November 1, 2014

Sharing the Gospel?

inquiry_room_2-1-1 The following video shows one of the ways in which I (and a multitude of evangelicals) were taught to “share the Gospel” with non-believers.

The other day I was thinking that it would make a good discussion topic here at Internet Monk if we examined a “soterian” Gospel presentation (the link will take you to Scot McKnight’s post defining and critiquing this kind of Gospel) and then threw out a few questions, such as:

  • Does the N.T. ever show anyone “sharing the Gospel” in a way that is comparable to this?
  • Does the N.T. ever encourage Christians to “share the Gospel” in a manner that is comparable to this?
  • What, if anything, is missing from this “Gospel” presentation?
  • Is there anything misleading about this “Gospel” presentation?
  • What do you affirm about this “Gospel” presentation?

Whenever I have a discussion like this, I recall something D.L. Moody once said when someone criticized him for the way he engaged in personal evangelism. He said, “Well, I like the way I share the Gospel better than the way you don’t.”

In other words, if you have problems with this way of “sharing the Gospel,” what would you suggest that we who are called to proclaim the Gospel should say in its place?

Comments

  1. br. thomas says:

    I learned and used the bridge illustration during my involvement with the Navigator ministry while in the US Army. At the time I thought it was a great tool. But, I have not used it in about 20 years. I have come to realize that often it helps people to make a ‘decision” – but it’s a decision based on a very narrow understanding of the Good News of new life in Christ.

    Many people made decisions through similar means (4 Spiritual Laws, Roman’s Road, etc.), but, in my opinion, it did not invite people into the full life that Jesus offers. People can make a decision and continue to live their lives with minor outward behavioral changes. I think such “gospel sharing tools” encourage an intellectual assent to certain theological truths without engaging the heart, and limiting our understanding of God’s kingdom and the life He wants to live with us.

    I much rather use scriptures such as John 17:3 (the life that God offers is based on relationship) and Romans 5:8 (the basis of that relationship is unmerited and indiscriminate love of God) to begin to communicate to others the Good News.

  2. I’m as big a fan of McKnight’s King-Jesus-story-of-the-old-Testament gospel as anyone – but it’s difficult to communicate it meaningfully and succintly to my non-Christian friends.

    The Bridge, like anything, is a tool for a purpose. And it’s been used to help 1000s of people come to Christ. As long as we see it simply as a tool useful in some contexts, I don’t have a problem with it.

    This post begs another question for discussion in my mind: Even if we can agree on what the gospel IS, how can we best communicate to others?

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      I’m as big a fan of McKnight’s King-Jesus-story-of-the-old-Testament gospel as anyone – but it’s difficult to communicate it meaningfully and succinctly to my non-Christian friends.

      Maybe that’s the problem–that we feel pressured to “communicate the gospel” meaningfully, but in a short time, and if we don’t give the full down-and-dirty, there will never be another chance. That should be the concern of salesmen, not gospel-sharers.

      And it’s been used to help 1000s of people come to Christ.

      I don’t doubt that it may have been part of the process through which many people found Christ, but I have seen many people for whom that approach has helped people more people come to church, rather than come to Christ.

    • This post begs another question for discussion in my mind: Even if we can agree on what the gospel IS, how can we best communicate to others?

      The post isn’t “begging the question”, it is actually asking it. As CM states:

      In other words, if you have problems with this way of “sharing the Gospel,” what would you suggest that we who are called to proclaim the Gospel should say in its place?

  3. Marcus Johnson says:

    So, so many problems with the approach of the guy in the video. So many. I’m just going to hit a few; I’m sure others can find some more:

    1. First, let’s talk about the context in which the guy in the video wants to “share the gospel.” On a bar napkin, over dinner. It comes off as a time-sensitive sales pitch, which would be great if he was trying to sell the gospel, rather than share the gospel. I wonder what it would look like if Peter, rather than explaining how the narrative of the story of Israel was the plan of salvation in action, merely whipped out a bar napkin and said, “I can do this in five minutes. You folks like pictures, right?” The real gospel spans centuries of human history, reveals itself in the story of Israel, climaxes with the death and resurrection of Jesus, and continues with us, both collectively and individually. It’s a story, not an argument, so it’s going to take more than a few minutes to explain.

    2. The illustration relies on “key scriptures,” (e.g., Romans 3:23) to explain the sin problem. Imagine trying to get someone to read a novel like Catch-22 by pointing to one of your favorite sentences, and saying, “This is what Heller was getting at.” The person might say, “Wow, that’s easy; I can commit to that,” and you would be setting them up to miss the whole point of the novel. Again, the gospel is not an argument or a sales pitch; it is a story, and we are characters in that story.

    3. The guy in the video writes “us” on the napkin, but in his explanation, he only really considers the individual. It’s a common rhetorical strategy, in which a person says you when they mean I, or says we when they mean you. The plan of salvation does have implications for the individual, but the entire planet, and the history of the world, is included this plan, and that has to be conveyed. I can’t see anyone presenting the gospel without having to say, somewhere in the discussion, “Look, you are included in this plan, but this plan is not just about you.” I didn’t get that from this guy’s presentation.

    And who just naturally brings a felt-tip marker to a restaurant?

    • Agree with you 100%!!!!!!! Teh Gospel is not a “sales pitch.” I don’t know why we have taken principal from Business and apply them to the Gospel, it simple does not work. As a matter of fact I just preach on the Gospel and Evagelism in my Church, will love to hear your thoughts on it http://birminghaminternationalchurch.org/?page_id=43

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The plan of salvation does have implications for the individual, but the entire planet, and the history of the world, is included this plan, and that has to be conveyed. I can’t see anyone presenting the gospel without having to say, somewhere in the discussion, “Look, you are included in this plan, but this plan is not just about you.” I didn’t get that from this guy’s presentation.

      “This guy’s presentation” is a Gospel of Personal Salvation and ONLY Personal Salvation. Nothing else.

      It’s one of the reasons behind the Evangelical Circus, and why a lot of us wander the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.

    • DaisyFlower says:

      Marcus Johnson said, “And who just naturally brings a felt-tip marker to a restaurant?”

      Someone who is very Gospely. His felt tip marker was probably purchased at a Christian book store and has a Bible verse printed on the side.

      About how to share the Gospel with people. How about the approach taken by some street protester Christians: carry picket signs saying God hates sin and sinners, and scream, “Turn or burn! Turn or burn!” at every one passing by? (kidding)

  4. The problems I see here are not with what he said, but with what he didn’t say. Our sins do seperate us from God, we can’t earn our salvation, Jesus did die for our sins. But he said nothing of the resurrection or about the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He didn’t mention repentance or the call to follow. It is a gospel of sin management.
    However, if this guy is out doing that, and we aren’t doing anything but critiquing what he is doing, he’s doing better than we are.
    Ever since the King Jesus Gospel came out I’ve been waiting for someone to give an example of how to share the gospel in a more complete manner. And while turning to the book of Acts for examples does help, we must remember that our audience isn’t 1st century Israel, and the narrative of Israel isn’t going to mean much to 21st century Americans who knows nothing about it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      However, if this guy is out doing that, and we aren’t doing anything but critiquing what he is doing, he’s doing better than we are.

      As in more notches in his Bible?
      Better sales record for a bonus at the Bema?

      During my late high school and college days, I got to be a notch on half a dozen Bibles that way. After the first dozen times with nothing changing — only the next sales pitch — you start to wonder if it’s all been BS from Day One. Burnout.

      • As in I’m giving this man the benefit of the doubt that his motives are to introduce people to Jesus Christ and salvation in him, and he is doing it in the only way he knows how. Most the people I know who actually try to evangelize are trying to be obedient to Christ and have a genuine concern for people to be saved. They are not just trying to put more notches on their Bible. If they knew a better way they would practice it.

        • Christiane says:

          that’s the thing . . . they ARE sincere in their efforts, but they leave out so very much of the teachings of Our Lord that ARE ‘gospel’ if one accepts the Apostolic Gospel as a valid and important part of God’s Plan for salvation

          it’s sad because I don’t think they realize what they are doing, except sometimes you see one of them writing about wondering if they are ‘doing it right’ . . . then you know that person has seen the need for something ‘more’ and is now no longer at peace with a ‘truncated’ gospel

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          But so many of these guys are tunnel-visioned into The Only Way to do it — The Bridge, the Four Spiritual Laws, the Roman Road, the Altar Call whatever. And powered by Wretched Urgency to the point of desperation.

          Funky Coincidence: “The Bridge” is also Scientology’s name for itself.

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          I know it sounds mean, but sincerity cannot compensate for an insufficient explanation of the gospel. If they did not know a better way, then that is a fault I would lay at the feet of whoever brought them into the church community, then encouraged them to go out and do evangelical work. Otherwise, there is a right way and a wrong way to do this work, and we’re not handing out As for effort

          • Christiane says:

            in the sense that their effort is well-intentioned (of which I have no doubt), I have asked myself sometimes ‘is it true that they do no harm?’

            even in Catholicism, you have people raised in the faith and then they leave (sometimes for a while, sometimes not) . . . and the ‘reasons’ they give are similar to the reasons given by wanderers in the ‘post-evangelical wilderness’

            I think it all must be in the end a very personal thing . . . but I do think that people stand a chance of gaining more staying power if they are rooted deeply in the Apostolic teachings

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I know it sounds mean, but sincerity cannot compensate for an insufficient explanation of the gospel.

            In a way, it’s a specific variant of “It doesn’t matter what you believe, As Long As You’re Sincere.”

          • people stand a chance of gaining more staying power if they are rooted deeply in the Apostolic teachings

            Couldn’t agree more. Let us pursue a spirituality, discipleship, and evangelism that reflect this truth.

  5. Marcus, I agree with all of your points. Here is how the entire “sales pitch” hit me….

    1. Speaking to a non-believer, the gentleman leads off with how separated from God we (meaning YOU) are. So, “Thanks for letting me know that this so-called loving God of yours is disconnected from mankind, AND for letting me know that I am a hopeless failure…..when I think I am a pretty decent guy.”

    2. “OK, so no matter what I do with my life, I am going to die and burn in hell. Gee, this is sounding more attractive to me by the minute.”

    3. “So your God killed off his own son so he could re-connect with the humans that he created in the first place. Because of this, I can now spend eternity with this vengeful high power?”

    4. “No thanks…..I’ll just get my check now….”

    NOTHING in the this formula about God’s amazing, crazy love for every single one of us; forgiveness, and the reasons why getting in touch with this God can transform a life~any life~and add joy and peace. If I heard this pitch, I would find ZERO rationale for finding out anything more about this religion…..and I would avoid the speaker in the future!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      1. Didn’t lead off with the usual openers? No “If you died today, do you KNOW where you would spend Eternity”? No “Let’s talk about your Spiritual whatever”?

      2. “If you can’t love ‘em into the Kingdom, SCARE ‘EM INTO THE KINGDOM.”

      3. Penal Substitutionary Atonement(TM), and the fallout thereof.

      4. And you can suck up to this Saddam in the Sky so he doesn’t burn you in Hell for All Eternity, just drop to your knees in utter submission and say These Magic Words…

      (And you then get to be driven by Wretched Urgency to do to everyone else what was done to you…)

      THAT is “Good News”?
      THAT is “Victory over Death and The Grave”?

  6. Following swiftly on Pattie’s heels with an Amen….

    The greatest problem I see is that it starts with the wrong premise—that our Father in heaven is against us rather than for us. The approach is based on the fear of a stainless steel god who cannot look upon nor abide sin, and so much so that god must turn his wrathful, vengeful back on his own Son.

    That kind of god is a Platonic construct and totally incongruent with the image of the Father we see in Jesus. That approach is totally based in fear and judgment and will most often produce those kind of disciples.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The greatest problem I see is that it starts with the wrong premise—that our Father in heaven is against us rather than for us. The approach is based on the fear of a stainless steel god who cannot look upon nor abide sin, and so much so that god must turn his wrathful, vengeful back on his own Son.

      “FOR GOD HATES SIN WITH SUCH A PERFECT HATRED…”
      — some tract or booklet (“The Calvary Road”?) that messed me up in the Seventies. The all-caps boldface was in the original tract.

  7. The bridge isn’t my favorite, but at least he mentions sin (that seems like a dirty word nowadays). Also, two minutes isn’t much time, so it’s hard to get good coverage there.

    You have to be sensitive to your audience, make it relevant for them (which can also be hard in a quick encounter).

    I’d concentrate a lot more on the definition and proof of sin. Most people today don’t believe in sin, so you need to lay the groundwork there.

    And as Jon A says, there needs to be a call to repentance.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I’d concentrate a lot more on the definition and proof of sin. Most people today don’t believe in sin, so you need to lay the groundwork there.

      Without turning it into Sin-Sniffing, emotional manipulation, and One-Upmanship. All too often “laying the groundwork” for “belief in sin” becomes hammering the mark with Sin Sin Sin. (A variant of Hellfire & Damnation/Scare ‘Em Into the Kingdom.) When high-pressuring a mark, you have to convince him (by any means necessary) that he really NEEDS whatever product you’re trying to sell him and CLOSE THAT SALE. Whether it’s vacuum cleaners, boner pills, or Fire Insurance with a special offer of Rapture Boarding Pass.

      Also, you’re not the only Jesus Salesman out there pitching Fire Insurance — he’s probably had previous experience with high-pressure Witnessing (including JEHOVAH’s Witnessing).

    • CS Lewis once wrote that he found talking about his own sin (not in an over-the-top or voyeuristic sort of way) was a good angle to address the problem. Perhaps he’s right.

  8. What would I replace it with? Depends who the person is that I’m talking with and how well I know them. But, a general approach might be;

    “I suspect the most meaningful questions/doubts/concerns that we all have in this here good ole’ USofA center around the significance of our lives and a fear of death. Have you examined and thought about these questions in view of what Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples had to say?”

    Or;
    “Why do you think that an itinerant teacher in first century Palestine who made outlandish self-proclamations and promoted a totally counter intuitive message inspired a following who changed history and the course of a world empire?”

    I’m after “discussion point”, areas that would allow the person I’m with to begin consideration of a God and Savior who is involved with us and is for us because of His essential nature—Love and Relationship.

  9. Michael Z says:

    We have an entire book of the Bible – Acts – full of examples of how the original disciples “shared the Gospel.” Wouldn’t it be reasonable to base our evangelism on that, at least as a starting point?

    I count about 34 instances in Acts where someone “shares the Gospel.” Interestingly, some passages mention the cross, and some mention forgiveness of sins, but none actually state that the cross is the source of that forgiveness. (I’m not saying that I don’t believe that we’re forgiven as a result of Jesus’ death – just that to the early disciples that was a small _piece_ of the Gospel, not the main message, and all through Acts they never mention that piece.)

    Instead, they focus on lots of other things, like the resurrection, which they almost always mention, and sometimes along with it their belief that the resurrection of Jesus shows that one day God will raise _all_ the dead (i.e. “the hope of Israel”). The message that Jesus is the Messiah is another major focus in Acts. The “kingdom of God” is also often mentioned. Several passages mention repentance and coming judgment. Baptism also seems to be important to them. It’s a whole mix of metaphors and messages, not just one formula for decision repeated over and over.

    Or for that matter, we could base our evangelism on the Gospels (which were written as a way of sharing the “good news” of Jesus with others). But once again, we’d discover that the “formula” in the video above never appears or even gets hinted at. Which, if we’re being honest and not just defensive, ought to prompt us to ask whether the formulas we believe in are really the Gospel that is found in Scripture, or not…

    • True, though the differences between 1st century Israel and the 21st century are colossal. They were waiting for the gospel, and had (at least some) idea of what it was. We aren’t, and don’t.

  10. A really helpful article on this very topic was posted at David Fitch’s blog Reclaiming the Mission this week.
    It is written by Greg Holsclaw. It is entitled Making Peace with the Bridge… For Now… http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/?p=3683

    Holsclaw frames the bridge illustration as an “okay for now” introduction to the Gospel story, which must lead into a discussion of the Kingdom

    • That, frankly, is the way I think about a lot of evangelicalism at the moment: ok for attracting, not ok for depth over the long haul.

      • Radagast says:

        +1

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        That, frankly, is the way I think about a lot of evangelicalism at the moment: ok for attracting, not ok for depth over the long haul.

        In rocketry terms, All Booster, No Sustainer.
        Gets you off the launch rail, but crashes back immediately.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Gets you off the launch pad…

          I wonder if that is why a great majority of the evangelical sermons that I have heard over the years focus on personal sins/culture war? Nothing like a heavy dose of guilt mixed with fear mixed with us against them to fuel your booster rocket.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Remember that booster rockets give a lot of thrust for a very short burn time. A lot of initial acceleration before they hand off to the sustainer. The sustainer doesn’t have the thrust to get you to flying speed from a standing start, but keeps accelerating for a long haul, maintaining that flying speed while in atmo.

            Booster without sustainer gets you off the launcher but poops out immediately and crashes back.

            Sustainer without booster doesn’t even get you off the launcher.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And if you don’t have a sustainer, the only way to maintain speed is by burning booster after booster after booster. Up, down, up, down, up, down, Urgent Culture War Crisis after Urgent Culture War Crisis.

  11. Just for Gits and Shiggles I found a PDF of the Orthodox Christian gospel tract I have used on one or two occasions.

    I noticed that it begins not with a Bible verse, but with a quotation from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag archipelago- which collapsed the caffolding of Reformed anthropology as quickly as Miss O’Connor’s Parker’s Back crushed my iconoclasm.

    You really have to be careful with literature.

    Also, I think this two page tract has about as much correspondence to actual Orthodox soteriology as the Bridge has to actual mature Evangelical soteriology., which is to say they are faithful but highly truncated versions. Now, hear me well. I believe that the Orthodox Church and Evangelical Protestants have different and incompatible soteriologies. I have wagered my immortal soul that the Orthodox Church is correct, but nevertheless it is fascinating to me to see how similar the two presentations are and yet how different, even in semine.

    • Love Parker’s Back. In fact love everything Miss O’Connor wrote. Especially Wise Blood.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I didn’t know Orthodox were into tracts. Despite the Young, Restless, and Truly Orthodox you hear on all the blogs (“ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY! ORTHODOXY!”), the Eastern Rites always struck me as stay-at-home types who don’t go in for aggressive witnessing.

  12. One thing no one has mentioned yet is the Church. Before, as an evangelical, I might have been shy about introducing the topic of the Church at this stage of “sharing the Gospel.” But now I see incorporation into the family of God as an essential part of the Gospel.

    If we had a “structured Gospel” like I wrote about (see the Archives for April 30, May 1), then one of the first things we should do is invite someone to Church.

    That assumes, of course, that the Gospel is on display there and that there is a respectful, gracious way of welcoming inquirers and helping them enter Jesus’ way.

    In the tract Mule linked, there is this, for example: “Come and spend a month of Sundays with us and experience how the God-man Jesus Christ wants to transform you”

    • Amen.

      Evangelical or Orthodox or Catholic, the Gospel never was an ideology extracted from a text.

    • It will depend on circumstances, of course. A lot of people already have some community they are a part of, and hearing “come to my church” can be more sales-pitchy to them.

      • That’s true, nedbrek. If we sense that, perhaps that is the time when you and I might have to “be the Church” for someone and walk with them.

        I love that when Jesus called disciples, he said, “Come and see.”

    • One thing no one has mentioned yet is the Church. Before, as an evangelical, I might have been shy about introducing the topic of the Church at this stage of “sharing the Gospel.” But now I see incorporation into the family of God as an essential part of the Gospel.

      That’s what led the late Fr. Peter Gillquist to (eventually) become Orthodox.

      * He wrote a “Jesus Movement”-type book with a psychedelic-art cover called Love is Now (1972). I remember really liking that book.

      * Then he wrote one called Let’s Quit Fighting About the Holy Spirit (1974), calling for peace between Evangelicals and Charismatics.

      * Then he wrote one called The Physical Side of Being Spiritual (1979), which was apparently (I’ve never read it) about sacraments and liturgy.

      * Then he wrote one called Why We Haven’t Changed the World (1982), which I think was about his disillusionment with the long-term results of Campus Crusade for Christ evangelism and his confession that they had been leaving out a key part of evangelism/discipleship, which was “the church.”

      I read and used to own all but The Physical Side of Being Spiritual, but long ago sold them.

      Though I traveled that same road myself in my own way, from free-form charismatic evangelicalism to some years in the Eastern Orthodox Church, I’m now probably closest to his Love is Now phase again. What goes around comes around. :)

      http://orthodoxbridge.com/fr-peter-gillquist-evangelical-pioneer-for-orthodoxy/

  13. Phil M. says:

    It is very true that the common way to treat the Gospel in Evangelicalism is like a sales pitch. Terms like “knowing your audience” and such would be right at home at an Amway convention. In fact, many times in my youth, when I went out “evangelizing”, I felt very much like I was trying to sell people something they didn’t want. I remember trying to hand out tracts at the local farm show, for instance.

