“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.