New View as Key to Evangelism
Not only is evangelism important in this New View, but the New View might be a key to evangelism many people in Western cultures, and possibly also in other cultures. It might even be a key to revival led by the Holy Spirit. Here are some initial points to consider:
- People respond to the gospel message when they clearly see how it relates to what concerns them most. For example:
- If someone is a long-standing member of a church but not sure that they are really accepted by God, then the presentation of the gospel devised by Evangelism Explosion seems appropriate: "Eternal life is a free gift; it cannot be earned or deserved; ... [through steps concerning our sin, God's justice and love, Christ's death for our forgiveness, our need to respond]"
- If someone seems to have no purpose in life, then the presentation of the gospel by Campus Crusade for Christ seems appropriate: "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; ... [steps concerning sin prevents us having wonderful life, Jesus died to forgive and nullify sin, we must respond]."
- If someone is burdened with guilt, then emphasising forgiveness available through Christ seems appropriate.
- If someone is hurting then the shalom-wholeness that comes from peace with God through Christ seems most relevant.
- It is the same gospel, just a different problem and different introductory idea.
- Most of those have one thing in common: they are all related to the individual and their felt personal needs.
- But many today are burdened with more global problems such as climate change. James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, told us1 how he found, going round the sixth form colleges in his diocese, that young people have little hope for the future, with environmental threats hanging over us. Many with families are concerned. Even though many of them might try to ignore the problems since our politicians ("they ought to know") refuse to take them seriously.
- So we need a presentation of the gospel in which Christ is the solution to these global problems. (Not a different gospel, but a different presentation of the same gospel centring of Christ.)
- New View provides such a slant on the gospel.
- Notice how the death of Christ is essential, as is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer - but both are centrally related to the cosmic role of humanity to represent God to the rest of creation. (New View is by no means a 'social gospel' of "Here is what we ought to do; just try harder to do it, and God might help us".)
- Given the lack of response to the gospel in the U.K. and Europe, maybe this is because many of the apparent individual needs have been fulfilled. But the global responsibility and need, which New View addresses, is the major problem apparent to many today. Maybe we should be focusing on that?
Something is wrong. In the days of the New Testament, the gospel was Good News. But in the Current View (Evangelical Version), the gospel is Bad News - "Unless you take Jesus as Saviour and Lord, you are doomed to Hell. And if you do, you must then submit to loads of rules that prevent fun." The Charismatic Version adds "Hey, you can get power to do supernatural things - but then you're expected to obey your church leaders without question, and to find worship the only thing in life worth doing." The Calvinist Version is even better, because it adds "And, by the way, you can't do anything about it, you're utterly helpless unless the Holy Spirit happens to select you for salvation."
In the days of the New Testament, evangelism was something the followers of Jesus Christ went around doing because they wanted to and found themselves in situations where it happened, and being a 'witness' was simply telling others (by word or life) what God had done. But under the Current View, evangelism and 'witnessing' are synonymous: telling people how to 'get saved', and they are something we 'ought' to do, though since most of us don't want to do it, it involves us screwing ourselves up to do this and our church leaders being under pressure to 'encourage' us to do it.
Yes, something is wrong with the Current Version. This New View tries to be such that the gospel is again Good News, 'witnessing' is again telling people what God has done, and 'evangelism' is such that we go around doing it without trying.
If the collection of people who are acceptable before God and will enter the Kingdom of God is wider than the set of those who pray to receive Christ - that is, if Christ's death is effective even for at least some of those who have not prayed that prayer - then what is the point of conversion? To answer this requires that we step back a bit.
- Good News. Jesus Christ coming into the world and dying for us is Good News. It enables people to be forgiven, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, live with God here and now, to become like God in character with peace and joy, and to treat God's creation aright. Period. It says nothing about "Unless you do accept Christ you will go to Hell" and it says nothing about "Once you do, you must obey all these rules." The New View is NOT universalistic, but it does believe that there might be those who have not 'accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour' who will nevertheless be in God's final kingdom, and it is content to leave it to "God's solid foundation .. 'The Lord knows those who are his' and 'Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness'."
- Witnessing. We simply tell others what we have experienced (directly or indirectly) of God, his ways and character. If we have nothing (yet) to tell, we just keep quiet - and that is OK. If it is a simple thing, we just say that - we don't have to make it lead to a message about how to get salvation. Acts 1:8 is seen as a promise, not a command. But we must be honest, and work out what God really has done for us.
- Evangelism. This is more like telling people general things about God, including how to reach salvation, if they want. Again, it's not compulsory. But, again, we must be honest, and work out what God really does mean to us, what we really value about him - and tell others that with joy.
It long perplexed me that there is very little in the New Testament that says unmistakeably "You must pray a prayer to receive Christ as Saviour and Lord in order to be acceptable before God" and only once "You must be born again". We can find the odd command by Peter to the Jews "Repent and believe". But many in Acts do something different, and their road to acceptance by God is varied. And in the Gospels we find much more about God's kingdom than about conversion.
When I asked "What makes a person acceptable before God?" it seems that it is not works, not is it accepting Christ and his atoning death; it is a humble attitude. It is summed up in Peter's words "God resists the proud but accepts the humble", and we find it throughout Scripture (e.g. "A humble and contrite heart, O God, you will not reject"). Therefore some act or 'decision' to accept Christ seems unnecessary in some cases. As long as the person has this humble heart orientated towards God.
But - perhaps paradoxically - I find myself inviting people to 'accept Christ' by just such a prayer. I find that, in practice, getting people to make a deliberate, volitional response to Christ and express that as a prayer of repentance, thanks and commitment, does something in and to them. Therefore, in my view, the 'prayer of commitment', though not always necessary, is not to be easily rejected.
So What Can Men Do?
In the UK at least, there has long been a problem of men, as opposed to women, being actively involved in 'church'. Men need a meaningful role, and this seems denied them in church unless they are in leadership. In a chat with Richard Russell recently (CSU), it became clear that a positive approach, which focuses on our destiny, on what we are intended to be, is better than focusing on the negative side. It starts with vision, even if it then goes to our failure and future hope. And it begins with a vision that is deep inside of us even though we don't know it.
Being shepherds of the rest of creation is a vision that can be very attractive to men-of-today especially.
Being shepherds of the rest of creation - to develop and care for it - means not just caring for the individuals, but also developing and opening it up. This means the whole challenge of science, technology, etc. as we open up the distinct spheres of law of creation to 'live with God for the world he loves'. (For a philosophical view on this, see Dooyeweerd's view of progress.)
(Contradiction? Did I not say elsewhere that this vision is for men and women equally? Of course. But in the culture of the Western world, and also of Africa and other places, our cultural expectations have been distorted away from this. In this section I am meeting the practical issue of how to envision men, men-as-they-are-today, not discussing generic theological points about pre-fall situations.)
But how? New View might provide a 'Green Gospel' (GG). Two draft practical tools are suggested:
These have yet to be worked out properly, but we could develop a training scheme in which the elements of the gospel are summarised in a list of sentences, just as Campus Crusade (CC) and Evangelism Explosion (EE) did some years ago.
These pages present 'New View' theology. Comments, queries welcome.
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Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2008-4, but you may copy this page as long as every copy includes this full copyright notice, and the copying is not for financial gain.
Created: 8 June 2008.
Last updated: 24 July 2008 all evang pages rationalised: brought evang, evang.key here; added section on men.