    The one thing I’ve learned is that my assumptions about people have changed a lot as I’ve gotten older. It used to be that I just assumed everyone was purely alienated from God. While I do believe there is a separation from God that a lot of people are experiencing, I also believe that the Holy Spirit is active in people’s lives before they ever interact with a Christian. Our job is to help them see this and to introduce them to Christ in a more concrete manner. It’s not to get them to sign on the dotted line. It’s more like being a midwife. We’re there to help facilitate a process that is happening.

    • +1000

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      It is very true that the common way to treat the Gospel in Evangelicalism is like a sales pitch. Terms like “knowing your audience” and such would be right at home at an Amway convention.

      Remember that Amway was patterned after Tent Revival Meetings.

      And MLM is basically Bill Bright’s “Multiplying Ministry” with soap.

    • While I do believe there is a separation from God that a lot of people are experiencing, I also believe that the Holy Spirit is active in people’s lives before they ever interact with a Christian. Our job is to help them see this and to introduce them to Christ in a more concrete manner.

      Excellent point, and one that reminds me of Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17 where he speaks of God acting in history so that people would seek him and reach out to him “…though he is not far from any one of us.”

    • George C says:

      It is sad that ACTUALLY knowing your audience is replaced by schemes to figure out what the demographic you’re ‘speaking’ to is in.

      Whether it is a sermon, bible study, evangelism, ect., it seems that we always go with the do things as if everything needs to be a perpetual monologue with clearly defined roles of teacher and student. Other people have minds, hearts, and mouths (at least that’s the rumor going around).

      Why not ask them what they believe, think they need, ect?

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “Soterian Gospel Presentation” as in the high-pressure Altar Call/Sinner’s Prayer/Decision for Christ pitch? With a side of Wretched Urgency?

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Throw in a set of steak knives, and you’ve basically got it.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        In my day they were more likely to throw in a Complementary Rapture Boarding Pass than steak knives.

  15. Great post, great discussion.

    I don’t think we should be sharing the gospel. Well, OK, yes we should share the gospel because we’ve commanded to go into all the world and make disciples, but right now we’re engaged in a discussion that is asking just what is this gospel we are supposed to be sharing. Scot McKnight and others are right – the soterian model of the gospel is lacking and it needs to be deconstructed. A new understanding needs to be reconstructed in its place. I think we’re close on that front, but I don’t think we’re there. (Although after reading that orthodox tract, it comes pretty close. Am I Orthodox???)

    Bottom line: my answer to Prof. Moody’s might be that I like someone’s way of not sharing the gospel better than how some people with a napkin do.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      A new understanding? How about one of the earliest: Christus Victor? Victorious over Death and The Grave?

      And in First-Century Greek Milieu, “The Harrowing of Hell” began as the defeat of Hades. Hades, the stern God of the Dead who once he had you in his realm of Hades would NEVER let you leave. And here Christ breaks the gates of Hades and leads all the shades out to live again in Resurrection. THAT is how the original audience in the Eastern Med in the 8th Century of Rome would have heard it.

      • Dana Ames says:

        +1000

        Dana

      • Christus Victor is great! So is the Harrowing of Hell you describe here. A couple of points:

        1. Christus Victor is “new” to the evangelicals I run with. And while I think it has a place in the conversation as the gospel is reconstructed (it certainly can replace penal substitution as far as I’m concerned), I don’t know that it is the last word on atonement. Girard’s thoughts on atonement should be in the conversation as well, and some other ideas too.

        2. I think you hit on the problem with the harrowing of hell in your defense of it. We are called to share the gospel not to an audience of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 8th century, but to a modern audience with modern sensibilities. Most people today are not terrified of the stern god of the dead who would never let you leave, and thankfully we have a way of understanding the gospel taking shape that doesn’t involve that image of God. So let’s (continue to) flesh out what the gospel means. Like the tract in the earlier comment says: Jesus is the Messiah, Christ is risen and we can be… well I hate to use the word “saved” here, because of the way the word has been warped to mean something I don’t think it was meant in scripture, but the world we are a part of can be transformed into something wonderfully new and beautiful.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Like the tract in the earlier comment says: Jesus is the Messiah, Christ is risen and we can be… well I hate to use the word “saved” here…

          Because the word “saved” has taken on baggage that obscures the meaning you’re trying to convey.

        • Christiane says:

          If they need help grasping the concept of ‘Christus Victor’, ask them to watch Clint Eastwood’s film ‘Gran Torino’. By the time the movie is over, they’ll get it.

      • Christus Victor is certainly true, but you need to present it in terms that an unbeliever will take seriously.

        If you say “Christ is victorious over death and Hell”, he’ll say “That’s nice” and continue on his road to Hell.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          So what is your solution?
          Turn or Burn?
          High-pressure Sales Pitch?
          Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?
          KEWL Relevance?
          Young Earth Creationism?
          End Time Prophecy?
          All these have been tried in contemporary Evangelism. Results have been mixed at best, especially in the long-term retention department.

          And most important, are you going to be someone doing a drive-by to Save Their Soul or actually walking beside them in their life, both before and after? The latter has much better credibility.

          • Use the Law to bring about the knowledge of sin, and give the command to repent.

            Most won’t, but at least they know where they stand.

          • Rick Ro. says:

            nedbrek wrote: “…but at least they know where they stand.”

            Actually, I’m not so sure I agree with that. They may know where YOU think they stand, but I’m not so sure they’d agree with your assessment. Therein lies the rub: using the Law tends to make it more about what WE think (aka judgmentalism) and less about what God thinks (aka love, grace and mercy for the lost).

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            …and we can leave, thinking, “At least I planted the seed.” Right?

            The gospel doesn’t start with the law; it starts with, “In the beginning, God created…” I would assume that is why the Bible starts with Genesis 1, and not Genesis 3.

            It doesn’t start with identifying individual sin and the order to repent; that strategy speaks to only a very small part of a much, much larger plan to rescue the entire world. I can’t imagine why we would tell someone that they’re going to hell, then wonder why they don’t want to come to church with us to hear more of the same. We think we’re driving people closer to Jesus when, in fact, we are driving them much, much farther away. Jesus had a suggestion for people who turn people away from Him, and it involves a millstone and some long-term deep sea diving.

            Try this: Rather than starting with condemning sin (which feels really good, but sounds more like “Thank God I’m not like this publican”), find out what that person’s most immediate need is, and see what you can do to fulfill it–without accepting any type of reward for your efforts. Let them know that you are there and available to help; most folks appreciate the gesture.

            And that’s it. Do that enough times, without thinking that you’re working against the clock, with the assumption that the Holy Spirit has been working, and will continue to work, with that person. Do it without feeling that you have to carry a mini-sermon in your back pocket. You may not get a lot of returns, but then, it’s not about us, is it?

          • I agree that it all starts with creation. However, nowadays, that is just likely to start an argument (as it does here :).

            If you ask a random guy on the street what his needs are, he’s just going to look at you funny :)

            And isn’t his greatest need to be saved from the wrath of God?

          • Phil M. says:

            And isn’t his greatest need to be saved from the wrath of God?

