Archives For Evangelism

John Piper PreachingChristians—evangelical Christians—are those who have a sense of urgency about spreading the gospel. So when a Christian is handed a microphone, he or she knows what to do with it. That microphone, that platform, that position of influence, is to be used for the sake of the gospel.

That’s as it should be. You might say that we know what a microphone is for. And yet, unless we ask how a microphone is to be used, we could be making a big mistake in our zeal for witnessing. In fact, I think we do this very often, and it’s the Christian musicians among us who suffer, it’s their witness that gets restricted and/or diminished, and it’s their place in the mission of the church that gets called into question. All because we don’t know how to use a microphone.

If you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted and called you to preach, then you’d better preach. Speak the work of God clearly. Proclaim it with passion. Too much preaching today skirts the real issues, shrinks back from declaring the full character of God, and minimizes Jesus’ call to die to self, take up one’s cross, and follow. Preach it like it is.

But if you’re handed a mic, and God has gifted you as a musician and called you to glorify him through your music, how do you use that mic? Do you act as a musical preacher, laying your three-point sermon atop four chords? Many Christian musicians have taken a route similar to this, and some have been effective. But is this the only way our Christian musicians can use their God-given gifts to his glory?

How do we ask other types of Christian professionals to use their crafts in their Christian witness? Dorothy Sayers challenges the typical approach:

“The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him to not be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

If you want to serve God in your carpentry, then make excellent tables. That’s the first step toward honoring God with the skills he has given us. Yet for many Christians, the first demand we make of Christians with musical skill is that they function as preachers.

Joylissa

Joylissa.com

Truly, the first step toward honoring God as a Christian musician is to make great music. This is an overgeneralization, but too often Christian musicians have sacrificed the quality of the music for the sake of more preachy lyrics. I have seen many great examples of excellent music paired with deeply religious lyrics (here and here, for example). But I have also seen Christian musicians badgered, rebuked, even accused regarding their devotion to Christ—all because they skillfully crafted songs about many important aspects of God’s world; they simply fell short on the “Jesus” quota.

Nobody is questioning the salvation of Christian police officers who don’t insert the Apostles’ Creed as they read a criminal their rights. Nobody is questioning the devotion of a plumber who falls short of his quota of cross-shaped pipe junctions. Yet the presence of a microphone causes us to misunderstand the nature of music and to hold our musicians to the same standard as our preachers.

Music isn’t preaching; it’s art. Preaching is about clarity and conviction. Art is about seeing the world in fresh, challenging, and inspiring ways. It intentionally and powerfully works through indirection. Obviously there is an overlap between these two forms of communication, but until we are ready to appreciate the true artistic nature and value of music, we’re missing the point.

If God has gifted and called you to be a preacher, be a good one. Preach passionately and clearly. If God has gifted and called you to be a musician, be a good one. Stretch your creativity to the limits of God’s gift. Explore his world and the people he made with joy and sorrow. If you’re ashamed of Jesus, that needs to change. If your only goal is to gain popularity, that needs to change. But if you’re singing to God’s glory regardless of the subject matter you believe you should explore, then don’t listen to those who think they know how to use a microphone. Glorify the Giver by enjoying his gift to the fullest and helping others do the same.

And if you find this kind of thing interesting, you might want to check out Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music, which releases next week:

 

The Apologetic Value of Beauty

Mark Beuving —  February 11, 2014 — 1 Comment

Whenever I teach on the relationship between Christianity and art, there are always questions about how evangelistic our art should be. Christians are commanded to communicate the gospel. And art is a means of communication. So shouldn’t we be putting crosses in our paintings and verses in our poetry? Shouldn’t our literary characters be converting and our film characters be preaching?

One factor that often gets overlooked in these discussions is the nature of beauty as God himself formed it. When God created the word, he made it beautiful. Overwhelmingly so. There is beauty at every turn. There is beauty that literally brings us to tears. There is beauty that makes us stop and contemplate. Beauty is everywhere in the world that God made.

But why did God make his world beautiful? For example, why should lilies be beautiful as opposed to merely functional? The answer seems to be that God is a lover of beauty. As many have said throughout the years, beauty needs no justification. We don’t need to explain why the world should be beautiful. Why shouldn’t it be so?

