December 12, 2005

The Radical Reformission 2

Category: Theology - Ecclesiology :: Permalink

When people think about evangelism, they often think of certain techniques for evangelism: altar calls in churches, people going door to door, large crusades. Those techniques have undoubtedly been used by God to draw people to Himself. The congregation I pastor, for instance, has members who were drawn to Christ as a result of the pastor and a member of the congregation going door to door distributing fliers about the church.

Mark Driscoll, in The Radical Reformission, suggests that these practices may not be as effective today as they were in the past:

There was a time when door-to-door evangelism and door-to-door business sales made sense, because many wives were home all day and husbands came home at night for dinner. This routine is no longer as effective because there are fewer stay-at-home wives and mothers. In addition, people’s lives are so filled with entertainment, sales pitches, advertising, self-help seminars, and large emotionally moving events of various sorts that people are often unimpressed by large church events or slick Jesus sales pitches complete with canned leading questions (p. 67).

Driscoll points out that in the past evangelism has often followed a certain pattern: first comes information about the gospel along with a call to make a decision; then the person who responds positively is invited to come to church (and perhaps to become a member), and it’s at this point that friendship is extended to the person; later on, the person may also be trained to do some form of evangelism, though he’s already been cut off from his previous culture with its friendships, friendships which could have been used effectively to draw others to Christ.

In contrast, Driscoll proposes a model where people are not first won to Christ by information being presented about him and then are won to the church but rather where people first begin to be associated with the church and then are drawn to trust in Jesus:

In reformission evangelism, people are called to come and se the transformed lives of God’s people before they are called to repent of sin and trust in God (p. 68).

I don’t take Driscoll to be saying that unbelievers are invited to become members of the church (and I hope that’s not what he’s saying). Rather, I think he’s saying that his congregation encourages unbelievers to participate in various events, to begin to interact with the members of the church in various settings, to see how people talk and behave, to attend Bible studies, help the church serve the needy, and so forth. In that sense, they start to identify with the church:

As trust is earned over time, lost people will often speak with their Christian friends about “our church” before they speak about “our God.” Often they convert first to the church and friendships with its members, and second to God, whom they meet in their friendships and experiences in the church (p. 69).

What frequently also happens is that these people, even before they are converted and before they actually join the church, end up evangelizing their friends and family members (p. 70).

Now I’d want to be careful about what Driscoll proposes. I appreciate his blurring of the lines between evangelism and discipleship (p. 73). I’m not persuaded that such things are always clear cut: conversion at one particular moment and growth after that. I’m sure many converts couldn’t actually say when they first started believing; it was probably a gradual process for them. At the same time, Driscoll’s presentation could be helped by an emphasis on baptism as the definitive break with the old life and engrafting into the church and the new life.

I also want to be cautious about how these unbelievers are viewed in relation to the church. As I said above, I don’t take Driscoll to be saying that unbelievers should be welcomed into membership. But a person who has been attending for years and who is involved in church programs and Bible studies and yet has never been baptized or has never become a member of the church should still know that, in an important sense, he is still an outsider, still not part of God’s people, and that he needs to come inside. And some of the church’s activities need to be limited to those who are members of God’s household and who are therefore His representatives in ways that unbelievers cannot be.

Moreover, I’d also want to stress (and I’m not sure Driscoll would) that the liturgy is family time. Unbelievers may be present, I suppose, but the service is not for them. The service is not evangelistic, though it may be so indirectly. The liturgy is for the people of God. It’s the time when they enter God’s courts with singing, when they humble themselves and confess their sins and receive God’s forgiveness, when they ascend into God’s presence in Christ, when they are cut apart and refashioned by His Word, when they present their prayers and their offerings and themselves to God for His inspection and approval and blessing, and when they sit with Him and eat at His Table before He sends them out into the world. Unbelievers who are present are present as onlookers, spectators, not participants (contra Driscoll, p. 73 perhaps).

But Driscoll, I think, is on to something. Unbelievers ought to be welcomed into Christian gatherings, ought to receive hospitality in our homes, ought to be invited to Bible studies, ought to be able to live close to Christians so that they see and experience our transformed lives, the beauty of our community, the warmth of our love, and so forth, and in that way be drawn into the church and into communion with Christ.

Posted by John Barach @ 7:09 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply