In secular society the term “evangelism” can carry negative associations with heavy-handed preaching at others but how do we boldly share the faith when it could lead to a hostile reception? Rev Shane Kammermann offers his thoughts.
My answer to this “how” question is pretty simple, but also complex!
I have become wary of “isms” which tend to make ideals or philosophies become distorted. “Evangelism” in my experience is one of them. Let me give a relevant example.
I love Tim Keller’s clarity. The Gospel (evangel) is not grace without truth, (that is relativism), nor truth without grace (legalism or moralism). The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the evangel, is grace and truth together (John 1:17), an entirely different or third way of living with an entirely different motivation. Any consideration of evangelism must be shaped by the dynamic of the evangel itself.
In the New Testament the term “evangelism” is not used as such. There is the record of the Gospel spreading and bearing fruit. Rather than a distinct practice or even theology of evangelism, missionary Roland Allen called this “the spontaneous expansion of the church”.
The church from its beginning has included ministries of the word, and the ordinary witness and practice of people who simply live as people of the resurrection in the world. The most powerful effects of the Gospel in the biblical narrative are often closely linked with suffering and rejection. Our context is not really new.
What could motivate and liberate us to share the faith widely in our increasingly hostile context? My answer is the Gospel itself.
Here are three things I would identify as we think about authenticity and appropriate sensitivity. They all concern confidence:
- Confidence in the word of God means having a faith and obedience nourished and regulated by the unique prophetic and apostolic witness. Open to constant reform under Christ’s word (Basis of Union Paragraph 1), and unashamed of the scandal and seeming foolishness (weakness) of the cross. We need to know it is ok to be counter-cultural and even politically incorrect. Neither conservative traditionalism nor cultural relativism is good news to anyone.
- We need confidence as we go on being transformed by the evangelical word of Christ through the Spirit. God will get out of our control and beyond our attempts to save the church, and bring to completion that which has already begun, building the church despite our failures and best efforts. (Basis of Union Paragraph 18)
- Confidence in the Gospel leads to deep engagement with the world but avoids moralism and relativism. A confidence that comes from baptismal union with God and incorporation into the mission of the Triune God in the world. (Basis of Union Paragraphs 7, 8, 15a)
Come Lord Jesus!
Rev Shane Kammermann
Rev Shane Kammermann is in placement in Northern Cairns, and is originally from South Australia.