The main problem I have with evangelism is that I fear proclaiming a false gospel. I mean I lean much more towards universalism than most conservative Christians and am generally inclusivistic when it comes to salvation than they are. I fear that if I bravely witnessed I may be leading people done a false, watered down path. I mean, it is always within the realm of possibility that the conservatives are right. I think the main problem is also the main thing I like about Protestantism, the belief that one can read the Bible on their own and garner from it what God meant to communicate to us. The problem is that in trying to figure it all out on your own you can be so skeptical and doubtful that it’ll take forever to fully convince yourself of anything theologically. Now, I like careful logical thinking a lot but a part of me thinks that it is a little ridiculous to have something so important locked in a text written in a foriegn language from a culture thousand years removed from me. Christians usually invoke the Holy Spirit as the agent that makes sure we get it right but for every Jason Pratt-style universalist (I don’t exactly know how many guys fit this term but I guess that it is only a few; or maybe only one ) there are many more everlasting hell types so how do we know which group really has the Holy Spirit and which group just has itching ears or false traditions of men. So basically, how do we have confidence that our theology and biblical interpretation is correct?
Love your God, your neighbour and your enemy and let that be your Gospel.
I like Jeff’s answer.
Sure, there are lots of technical things; and if I didn’t think the technical things were also important, I wouldn’t speak and write about them. But at the end of the day, the thief on the cross kinda puts all that stuff in perspective, too.
JeffA and Jason,
I appreciate your reponses but didn’t Jesus want his followers to preach something? They called it the ‘good news’ or the Gospel in fact. It is about more than loving God, your neighbor and your enemy. It had to do with what Paul and the others did in the book of Acts. Preaching repentance and faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. Paul even quoted pagan poets to preach about a Creator-God who sent his Son Jesus into the world.
The reason this bothers me so much is that much of the NT and early church history is focused on combatting heresy. Many Christians would consider universalism a heresy today. They would say that if I taught an unbeliever my universalistic interpretation of the scriptures I’d be giving them false hope. What if that resulted in them making a series of bad choices that lead to their damnation? What if they used that as a way to avoid Jesus always justifying it by telling themselves that they’ll be alright in the end? I guess what I am getting at is that universalism can be used to justify a lot of evil in a person’s life especially if they conclude that they don’t have to honor their parents, treat women with respect or care at all about their neighbor. I mean just practically speaking, a womanizer would more likely change his ways when there is an open-ended threat of God’s wrath then if he knows that he’ll be alright in the end. The need for repentance which is a key part of the Gospel is undermined by universalism.
From my perspective I would say that an individual Christian shouldn’t shoulder too much responsibility for the choices and fate of the unbeliever.
For the Christian - God is in complete sovreign charge of everything and the Christian is a mouthpiece. The following quotes (while short and almost certainly out of context) display a flavour of this fact. Also the Christian should be filled with the Holy Spirit during their evangelizing encounters and so perhaps the best preparation would be prayer - Gerry Hughes (my favourite Jesuit) suggests in passages about ways of praying that instead of armfuls of requests to God it would be more beneficial to ask God just one thing “Let all my being be directed towards you that you can be the God of compassion to me and through me”. Another favourite of his is praying on the words " be still and know that I am God"
Yes tell them about sin and that it has consequences and the need for repentance in order to appropriate the free gift. But at the end of the day TRUST your God to take care of both you and any unbeliever you engage with.
Yes. But He also strenuously warned them against preaching it without those foundations.
My point (which I didn’t have time to go into when I replied earlier) was that if you’re worried about whether doctrinally you’re misleading those you witness to–and I think this is something anyone should worry about, for sake of truth and out of charity to those being spoken to–then find some simple foundations (I recommend those ) and proceed thereby, including self-critically. If you find you’re contradicting yourself later, stop, back up and revise your approach.
No, the good news isn’t “love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy.” The good news is that God loves even His enemies and is willing to go the farthest distance to save His own enemies from sin. But those who love God and who love their neighbor, including their enemy, are cooperating with God in the gospel. Those who don’t, aren’t; in fact, those who don’t are sinning.
If Calvinism is true, they were going to do that anyway regardless. Ultimately tragic, but not your fault.
If Arminianism is true, then the question (relevant to my previous answer) becomes: how can loving God and loving their neighbor even their enemy, result in a series of bad choices that lead to their hopeless condemnation by God?
