Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a man name Carl Medearis who works as a follower of Jesus with Muslims across the globe. Carl is a fascinating man aand he has written at least one book, whose title I borrowed for this post. The book spends a some time talking about what many of my seminary books are describing as a trend in the world of Christendom, living “missionally.” Most of these books will bore you by telling you what you already know- Christians are not perceived well in the USA and this is likely due to the fact that we have gone off topic, we talk about the wrong things. Carl, on the other hand, appears to be quite successful at building relationships wherever he goes and slowly getting people to talk about Jesus. Christian or not he thinks its significant for people to know what they think about Jesus. The thing I find so interesting about Carl is that he is fairly leery about the words “evangelism” and “mission” and even more so about the cultural baggage associated with them. Whether he is chatting with Muslims, GLBT folks, or the average business man he tries to approach them as people, rather than as an object to be changed. The book is a decent read, and though I don’t agree with everything in it, I’d recommend it.
I was recently tasked with writing a paper on my “personal theology of evangelism.” I was given only six pages to talk clearly and compellingly about the significance of Jesus. After 5 years of seminary and many years of being a Christian the task seemed impossible and I confess I wrote and rewrote the paper again and again. To explain the problem I’ll borrow a term I found annoying in my Biochem classes as an undergrad, a philosophical concept called “reductionism.” Science has, since the Greeks, been looking for the most fundamental building block for reality, the thing upon which all other things rely. A great deal of my issue with evangelism as an “ism” is that it seeks to reduce what for me is irreducible: the person and work of Jesus. Karl Barth may have come closest in saying that all of theology comes down to the song “Jesus loves me, this I know for the bible tells me so.” But I still find that I can not take the narrative of the Old and New testaments, the Gospels themselves and boil it all down to a few bite sized pieces and still find it representative of the whole. The glue that holds it all together is vital. My story as a Christian only makes sense in light of the larger story of the Church and of the bible itself. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says “that people often want a child’s answer answer to deep questions. They ask, ‘Why is there pain and suffering in the world?’ — And then when you try to give them a Biblical answer, they complain ‘That’s too complicated, I just want a simple answer.” This is not to say that puppet show Christianity isn’t valuable. Indeed statements like “Christ died to save the world from Sin” are incredibly meaningful, but only insofar as they are unpacked and explained. To quote my paper “Evangelism is, at its best, an attempt to persuade those who do not yet understand him fully of the significance of Jesus. This task is carried out by those who are only slightly further along.” I have Christian and Non Christian friends who are too well educated to be interested in a 4 point gospel, but I am certain they would be interested in Jesus. I have been getting hold of a larger gospel in seminary, one I find thoroughly compelling and which I hope I can learn to explain with the same kind of passion.