            No, humanity’s greatest need to is participate in the love of God, to be drawn into the divine dance of Trinitarian embrace.

            To quote Brennan Manning, the question that Christ will ask us is, “Did you believe I really loved you?”

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQi_IDV2bgM&feature=player_embedded

          • Rick Ro. says:

            “And isn’t his greatest need to be saved from the wrath of God?”

            Yikes, that’s such a different view of God the Father than I get from the Gospels. To me, that’s an elder son view of the Father, a sort of “Dad’s gonna kick the snot out of you, you worthless brother” view that is a distortion of the Father that Jesus presents and represents (Hebrews 1) in the Gospels. My Dad is not a Dad of wrath, but rather a Dad who is waiting to run out and embrace and greet each brother and sister who returns home. And I need to tell all my lost brothers and sisters that Dad isn’t impatiently waiting at home, tapping his foot nad ready to kick the snot out of them, but he’s ready to race out and embrace them with kisses. I want them to know that Dad’s home is a home of love, grace and mercy…so please, come be a part of it!

          • Again, look at it from the point of view of an unbeliever. They want nothing to do with God (the real God, they might have some notion in their head of a god)

          • Phil M. says:

            Again, look at it from the point of view of an unbeliever. They want nothing to do with God (the real God, they might have some notion in their head of a god)

            Well, to be honest, the way God is presented by some Christians, I’m not sure I’d want anything to do with him either…

            I don’t buy your premise that unbelievers want nothing to do with God. You may be surprised what people want if you actually sit down and talk to them.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Use the Law to bring about the knowledge of sin, and give the command to repent.

            — Nedbrek

            Can you repeat that in English instead of Christianese?

            (I’m trying to get you to examine your conventional answers and assumptions and think past them, Nedbrek.)

            Most won’t, but at least they know where they stand.

            And you can shake the dust off your feet (“Have Fun in Hell” optional or unspoken) and go on to the next Heathen(TM)?

            And isn’t his greatest need to be saved from the wrath of God?

            No, humanity’s greatest need to is participate in the love of God, to be drawn into the divine dance of Trinitarian embrace.

            And that is the difference between Penal Substitutionary Atonement and an Adventure of Grace.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            I don’t buy your premise that unbelievers want nothing to do with God. You may be surprised what people want if you actually sit down and talk to them.

            I’ve come across that assumption before, in (usually-bad) Christianese fiction. That the Heathen(TM) KNOW all about God and Christ and are in deliberate conscious Rejection and Rebellion. (Unlike You, Dear Christian Reader…)

            A possibly-related Christianese fiction convention is the assumption that ALL Heathens(TM) think and speak in fluent Christianese. (This probably has a more mundane reason — not being able to think outside your own cultural box. It’s a common beginning writer’s mistake.)

          • Phil, I’ve talked with hundreds of people, that’s my experience. I don’t keep hard numbers, but most people are tied up with themselves – doing their own thing.

            HUG, I use Christianese here because I assume we’re all Christians (or at least, familiar with the terms).

          • “he’ll say “That’s nice” and continue on his road to Hell.”

            “isn’t his greatest need to be saved from the wrath of God?”

            Uh, that’s the classic soterian gospel that I’m saying needs an overhaul, nedbrek. Look, this is not just a question of approach or method or illustration, this is a question of our core understanding of the gospel. The soterian gospel has corrupted the “Jesus is Messiah, Christ is risen, the world can be saved” understanding into a “you’re a sinner, God justifiably wants to beat the $#!+ out of you, but Jesus was crucified so you can weasel your sorry butt out of the consequences” understanding. I’m saying the former is closer to what the apostles preached, and the latter is closer to what they warned about (Gal 1:8, 2Cor 11:4, Acts 17:11).

          • You said yourself, “the world can be saved” – saved from what?

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Actually, it doesn’t start with creation; it starts within creation. We’ll tackle that one later…

            Yeah, if you ask a random guy what his needs are, you will get some funny looks, same as when you tell him that he’s going to hell unless he repents. That’s why we don’t start with the random guy on the street; we start with friends, family, co-workers. Modern-day evangelicalism has encouraged us to adopt a posture with strangers that is intrusive, condescending, and presumptive, but even worse, it has taught us that real evangelism is more about confronting strangers than making friends.

            Could anything be worse than identifying God by His wrath, especially to unbelievers? Then we try to turn around and identify him as a God of love, after we brought home that He is going to burn us forever and ever if we die, because we are such horrible people?

          • Speaking as someone who was an unbeliever for nearly 30 years, yes, of course you tell people about God’s wrath.

            Everyone knows God is love. They assumes that means God appreciates everything they do, and can’t wait to meet them. They think God needs them, and is falling over Himself to get them.

          • You said yourself, “the world can be saved” – saved from what?

            Saved from its own self-destruction.

            This is lengthy for a comment on a blog post, but you might want to read Brian McLaren’s answer to get where a lot of us are coming from who are answering this question with something other than “eternal torture”. http://www.brianmclaren.net/emc/archives/0310267137_samptxt.pdf

          • “Saved from its own self-destruction.”

            Ok, but what brings about this destruction? Us? If it’s just us, we can fix it ourselves. We don’t need God.

          • nedbrek-

            I think there’s a lot more to unpack in this question of “saved from what” than my rather pithy response can really justify. The link communicates this much better than I do. If you really want to engage this discussion that’s a better place to start than my six words there.

            One thing that is not necessarily true: just because we can bring about our own destruction does not mean that we can bring about our own salvation without outside help. Have you ever parented a toddler?

          • You could stand to read some Athanasius, particularly On The Incarnation Of The Word of God.

            People hate the God who wants to fry them for looking down a girl”s blouse and liking it, or overcharging an old lady $50, or even getting an abortion. It doesn’t make it any better that God had to torment His own Son because of it. Who wants to be reconciled to a God like that?

            Most people are aware of the evil they do. They are usually very interested in knowing that there is a way they can do substantially less of it, especially if they see some evidence that is possible.

          • Jesus saves us from sin, death, and the devil. We have to be careful when articulating the classic penal substitutionary atonement theory that we don’t make it out to be that Jesus rescues us from God. I believe the wrath of God is expressed not in him personally pummeling us, but in turning us over to the god we have chosen, namely, the god of this world, who is merciless and hell bent on our destruction and misery. After all, who crucified Jesus? What that the activity of God, or of Satan?

            Converse from what Jesus saves us from are the gifts he gives us: In saving us from sin, he gives us forgiveness. In saving us from death, he gives us life. In saving us from the devil, he gives us salvation. This is the gospel: Christ, through his cross, saves us and gives us these things. Yes, there is the penal sub motif that our sin is laid on Jesus at the cross and dealt with there for all time. I don’t think it’s possible to give a fair reading to the OT and the Epistles and conclude penal sub is absent from scripture. But it’s more of an analogy than the main point. I think most of Christendom is coming around to accept a multi-faceted understanding of atonement, but I believe that too often penal sub is emphasized to the point of exclusivity, which is narrow, and unhelpful. I don’t think we should reject it, but we should keep in in perspective by viewing it through the understanding of Christus Victor. It is a catechetical tool to help us understand what is won on the cross, not a club to beat the faith into us.

