January 27, 2012

Evangelism & Love

Evangelism can sometimes come across as unloving. Various "techniques" and lack of relational depth are often perceived as manipulative and concerned more with success than people. As a result, evangelism has gotten a bad reputation in some circles. Alternatively, J. I. Packer offers wisdom on how evangelism should be done in love as an expression of love for the other. He writes:
As an apostle of Christ, (Paul) was more than a teacher of truth; he was a shepherd of souls, sent into the world, not to lecture sinners, but to love them. For he was an apostle second, and a Christian first; and, as a Christian, he was a man called to love his neighbor. This meant simply that in every situation, and by every means in his power, it was his business to seek other people's good. From this standpoint, the significance of his apostolic commission to evangelize and found churches was simply that this was the particular way in which Christ was calling him to fulfil the law of love to his neighbour.
And all our own evangelism must be done in the same spirit. As love to our neighbour suggests and demands that we evangelize, so the command to evangelize is a specific application of the command to love others for Christ's sake, and must be fulfilled as such.
Such was evangelism according to Paul: going out in love, as Christ's agent in the world, to teach sinners the truth of the gospel with a view to converting them and saving them (Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, IVP, 1961, 51-53).
Perhaps if we approached evangelsim like that, it would more easily taught, practiced, and received.

1 comment:

ἐκκλησία said...

Much as J. I. Packer is (rightfully) admired, it's not clear one must be choose to be one above the other, either a 'teacher of truth' or 'Christian' as his quote seems to suggest. How does one become a 'shepherd of souls' unless one is also and equally a 'teacher of truth'? Consider, for example, the message 'people need a savior', they cannot accept this truth until they first recognize that they sin, or that there is an eternal consequence to that sin.

WRT loving one's neighbor, one's neighbor reflects the very image of God. This is why we are not to murder them [Gen 9:6]. It is precisely this adornment (the image of God) that makes them worthy of being loved [Isa 42:8], which is also what makes them special, something set apart from animals.

How can you love your neighbor perfectly? (How can you accomplish Jesus' 2nd commandment perfectly?)

The only way to love the image of God perfectly is to seek to assist it in its ability to reflect God perfectly; or to be a perfect reflector (of God's image) rather than an imperfect reflector. This means that we are NOT to love our neighbor's imperfections; Christ-like neighbors have fewer imperfections than sinful neighbors, Christ being the very image of the invisible God [Col 1:15]. This also means that evangelism is explicitly contained within the 2nd commandment, and a consequence of it; but it also means offending others by teaching truth is contained there also.

Although I agree, the spirit with which we evangelize must always be Christ-like, and not lecture, seeking the good in other will almost always cause offense. The most effective way we can seek their good is to live Christ-like lives (as Christ-like examples) and refuse to call sin or error anything but what they are, even if it offends.

(This quote, incidentally, seems to be one of Packer's more naive quotes)