But there is also an apologetic function to the beauty that God made. In other words, beauty is a tool for evangelism, for pointing people to God.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

The artistry in the created world reflects the God who crafted it, and it does so to such a great extent that David can say that it declares and proclaims God. Paul says something similar, and even goes a bit further:

“What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19–20)

Paul is saying that everyone knows the truth about God. Sure, they’ll deny him. But deep down, they know God. How do they know this? Because God has shown himself to them in the things that he made. When people look at the beauty and grandeur of the created world, they are actually witnessing revelation about God. So evident is God in the beauty of this world, in fact, that Paul says that everyone who sees the created world has no excuse for their disbelief (sorry agnostics).

Christian LilySo here’s my point. God didn’t print Bible verses on flower petals. The beauty of those petals points to God without an explicit declaration of the plan of salvation. So it is with the art that Christians make. The beauty their art embodies points to God, even if John 3:16 isn’t written on the canvas. Beautiful, creative, well-crafted art is evangelistic—even when there is no verbalized gospel presentation.

This is because beauty inherently points beyond itself. Beauty, says N. T. Wright, “slips through our fingers.” We try to photograph it, to paint it, to record it. And we genuinely cherish and enjoy these beautiful expressions. But even so, the beauty embodied in our art does not fully satisfy our itch. And for Wright, this reveals something about beauty itself:

“The beauty sometimes seems to be in the itching itself, the sense of longing, the kind of pleasure which is exquisite and yet leaves us unsatisfied.”

Exquisite—not banal—pleasure that leaves us unsatisfied. As Ann Voskamp says, “See beauty and we know it in the marrow, even if we have no words for it: Someone is behind it, in it.”

Many Christians choose to talk about the gospel explicitly in their art, and many do this very well. But we sometimes impose upon our artists a Christianese quota that must be fulfilled in every song, film, or painting. And when we do this, we are (inadvertently) demeaning the apologetic value of the beauty that God infused into the most mundane facets of creation. And John Calvin goes so far as to call this sort of undervaluing of God’s diverse work “demeaning” and “reproachful” towards the Holy Spirit.

Wedding RingsI’m not bragging when I say this. My wife didn’t want to get married growing up. At least, she tells me that she didn’t want to get married too early. She wanted to wait. She wanted to put it off. She didn’t want to be the stereotypical “Ring by Spring” getting her “M.Rs.” from her Bible college. But she became a stereotype and married me the week after she graduated.

What happened? Well, I came into the picture. I met her when she was 18, we started dating right as she turned 20, and we were married when she was 22. Early as the birds come these days.

My wife wasn’t into “commitment.” She didn’t want to be “tied down.” Like any normal person she didn’t want to end up like some “boring old married couple.” All people talk about are the downsides of being married: what you have to give up, what you can’t do anymore, what you do “for fun.” That wasn’t enticing.

She didn’t want to get married for a very smart reason: the sacrifice wasn’t worth what she got out of it. She had a fear of commitment, but it was totally legit. She was afraid to commit to something she didn’t know, to someone she had no feelings for yet, and it was going to cost her everything.

When we tell people about entering a relationship with Jesus they’re reasonably squeamish. It doesn’t sound fun. It doesn’t sound inviting. It doesn’t sound worth it. Why? Well it’s the same reason my wife didn’t want to get married. She didn’t like the idea of sacrificing her independence and freedom. She didn’t like the idea of changing. She didn’t like the idea of becoming “boring.”

What got my wife over the hump? What convinced her to get married so young? Well (cough, cough), I did. She didn’t fall in love with commitment. She didn’t fall in love with changing who she is. She didn’t fall in love with becoming a boring old married couple. She fell in love with me and all that came with it, especially the last part.

To be honest, if all someone told me about marriage was what I’d have to give up and change about myself, I also wouldn’t want to get married. After ten years, I can look back and laugh at the person I’ve become. I used to save Carl’s Jr. chicken sandwiches under the seat of my van so I’d have a snack after class; now I don’t eat fast food and instead we are gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free. Sound fun!? I used to be independent, carefree, and able to accomplish tasks efficiently. Now, I have four other people to get on the ball before we make a move toward any task.

