11 Dec, 2010 The need for pre-evangelism, Part II
The world has changed, and in particular the way people think (as summarised in the previous blog on this topic by Dr David Geisler). For us, as Christian believers, this is effecting how we share our faith. It is the Christian duty and responsibility, at the very least, to give every person alive on the planet, in every generation, the opportunity to hear, understand and receive the love and forgiveness of God offered in the Christian message.
[We note, in passing, that if follows that how a person responds is not our responsibility, even though positive responses might be our desire and prayer. Thus no unduly forceful or manipulative methods are needed. Only a faithful commitment to sharing a clear and uncompromised message in a relevant and respectful, yet validly sincerely passionate way to every person alive. No small task ;-].
Because of the changes in culture, a clear and relevant gospel is an increased challenge, as many people do not ‘hear’ what we think we have said. One of the easiest ways for me to understand what this means for us is to consider the Engle Scale (origionally by James F. Engle), of which I understand there to now be various adaptions. The key principle is this: If we can better understand where people are at in their spiritual journey we can better meet them at their point of need. While our friends might not be ready to believe the full gospel we might be able to help them move forward a step from, for example, not believing there is a supreme God, to believing that one might possibly exist (-8 to -7 in the scale below).
The journey toward faith might be something like this…
-12 Born with a God-Vacuum
-11 Aware of higher Power or powers
-10 Senses personal spiritual emptiness
-9 Seeks to fill personal spiritual void
-8 Vulnerable to false religious beliefs
-7 Realises there is only one true God
-6 Exposed to other Christian concepts
-5 Interested in Jesus and the gospel
-4 Understands some gospel concepts
-3 Senses personal spiritual conviction
-2 Confronted with a faith response
-1 Counts cost of a faith response
0 Repents and trusts Jesus
So, illustratively, where an average person twenty years ago may have been at about a -6 or -7, today the average person is now maybe a -9 or -10. Very simply, a longer journey is needed. Thus, while a goal is still to share the gospel message (of the life and purpose of Christ) many people do not believe the basic concepts or ideas that the message rests upon, such as the existence of any real Truth. Thus, through learning to ask a few good questions, we could begin to address the barriers in their thinking that are ‘blocking’ them from really understanding or considering the message.
For example, believing all religions are essentially the same is a ‘blockage’. How could we discuss that in a non threatening manner with them so as to raise the question (and logic) of the existence of absolute Truth (to say there is no absolute Truth is actually a truth statement, and thus self contradictory). For example, many struggle to accept Gods love because they are still struggling with a difficult life experience for which they question or blame God, or struggling with bitterness toward a Christian who hurt them in the past. Some, who had Christianity as a part of their upbringing but who no longer follow, feel guilt at their decisions and actions, and so avoid consideration of restoring what they once had. Pre-evangelism is the recognition that through relationship and conversation we could be used by God to address these hurdles, making the way open for the sharing, better understanding and more ready receiving of the gospel. The path toward the salvation of our friends, family and colleagues is not just a matter of prayer and the gospel. While these are indispensable (absolutely necessary) the journey may also need to include caring and thoughtful conversations, for which we may need to learn a few conversation skills, this being the point!
Thus the journey is possible, just like it use to be – only it is longer.
We could all be greatly used in pre-evangelism if we were willing.
A scenario to emphasis the importance of a growing perspective on pre-evangelism.
While a great many Christians do not really know how to share their faith, lets consider someone who does. Consider a person who attends evangelism training and then shares the faith with their family, friends and colleagues. However, very few show any interest. What is that person to do next, for they have done all their evangelism class told them to? Consider that they go on to pray faithfully, invite their friends to Church outreaches, and seek to share personal testimony and the gospel message with them again and again, whenever they can. They show love – selflessly seeking to help and encourage these people. Several years of this pass, and there are still few ‘results’. The conversations are now awkward, as there seems little point or benefit in repeating the same gospel message again. Somehow it seems blocked. What can that person do next? This is where pre-evangelism is needed.
I suggest that there are many in this above scenario. They have sought to live the life (to show selfless love, care and concern), to share testimony, and to share the message. Something more is needed – and that may be intelligent and caring conversation!
Breaking it down: Consider that the person may not be responding because they have a deep hurt. Maybe their mother died while they were young – they somehow blamed God – and so are too angry with Him to think about it until this day. Or maybe they think all religions are the same (truth is relative), so when you share they never actually consider that what you say might be true. They just think ‘Good for you!’ Pre-evangelism is the recognition that such hindrances (intellectual, emotional and spiritual) can exist. It is thus about approaching relationships with a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s promptings, as well as a pro-active consideration of what questions might be helpful in conversation with them to help reveal their heart struggle / hindrance, and then to help them process this a little so as to see things clearer. Such conversations can be non-threatening, and if our motive is selflessly to encourage them, can will probably be appreciated! Such conversations can also lead to them asking sincere questions, to which we have the privilege of response!
This universe (and especially recent discoveries in the complexity of biological life itself) shows a creation so amazing that God (someone who created it) clearly exists. I believe that the reason many people can’t see this is because they have a reason not to. But our job isn’t to accuse them of anything – we are to love them, and to help them find (and put aside) that reason!
God is looking for them!
Pre-evangelism is needed in todays world!
Only as we understand this can we seek pro-active steps toward the better equipping of ourselves and the wider body of Christ for relevant witness in our day.
For further reading
– Dr David Geisler’s ministry specialises in this area of ‘conversational evangelism’ (and has a book by that name). I feel but a beginner in this, but recognise the need for such an approach in todays world. See www.meeknessandtruth.org
– I hope in the next couple of years to help provide / pass on simple resources and materials (such as through this blog) that will help others, like myself, who recognise they could benefit from learning more in this area.