Mandy's Musings

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Image of God and Gender

It is Karl Barth who said that the image of God consists primarily gender - that is, we express our humanity in our identity as human beings that are either male or female in relationship with one another and God (see CD III/1.41.2, 1.41.3 and III/4.54). In so doing, Barth seeks to move away from describing the image and likeness of God in terms of attributes such as rationality and argues that our being is being-in-fellowship, and that fellowship is not just of two persons who are essentially the same, but rather male and female. To describe humanity as in the image of God (ie in Gen 1 and 2) thus affirms gender and gender differences, while not spelling out what those differences are.

How does this relate to the triune God? Moltmann argues in God in Creation:

'The one God, who is diffentiated in himself and is at one with himself, then finds his correspondence in a community of human beings, female and male, who united with one another and are one.' (218).

This is not to say that God is gendered, but rather demonstrates that within the triune God's eternal relations of Father, Son and Spirit that their is a being-in-fellowship between three persons who are other than each other. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. Their is a differentiation within the persons of the trinity but not a separation.

In the same way, their is a differentiation in creation between male and female. When God observes Adam in the garden alone, he says it is 'not good'. In creating woman, he does not make a second Adam, but creates woman, out of the man, for the man, fit for the man - one who he is other than, but related to. Of the same substance, but not collapsing into him and loosing all distinction. And this difference is built into humanity being fit for the task for which they were created - together to rule over creation, to subdue it and to fill it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Event-based evangelism

Well I survived (not sure that is the right word) my 4th year rite of passage today - the issues paper presentation. The very last issues paper of the year looked at event-based evangelism and its role, if any, in evangelistic strategy.

I enjoyed the process of spending some time reflecting on the gospel and our role in proclaiming it in the world, and didn't even mind the question time afterwards. Thanks guys for being gentle in your questioning!

So what did I say? this will make for a long post, but I can't work out how else to do it...

Should we hold evangelistic gingerbread house events?
An examination of the place of event-based evangelism in evangelistic strategy

In the last 10 years or so, Gingerbread House events have taken Sydney by storm. Every November/December, Churches across Sydney run events where up to 250 women come and make gingerbread houses. At many of these events, held on church property, there is also a talk, where the gospel is presented and women are called to respond to Jesus. These events are deemed to be a great success because they are attended by large numbers of women who are not christian and would not otherwise come to church. Many of these women are prepared to return year after year. However, many of them are hardened to the gospel and remain so. Those who know that there will be a talk may come and ‘endure’ it so that they can get on with making a gingerbread house. Others come not knowing that there will be a talk at the event. Yet we persist with these events – I’m already booked in to speak at 3 of them this year.

While this example focuses upon an evangelistic event targeted at women, it stands as an example of ‘event-based’ evangelism that is very common. Run a themed/specialist event, get members to invite people along, then congratulate them for having succeed at the task of evangelism. A characteristic feature of these event-based activities is that the event itself often has little or nothing to do with the gospel message. We run craft events, shed nights, men’s breakfasts, chocolate tasting and ‘basketball for Jesus’ events. Ken Moser argues that these activities may be employing the old ‘bait and switch’ method, advertising one thing to lure people in, then changing tack in moving to a presentation of the gospel. He argues that this method is deceptive and underhanded and in light of 2 Cor 4:2 should not be done. This paper will seek to examine what place, if any, event-based evangelism should have in an overall evangelistic strategy.

The gospel – the power of God for salvation
As Christians, we are convinced that the cost of our sin and rebellion against God is death (Romans 6:23). We are rightly under God’s judgement, not merely because we were born into a race living in rebellion to God (Romans 5:12-21), but because we actively in our lives sin against our God and saviour (Eph 2:1-3). The scriptures constantly remind us that ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). The only way to be saved is through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation of all who believe.’ (Rom 1:16) and ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12)

In 2 Cor 2:5-6 Paul writes that we preach ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’. Knowledge of God is found in Jesus Christ – ‘God’s enlightening work is only done through the gospel message of Christ’. It is Jesus who reveals the Father to us (Matt 11:27, John 14:7). He tells us: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.’ (John 14:6).

God’s people as his witnesses in the world
Somewhat amazingly, the Father chooses to involve his followers in the proclamation of this message. God equips his followers with the message of Jesus and transforms them by his Spirit to be ambassadors for Christ (Eph 6:20). In their weakness, they hold forth the gospel message, demonstrating that it comes not from them but from God (2 Cor 4:7).

Indeed, from the very beginning, God’s people Israel were to be a light to the nations (Is 49:6). God is the one who gives his people victory in conquering the nations (Joshua 1:2), he relents from judging Israel so that the nations may see that he is the all-powerful, almighty Lord (Ex 32). As God’s chosen people, they were to live holy and distinctive lives, different from the nations around them. This difference was designed to attract the nations to God. We see a few examples in the OT where they fulfilled this role: while we do not see the reason why, Ruth turns to follow the God of Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17). Yet in their constant rebellion against God, Israel ultimately failed to fulfil this role. When Jesus comes, he accuses the religious leaders of causing people to fall into sin rather than to come into a living relationship with the God of all (Matt 23).

