Thoughts on evangelism part 1

My whole life I have been an avid reader; from the fantasy books of my childhood, to the feminist writers of my late teens, through a brief blogs-only phase, right up the the present day and my theology-book addiction. I’ve devoured Christian book after Christian book in the past year – so much so that I have learned to love the Faith Mission bookstores I used to scorn, and I could probably single-handedly keep Amazon in business. I mostly pick my reads based on topics of interest (such as postmodernism, sexuality or church leadership) or friends’ recommendations, but every so often I’ll be strolling around a bookstore and something will just catch my eye. Normally, I’ll pick it up, peruse it, then put it down again and go on my merry way. A few hours or days later I’ll remember the book and think ‘hey, I wish I was reading that right now, it looked interesting’. Then the next time I see the book I’ll feel an urge to pick it up again, think ‘naw, girl, spend that cash on groceries or something’, flip through it again, think ‘oh hell, why not’, and buy the stupid book.

Now, there could be some sort of divine whisper guiding me through the process, or it could be that I’d put a bit too much cheddar on my pasta the previous evening, but pretty much every time this has happened, the book has been exactly what I needed at that time. The most recent book I purchased in this way is Brian McLaren’s ‘More Ready Than You Realise: Evangelism as Dance in the Postmodern Matrix’.

There are two things I love about this book. Firstly, it’s drawn together a lot of disparate thoughts I’d been wrestling with over the past few months on the subject, and given a lot of shape to my otherwise disorganised hypotheses. Secondly, it has not only given voice to a few of my intuitions, but it’s provided me with challenge, encouragement, ideas and plenty of ‘woah, why have I never thought of it like that?’ moments.

From the first chapter –

Evangelism in the postmodern world has to be less like an argument. This is not to say it will not be logical, but rather that it will not be about winning or losing, which is why I think the image of dance works so well. Dance is not about winning and losing. When the music ends, you do not sneer at your partner and say, “Gotcha! I won that dance, 7 to 3!” And if you try to pull someone into a dance against her will, the term we use to describe that behaviour is not “bold dancing” but rather “assault”.

…Kirkegaard also uses the metaphor of being a midwife, a metaphor borrowed from Socrates. The evangelist is never coercive, pushy, combative; rather, she is patient and gentle like a midwife, knowing that the giving of life takes time and cannot be rushed without potentially lethal damage.

The whole book is worth a read, but I wanted to highlight a few points that really stood out to me.

1) In chapter 18 (some chapters are quite short), McLaren talks about ‘the communal factor’ – how conversion and discipleship normally happen in the context of a community acting as a portal into the Kingdom of God:

You are part of something bigger, something Paul called “the body of Christ”…So one of the best things you can do for your friends who don’t yet know and love Jesus is to introduce them to your other friends who do…In the context of imperfect but vibrant Christian community (even just two or three of you!), the message of Christ will come alive in a way that a disembodied book or lecture never could convey.

This is one of the aforementioned ‘why have I never thought of that before?’ moments. Of course! Any friends I have who don’t know and love Jesus, I’ve been expecting them to get curious just by witnessing his work in my life. But why would they? I’m just one little (lousy) example. If I really want the Kingdom of God to become vibrant and 3D and attractive to others, they need to see a few more pieces of the puzzle.

2) One big thing I’d been struggling with this year is having to have answers, or to ‘win the argument’, which is something this book addresses. On one hand, I think it’s important to know why you believe, on the other hand, it’s just not my thing. The reason why I’ve been thinking about it is that a big reason why I believe is Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God (which is spectacular, by the way) – it’s a well-written book on apologetics that helped me enormously at a time when I was confused about what *exactly* Christianity was. But in the book Keller shares stories of times he’s challenged someone’s belief system in a very pithy way, and indeed that’s exactly what the book did for me, so I’ve been feeling some pressure to be able to ‘defend’ Christianity in much the same way…which is something Keller does extremely well, but is really not my style. This book helped me realise what I’d kind of been intuiting – that keeping the conversation going and being a safe person to talk to is much more important than being able to make a sales pitch.

3) This is definitely a topic for another post, but somne stuff he said helped me flesh out some ideas I’ve been wrestling with on apologetics…again, topic for another post…

All in all, the book has inspired me in many many ways, and made me want to start new discussions on ‘do-able evangelism’ with my peers…

I’ll post  more thoughts at a later date on why I am interested in evangelism – something I used to consider a four-letter word.