While at the Alliance of Virtue conference, I’ve been so thankful for Bob Roberts and our Glocal Net Crew, Chris Seiple and others who can dialogue with, and be in and around people who don’t use our words, define words the way we do and don’t believe what we believe and yet be civil, loving and Jesus exalting. This is how to evangelize. This is public square disciple making. Forget all the video series, teaching series people and groups have put out. It’s not that systematic anymore. It’s more relational and requires more emotional intelligence and intellectual effort and relational capital.
Evangelism, for some, is uncomfortable. For some, it’s as natural as breathing. What is evangelism? The word means to “good news people”. It means to tell the story of Jesus, the only God, 2nd person of the Trinity, Creator, One who came, lived perfectly, was put to death on a cross ultimately by God the Father to atone for the sin of those who will believe in him by faith, rose from the dead, ascended to the right hand of the Father, and there makes intercession for all who will believe. If people will believe on the Lord Jesus, they will be saved. God will take their sin away and give to them the perfect righteousness of Jesus and adopt them as sons and daughters. Good news. Great news!
For those of us evangelicals who believe that message there is a Bible mandate to preach that message to all nations. This message and mission is indisputable.
What gets sticky is when this message begins to go to hard places and people with a counter truth claim. That message then enters into a realm where both claims can’t be correct. Some have glossed over those differences in a pretend peace that cuts the throat of our distinctives and counter truth claims and nullifies the message, in my opinion. That kind of thing is intellectually dishonest and gets nothing accomplished except watering down our message and the other’s message for that matter. That requires nothing of really loving my neighbor as myself.
Some falsely believe that if we don’t hold each truth claim to be morally equivalent we can’t be equal, be friends, love each other and work for each other’s good. Jesus taught us otherwise. Jesus summed up the law correctly (no duh, he was never incorrect) when he said it is “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” We get the “love God” part. We begin to struggle with the “love your neighbor as yourself” part. Not because we don’t know what to do or even how to do it, but we want to justify our ignorance, or our ingrained assumptions affirmed by others who are book learned but have no actual practice, or simply don’t want the discomfort of learning something completely different from me.
(Side note: I’m kind of tired of academics, book writers, etc. opining on stuff they are not actually doing other than reading books. Books are great. I’m a reader. Read lots, but I’m a practitioner too. I pastor. I work in the public square. I visit with those of other faiths and share the gospel. I know how to act around people of other faiths because Bob taught me and I learned by making mistakes in dangerous places and, by God’s grace, did not die for it. I go to hard places and dangerous places. I try to put hands and feet to the work of the “inner room”. Kind of done with the “experts” who are actually doing nothing but writing books and making money putting down those whose hands are in the mud.)
Jesus told a parable about that. It’s the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. Jesus told this parable in response to one who asked Jesus who his neighbor was for the expressed purpose of justifying his failure to obey the second half of the law. I’m of the opinion that people throw verbal jabs at the attempt to reach out to Muslims, love them and hopefully make disciples as justification for their doing nothing.
We’ve been reaching out to our Muslim friends in Rome for a while now. It’s slow work. We’ve been working among Muslim people around the world for 15 years. It’s slow work. We see some fruit. But that fruit is little and not in proportion to time and other resources spent. Why do we keep doing it? Because Jesus said to.
Listen, if we keep reaching out to our Muslim neighbors, making friends, agreeing on non-essentials, having meals together and telling the story of Jesus with the hopes of baptizing our friends, we are going to take incoming verbal rocks from the right and the left. Some evangelical people we admire will condemn it. Some extremists from the Muslim side of things will condemn it. But Jesus did not leave us options.
Paul is the perfect example of this. He used his domain of tent building to gain access to the public square, learned of people’s faith, went into their places of worship, engaged in dialogue with them, then preached Jesus. See Acts 17. If our cross-cultural efforts don’t look like that, we are doing it wrong. Likely Acts 17 makes many folks uncomfortable.
So, stop worrying about being on the “right” side of some political game. Be concerned about being on Jesus’ side. Imitate Paul’s example. Never give up on our exclusive truth claims. Hold high the Bible and every inerrant word it speaks. Love those who don’t believe it. Learn their story. Tell them the gospel story that is powerful enough to save by taking people from spiritual death to life. Baptize them. Teach them to hear and obey. Teach them how to engage their domain with Jesus. Then go plant some churches. That’s how we’ll complete Jesus’ mission with solid evangelism.
Got to go catch a plane. See you soon Rome. Rock on!