This post invites us to look at evangelism from a different angle. I’m not talking about whether we should do it within a missional context? I covered that in a previous post. I’m not going to talk here about how it should be done. I’ll do more on that down the road. Here I want to ask the question about our evangelistic paradigm and if our paradigm has been co-opted by the attempt to attain power.
When I refer to power, I’m not talking about power that controls others. Nor am I necessarily referring to things like political power or positional authority. Instead, I’m talking about the kind of power that comes in the form of ideas, the kind that says “I’m right, you are wrong, and you need to agree with me.” This is the kind of power that occurs in debates, in legal wranglings, sales pitches and in quite a few sermons. It’s the kind of power that has to prove that “our” side is on the inside of truth and that the rest are deceived and need to “see what we see.”
I know that I am treading on dangerous ground here because the Bible presents a lot of cases where the early church carried forth the truth and shared it with others who did not possess it. We need only look at the Apostle Paul’s speak on Mars Hill to make this point. But I could also point out tons of scriptures in the New Testament that point to evangelism through weakness, brokenness, mystery, servanthood and even martyrdom.
It seems to me that the kind of evangelism on which I cut my teeth—and am now trying to parse out to see what is right and what needs to be pushed aside—is one that had to prove to the world that it was right by using the world’s standards of proof. Instead of weakness, we had to prove our intellectual equality with our apologetics. Instead of brokenness, we had to justify the success of the Christ message with the glorious church—just look at our buildings. Instead of mystery, we had to make the Gospel useful so that people would its benefit to their personal lives. Instead of serving for the sake of serving because that’s what God’s people do, we had to develop a program called servanthood evangelism. Instead of martyrdom, we even embraced “power evangelism” so that we might call on the power of the Spirit to work miracles so that people would believe.
I know that I’m picking on some very substantial trends that have been used by the Spirit of God to lead many to Christ. I’m thankful for the many apologetics books I’ve read. I’m not one who goes around verbally trashing church buildings. I think that we should make the Gospel relevant and communicate effectively. I’m thankful for both the servant evangelism emphasis of Steve Sjogren and the Power Evangelism of John Wimber. My questions are not about these specific things. My questions relate to the paradigm in which these specific things have been applied.
In many cases it’s as if we’ve tried these approaches to convince the world that we are right because we have so badly needed to justify our existence. And if we can get people to join us, that somehow makes us more “right.”
Greg Boyd speaks about living in a way that is “power under” as opposed to “power over.” With a “power over” mindset, we try to manipulate, sell, package, control, and even trick. The ends justifies the means. I am beginning to see how this “power over” paradigm dictated my evangelistic imagination. I remember one evangelism training I attended where the denominational leader caste a vision “Each One Reach One.” His point, if we all reach one, then look at the impact. It was a subtle “power over” but it was there. His intentions were good, but his focus did not lie on loving a lost person sacrificially, listening to them, sharing life with them, seeing what God is already doing in their life, etc. It was all about getting them to agree with us.
We must embrace a “power under” paradigm of evangelism, one shaped by things like dialogue, honestly, hospitality, love freely given, presence in the community and praying for others. I’m not the only one that is saying this. But we need to do these things not so that people “might get saved.” We need to do these things because this is who God is and this is what God does in and through his people. We do this because we are followers of Christ and have the Spirit living within us. We do this even if people don’t respond well to God’s love. It’s what God’s people do, not to win people to our “camp” but to be a light in the midst of darkness. If we allow God to shape us in this way, people will join us. They will become Christ followers. It’s power but it’s a different kind of power.