But I love my life. My wife loves marriage. We love the commitment. We love being together. Because we love each other.

As we invite people into relationship with Christ we need to consider where they’re coming from. If you know Jesus you know how freeing and peaceful it is to be “married.” The sacrifice isn’t a drag. It’s not a boring departure from your youthful self. It’s perfect peace. But your friends don’t know what he’s like. All they see is “going to church,” “giving money away,” and “doing boring church stuff.” That’s a sacrifice that doesn’t make sense unless you love the person you’re doing it with (Jesus) and the one you’re doing it for (Jesus).

When Peter, Paul, Priscilla, and Phoebe shared the gospel with people, I’m convinced that they told stories about from the Gospels (the biographies of Jesus). They shared stories about what Jesus is like. They told stories of miracles and radical forgiveness and insane boldness and liberating justice.

It’s like when I first met my wife and she told me stories about herself and I told her stories about myself. I wanted her to get an idea of who I am before she took the biggest step of all (which for us was the first date [marriage was a slam dunk after that]).

People don’t want to commit to being Christians unless it’s worth it to them to enter the relationship. They have a legitimate fear of commitment. Who would want to commit to someone they don’t know when it’s going to cost them everything? They have to like Jesus before they’ll want to marry him. We can’t just tell them “You can have a relationship with God” because they don’t know what God is like. “What if I don’t like God?” they might be thinking.

God is an unknown to them so an offer to sacrifice everything for him comes up short in their logic. It sounds like this, “Hey, do you want to get married? If you get married it’s forever. You will have to give up your rec league teams and your nights with friends and going to the beach. You’ll go to bed early and wake up next to the same person every day. But I’m not going to tell you who you’re going to marry, you just have to commit today, forever, and be ready to change everything about who you are and what you like to do!”

For the “Gospel” to come across to someone as “good news” they have to know the person they’re entering a relationship with.

So, get familiar with Jesus. Learn some stories about his life. Meditate on what it has meant for you to be in relationship with him. And then when you go out and talk to your friends and family about Christ, tell them stories about him like you’d tell stories of your favorite friends.

Guilt-Based Evangelism

Mark Beuving —  December 4, 2012 — 1 Comment

PierMy wife and I were sitting on the pier in Pismo Beach when a sweet middle-aged woman slowly approached us. When she got close to us, I could see that her hands were trembling. Her voice was shaky as she gave us a pseudo-greeting: “Do you know Jesus?”

We smiled and said, yes, we do. She explained that her church was putting on some sort of evangelistic deal about Jesus and handed us a flier. We told her that we were only in town for the rest of the day so we wouldn’t be attending.

Then she paused. She seemed to be trying to think of more to say—she sensed her evangelistic task was not done—but nothing came. So we said our awkward goodbyes and she headed down the pier, where she proceeded to talk to a few other ocean-viewers.

I have done the same type of evangelism. I have done it on the same pier, in fact. When I was a college pastor, we used to host street (or pier) evangelism events where we would approach contemplative looking people and try to engage them in a conversation about the gospel.

Ray Comfort Street PreachingThis approach is not my favorite, but the approach really isn’t my concern. I know some very godly people who approach strangers and are sometimes able to engage them in genuine discussions. I don’t want to disparage their ministries in any way.

What concerns me is my attitude. I wasn’t hitting the pier because I was convinced this was the best way to reach people with the gospel. None of this matched my personality or gifting. I am more effective for the gospel through getting to know people and then letting the gospel come out as a part of that person getting to know who I am and what I’m about. And yet I took the salesman approach, not out of conviction, but out of guilt.

As I look back, most of us weren’t a good fit for this type of approach. But we did it because we felt like we would be cowards if we didn’t. You don’t want to look like a coward do you? You don’t want to appear to be ashamed of Jesus, right? So get out there and convert strangers using the physically present equivalent of cold calling. That’s what went through our minds.

But after several years of talking to Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door, to say nothing of the regular salespeople I interact with, I’m convinced that the command to make disciples doesn’t need to be fulfilled using only this technique. Generally speaking, people don’t feel like opening up when they’ve been approached by a salesman (for more thoughts on the salesman approach, click here or here).

