Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Appalling Alternative

Paul's own view of evangelism and of the Gospel is straightforward: rely on the power of God, not human gimmicks. Let's review 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5 again:

1:17--If in preaching the Gospel we rely on human wisdom (and scientific proof is a form of human wisdom), we are emptying the cross of Christ of its power. Do we really want to do that?
1:18-31--Those who reject the Gospel will consider it foolishness anyway; it is part of God's judgment on intellectual pride. If an intellectual is seeking God and asks an honest question, it is reasonable to answer it. This is one of the valid uses of apologetics. But we do not "prove" the Gospel.
2:1-5--We do not use human means and arguments to convince people; we simply display the power of God to them, so they will rely on God, not on Man.

Now, some may be frightened by the idea of evangelizing through God's power, because it sounds sensational in its own right: What do we do--heal the sick and raise the dead? Well, if that's how God uses you, yes; but for most of us, it involves living supernaturally. When we love other people no matter what they do to us, when we put others first and generally exhibit a Christlike character, this will provoke wonder and praise to God from those who watch us (Matthew 5:14-16 [good works]; John 13:35 [mutual love]; 1 Peter 3:1-2 [godly conduct], among many others). People who do these things consistently from the heart (rather than ocassionally and legalistically) are supernaturally empowered by God; they are the type of witnesses he wants.

Will we do this? Most of us will not; it is easier to memorize a few factoids than to let God radically change our hearts so that our very lives testify to his existence and power. And we can take credit for studying all these obscure topics! Sometimes, instead of emphasizing the treasure of God placed in our clay jars (2 Corinthians 4:7), we polish up the jars. Jesus said we should clean up the inside rather than just polish the outside (Luke 11:39-41).

Unfortunately the trend is toward spectacular teachings and away from the ones Jesus considered useful or even vital. We spend more time on eschatology and sensational proofs of scripture than on actually reading the Bible and letting the Holy Spirit apply it to our lives. I would suggest that we need to shelve the weird stuff for a while and concentrate on the basics, especially since the people we have reached with a version of the Gospel seem so poorly grounded.

You might think that all this means that we should never stir from basic issues. It does not. The problem is not that we have doctrinal differences and our own interpretations of scripture; it is that we take these things too seriously, as though they were themselves basic. Denominational distinctives should be taught in a church--though it would be a good idea to let people know that other views exist in areas that are not essential. And if people want to debate Creation Science versus theistic evolution, or even talk about prophecy, fine--though I'd be leery of doing such a thing during church. When there are new Christians and potential converts around, stick to the basics. More experienced Christians should discuss fringe areas among themselves. In this way, we can continue to explore whatever topics strike our fancy without endangering or warping new believers.

Will we learn to live out Romans 14, and put God and his family ahead of our own speculations and prejudices (even keeping our bright ideas to ourselves--Romans 14:22)? Or will we continue to do things our way--and wonder why the Spirit of God goes elsewhere?

1 comment:

cathikin said...

Very well put. The basics, the fundamentals of our faith.

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