          • Those looking for a good discussion on Penal Sub should check out the “Unbelievable” radio show and podcast by Justin Brierley. They recently featured a show debating the topic, with various evangelical leaders throwing in their 2 cents. Quite informative and enlightening.

            http://www.premierradio.org.uk/shows/saturday/unbelievable.aspx

        • Marcus Johnson says:

          That’s just not true for everyone, and it’s a dangerous assumption to make. A lot of folks have been chased out of church communities, abandoned by families, and told that until they change, they’re going to burn in hell for all eternity. It doesn’t matter that they know that 1 John 4:8 states that God is love; nothing in their experience with professed Christ-followers has proven that.

          As a result, a lot of folks have discovered that if they stop believing that God is a real being, and assume that all religion is opiate for the masses, they feel a lot better.

          • Marcus Johnson says:

            Whoops, that was a response to nedbrek, not HUG.

          • I’m not an advocate for brow beating people or shouting “you’re all going to Hell”. You need to get a feel for where people are, and respond to that.

            But even people who are hurting often do so under false assumptions (“if God loves me so much, why am I suffering”).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      (Although after reading that orthodox tract, it comes pretty close. Am I Orthodox???)

      Big O or small o?

      • I was asking big O, but that was purely tongue in cheek. I wasn’t baptized EO, so I’m obviously not big O, but I do respect much in their theological tradition. Maybe even more than in my own.

  16. Great post, good comments.

    I think the basic problems with this approach, as other have noted above are:

    1. It is a ‘sales pitch’ approach that tries to pack all the ‘essentials’ into a 5 (or even 20) minute presentation. The ‘gospel’ is much bigger, and far more demanding (please don’t read ‘works’ into this) than can be packed into a quick sales pitch. I don’t know how to ‘share’ the ‘gospel’ in that sales pitch way because I don’t think that is how to ‘share’ the ‘gospel’ – it is much more relational, and unfortunately for the ‘bridgers’, time-consuming.

    2. It uses tired and worn (and incorrectly interpretted) passages to package the pitch. One of my pet peeves is using Rom. 3:23 to show that all ‘need Jesus’. In context, that verse is not talking about non-believers and their need; it is talking about believers who ‘sinned’ (aorist – non-specific past – we all just ‘sinned’) and who continue to ‘fall short of God’s glory’ (more than likely a reference to the image of God in us that reflects his glory). It sounds good to say that we all ‘fall short’ by sinning (which in the broadest sense is true) but Paul’s point is that both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are still ‘in process’ – being formed into the image of God revealed in Jesus, but we’re not there yet.

    3. It looks and sounds nothing like the sermons we find in Acts. In Acts, as other noted above, we see Paul (if we focus on him) talking about Jesus as fulfillment and Kingdom in the synagogues and when he preaches to Gentiles he talks about how God (whom they know about in some ambiguous sense – e.g. Acts 17) has acted in Jesus to reveal himself and his salvation to them. I don’t find much about ‘sin’ and nothing about ‘Law’ in Paul’s preaching in Acts (contrary to hundreds of Baptist sermons I’ve heard).

    Another problem, which is not quite so blatant in this presentation, is that most ‘plans’ assume that the ‘prospect’ is hung up on works-righteousness – everyone is trying to work their way to heaven and they need to understand they just can’t do enough good to make it (which is mentioned in this presentation) so they need Jesus. I don’t think that is the case at all – I can’t remember the last time I talked to someone who actually thought they were trying to ‘earn’ or be worthy of a place in heaven – God is just going to let us all in (with a few notable exceptions!). Works-righteousness (and thus the need to show that we’ve all sinned and can’t be good enough) just isn’t what people seem to be about these days (and from reading Paul’s sermons in Acts, doesn’t seem to be what they were really about then either, but that is another debate). Paul’s argument to the Gentiles in Acts (which he states in Rom. 1:18-21) is that they just don’t know God or honor him for who he really is. His positive message is that this God has revealed himself in Jesus and acted in their behalf.

    I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a ‘plan’ or ‘program’ for evangelism (so Moody’s quip certainly applies to me!) but what has been done by evangelicals (in particular) for the last 60 or 80 years doesn’t seem to be working well now, largely becuase it is so unscriptural AND unbiblical.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      1. It is a ‘sales pitch’ approach that tries to pack all the ‘essentials’ into a 5 (or even 20) minute presentation. The ‘gospel’ is much bigger, and far more demanding (please don’t read ‘works’ into this) than can be packed into a quick sales pitch.

      Analogous to those “one-shot, all-or-nothing job interviews” you get from dating service matchups.

      2. It uses tired and worn (and incorrectly interpretted) passages to package the pitch. One of my pet peeves is using Rom. 3:23 …. It sounds good to say that we all ‘fall short’ by sinning (which in the broadest sense is true) but Paul’s point is that both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are still ‘in process’ – being formed into the image of God revealed in Jesus, but we’re not there yet.

      A continuing process instead of a fait accompli.

      JMJ/Christian Monist has written often of the common Evangelical idea of”New Creature in Christ” as fait accompli — and the dark side that can flow from that assumption.

  17. Christiane says:

    I am not impatient with those who want to ‘save’ others in the truncated gospel, but THEY are impatient with me that I don’t ‘get it’ in the way they present it, and it has occurred that ‘pride’ is behind what appears to be an ‘ego trip’ in a way, but also a sense of having failed, even though there was an effort to propagate what is called ‘the biblical gospel’. I find that sense of failure in some evangelicals sad, in that if they DID take the long view of salvation present in the Apostolic Gospels, they would find out that ‘urgency’ doesn’t replace a patient humility:

    “A Prayer by Oscar Romero
    “It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
    The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.
    We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
    Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
    No statement says all that could be said.
    No prayer fully expresses our faith.
    No confession brings perfection.
    No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
    No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.
    No set of goals and objectives includes everything.
    This is what we are about: We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
    We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
    We lay foundations that will need further development.
    We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.
    We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
    This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
    It may be incomplete,
    but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
    We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
    We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
    We are prophets of a future not our own.”
    Amen.

  18. I guess I’m a simple guy now a days. I don’t want someone selling me something and then moving on, and I don’t wish to do that to others now either. In my little corner of the world there are plenty of churches, so it’s not like people don’t know where to find them.

    What gets my attention is when someone shows me kindness, listens, and will actually help with what I need help with, not pat me on the back and say, “I’m praying for you.”

    I think most “sharing the gospel” would go much better if we actually slowed down, got to know the person and since we were listening and paying attention, we might figure out how to concretely help them. Then we should be able to explain why we care, what path we follow, and how we have been changed or helped because of all of this.

    I was never good at that bridge deal or any others in a similar vein, in fact none of those tools led me to the Kingdom of God either, now that I think about it.

  19. Personally, I don’t think the napkin strategy is that far off from being correct, though the following two problems come to mind:

    (1) The biblical references in the video work most effectively in the context of a culture that already values the Bible to some extent, which is increasingly no longer the case as we make the transition to a thoroughly post-Christian society.