As the author of salvation, Jesus is much more than merely an example for us to follow, however, it is instructive to look at how Jesus conducted himself on earth as a guide for how we should live. In the incarnation, God himself becomes Man. Humbling himself, Jesus took on human flesh in order to bring about salvation (Phil 2:6-11). Jesus was known as the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt 9:10). Jesus went to the people and proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God (for example, Matt 3:17, 23). He performed many signs and miracles to point to his identity as the Lord of all (9:4-6). Many came to him because they wanted to be healed (Matt 14:35-6). Yet, even while performing these miracles Jesus made it clear that his role was to preach the good news. As Jesus brought physical healing, it pointed to his greater work of bringing eternal life for those who would trust in him (see for example John 9).

The apostles were particularly tasked with sharing the good news: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men’ (Matt 4:19), ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’ (Mark 16:15), ‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:7). Paul describes his approach to evangelism in 1 Cor 10:31 – 11:1. Dickson observes:‘ Notice the logic spelled out here by Paul: just as I (the apostle) follow Jesus in seeking the salvation of others, so you (Corinthians) should follow me in the same task: ‘Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.’’

Indeed, we see that the task of proclamation of the gospel does not stop with the apostles. In Romans 10:14-15 Paul writes: But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”’ As Packer says: ‘God’s way of saving men is to send out His servants to tell them the gospel, […] the church has been charged to go into all the world for that very purpose.’

This said, it must be remembered that the church is God’s people gathered together around His word, and so the task of evangelism rests not with ‘the church’ per se, but with individual believers who comprise the church.

Always being prepared vs active evangelism
It is sometimes argued that there is no imperative for every christian to be engaged in active evangelism. In 1 Peter 3:15 the believer to be prepared to give an account for the hope that he/she has which is in response to a question or challenge from a non-believer. Similarly, the charge for the believer in Col 4:6 is a responsive one - to know how they ‘ought to answer each person’. While the need to be prepared to respond to challenges or questions from non-believers is acknowledged, to argue that the task of the christian in evangelism is purely responsive is to miss the thrust of the NT teaching.

Throughout the NT Christians are called God’s witnesses in the world (Acts 1:8, cf Jn 4:14, 7:37-39). In Philippians Paul says that they are to ‘shine like stars’ (Phil 2:15). The assumption in the NT is that Christians are sharing the good news of the gospel – that as the Spirit works within them, they live transformed lives which are attractive to the rest of the world (Tit 2:3-10, John 13:34-35, 1 Pet 2:9-10). Thus while recognising that there are those particularly gifted as evangelists (such as Phillip in Acts 21:8, Eph 4:11), all Christians are given the privilege of being his ambassadors and holding out the word of truth to a world that is dying. Those set apart by God for His glory will be different, and this difference will attract outsiders and be used by God to draw people into relationship with Him. As Stott says:

Not that the Christian witness has any warrant to be brash, indiscreet or discourteous. His witness is to be spontaneous and refreshing, the natural outflow of an interior spring (cf John 4:14; 7:37-39). Such testimony is expected of every believer. We cannot keep the gospel to ourselves. It has been committed to us for others, We are stewards of it, We hold it in trust for the world.

The triune God is sovereign in salvation
While God uses his people to bring others into his Kingdom, he remains sovereign over salvation, as indeed he is sovereign in all things. When God calls people to himself, they come (Romans 8:29-30). Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can one confess Jesus as Lord and be drawn into a relationship with the Father (1 Cor 2:10). Packer is insightful here: ‘Evangelism is man’s work, but the giving of faith is God’s’. In 1 Cor 3:6-7 we see that God is always behind the growth of his kingdom: ‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ God is the one who will bring an increase in numbers in his Kingdom and he calls those whom he wills. While we have a role in preaching the gospel, it is God who saves those who believe (1 Cor 1:21).

The glory of God
Furthermore, the proclamation of the gospel is motivated by a desire to glorify God. God is a jealous God – he alone is the one true God who is to be worshipped and glorified. Stott argues that our motivation for evangelism is a love for his name, a ‘concern for His honour in the world’. As the creator and sustainer of the entire world, God has the right to demand that we put him first. While we do not see this now, we know that all things will be put right in the last days, when every knee shall bow in worship. Until then, we proclaim his nam, eager to glorify him and give him the rightful place as Lord of all.

Doctrine of Humanity
Additionally, those who are outside of Christ are unable to do anything themselves to remedy their situation. Without Jesus we are dead (Eph 2:1), slaves to sin (Rom 6:6) and under a curse (Gal 3:10). God’s restraining hand and common grace mean that while humanity as not as bad as it could possibly be, that there is no part of our being that is not corrupted by sin. Indeed, Satan is actively at work, blinding mankind to its rebellion against God: ‘the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Cor 4:4). Coekin observes: ‘Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers so that, even though they hear familiar words, they cannot understand the spiritual meaning. We need to realise that this is why so many don’t believe the gospel.’

