I’ve been involved with Evangelism Explosion (EE III) since 1993 as a training method to express one’s faith in words and also to assist someone else to come to faith in Christ themselves. Over the past few years there has been increasing criticism against EE III, especially against the two questions used during the conversation:
- Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?
- If you should die today and God should ask you for what reason you should be allowed into heaven, what would you answer Him?
One reason for the severe criticism is because it is said that these questions focus only on heaven. What about our lives on earth? Taken out of context, this may indeed be true. However, within the context of the full conversation it is clear that a new life in Christ is not only possible but is essential while we are still alive. Furthermore, the purpose of this question is mostly to bring someone to the point of seriously thinking about faith issues.
However, it was especially the first question that has been on my mind over the past 24 hours. My wife is a teacher at a high school and also helps to coach the chess team. Another (male) teacher, in his forties, helps her with the chess team. Last night they were preparing the team for a tournament this coming Friday. After they packed up, my wife came home and he went to play action cricket. There he started feeling ill, rested for a while and then decided to return home. On the way back home he had a heart attack while he was driving and died behind the wheel of his car, leaving behind a lovely wife and three great children.
And I thought to myself how many times in my life I had asked a person whether, if he should die that night, he would go to heaven. But I don’t think I’ve ever seriously thought that this would happen. Last night’s episode made me realise once again how vulnerable we are.
I’m busy preparing a series of sermons on the Gospel of John which I will be sharing from this coming Thursday up to 31 May. I’m starting on Thursday (Ascension Day) with John 14, in which verse 6 is the central verse: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” In my sermon I want to explain a few things, one being that the Way is not something physical (a physical road) but that the Way is a Person – Jesus Christ. To be on the way therefore implicates that I have to be united with Jesus Christ and within the context of John, this happens through faith in Jesus, who is Lord and God (John 20:28). Furthermore, our aim, first of all, is to be on the Way, to live daily in close unity with Christ. Our main aim is not to reach the destination. But there is another aspect which we cannot deny, and this is that Jesus says that He has gone to prepare a place so that we can be where He is (John 14:3).
To be united with Christ leads to our ultimate destination: to be where He is, with the Father. And if I’m not sure of my destination, how can I be certain that I’m on the right w(W)ay? Or to change the order: If I know that I’m on the right Way, how can I be uncertain of my destination?
Thomas Smith has a blog called Soulgardeners and has some very interesting topics which he writes about, such as Steps towards solidarity with the poor and Connecting the rich with the poor.
Thomas started a discussion under the title: Asking new questions and many people responded to this. Basically he asks whether, when trying to discover where a person is in his or her relationship with Jesus, instead of asking “have you accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?” we shouldn’t rather ask something like “have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”
From the comments left on this post and which I advise you to read, it is clear that a distinction is made between personal salvation and something more in line with communal salvation. Some people feel strongly for personal salvation while one especially focusses on our involvement with the community.
David Bosch loved to speak of “Creative Tension” and I wonder whether we couldn’t speak of some creative tension between these two concepts. Part of the distinction between the Old Testament community of faith and the New Testament church, is that those who became part of the NT Church all had come to a point of accepting the salvation through Christ as something personal. This is the story of the book of Acts. Small (and sometimes larger) numbers of people listen to the message of the apostles, believe what they say and thereby come to personal salvation. In the Old Testament people were mostly automatically considered to be part of the faith community, merely by being born as Israelites. (Prophets like Jeremiah, Micah and Amos spoke against this viewpoint, of course.)
Even when asking a question such as: “have you accepted Jesus as the world’s communal Lord and Saviour?” or “how is your communal relationship with God growing?”, we are still concentrating on the individual’s personal viewpoint of God and therefore that person’s personal relationship with God. And that, as far as I can see, is absolutely Biblical. We are not saved because our names appear on a register indicating membership of a faith community. I am saved because something extremely personal happened between God and myself through the atonement of Jesus Christ. How we formulate the question is not as important as to help a person to understand that something personal has to happen between him or her and God.
In Evangelism Explosion, with which I’m fairly involved, two questions are asked:
- Are you sure that, if you should die today, that you will definitely go to heaven?
- If you should die today and God should ask you for what reason you should be allowed into heaven, what would you answer Him?
This method has been criticised greatly by modern theologians and I, for one, do not consider the questions as “untouchable”. But once again, as in all the questions above, this is just an attempt to evaluate a person’s personal relationship with God. In a post-modern, Western community, I would probably, when speaking to someone about God, rather use phrases such as: Would you mind sharing with me your personal viewpoint about God? How do you understand the work of Jesus Christ? Has this in any way led to a change in your personal life? etc. (And this, of course, would be part of a much longer conversation which could take place over the course of days, weeks or months.)