Depends on what is being meant by “avoiding Jesus”. The super-Christians in Ephesus, who were doing a whole boatload of admirable things, were avoiding Jesus (and were in imminent danger of being zorched by Him!) How were they avoiding Him? By not putting love first.
On the other hand, Jesus Himself taught that it was possible to speak even to blasphemy against the Son of Man (Himself) while not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Whatever this may mean, it doesn’t count as avoiding Jesus in a damnable sense.
Even Calvs and Arms have to deal with peculiar counter-intuitive data of this sort. But no Christian (trinitarian or otherwise; Kath, Calv or Arm either one) should be teaching that people can do just whatever the hell they want, expecting to escape. The gospel of grace is paramount, but the gospel also (as you pointed out) stresses personal responsibility on our part.
I suppose another question, though is this: do you trust God to do what is both loving and just in regard to even the worst sinners, fulfilling love and justice to them? Or not? If not, the first problem is a lack of trust in God–and not among the people you’re witnessing to.
Not very easily, though. Which is another reason why I answered as I did. A universalism which does not include the exhortation to love God and our neighbor, is criminally deficient. If someone wants to try getting around loving their neighbor now by putting it off until God makes things hot for them, that’s their choice (not yours). But be clear, including to them: there is no way to “justify” evil. An evil person may be led to be good, and to reconcile with God and man for the evil that person has done. But what we do is real forever, under God. An evil deed is an evil deed, and without repentance forgiveness cannot be completed for it.
The person you’re thinking of has an attitude that he does not have to repent of evil he does. He is shirking; avoiding responsibility. Whatever else may be the sin against the Holy Spirit, this is certainly the sin against the Holy Spirit: and it shall not be forgiven, neither in this age nor in the age to come. Hell for this man is as permanent as his refusal to repent and cooperate with God in doing what is right, especially in regard to his neighbor.
If your womanizer refuses to change his ways, that threat of God’s wrath is totally open-ended. And it isn’t only a threat. It’s a promise.
(A promise I take very seriously myself, as a man who is an adulterer and a murderer and worse than a murderer in my heart.)
I had someone point this out to me awhile ago. The statement in scripture that says Love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc. is a very good description of the old covenant. In fact, the verses actually state that this sums up the law and the prophets. Jesus also said however that he gave us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you”. That is the new covenant.
You are supposed to preach Jesus’ finished work on the cross for the sinner…so they will believe and receive by faith what Jesus has done for them. Eternal life is to have an intimate personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is what eternal life is all about.
This seems like a problem I see more with the tradtional “ET” theologies than with EU–at least the version I hold to. The person holding the traditional theology thinks in himself:
“It doesn’t really matter what I do–I accepted Christ and my sins have been paid for!”
“We’re continuously being sanctified in this life, but we’re never going to reach perfection. (Which means a certain level of sinfulness is expected and acceptable, so long as it’s not* too* much–because that might mean I’m not really saved.)”
“When I die (or am resurrected) any remaining sinfulness in me will magically be ‘erased’ without any effort of self-denial on my part. (So I don’t need to put*** too*** much effort into it now–God will make it all go away later.)”
"I’m saved by grace–not by works–so I don’t really*** have*** to be very good. (So long as I keep up a respectable image.)
The type of universalism I hold to is more like Jason’s response to the above quote:
The universalism I believe in says that the sinner must repent and reject sin. I don’t believe there will be any ‘magical’ changing of a person’s will. If a person secretly loves his sin, that person has not yet repented of it. “…and if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you…” Sending away our sin can be very painful, but until we do we have not yet repented of it. We must will it–choosing to work out our salvation–(not with pride but with humility, for we know that it is God working in us.) No–if we** will** not cast away the eye that causes us to sin, we will be cast into the Gehenna of fire until the rotting flesh is eaten by the worms and burned away–a much more painful option I am sure. There are only two ways to life – the difficult narrow way, or the easy way that takes one to destruction first.
This type of universalism offers no excuse, and no avoidance of personal responsiblilty for our actions.
We all, as the messengers, should be concerned about the Gospel we proclaim. Another Gospel will not advance His Kingdom and that advancement is in terms of both quantity and quality - the types of messengers being replicated!
