techniques, the results are usually disappointing— which makes us feel guilty and often offends others. We begin to think of ourselves as substandard disciples who are simply not able to share our faith. Although we want to see friends and colleagues come to Christ, we stop trying out of fear and frustration.

According to a 2009 Barna Group survey, since 1995, the proportion of born again adults claiming the gift of evangelism dropped from four percent to one percent. The problem is one of perspective, not inability. We tend to think of evangelism as an event, a point in time when we explain the gospel message and individuals put their faith in Jesus on the spot. Done!

However, according to the Bible, evangelism is an organic process, more like farming than selling. A person’s decision to trust Christ is the climactic step, following a series of smaller steps God orchestrates to draw a person to Himself. He typically enlists a number of people with a variety of gifts. Each person plays a different but vital role to help a nonbeliever take one step closer to Jesus.

Bill Kraftson of Search Ministries observes that each Christian in a nonbeliever’s journey to faith is like a link in a chain. “It’s great to be the last link in the chain,” Kraftson says, “but it’s not more important than any other link. We just need to make sure we’re not the missing link.”

Walt Larimore and Bill Peel, Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work (Longview, TX: LeTourneau Press, 2014; Kindle ed.), KL 203 – 224.

Teaching the Gospel to Kids

Emmet_minifigThis is a subject near and dear to my own heart. Too many adults remember being walked through a pre-scripted presentation, being told to “pray a prayer,” and being assured “you’re saved!”

Too many of these same adults realized, years later, that they never understood the Gospel, never understood who Jesus is, what He did, and what it means to “repent and believe.” In short, they were lied to. Now, to be sure, they were lied to by well-meaning Christians. But, they were lied to.

We can do better. We must do better.

This is a 90 minute presentation I gave about how to share the Gospel with children (ages K – whatever). This is not a scripted presentation. I think, in order to share the Gospel, you need to have a solid theological foundation in several key areas, so you’re equipped to talk about Jesus and the Gospel in a coherent, orthodox way.

The better you understand these things, the better you’ll be able to explain the Gospel. In this teaching session, I talk about:

  • What the “big story” of the Bible is, and why it matters
  • What “sin” is actually is, and how to explain it
  • What “repentance” actually us, and how to explain it
  • What elements, building blocks and facts make up “the Gospel”
  • How to explain to an unbeliever “how to be saved”

I hope this discussion is encouraging to you. The teaching notes (22 pages) are here.

Framing the Gospel All Wrong?

Picture3I have a problem with many Gospel tracts. No doubt, they’re written by well-meaning, kind Christians. But, they’re often badly written, leave out the resurrection completely and invite the reader to pray a pre-scripted prayer (as if obedient recitation will actually do anything). But, perhaps the best reason why I don’t like most Gospel tracts is because they often frame the Gospel all wrong.

Jesus’ Good News doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is a context, a backstory, a history and a timeline that produced this Good News. Yet, most Gospel presentations are incredibly self-absorbed . . .

  • It’s all about you and your sin
  • It’s all about God desperately wanting you to join His club
  • It’s about Jesus wanting you to believe in Him, as if He’s a jilted lover, crying in the street like a pitiful damsel, hoping against hope you’ll throw open your door to your heart so He can seek shelter from the storm
  • It’s all about how you can escape hellfire and damnation
  • It’s all about how God loves you and has a great plan for your life

No. No. No.

It isn’t so much that all this is untrue. After all, Jesus did die to atone for our sins. God does desire people to be saved. The Gospel does save you from hellfire. If you’re chosen by God for salvation, then He does have a great plan for your life.

No, the problem is framing. This is framed all wrong. It’s not about you; it’s about God. This kind of presentation (above), which I only slightly exaggerated, is morbidly self-absorbed and selfish. There is no context there. It’s as if the Gospel just dropped out of heaven onto your lap; (1) you’re a sinner, (2) but God loves you and sent Jesus to die for you, (3) so just pray this prayer, and (4) you’re saved. Halleluiah! Pass the popcorn, and fill the baptistery.

I’ll write more on this later. For now, ponder this:

Christianity is all about the human response of faith, or so popular teaching and perception would have us believe. Undeniably, faith is essential to Christianity— right? Or is it? I would argue that like rot in an apple, much of the malaise in contemporary Christianity stems from a rotten core. The gospel, salvation, and the Christian life have little to do with “faith” or “belief” as generally defined or understood, and this is the decay in the interior— so much so that it would be best if these words were abandoned with regard to discussions of salvation among Christians.

The Greek word pistis, generally rendered “faith” or “belief,” as it pertains to Christian salvation, quite simply has little correlation with “faith” and “belief” as these words are generally understood and used in contemporary Christian culture, and much to do with allegiance. At the center of Christianity, properly understood, is not the human response of faith or belief but rather the old-fashioned term fidelity.

The author continued, later in his book, and explained:

My intention is not to flatten the rich multiple meanings and nuances of pistis into a bland singleness. Rather it is to claim that, when discussing salvation in generalized terms, allegiance is a better overarching English-language term for what Paul intends with his use of the pistis (p.78).