However, we also remain creatures made in God’s image (Gen 1:26). God has designed us especially for relationship with him. He does not delight in the death of a sinner (Ezek 18:23, 32, 33:11) but eagerly desires that people will turn back to him (2 Peter 3:9). This is what motivates us in evangelism to have a genuine love for the other person – they are created in the image of our creator, and thus are to be loved and valued as they are. Packer notes:
‘if we love our neighbour, we shall muster all our initiative and enterprise to find ways and means of doing him good. And one chief way of doing him good is to share with him our knowledge of Christ. Thus if we love God and our neighbour, we shall evangelise, and we shall be enterprising in our evangelism.’

Love of our neighbour will mean that we respect their personhood and individuality, that we will seek to not be manipulative in our dealings with them. However, love of our neighbour will also mean that we are eager to share the good news with them for we eagerly want them to share in our relationship with Christ. Union with Christ means they will avoid the judgment that comes from rejecting him. And as we play a part in bringing people into submission to the one and only God, we bring God and honour.

Do not lie, do not steal, do not deceive one another …
Furthermore, as God does not lie (Tit 1:4), Christians are also called not to lie (Lev 19:11, Col 3:9). Indeed, Christians should have such integrity that they are beyond reproach (Tit 2:8). Paul says in 2 Cor 4:2: We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

The message of the gospel is the fragrance of life to those being saved and the stench of death to those who are perishing. Proclaiming the gospel is not like an ‘Information Night’ for a timeshare company, where the primary reason for inviting people along – to sell them timeshare is subordinated to the secondary, attractive reason, a free holiday. The gospel is not amway and we don’t need to throw in the free steak knives, or offer one thing and deliver another. God is sovereign in salvation and will achieve his plans. While the message of the cross is foolish, we do not need to be ashamed of it and cannot water down the message of salvation (1 Cor 2, Rom 1:15-16).

Evangelistic Strategy
All of the preceding suggests that our evangelistic strategy must be gospel centred, aware of human sinfulness, God’s sovereignty and our need to trust in Jesus for our salvation. We can conclude that there are elements of an evangelistic strategy that are obviously inappropriate. An evangelistic strategy that minimises the cross, denies the total depravity of humanity and/or undermines God’s sovereignty must be rejected. On the other hand, a strategy that includes training, ensuring that Christians are grounded in a correct understanding of the gospel and the God of that gospel would be not only appropriate but should be encouraged.

A strategy that is aware of where people are at and addresses those needs, without changing the message proclaimed, is also appropriate. As Paul in Athens (Acts 17) saw the religiousity of the people and their striving to worship without knowing the true God and proclaimed that God to them, so too are we to make connections with people, to understand their perceived need and point them to the gospel which will answer their deepest need. God’s sovereignty does not make careful, prayerful strategy redundant. While God’s purposes will not be thwarted by our disobedience, we are nevertheless accountable for our actions.

Christians are called to live in the world but not as the world does. As such, it is right and good for them to be interacting regularly with non-believers. Recognising the dignity of the individual created in God’s image, we should rightly desire deep friendships with those around us. Important as this is, it is not ‘evangelism’ to spend social time with non-christians. This is not to say that we shouldn’t do it – we should be doing it, but don’t call it what it is not. Rather, pray that as you spend time with them, transformed by God’s spirit, saved by his son’s death and brought into relationship with the Father that you will live such a good life of love that they will want to know the reason for the hope that you have.

So what place in an overall strategy should event-based evangelism have?
Some forms of event-based evangelism must be questioned. Events that are advertised as one thing, with no indication that there will be a gospel talk are deceptive and underhanded. If Christians are embarrassed to tell their friends that the gospel will be presented they either don’t understand it properly, don’t care about their friends eternal destiny or don’t think that God is powerful to change peoples lives. This indicates the importance of gospelling our congregations, ensuring that they know Christ crucified and the significance of his death.

On the other hand, as we live godly and obedient lives in this world, and our friends and families are impressed by what God is doing, sometimes it can be helpful to be able to invite them along to an event where they will hear someone other than you present the gospel. The regular church gathering is the ideal place for this to happen, for it is as we worship the one true God and hear from his scriptures that those who are living in rebellion can be challenged and changed by the Spirit. However, it is also true that for some people, the idea of coming to church can be threatening or scary. Thus in an overall evangelistic strategy, a number of event-based activities that are attractive to the outsider can be an appropriate way of introducing people to the chrisitan community and may be used by God to bring them into relationship with him. However, we should also note that events can be isolating – the turn off for a women’s craft night may not be the gospel but the craft for women without any creative ability.

So should we hold evangelistic Gingerbread House events? Yes, if we are clear about what we are doing, if we are prayerful about building our relationships with those who don’t know Jesus and are spending time with them, living our godly and obedient lives of love. No if we measure their success on the number of people that turn up, if all our effort is put into organising the event so that we are too exhausted to talk to our friends about Jesus or invite them along to church or if people are being deceptive and not telling their friends that their will be a gospel talk given.