The Gospel is Good News. Entirely good news about the depth and breathe of love God has for each of us. There is no bad news in it, Luther called it beautiful to the core and attractive to all.
There is no condemnation in God, but the Holy Spirit does convict people of their guilt in regard to sin - it’s amazing that scripture, itself, puts it in those same words. Apparently, the HS knows that Christ took the world’s sins away - because what is left is our guilt. WE convict AND condemn people every day - but as far as the presentation of the Gospel is concerned - all conviction of guilt is done by the Holy Spirit. He is the one who turns people from their guilt to the light which is the Good News of Christ’s redemption and love for us.
Christ has saved everyone. I have no fear proclaiming that, and if a man wants to continue to sin after hearing the Good News, he runs against the HS - which is a hopeless contest for the sinner. God will win.
Is the quality of that repentant believer better than the one hearing another Gospel? I think so - it’s the difference between a message of fear versus that of love that is less apt to produce another hypocrite.
Grace without your positive response of faith won’t save you. Your fable will send everyone to hell. Wake up!!
I think this is the core issue ImagoDei is struggling with, not what to share, but what to believe. I believe that we should simply be honest with others about what we believe and what we’re questioning. My faith is in Jesus because…
Beyond that it’s good to study and pray until we come to a place of belief, confidence in a specific soteriology. And then let’s be honest in sharing what we believe and humble in recognizing that we could be wrong. I simply share what I believe and why I believe it, and often note “but of course, I could be wrong.” We are not responsible for what others believe, only responsible to be honest with others about our beliefs. If God inspires them to believe as we do, then that’s His business and their choice.
How do we gain confidence that our theology and biblical interpretation is correct? Let’s put our faith in Jesus and not in our understanding. I might be wrong, but I trust the Holy Spirit to guide me into truth. And let’s not be afraid to test our beliefs. I believe that truth is infinitely stronger than error. Truth can withstand the test of a critical analysis of its tenents. I enjoy a good debate because one cannot loose. If in the debate I find that imo I’ve been erroneous in my understanding of scripture, I win because I gain more truth. If imo I win the debate, I gain confidence in my beliefs. Both are good, but actually, being freed from error is the best. So in a debate over theology, the “looser” is actually the biggest winner because He gains truth; whereas the “winner” only gains confidence.
I really like how Sonia puts that. Not only is it accurate to biblical testimony (especially in the Synoptics, but not only there), it’s something that theoretically any branch of salvation theology ought to be able to acknowledge and incorporate, whether Calv, Arm or Kath.
And whether Calv, Arm or Kath, if our theology doesn’t incorporate that interesting paradox (there is ease and difficulty both ways), we must be doing something wrong.
I don’t believe preaching the Gospel includes talking about the afterlife too much.
I liked the approach a friend of mine used. He was an ET, but nevertheless got me in, because his approach was that he didn’t say much until asked, and he pretty much always replied by showing verses. He rarely said anything himself, and his attitude toward theology was “don’t listen to me, read the Bible”.
Generally, I would say in this day, urging people to read the Bible (not the KJV, hopefully) and make up their own mind about it is pretty good evangelism. You can attempt to do some marketing but I’m not skilled at that.
I suck at evangelizing so I concentrate on being a better person.
I don’t believe you open up with the consequences of rejecting God’s way of salvation through Christ by telling them they will be tormented in the LOF for eternity but they must be warned that there are consequences to their choice if they do reject God’s way to salvation.
Here is what I found to be effective evangelism:
- Conform to the image of Christ.
- live according to true righteousness and holiness.
- pray laborers to be sent to the harvest field of the lost one lives.
- take authority over devils blinding the eyes of the lost.
- Represent God in all your ways.
Do these and you will see more people come to salvation through Christ.
There are problems with this:
a) I can’t be sure. This is not what I derived from the Scriptures, so I’d be lying, repeating the words of someone else. I can give warnings, but not about LOF;
b) I’m not Jesus (relates to a), and Jesus never put it that way, either (for instance, Jesus gave a warning, but he wouldn’t be asked repeatedly and then have to answer “so everyone who’s an unbeliever when they die will be tortured in the LOF forever”);
c) This (b) will scare everyone off and I won’t blame them;
d) I can’t defend these “consequences” without becoming a dick and sounding like a dick, relates to c.
For what it’s worth I agree with all those (even though I don’t consider the warning to be about a hopeless punishment).