These are provocative words, and Bates’ book is full of provocative thoughts. I don’t agree with all of them, but I do appreciate all of them. However, he does hit upon something profound – does our modern notion of “faith” match what the Old and New Testament consider “faith” to be? Has our “me-centered” culture made us unwittingly re-frame the Gospel in a very selfish way?

We must remember that God has a kingdom, Jesus will rule over this kingdom, and Christians are His slaves whom He’s rescued from darkness, and all who reject the Gospel (i.e. reject the King) will be killed.

So, what is faith?  When we preach the Gospel to unbelievers, how should we frame the Gospel story? When we urge people to “repent and believe” and be justified “by faith,” what is faith, exactly?

  • If God has been working all salvation history towards His coming Kingdom (see Revelation 21-22)
  • and if Jesus will be the King of this Kingdom
  • and if Christians will spend eternity worshipping Him and serving Him in a new earth, in a new and better creation

Then, are we really capturing the essence of “faith” if we reduce it to “I believe in Jesus!” Isn’t there a bit more freight to the content of this belief?

Surely, whatever else may be said, “”faith” includes allegiance and submission to Christ as King. If we can get this, then perhaps we can begin to appreciate how badly we often frame the Gospel. Perhaps, too, we can begin to have a richer understanding of what faith actually is.

Pssst! Yes, I take the Lordship position on salvation . . .

The Way, the Truth and the Life

It is a common fantasy of sinful men that each person can “find their own path to God.” In this un-Biblical conception of deity, our Heavenly Father is little more than a vague concept to be appropriated by “whosoever will” in whatever fashion tickles one’s particular fancy.  This cannot be farther from the truth. God desires to be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24). Observe Calvin’s remarks on theological pluralism;

They deem it enough that they have some kind of zeal for religion, how preposterous soever it may be, not observing that true religion must be conformable to the will of God as its unerring standard; that he can never deny himself, and is no spectra or phantom, to be metamorphosed at each individual’s caprice. It is easy to see how superstition, with its false glosses, mocks God, while it tries to please him. Usually fastening merely on things on which he has declared he sets no value, it either contemptuously overlooks, or even undisguisedly rejects, the things which he expressly enjoins, or in which we are assured that he takes pleasure. Those, therefore, who set up a fictitious worship, merely worship and adore their own delirious fancies; indeed, they would never dare so to trifle with God, had they not previously fashioned him after their own childish conceits. Hence that vague and wandering opinion of Deity is declared by an apostle to be ignorance of God: “Howbeit, then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.” And he elsewhere declares, that the Ephesians were “without God” (Eph 2:12) at the time when they wandered without any correct knowledge of him. It makes little difference, at least in this respect, whether you hold the existence of one God, or a plurality of gods, since, in both cases alike, by departing from the true God, you have nothing left but an execrable idol. It remains, therefore, to conclude with Lactantius (Instit. Div. lib 1:2, 6), “No religion is genuine that is not in accordance with truth.”

Our Savior declared unequivocally; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (Jn 14:6). This is not a statement of theological pluralism. It is a statement of fact. We are fallen sinners and God is holy. His very nature cannot tolerate sin. Christ is the perfect sacrifice, who died for our sins.

Salvation consists of repentance of our sins and faith in Jesus Christ.

  • Repentance is a change of mind (1 Thess 1:9). This involves a turn away from sin (Heb 6:1; Rev 9:21) and towards God (Acts 20:21). It is an honest appraisal of our own unfitness in God’s sight and an open acknowledgement of our inability to meet His holy standard on our own.
  • Saving faith is the knowledge of, assent to and unreserved trust in the accomplished redemption of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. This faith involves intellectual understanding (e.g. “Christ is the Son of God!”), emotional understanding (e.g. “Christ died for my sins!”) and voluntary action (“I will trust Christ as my Lord and Savior!”).

The person recognizes and repents of their sin, and places saving faith in Jesus Christ. I pray that if you are not a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God would do His work in your heart, so you might voluntarily turn from your sins and accept Christ as Savior.

Are We Serious About Our Christianity?

Linked below is a very thought-provoking article examining the viewpoints of former “Christians” who have left their churches. It is very likely some of the folks interviewed were never really Christian to begin with (1 Jn 2:19). However, what is quite clear is that shallow doctrine, syrupy platitudes and a fruitless quest to be “relevant” are hindering the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not helping it.

Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn’t try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: “Because you believe it.” Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

This comment was very convicting, honestly. I believe it will speak to you as well. Read the article here.

Witnessing to a Godless Culture

We are increasingly living a world that (1) denies there are standards for anything, and (2) is Biblically illiterate. Join us as we watch the Apostle Paul deal with these very same issues on Mar’s Hill.

* This video and the accompanying notes were originally produced for an apologetics class I teach at my church, hence the opening and closing credits! I pray this modest study will be of use to some of you . . .

Notes – Acts-17