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Man-Centred Gospel Presentations

EvangelismWhat do you associate with the phrase "man-centred evangelism"?  What would self-centred evangelism look like?

I have a tract in front of me. A fairly innocuous cover - it could be about anything.

Open it up and straight away you're confronted with death and judgement. When we die we will open our eyes either in a state of supreme happiness or unbelievable anguish. There is no annihilation, no re-incarnation, no escape.

The next page tells us How to be sure of heaven. There follow nine numbered points. These include (among other things) 'repenting', 'coming' to Jesus, 'trusting in' Jesus, 'looking to' Jesus, 'receiving' Jesus, 'confessing ' Jesus, and 'reading your Bible and praying every day'. These are all separately listed under the heading 'How to be sure of heaven.'  The work of Jesus is mentioned in the midst of a couple of these points - His death on "Calvary" is instrumental in your forgiveness and something you must realise and trust in.

It concludes with a sinners' prayer.

Now... let me say I love first contact evangelism, I love tracts.  I use them often. I've just been out door-knocking our parish and found it a very fruitful time. I don't fault anyone for a sense of gospel urgency and a desire to reach out.  So let's not get hung up on the particular example, but let's talk about the theology behind it.

The theology fueling this is not confined to tracts. Some folks seem to reverse engineer their gospel from the throne of judgement.  And they bring it all back to here and now and me.  The logic goes like this:

In the future there will be a judgement.

Today you can prepare for that 'great assize' by making some changes.

By the way, in the past Jesus did some things that open up the possibility for your salvation today.

But anyway, back to today.  Back to you.  Here are the nine things you need to do...

There are numerous problems here, but let me name some of them...

The entire presentation is not an announcement of good news. It is an ultimatum.

It's not about Christ and what He has done, it's about you and what you must do.

Your problem, in these presentations, is not really Christlessness.  It's the future flames which you want to avoid if you know what's good for you.

God's solution - salvation - is not knowing God through Jesus (John 17:3), it's escaping hell. Meaning...

There is no obvious connection between believing in Jesus and being saved (apart from Jesus' atonement being instrumental somehow).  Therefore...

Trusting Jesus becomes about trusting a mechanism of atonement, not a Mediator who atones.  Furthermore...

Faith in Jesus is blatantly a means to another end: escaping hell.  Which means...

No love for Christ is being encouraged, only love for self.  Thus...

True faith is not being elicited here.  You can tell this because...

Christ in His word is not creating faith (He and His work are barely mentioned), the evangelist is commanding faith.  But...

Faith is not a response to commands, it's a response to promises.  Similarly...

Faith is not a contribution we make to our salvation (along with 8 other steps we need to take), it is the gift of God that comes as Christ, in His gospel, takes hold of us.

That's what evangelism is then - placarding Christ.  And yes, talk about judgement - but talk about the condemnation that is our Christlessness, now and eternally (John 3:18). Talk about salvation, but talk about Christ as our salvation.  And talk about repentance and faith, but talk about it in the context of Christ offered to you.  Don't make it your offering to Him.

If we fail to be thoroughly Christ-centred in evangelism we will be man-centred, no matter how much we quote the King James Bible, no matter how fundamentalist we sound, no matter how proud we are of 'preaching the hard truths.'  Without Christ it always comes back to me.  Only Christ-centredness is true God-centredness.

7 thoughts on “Man-Centred Gospel Presentations

  1. Rich Owen

    This is such an important topic, Glen and as usual you address it with great clarity and practical consideration.

    It's so easy to fall back on this as default. I feel that temptation all the time, and I'm pretty sure I do it too. I wonder if this is simply an issue of the schooling we get in gospel and gospel presentation. We aren't fighting against JUST flesh and blood right? It sounds awfully dramatic, but I wonder if this kind of gospel presentation isn't actually a great weapon for the evil one.

    Think about it, they may indeed be truly saved (it's not down to us after all), but that person looks back and *thinks* this is how they began the Christian life - given the ultimatum, they chose heaven over hell, forgiveness over damnation, and yes, Jesus over .... well... they chose Him.

    So you look back at your beginnings as a choice you made. So what of discipleship - choices we make given an impossible ultimatum - God's way, or my way. I choose God's way. And so the Christian life is all down to me too.

    And then in church life - well, since I began my walk with a choice, continued walking by choosing to stay on the narrow path, then what kind of service and love will I offer my brothers and sisters - heartfelt, or duty bound? Surely given how man centred the whole enterprise has been up to now, I'll do church in a man centred way too. Preaching is about me, spiritual gifts about about me, communion and baptism - about me. And if it doesn't work out for me at that particular church, if I can't exercise my choices, then hey, I'll go elsewhere.

    *sigh*

    I guess the 'divine simplicity' of Christocentricity is just too simple...

  2. Ken

    Some good thoughts here including those from Rich... Self preservation -instead of death to self and trusting a mechanism instead of Christ.

  3. the Old Adam

    Indeed.

    When it begins with us (our decision)...then it will continue with us.

    When we go to worship, God isn't trying to fix us up...He is trying to kill us off.

  4. Ken

    "He is trying to kill us off." That sounds like a good line to use when we invite
    others to church. Better to be killed by the Word, than put to sleep from the lack of it...

  5. the Old Adam

    He is the Word.

    I'm talking to believers here...but you get the picture.

    So many churches are doing nothing more than throwing gasoline on the fire (trying to make you 'better').

    We need to die, and then be raised again. Over and over and over...all throughout our lives.

  6. Brian Midmore

    Indeed! The tract you describe owes more to Medievalism than to the Bible. One of the best examples of evangelism to people unversed in religious ideas is found in Acts 10 vv34-43. No mention of hell here. The vast majority of the presentation is about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah who is LORD. It is Trinitarian too (v38). The gentiles are invited to faith in Jesus the Messiah and not into a mechanism of salvation.

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