The crux of the matter is that, once a person has entered into a personal relationship with Christ, that things need to start to change. That person needs to know that, although I have a personal relationship with God, I cannot keep it personal. I am part of a greater community of believers. And this group of believers exist not for their own well-being only, but exist primarily in order for God’s reign to extend into every part of the world. My personal salvation thereby has a ripple effect on community.
There is no conflict between my personal relationship with Chris and my involvement within the faith community as well as the community at large. At most, there exist a creative tension as I deliberate about my involvement as believer within the community.
This past weekend I was involved with the training of a group of church leaders in Witbank (a mining town in South Africa) in evangelism. The group of eight leaders came from two different churches. The one church is actively involved in evangelism, using Evangelism Explosion (EE III) while the other church is planning to start with an evangelism program.
During the weekend I, together with my co-lecturer, emphasised over and over again that evangelism is the core of the New Testament message. Looking at the four gospels, each end with the command to take the good news about God’s love into the world:
Matthew 28:18-20: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Mark 16:15: He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”
Luke 24:46-48: He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
John 20:21: Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
But somewhere during the course of the lectures, my co-lecturer asked the question: “Why the heck are we doing this? Honestly, we are all overworked, spend too little time with our families, have too little time to relax. Why bother about evangelism? We’re not getting a cent into our own pockets by doing this. Why are we doing this?”
The short answer is because God wants us to do it. The story is told that on the day when Jesus left the earth and he had given the almost pathetic group of disciples the command to go into the world and to preach the message of salvation, an angel asked Jesus: “Tell me, if those disciples fail to become your witnesses as You told them, what are You going to do? What is plan B?” And then, according to this story, Jesus answered the angel: “I do not have a plan B! If they fail, the whole plan fails!”
But I also have another answer. And this answer is that I have seen the effects of the gospel on people’s lives. I have seen how radically people can change once they have encountered the love of God in their own lives. I have witnessed this too often to explain this merely as coincidence. I have seen how really tough guys break down before the Lord once they come to realise how much God cares for them.
But possibly, more than anything else, I have seen how people get hope, not only for themselves, but for their families, for their country and for the world, merely because they have personally discovered the source of their hope.
As the weekend progressed, I just wondered why it is necessary to convince people within the church about the importance of evangelism. Shouldn’t this come naturally to each one who had experienced the love of Christ personally in their own lives?
Within 24 hours, if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be on my way to Russia again. Since 2001 I’ve had the opportunity, once a year, to visit Samara, a city about 600 miles south-east from Moscow. After the Iron Curtain fell in Russia, many church organisations from various places in the world flocked to this country to preach the gospel. In 1999 God also called a young, unmarried, female science teacher from South Africa to start a Bible School. In 2001, after she visited South Africa, I received an invitation to go to Samara, at that time to assist in training people in evangelism and then, since 2003, to teach on the topics of eschatology as well as the book of Revelations. And now this will be the eighth time that I go to Samara.
Despite Russia being open to religion, Protestant Christians are not always popular. During that first year, while we were busy spending time in the parks (it was during summer), speaking to people about the Christian faith, one old woman made the remark that, when she was a little girl of about five, a soldier ripped a crucifix from her neck, threw it on the ground and stamped on it with his heave boot, telling her that God was dead. For more than seventy years she believed what he had said. Suddenly we appear on the scene telling her that God is not dead! One can understand how difficult it is to believe this.
Many missionaries in Russia are making serious mistakes, being focussed more on their own ideals of rapid church growth rather than being there to serve the people. In many ways mission in Russia is the same as in Africa. It takes a long time for people to really trust the missionary and this trust will have to be deserved, not through money or good sermons, but by the way in which the local people are respected and served.
I will be spending two days in Cairo with some local Christians and then on Saturday I will be flying to Moscow and then to Samara.
For those who diligently follow this blog. I will be posting the next few days. This is the miracle of blogging sites where posts can even be scheduled for the future. Tomorrow I will be posting something on A Multifaceted Gospel and on Thursday I will post something on the “Sinner’s Prayer”. If time allows, I still want to write something on tithing which I will post on Friday. I will hopefully be “on the air” again on Sunday and will probably share something of my experiences in Russia this year.