I have had sudden conversations about deep and controversial things, and I don’t try to avoid those opportunities when they arise. If this is how God is using you to make disciples, then fantastic. But if someone is giving you the impression that you’d better start talking to every stranger you can or else (even if that someone is you), don’t buy it.

Francis Schaeffer was so good at engaging people who would otherwise have been strangers and presenting the gospel to them in a compelling way. But he calls us away from doing this on the basis of guilt:

“As Jesus Christ reminds us, we are to love that individual ‘as ourselves.’ Therefore, to be engaged in personal ‘witness’ as a duty or because our Christian circle exerts a social pressure on us is to miss the whole point. The reason we do it is that the person before us is an image-bearer of God, and he is an individual who is unique in the world.”[1]

Notice that Schaeffer isn’t saying that we can’t share the gospel with someone we don’t know very well. He’s saying that the right time to share is when we truly love the person in front of us.

Of course, we could use that as an excuse. But don’t. Don’t let your lack of love keep you from sharing the gospel. When you find you don’t love someone enough to share, then repent and learn to love that person.

Let’s get beyond the guilt that we feel from others, impose on ourselves, or impose on others. And let’s learn to love. And then let’s boldly share and demonstrate the truth of the gospel in whatever way love leads us to in each moment. That might mean talking to a stranger you’re scared to talk to, but it might not.

 


[1] Francis A Schaeffer, The God Who Is There, 2nd Ed. (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1982) 149.

Every person on the planet is longing for something. There are things they want, hope for, pursue, need. Across the board, every single person has a nagging sense that something is wrong with the world. They spend their lives searching for what they believe to be missing. This is true for individuals, and it is also true for the cultures and subcultures that those individuals inhabit.

The word gospel literally means “good news.” We proclaim the reality of what God accomplished in Jesus Christ when he sent him to this earth and culminated his plan of redemption. The gospel is good news in the fullest possible sense of that phrase. In the name of Jesus, healing comes to every part of this world that has been broken. The good news affects everything. Just as there is no portion of this world that has not been affected by sin, so there is no portion of this world for which the gospel is not good news.

So when we speak to a college student who is struggling to establish her identity, the gospel is good news. She feels displaced, like there is some kind of strange disconnect between herself and the people around her. The gospel reaches into her situation and proclaims that in Christ, relationships are healed. The sin that separates us from God and one another has been abolished. God’s Spirit claims us, recreates us, allows us to see who we truly are and who we are meant to become.

When we speak to an environmentalist who is disgusted by the way our corporate greed and poor stewardship are affecting our planet, the gospel is good news. The environmentalist longs to see human beings living in a harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship with the world around them. Typically, the environmentalist places his hope in social action and an over-exaltation of nature, but we get the privilege of proclaiming to him that the gospel is the good news he is looking for. God created man to have dominion (gracious stewardship) over the earth (Gen. 1:26). God even placed man in the garden with the responsibility of “working and keeping” it (Gen. 2:15). Man’s relationship to the planet has been scarred by sin, and the earth itself “groans” because is “in bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:19-23). The good news is that the gospel restores man’s relationship with God, with his fellow man, and with the creation. And ultimately, God will re-create the world to be all that it was originally intended to be—and more (see Rev. 21-22).

We could walk through the burning desire of every heart and every culture and trace the ways in which the gospel is good news. Ultimately, everyone is longing for the good news of the gospel, but most people are looking in all of the wrong places.

The gospel affirms the best of every culture and points us far beyond the good things we spend our lives pursuing. And as we realize that the good news if far greater than we imagined, we also find that what we had been pursing pales in comparison.

So let us be those who proclaim the good news in every respect. Let us spend our lives treasuring the gospel and seeking out all of the ways in which it is the good news that everyone is longing for.

But let me add a caution. Don’t imagine that everyone is on the right track and only needs a nudge to help them realize the fullness of the good news. Far from it. Because not only is the gospel good news for every culture, the gospel also subverts every culture. That will be the subject of tomorrow’s post.