    (2) The gospel message is solely focused on the salvation Jesus brings from the consequences of our sin (i.e., death/hell) but is completely silent as to what we are “saved” for, both in this life and the next. The focus is entirely on how Jesus solves a problem that almost all of us are at least dimly aware of (i.e., our own sinfulness/evil) but leaves everything else out.

    However, I must say, I don’t think the gospel should be communicated in terms of the story of Israel reaching its climax in the story of Jesus as suggested by McKnight et al. How we should understand that narrative is best communicated in the context of people who’ve already committed themselves to following Jesus. In particular, not only can that narrative not be neatly summarized in terms that ordinary people can understand but it also involves getting oneself in difficult, disputed theological territory as to how we should understand that narrative in the first place.

    • “However, I must say, I don’t think the gospel should be communicated in terms of the story of Israel reaching its climax in the story of Jesus as suggested by McKnight et al.”

      Tim, I don’t agree with this. Actually, I think it is rather easy to tell the story of the Bible, and in a relatively short period of time. Make clear that Jesus is the climactic Person in the story and focus on what he came to do, and how it is meant to make everything and everyone new, now and forever.

      • CM,

        “I think it is rather easy to tell the story of the Bible, and in a relatively short period of time.”

        I think this would make for a nice blog post (i.e., show us how you do it).

  20. Dana Ames says:

    To answer Ch. Mike’s questions:

    -Demonstrated in the NT? No.

    -Encouraged in the NT? No.

    -What’s missing is precisely what “the Gospel” is – it’s an announcement of good news. All through the Gospels (!) Jesus says it’s about the Kingdom of God. First thing we have to do is find out what “Kingdom of God” meant to Jesus’ hearers.

    Big clue is found in Is 52, where in vs 7 the Hebrew word for good news is repeated and, intensified with the addition of the word “good” – it really is good news!

    6 Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I.”

    7 How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good tidings,
    who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
    8 Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice,
    together they sing for joy;
    for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.

    What’s missing is this *Jewish* background about “salvation” meaning “God reigns” and being equated with “the return of the Lord to Zion”, and how this connects with 1) Jesus’ words and actions and what they would mean to his hearers and 2) the announcements in the book of Acts. See N.T. Wright’s Christian Origins series. And then how to connect that to hearers today.

    -The biggest misleading thing is that this kind of an explanation is “quick and easy.” Being 2000 years and several kinds of cultures removed from the events recorded in the NT, deconstruction and “translation” has to go on, in our own sensibilities as well as with explaining it to someone else. And as misleading is that the real Gospel is never proclaimed. The speaker in the video equates “falls short of the glory of God” with “being sinless.” As Greg at 12:12 wrote, I believe “glory of God” has much more to do with “image of God” (in Rom 5.2 Paul says that we will ultimately share the glory of God!) rather than “sinless perfection.” Again, the speaker quotes Rom 6 that the wages of sin is *death*, but he interprets it as continuing to have a forensic problem – having a debt of sin that has to be paid – ignores *DEATH* entirely. And finally, as others have remarked above, that God is so distant and disconnected from us, with his basic stance toward us as needing to be placated. The former is Enlightenment Deism; the latter is lots of varieties of paganism. Neither one is the Judaism out of which Christianity arose, or the belief of the early Church. See the writings of the Apostolic Fathers – the “next generation” of Christians – some of which were up for inclusion in the NT. And speaking of the Church, as Ch. Mike noted, where does the Church come into all of it?

    -The only thing I can affirm about this presentation is the speaker’s apparent desire to introduce Jesus to people. But I hardly see the Jesus of the NT – Jesus seems to be a kind of an object, not the One many Jews were expecting, and certainly not the Healer and Deliverer (soter) of the world (especially from DEATH – see HUG above) and the King of all.

    Dana

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Jesus seems to be a kind of an object, not the One many Jews were expecting, and certainly not the Healer and Deliverer (soter) of the world (especially from DEATH – see HUG above) and the King of all.

      When you’re currently sweating out a possible Prostate Cancer scare like I am, you kind of gravitate towards that angle of the Gospel.

  21. Brian Bertrim says:

    To me, classic ‘systems’ and obligatory ‘witnessing’ are more about our insecurities and need to perform than about any real love for God or neighbor. To me, if we cannot share the Gospel in the context of a trusting relationship, then we have no right to share it at all. Obviously we can engage in casual discussions about faith but real change has to be played out in the give and take of daily life and the dialogue of friendship.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      To me, classic ‘systems’ and obligatory ‘witnessing’ are more about our insecurities and need to perform than about any real love for God or neighbor.

      Search the Archives on this site for the IMonk Classic “Wretched Urgency: The Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel?”

  22. I like what Jim Nestingen says, “Find out where they (people) are being had and let them know what Christ has done, is doing about it.” (paraphrased)

    Get to know them. Find out their hurts and broken dreams. Share yours with them. And let them know about the future that Christ has won for them in the forgiveness that He gives to all of us.

    Can He work in all of it, though? Even in the goofy quid pro quo business style presentations? Sure He can. I do think there are much better ways, though, to share the gospel.

  23. Well, while we are all cloistered up here safely behind our web browsers theologizing and evangelical bashing, at least they are doing the best they know how to share Christ with others. That’s more than I can say for myself. Makes me ashamed of my laziness.

    • Rick Ro. says:

      Don’t beat yourself up for your laziness. Instead, ask God how He wants you to show His love for those around you. By the way, I doubt the answer will be “show them the napkin thing.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      Speak for yourself, Joel. Plenty of us get energized here, then go out to do some good works.

      And in the good work of gospel-sharing, no one gets gold stars just for effort. There really is a right way to do this work, and then there are all the alternatives.

    • Phil M. says:

      “Desire without knowledge is not good– how much more will hasty feet miss the way!”

      Proverbs 19:2

      Some translations say “zeal” instead of “desire”. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for people to be passionate if they are passionate about the wrong things.

  24. Rick Ro. says:

    I like the Bridge illustration because it makes sense to me as a Christian, but I’m not sure it makes sense to those who are agnostic or atheists or even those who believe in a God but not a Christ. So the problem is that it’s a formula that works with a very limited audience. It is kinda like a mathematician showing the Quadratic Equation to a first-grader and saying, “Don’t you get it?” Just because I understand it and get meaning from it doesn’t mean it’s useful to a vast majority of people.

    Another thought I had regarding this is that the Gospels never really show Jesus healing people the same way twice. He’s always modifying his healing methods and even the ways he interacts with others. He is never shown pulling out a napkin and saying, “Here’s the forumla for what I’m trying to tell you.” I think the lesson in that is to NOT think the napkin formula will work with more than a few people. It’s not a wrench that can be used to repair a person’s spiritual life. We must constantly be in tune to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and adjusting constantly to what we’re hearing from both God AND the person we’re with.

    • James the Mad says:

      “I like the Bridge illustration because it makes sense to me as a Christian, but I’m not sure it makes sense to those who are agnostic or atheists or even those who believe in a God but not a Christ.”

