Here are four pairs of statements. Both sentences in each pair make good and honourable points, but if you had to choose, which would you lean towards...
A. Evangelism is about finding connections with what the world already believes.
B. Evangelism is about telling a very different story
A. Evangelism is more like leading people along stepping stones.
B. Evangelism is more like inviting people into an unfamiliar world
A. People’s stated objections to faith should be answered as asked with careful consideration.
B. We assume that, most often, questions are excuses because the questioner doesn't want to believe?
A. Our goal is cultural transformation and being taken seriously by the powers that be.
B. We are content to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.
I lean towards B in each of these pairs. I hear the concerns of A but I think we give the world better than they ever dared believe when we first tell a different story. We lead people on in the faith by proclaiming the strange new world of the Bible. We address questioners best when we see beneath their questions. And we transform culture by being a cross-shaped community, unconcerned for worldly power.
Both A and B reflect good and honourable truths, so in one sense it's a false dichotomy to get people to choose. On the other hand we do need to choose the way we pursue these things. And I say we take the hit by leading with B, all the while trusting that this is God's path towards A. In other words I think the way to get the glory which everyone wants is through suffering. The way to resurrection is through the cross.
Here's something that interested me. On three of these questions the room was split between A and B. I think A probably won each of the rounds but on one question A got 99% of the room and B got a couple of sheepish hold-outs. Which question? Number 4 - about cultural transformation. Everyone wants to shape culture and be taken seriously by the powers that be. No-one wants to be an unimpressive church of nobodies.
It seems to me, though, that God's power and wisdom are vindicated precisely in a weak and foolish looking cross and a weak and foolish looking church (1 Corinthians 1:17-31). This cruciformity does indeed carry God's power and wisdom and so will have a truly spiritual, transformational impact. But there's a shape to that transformation - down and then up. Are we prepared to go that path? Are we prepared to be unimportant? Are we prepared to look foolish - nuts even - before the world. I was surprised yesterday to see how few people were prepared to identify as unimpressive and how many preferred to be 'culture shapers.'
Maybe though, as the last vestiges of cultural power are being stripped from us, there is an opportunity for fruitful evangelism. Maybe if we embrace the "weak and foolish" label which the world is giving us rather than insisting on our own wisdom and credibility, we can truly walk the way of the cross. Maybe we'll actually reach the world when we stop trying to do so with our own impressiveness. Maybe we should stop demanding 'a seat at the table' and instead pick up a towel to serve.
"But people will think we're stupid, inconsequential servants!"
Exactly! Genius isn't it?