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Avoiding clumsy evangelism

Talking to non-Christians about our faith can be hard. One reason is that, in their minds, many of the terms we use come loaded with unhelpful connotations. For Muslims, for example, the very word ‘Christian’ carries echoes of the Crusades and the slaughter of Muslims. This book suggests approaches that avoid this problem—and it is particularly relevant to witnessing to our Muslim friends and contacts. It is Speaking Of Jesus: The Art of NotEvangelism by Carl Medearis (David C. Cook, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4347-0210-4).

It exposes the futility of witnessing from the traditional ‘us and them’ position, which tends to alienate people before we start. It castigates our use of Christian jargon (‘Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb, my friend?). Then it shows that what people need, at least for starters, is a relationship with Jesus, not a whole system of theology. So like Paul in Corinth, we need to limit our presentation to ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’. We are selling ‘Jesus’, not ‘Christianity’, and certainly not ‘going to heaven’. And why do we always seem to end up exalting Pauline teaching over the words of Jesus? Or give the  impression that Christians by definition are ‘against things’?

To explain why so many people like Jesus but don’t like Christianity, the author gives a brief historical survey of the last two thousand years, showing how, especially after the conversion of Constantine, Christianity became associated with empire, power and killing. People were ‘christianised’ by force of arms. And the legacy of these un-Jesus-like attitudes is still with us today, obstructing our evangelism.

Medearis is orthodox on the ‘exclusivity’ issue—that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But he adds, ‘Just because something is ultimately true doesn’t mean you need to say it up front in a conversation.’

I have queries about some of the avenues his approach takes him down, especially his blurring of the distinction between the church and the world (or ‘us and them’, as he would put it) and his insistence that people need to ‘belong’ before they ‘believe’ because, he points out, this is the essence of ‘making disciples’. But, these minor points apart, my reaction to this short book is very positive. I learnt a lot from it, and I think you will, too.

[As I read the book in Kindle format, the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers.]

There are only people like you and me. People with full brains and empty hearts. People who need Jesus, not a massive array of doctrine, polemics, and theology lessons. People who need a relationship. People who need to belong before they can believe. (230)

All religions are great at laying out some basic rules—dos and don’ts—that are good for our lives, but they don’t really provide hope or any kind of eternal security. It seems religions end up causing more trouble than solving anything. (328)

I was so busy trying to convert people to Christianity that Jesus never had a chance. (372)

What’s so discouraging about sharing your faith is that you tend to come away from it less sure than you went in. Did I share the whole gospel? What did I miss? What if the person only heard a part of it and joins a weird cult? (408)

Rather than extending ourselves to the other person, we tend to defend our position. I think the majority of modern evangelism involves Christians trying to explain to everybody else why they believe what they believe because they’re insecure themselves. (432)

The gospel is not a debate or a list of things to believe. The gospel is a person. Jesus Christ is the gospel. He is the truth. He is the point. He embodies all of the salvation/ redemption/ forgiveness/ freedom stuff Himself, and because He is a personality, He does not require doctrinal mastery to connect with an individual. (574)

Why is it so painful and embarrassing to share our faith? Because the gospel has become encumbered, handcuffed to traditions, movements, and organizations. Even handcuffed to society and government. (632)

The distance between people and Jesus isn’t doctrinal. It isn’t political or social or even theological. It’s a matter of personal contact. (735)

Jesus says, “I am the way.” Why do we read this to mean Jesus knows the way or Jesus shows the way? (738)

To most of the world, embracing Christianity means embracing Western civilization, Western policy, and even Western rule. (769)

All of the Bible is helpful, but it is a signpost to the ultimate Word of God— Jesus the Christ. We do not follow the Bible. We don’t worship the Bible. We love it because it directs us toward the One who is everything. (944)

Ready? Here it is— the thesis of this book: If you don’t feel like you have to evangelize someone away from their team and onto yours, you can speak of Jesus much more freely, and thus, more effectively. (1106)

This is the point of the whole book— be nice and talk about Jesus all the time. It’s not rocket science. (1116)

What united the misunderstandings of the disciples, the religious leaders, and the political leaders was an inability to hear the message of the kingdom the way Jesus presented it. They all heard power. Either that Jesus was about to give them earthly power or that He wanted to take it away. He was speaking of a whole new way— but they couldn’t hear because their ears were clogged with the ways of the world. (1174)

Paul clearly teaches us to have sound doctrine. Well-studied beliefs about God and His ways so that when we speak of Jesus we know what we’re speaking about. Makes sense. However, where we go terribly off course is when we lead a conversation with doctrine rather than Jesus Himself. (1247)

I know the word Christian is so common and so easy to use that it’s almost ludicrous to suggest we get rid of it. Even though I’m pretty sure we’ll never stop using it entirely, I never refer to myself as a Christian, although I have to use the word occasionally in reference so people will know what I’m talking about. It’s a completely loaded word, and I think it gets in the way of telling people about Jesus. (1295)

The word Christian is not antibiblical, but it isn’t helpful in our contexts. I tell people that I am a “follower of Jesus” instead, because it says it all in three words, and it’s definitely more true to the New Testament than the alternative. (1310)

Making disciples, as opposed to evangelism, is a journey of relationship that encompasses support, trial and error, and difficulty. It isn’t based on the explanations and doctrines of a religious system. (1381)

If the people you are trying to reach have you pegged as a missionary, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get to them. (1411)

The key to following Jesus is by beginning to see Him as another person. The way He came to us. If we are too quick to deify Him, we move Him into the realm of mysticism, to the nebulous ethereal place where things are so strange and otherworldly that they are important only in some spiritual context. (1555)

I believe , very sincerely, that we should all be a lot more confused. Seriously. I mean, why do we make such a big deal about having everything figured out? (1597)

Christians are known almost universally as the people who are “against things.” (1661)

…almost all of them gave me the unqualified answer that they would follow Jesus as long as He didn’t have anything to do with Christianity. (1699)

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