Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lifestyle/Friendship Evangelism's Interpretation of Romans 1:16

There is (and has been) a lot of talk about "friendship evangelism" and "lifestyle evangelism" these days. In actuality, this debate has reappeared after a 20-year break.  Back in the mid-80's several books sparked the debate over which approach was more biblical: the "aggressive/initiative evangelism" approach of groups like Campus Crusade for Christ or the "friendship/lifestyle/relational evangelism" approach of groups like Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Having been on the staff of CCC since 1980, I think it's pretty obvious which side of the debate I came down on back then.  Fortunately a CCC regional director by the name of Mark McCloskey wrote his excellent book, Tell it Often, Tell it Well - - which was a biblical defense of initiative evangelism - and which also maintained the relational approach as a valid option, but certainly not the only valid option (Most of the authors advocating friendship evangelism - Rebecca Manley Pippert, Joseph Aldrich, Jim Peterson, etc. - weren't so kind toward the other approach, however.)

What I find interesting - and even worrisome - is the trend in several organizations traditionally in the initiative evangelism camp to switch sides! They say that, due to the fact that we are in a post-modern world, it's the relational/friendship approach that is mainly needed. Really? Sure, absolute truth is not in vogue today, but declaring truth will always be necessary! In fact, if you take into consideration the culture of the day when Peter and Paul preached, the gospel message as outlined in 1 Cor. 15:1-4 would have been considered totally irrelevant. Imagine preaching a crucified Messiah to the Jews! End of story. Yet 3,000 converted as a result of Peter's confrontational preaching at Pentecost. Imagine the scandal of preaching about the "Lord of lords and King of kings, who died a criminal death (i.e., on a cross) and came back to life . . . to the Greek philosophers of Athens! But Acts 17:34 tells us that some men believed. And Paul makes the bold claim in Romans 1:16 that it is not our methods, our techniques or our relationships that are the power of God unto salvation. No, it's the gospel - the simple preaching of the gospel.

We see people converting right and left in the Book of Acts as a result of the bold preaching of the scandalous cross, the incredible (read: "hard to believe") resurrection . . . for the forgiveness of sins! In fact, we practically only see the gospel spreading via initiative evangelism. At best you can find only one evangelistic encounter that could be construed as falling in the friendship evangelism camp in the Book of Acts.

So, we evangelicals must be careful to be biblical about our evangelism. Is there a place for the friendship evangelism approach? Of course! Is it to become the main approach in our evangelism? I don't see how in light of the clear commands of Mark 16:15 ("Go therefore and preach the gospel to every creature."). However, it is common to hear proponents of "friendship" and "lifestyle" evangelism making claims that their approach is the only valid approach in evangelism. Those of us who are more confrontational in our approach are the objects of ridicule, scorn and jokes in many Christian circles. That's too bad.  

Frankly, I'm happy with any method as long as the basic content remains intact. But that is another point of contention because, in an effort to "not offend" or scare off the non-Christian, content unfortunately is sacrificed at times. Recently I read an evangelistic tool that was used during Rio de Janeiro's famous Carnival, and was frankly appalled. The tool focused on becoming a Christian in order to not have to wear masks (which is common at Carnival) and to experience genuine happiness (something sought after at the event). The only mention of sin and sin's consequences appeared in the sinner's prayer at the end, and even that was weak! Those who participated proudly broadcasted the results: Over 500 converted at Carnival! Did they really? If anyone converted - and I'm sure some did - it was not due to the content of that evangelistic tool, but in spite of it!

Okay, getting back to differing philosophies of evangelism, it appears we Christians will buy into anything that gets us off the hook of boldly sharing our faith with others. We put conditions on with whom we can share (those we've befriended, albeit deceptively), on how much time we've spent with that person and on what we can legitimately say to him or her. As I see it, we've basically taken God out of the picture with these man-centered emphases. If I must become a friend of someone or meet some physical/emotional need of someone in order to "earn the right to be heard," I have essentially take a sovereign God out of the equation! I am basically saying that I have the power to get that person saved! Hogwash!

