It's true; I have had an animosity towards the way evangelism is conducted and explained in many evangelical churches. This animosity has pushed me at times to shy away from engaging in evangelistic efforts. Only recently have I realized my primary problem with common evangelistic methodology: it is so deeply rooted in an exclusively forensic understanding of atonement and salvation.
I grow weary of those who declare peremptorily to others that they ought to accept Christ to gain their ticket to heaven. Accept Christ and avoid hell. We are told that the purpose of this life is to prepare for the next and therefore we ought to be myopically focused upon eternity. Any mention of salvation as a process or way is done so in a cursory manner with quick qualifications that the primary aspect of salvation is that we are forgiven of the many sins we commit daily.
What is ironic to me is that those who so emphasize our need for pardon due to our great depravity so often ignore the necessity for the healing of such depravity. I recall doing "Door to Door" ministries early in my undergraduate education. The main focus was whether these people we met had a relationship with Christ or not. If they did we moved on. If they didn't we stayed and tried to explain why they needed to be forgiven. I cannot recall a single discussion about how God desires to empower us for holy living. How God not only declares us righteous but makes us righteous. How responding to God's pardoning presence opens us up to further empowering presence of grace to move us further on this way of salvation towards likeness with God.
Perhaps this is why we have devalued integritous theology. Perhaps this is why we have superciliously ignored orthodox sacramentalism. Who needs the Eucharist as a means of grace when the most important aspect of the Christian life is our initial justification? Who needs the nourishment of the empowering presence of the Spirit when sanctification is a tag-on to justification?
By no means do I intend to make mordant claims against the necessity for pardon in our lives. We need Christ to exculpate us; but salvation cannot be so narrowly defined as pardon from sins. If we are to truly evangelize it must be done with germane attention paid to the transformative element of salvation. Salvation is being healed of our distored nature. Salvation is being brought into the very life of God by the divine energies. The Greek theologians call this theosis. Salvation is therapeutic and we must understand the forensic language within the context of the larger therapeutic dimensions of salvation.
To be fair, I love evangelism. The Church is called to evangelize and to bring people into the Kingdom of God. What I disdain is the common distored manner in which we evangelize. Perhaps the most important questions is not, "Are you saved." Rather, perhaps the most important question is not a question at all but the reality of the people of God being sanctified and made holy. Sure it's tougher to measure; but at least it's more biblically faithful.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
You've probably seen this in the news but I thought I'd post a link to the article here. The reality that this has made national news shows this is a significant issue that too many of us would like to run away from or mitigate. The current and future leaders in the Church will be forced to deal with this head on. Check it out.
Here's a video.
Here's a video.