Evangelism – the dirty “e” word

“The word evangelism still sends shivers down the spines of many people” says N.T. Wright.

I would say it does that to me.

I was taught to evangelize using the four spiritual laws which was a way of proselytizing or trying to convert the other. Often we would do this with complete strangers or sometimes at church as we tried to convince others that if they would just mentally check off the right box, then God wouldn’t send them to hell.


Is there another way to think of evangelism?

I think there is, though in all honesty I don’t think I would use the word in my personal vocab because it has to many negative connotations.

I am doing some research for a paper and I dusted off a classic book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright – probably the single most influential book in my life…next to the Bible of course.

N.T. Wright suggests that there is a different, more accurate way of evangelizing than the traditional framework of heaven and hell. In my own mindset, I struggle with the idea of a loving God punishing humans for eternity because they did not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. I think the good news is much better and more inclusive than this.

Drawing from Wright, I would paraphrase evangelism as saying

God’s new world is breaking in right here and right now and we are invited to be a part.

Yes, it’s that simple, and yet so inspiring for several reasons.

First, it states that God has a vision, a direction, a hope, a dream for the world. It’s not random or accidental.

Second, it states that this world matters. It matters to God and it should matter to us. In fact, while many misinterpret the Scriptures to give Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (BIBLE), or to give us an evacuation plan, the story told in the Bible is ironically the exact opposite. The story is about this world, how God cares for this world, and how God is working to bring a just and peaceful world. Yes, global warming matters (shout out to Pope Francis for making sure this is on the forefront of our minds!), the global economy matters, the life of plants and animals matter, equality for all matters.

Third, we are invited to be a part. We can hinder the hope or the dream of God, or we can be a part of seeing God’s hope and dream come to fruition! As N.T. Wright puts it, “saying no to the things that diminish human flourishing…saying yes to the things that enhance them.”

I suspect that there are whole swaths of people who would not call themselves a Christian or would never set foot in a church that are actually doing a better job at working toward God’s hope and dream than some of us Christians are.

N.T. Wright concludes this section by writing, “And, of course, evangelism  will flourish best if the church is giving itself to works of justice (putting things to rights in the community) and works of beauty (highlighting the glory of creation and the glory yet to be revealed).”

Justice and beauty!

What a great way to see evangelism!

And the greatest part is that this can be done in numerous, creative ways. Through health care, education, politics, religion, business, photography, art, design, science, study, writing, building, law, teaching…the list is endless.

Is evangelism a dirty word? Perhaps, but I think there is a different, and I would argue, more accurate way of understanding this in light of the Biblical story.

May we sense the invitation to work for a more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable world and may we be able to see the ways that we are already doing this and to continue find creative ways to continue to do this into the future.

6 thoughts on “Evangelism – the dirty “e” word”

  1. Your statements deminish the finished work of Christ on the cross. Who is sending who anywhere? It’s His Holiness that requires the sacrifice, not His love – His love provided a way. We must choose or free will and true love are both a joke. It frightens me to see you writing and thinking this way. Prov 27:6 -Kev

    1. I disagree. To think that a loving God would send people to be tormented for all eternity because they did not mentally assent to the right beliefs seems shallow to me. I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus to be infinitely valuable for it shows the love of God who is willing to endure hell to show us who God is. That’s compelling, and that, I think, is beautiful. If anything, this only increases the importance of the death of Jesus for it isn’t a simple transaction, but a way of living. God reveals God’s self in Jesus…that really transforms people.
      The good news (gospel) isn’t that God saved us from God’s holiness (wow what a frightening thought!), but that God saved us (and is saving us) from a path that leads to death and destruction. Jesus taught us a different way to live, a different path to take. That path is a path of love, forgiveness, inclusion, grace, as we are invited to partner with God in God’s work of bringing about a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. Don’t see why anyone should be frightened by that.

      1. God doesn’t send anyone to hell Aaron. The spirit draws men not their intellect. Check it bro, you are on the border of hereisy. I care enough to tell you so.

  2. I think we need to tread lightly when we start accusing a brother of the faith that his words are “diminishing the power of the cross”. The power of the cross transcends all time, language and knowledge (and even a blog post – no offense Aaron). We are all at best (if we honest) reaching and grasping for the right words to describe this paradox (an almighty all powerful God dying and suffering, really?) without ever being able to fully articulate the emmense love and grace that is God.

    Aaron, you are not a heretic. Openness and inclusion for whatever reason are something we as Christians have struggled with for a very long time even though our “founder” Jesus seemed to be more than ok with it, in fact he embraced it. I guess we feel like we are losing control. We have to chose our sides, define the boundaries and declare who is “outside” or “unworthy” or a “heretic”.

    Why I love what you are doing is that you aren’t just re-enforcing the old walls, nor or you just tearing them down. You are trying rebuild something that offers a new way of seeing and thinking and living this mystery called faith.

    1. Thanks Brian, I am not at all offended. I realize I am wrestling through and often falling far short at times of trying to articulate and live the life and way of Jesus.
      I appreciate your kind and challenging words, as I think it expresses both the humility and continual challenge to embrace that which we can never fully articulate – the mystery of God. I think the thing I most struggle with is that no matter where one finds themselves on any topic or issue, there is always the tendency to feel smug, self righteous, and others as wrong. That only feeds the ego. I struggle with this, and hope that as we continue the journey, somehow we can transcend this.
      Thanks again for the encouragement and reminder to walk in humility and grace.

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