Romans 1:16 paints a very different picture: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

The "lifestyle" and "friendship" evangelists - if you can even call them "evangelists" - must have a very different version of Romans 1:16 in their bibles!  Maybe we should call their version the LFEV (Lifestyle/Friendship Evangelism Version). I found this in a commentary on and thought it expressed very well the issue at hand:

Romans 1:16 (LFEV): I am ashamed of the gospel. But I’m such a neat guy, that if they really want to hear the gospel, they won’t be offended at the news that they’re sinners bound for hell because when they start to get mad, they’ll remember what a good guy I am, and who could be mad at me? My coolness is the power of God unto salvation.

I'd like to tweak the above version a bit to reflect even more accurately what I have seen regarding the content of these "evangelists," based on my experience in evangelism for over 35 years:

I am ashamed of the gospel. But if I’m such a neat guy and really try to be relevant, my non-Christian friends will want to hear what I have to say, especially if I contextualize my message by leaving out such offensive words like "sin" and "hell" when I eventually - it may take a few months or even years - get around to talking about spiritual matters with them. My coolness is the power of God unto salvation.

Okay, I think I've made my point. Oh, how we need to get biblical again about our evangelism! I recently watched a video on YouTube by the author of I'm OK -- You're Not: The Message We're Sending Unbelievers And Why We Should Stop, and the author - John Shore - actually claims that it is unloving to obey the Great Commission! Did you get that? According to the author, we violate the Great Commandment of loving our neighbor as ourselves (I thought the Great Commandment of Mark 12: 30-31 was actually composed of two commands, the first being that we must love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength.) when we seek to convert them to Christianity. How? When we obey the Great Commission by telling them we're right and they're wrong, we're being unloving and actually scaring them off! But I picked up a straw man argument in the videos - 

(You can see Part 2 of this message by searching the title of this video on YouTube.) regarding our purpose in obeying the Great Commission. Is our purpose really "to convert" people, or to preach the gospel? Conversion is a supernatural work of God. We can only provide the information that God uses to convict a person of his sin, his lack of righteousness vs. God's perfect righteousness and the coming judgment. I ask, therefore, which is more loving? Giving a person the information he or she needs so that the Holy Spirit can work on him or her, or withholding it in the interest of obeying the Great Commandment - or one half of it, at least? You see, we certainly will not be loving God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength if we don't obey Him, right? Jesus made this very clear: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). And, as I see it, we won't be loving the other person either. If you knowingly let a person die in their sins and don't tell them how to solve their sin problem, you aren't being loving! You are being hateful - all in the interest of "saving face!" What a lie from the pit of hell - and what's worse is that it is being spread by some so-called "Christian" authors! 

Monday, March 16, 2009


(I request your patience.  I have not figured out how to upload my project pictures in the desired order yet.  I hope to have them uploaded in the next couple of days.  Thanks!)

Stripping Self Righteousness

Last Monday - March 9 - I tried to find a campus in Niterói (Rio de Janeiro) whose students were heading out for lunch so that I could preach to them. Since I am not allowed to preach on campus as a Campus Crusade for Christ staff member (Open air preaching on campus is considered too controversial to have CCC's name associated with it.), I'm trying to find ways to impact this important audience - using a tool that stirs up their consciences - without "breaking the letter of the law." In fact, I recently preached two days on the main campus of Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, South Africa without breaking the letter - nor the spirit, for that matter - of the law. How? Since I was technically "on vacation," I didn't preach on CCC's time; and because I didn't emphasize which mission agency I was with (so as not to cause problems for the Campus Crusade ministry on that campus), I see no problem with the preaching we (a Brazilian missionary pastor preached with me) did at this South African university. On the contrary, I'd estimate that 1,200 students were exposed to all or part of our message in just 4 hours on campus!  