      I have a book, Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, that I found fascinating, in part because it adresses that very issue. It seems that one of the problems with Japan’s preparations for the battle at Midway was that they based their plans on how they would have reacted. Problem is, those crazy American’s just didn’t react the way they were supposed to.

      In the same way, when we’re out witnessing we tend to preach based on what would reach us. But all too many of us have forgotten what is to be a non-believer, so we’re “preaching to the choir,” as it were. We ask the questions that we think are important to us today, not what was important to us then, and as such we’re taking right past our intended audience. Then we want to blame our lack of success on their lack of receptivity. But at least we “planted a seed” (he says sarcastically).

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It’s worse than that. Throughout the war, the Japanese Navy had a weakness for these extremely elaborate battle plans that depended entirely upon the enemy acting exactly the way the Japanese wanted them to act. Exactly the way they were SUPPOSED to act.

        I see a parallel with “Witnessing” tactics and plans. In Campus Crusade in the Seventies, “Witnessing” example skits always had the “Heathen” (played by a CCC staffer) acting the way he/she was SUPPOSED to act. Just like in all the Gospel tracts and Witnessing Testimonies, from Four Spiritual Laws to Jack Chick. Like the Japanese Navy, the possibility that the Heathen/Gaijin would act any different than expected never entered into consideration.

  25. James the Mad says:

    I remember hearing a story (hopefully not just an urban legend), that supposedly took place in some small town in Montana or Wyoming.

    New pastor comes into town, and starts out by asking some of his elders who he needed to get to know in town. He was told one of the most important people was the sheriff, but that the guy was a real hard-case when it came to the gospel.

    So right away the pastor goes to the sheriff and says hey, I’d like to get to know you. Sheriff responds, says okay, but on 1 condition: You don’t talk about God, the Bible, or the Gospel for 1 full year. Pastor says sure, I can do that.

    Sure enough, they spend a year getting to know each other. Went fishing, hunting, had lunches together, all of the stuff guys do in places like Montana and Wyoming. Then, when the year was up, because the pastor had honored his word the sheriff was open to further discussions, and ended up becoming a believer.

    (yeah, I know, this has all the earmarks of an urban legend. nice story, though)

    When I first heard this story I remember sharing it on a board I was posting on at the time, and the reactions were fascinating. The bulk of those responding were under the sway of wretched urgency, and the question was: “What if he’d died during that year?” Very few seemed to grasp the idea that the only reason the pastor was able to reach the sheriff at all was because he was faithful to honor his word.

    It just doesn’t happen in a 5 or 20 minute presentation. Sometimes we have to invest a year of our lives (or more) to truly be able to share our faith. And by then, of course, our “mark” has seen our faith in action, so they’re responding to the whole story, not just a truncated version of The Gospel(TM).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Whether a true account or urban legend (more like a myth that makes a point), the sheriff was testing the pastor. After the agreed-upon year, the pastor had shown the sheriff that he was a man of integrity. The wretched urgency comments with their “What if he’d died during that year?” would have jumped the gun, went to the drive-by Gospel prematurely, and blown their integrity with the sheriff.

  26. Sometimes I think we forget that the Holy Spirit is present in (and in fact, in charge of) the process of leading a person to faith. A basic Gospel presentation can give a basic understanding that can be elaborated on over time. Nobody “gets” the breadth of the whole of salvation all at once. I’m still grappling with how big it is and how much it encompasses. But God is faithful and will shepherd the believer as he or she grows in understanding and obedience.

    I am grateful for learning how to articulate the plan of salvation as a young person. Was it complete? Not really, but there was enough there for a start. God used a terribly dysfunctional salvationist church to show me the gospel was really for me at the time God knew I was ready to hear it. As I needed to grow, He brought other believers into my life to show me more of who He is and what He has done and is doing. He’s still doing that.

    Rather than seeking the ‘one right way’ to present the Gospel, let’s pray for each other and the people we talk to, to lead all of us to Himself in truth.

  27. dumb ox says:

    You get half way across, and that cross gets in the way. The rock that makes men stumble?

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      This post has been up all day, and you’re the first to make that observation. Now I feel dumb for not noticing it before.

      • dumb ox says:

        I wish I could take credit for it. Someone made that comment on a facebook thread regarding the same subject.

  28. What are the implications of Jesus telling us to go and make disciples, rather than to go and “share the Gospel?”

    We have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

    • bb, I believe that is one of the concerns of many of those who are critiquing the weaknesses of the “soterian gospel” these days — especially McKnight, Fitch, and others. This was one of the recently deceased Dallas Willard’s concerns as well as some of the motivation behind Robert Webber’s desire to re-examine some of the ways conversion was experienced in the early centuries of the Church. The Gospel announcement that proclaims Jesus as King calls people, not to a simple transaction, but into a new life with all new relationships.

  29. I would be willing to bet that 95% (or more) of you folks, who have responded to this post, have never taken the time to encourage anyone to come to know Jesus Christ as Savior. You are so quick to criticize others, but what exactly are YOU doing to share the Good News? I would suggest you read Peter’s message in Acts 2:14-41. Read it aloud. How long did it take you? Were those 3,000 people really saved? It was, after all, a pretty short message. They didn’t go through confirmation classes. They weren’t taught for a year or so about the truths of Christianity. They didn’t partake in the Lord’s Supper. Goodness! They didn’t even have access to this website. How in the world could they be saved? I ask you again, “What are YOU doing?”

    • Uh, the Pentecost narrative says that 3000 were added to their fellowship., so yeah, just read a little further on in the same book, like to verse 44.

      And, as others have pointed out here, these were people who had been well and painstakingly prepared by the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Himself.

      As far as pestering people about Jesus and the Church, I’ve done my share of it. Whether I’ve ever preached the Gospel is a different story.

    • The account in Acts 2 you mentioned actually validates many of the comments made on this thread (including Mule Chewing Briars above). What many fail to appreciate is the fact that these people (first-century Jews) were ‘prepared’. They were very familiar with the Scriptures (no need to lay any kind of foundation there), they knew who God was (no arguments about what sin is) and had been raised on the hope of Israel – they were expecting a Messiah (though Jesus didn’t quite fit their expectations) so the message of Peter resonated with them, and many (most likely) had at least heard of the recent events surrounding Jesus (no arguments about ‘did Jesus even exist?’). In other words, this wasn’t a ‘cold call’ or ‘chance encounter’ type event; it was something that God had prepared (even predicted) with people who ready to respond. That’s a different situation than we see in, say, Acts 17, where Paul goes into Athens and is ‘invited’ (possibly at the point of a sword!) to speak at the Aeropagus. There the reception was a little different, though some did believe.

      And yes I have (though not as often, or recently as I should) have taken the time to encourage others to follow Christ. What I have found is that 1) most people I encounter today who didn’t grow up in church aren’t even able to comprehend this kind of presentation since it is so foreign to their thinking (they need someone to take the time to help them get ‘oriented’ to new truths, as well as show them that all ‘Christians’ aren’t lunatics) and 2) most of the people who have responded to this kind of presentation (in my experience of ‘sharing’ this way) have not stuck with it (in fact, one ‘convert’ went to prison a year or so later for molesting his step-daughter – now there’s one that stuck!).