Anyway, back to Rio (actually Niterói, which is across the bay from Rio and is where I live), I drove by a couple of the large, private universities in town, but the foot traffic was slow. Since I was in a "preaching mood," I decided to preach in front of a mall that is strategically situated between the ferry landing and the bus terminal. To my surprise, there were a number of in-coming freshmen from UFF (Fluminense Federal University - the main public university in town) begging for change from passersby. This is part of their initiation, something this former frat guy knows very well. In addition to begging, each student is dressed in a ridiculous manner (e.g., underwear becomes "outerwear"), while any exposed body parts are painted. I always refuse to give $ because I know the destiny of it - to buy beer for the upperclassmen! When I used this excuse on one guy, he denied it. He said that they were going to use the money for some noble cause. I said, "Yeah, right! And that's why you're all painted up like every other freshman who is collecting money for beer!" He didn't have a comeback to that one - liar!

Since I was, at this point, preaching, I started telling those painted freshmen who approached me for a donation that I was a Christian pastor and that helping buy beer so that students can get drunk goes totally against what I was preaching. When I used this on one girl, she said, "I'm a Christian too, and I never thought about it. You are right!" I told her to check out Campus Crusade on campus, which she said she had already decided to do after receiving her "Freshman Survival Kit" from us the previous week. So, without deliberately going after students, God providentially gave me students to preach to while preaching in front of the Bay Market Mall!

While I was preaching a guy with an ice cream cone in his hand stopped to listen. He interrupted me with a question and, since it was already almost time to leave, I answered his question and got into a conversation with him that almost lasted an hour. Alexandre told me that he had been raised in a Christian home, but had drifted away from the Lord recently. I tried to use God's Law on him - to show him his need for a Savior - but I never met such a "slippery" person! He seemed to have an answer for everything. And every time I hit too close to home for his liking, he would try to justify himself by implying I was guilty of the same things. I told him that I was only trying to show him his situation before God, but that he, like the rich, young ruler, thought he was guiltless. I decided to use Jesus' strategy, trying to prove to him that he was not putting God first in his life, but he again deflected the implications. 

He told me that he had been living with a woman and had a child with her, but she had kicked him out. I took advantage of his admission to fornication, but he came back with "But we were involved in a church, both accepted Christ and were baptized!" I asked, "What kind of church would baptize a couple living in sin?" Then I asked, "What do you mean by 'accepting Christ?'" He said "accepting Christ" meant "choosing to follow Christ and live according to His Word." Now, at face value, that may sound right. However, did you notice that there was no mention of repentance of sin - including the sin of fornication - and that this guy had turned Christianity into just another religion, which promises "salvation" based on good works?

When I started to point that out, we were interrupted by a "begging" freshman and Alexandre took the opportunity to walk off. I told him, "Please read that tract I gave you."

Oh well. What can one do? The truth hurts sometime - to the point of making the person being convicted flee. But at least Alexander went away knowing that at least one Christian wasn't snowed by his "conversion!" Hopefully - prayerfully - he will not be able to sleep until he humbles himself, repents of his sins and places his trust in the blood of Christ to save him - vs. in his own "righteousness!"

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Theological Implications on Evangelism

With the risk of being called an alarmist, I think that there is a lot more tied into our theology than one might think. An example would be one popular evangelical organization's emphasis on what is called "connecting with the lost" in evangelism. Now, if you're into God's sovereignty big time - like I am - you don't worry so much about the connection issue because God's going to get those we're witnessing to one way or the other if He wants them. That doesn't mean we ignore the concept, but it takes the pressure off the "evangelist" regarding who's responsible for the gospel being understood. On the other hand, if you follow a more man-centered theology, then how the person tries to share the gospel has everything to do with the non-Christian's understanding and appreciation of it. In some Christians circles here in Brazil such an emphasis exists. But what do you expect? Arminianism rules pretty much across the board here. The main reason given? We're told that the culture has changed, so our methods must change. Sounds good, doesn't it? But what do you do with the scriptural commands to preach the gospel? People are still in rebellion against God, are facing eternal condemnation and are thus in need of a Savior. How we communicate that may change, but it does need to be communicated verbally - in spoken or written form - to them: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17 - NASB).

This is my main concern with some methods that, in the interest of not offending, leave out key elements of a biblical gospel presentation of the gospel. Christians who have bought into a more man-centered theology will often back away from key gospel elements in the hope of stringing the person along until they are able to handle the "hard words of Jesus." Talking about "bait and switch!"