I’ve just returned from a small town in South Africa with the name of Hennenman, aout 400 miles from my home, where I have been helping a group of 24 people at a church with training in Evangelism Explosion. I am fully aware of a lot of controversy around Evangelism Explosion, not the least of which is a feeling of discomfort amongst many with the “two questions” which in a certain sense forms the basis of Evangelism Explosion. Ron Martoia, of whom I wrote a short while ago, is in South Africa at present and I read in a newspaper article today that he said that he never reads in the Bible that Jesus ever asked anyone whether they are sure that they would go to heaven if they should die one day (the first of the two questions.) Obviously this is the truth, but I fail to follow the argument as there are many other things which Jesus also never spoke about, such as the Trinity and which we still believe in. (Personally, I just don’t like this way of arguing a point.)
The point which Martoia is making and which I also feel may be a danger in Evangelism Explosion (as in any program initiated by evangelicals) is that one could become so focussed on life after death than one forgets to live fully in life before death. Or as someone else put it: some people are so heavenly focussed that they are of no earthly use! Having read quite a number of books about the topic over the past year or so I forced myself, as I was presenting the course on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to evaluate the material critically and to answer the question for myself whether the criticism is justified. To be totally honest, if I had to rewrite the course today there are certainly a few sentences or paragraphs which I would change. But seen as a whole, I was once again amazed at the theological depth of the material. Obviously a lot of changes had been made in the material since Dr James Kennedy developed the course in the sixties, but the essence of the course has remained unchanged over the years.
This is definitely also one of the reasons why Evangelism Explosion is being criticised by many – what worked for many in the sixties does not work as well today. There is some truth in this. Evangelism Explosion, as I understand it, was developed within a context of people who had grown up in a more or less Christian milieu where they knew something about God and about salvation, but where many people believed that ultimately they themselves were responsible for their own salvation and that their “good works” is the key to eternal life. Evangelism Explosion focusses on the principle which was also emphasised by Martin Luther that we are saved through grace alone. However, the sweeping statement that Evangelism Explosion is not relevant for today is definitely not the truth – something which I realised this past weekend once again. There are literally millions of people who can still be reached by listening to an explanation of the gospel in an understandable way.
However, without a trusting relationship it becomes increasingly difficult for people to accept the gospel and this is one thing which Evangelism Explosion is REALLY emphasising at the moment (in my opinion probably one of the greatest improvements done in the course over the past few years.) I’m realising more and more that people don’t want to base their faith solely upon theological knowledge. People want to experience God in their lives and want to know that, believing in God, will make a difference not only in their own lives but also in the world. The importance of Evangelism Explosion was once again confirmed to me when I realised how important it is that people do have a proper understanding of the theological base of salvation as well as the importance to be able to put this into words in such a way that others can also understand it. I still have to find material that can fulfill this role better than the Evangelism Explosion course. But in the end the success will be measured not by the contents of the material but rather whether those presenting the gospel to others do so within a loving and understanding personal relationship.
I was intending to write a short review on an excellent book I’ve just finished reading and which I highly recommend, but it’s just about midnight and tomorrow morning I’ll be on the road again for at least seven hours as I will be training a group of about twenty pastors in South Africa in Evangelism Explosion. So I’ll just use this opportunity to direct you to a new blog which was started today: Tim Deller is the volunteer from the USA helping me in Swaziland and he sends out a newsletter more or less every fortnight. I just thought that the things he’s writing about would really be to the benefit of anyone wanting to do something similar, and so I advised him to post his newsletters on a blog so that more people could read it. The address is http://swazilandexperience.wordpress.com/
Have a look at the things he writes about. He really has an ability to bring out the humour and the pain of the life in Swaziland.
But the most amazing thing about this blog is that a middle-aged missionary in Swaziland had to help a young engineer from the USA to get this blog up ;-)
Which proves my point: Missionaries have to be able to do anything!
I’m just back home after a round trip of about 500 miles to attend a meeting on Evangelism Explosion. One person opened the meeting with Scripture reading from 2 Corinthians 2:14-15: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
He then shared with us the “normal” explanation of this part that God has made us (as Christians) part of His triumphal procession so that we can share in His glory. In other words, being part of this procession also makes us triumphant – the Christians are the triumphant soldiers.
I said that this is the “normal” explanation for this passage. It was, once again, David Bosch who opened my eyes to the true meaning of this passage. (I’m not sure how many people are aware that Bosch, although being one of the greatest missiologists of the previous century, was in fact a New Testament scholar and that he did his PhD on the New Testament!) This passage is NOT saying that Christians are part of the triumphant army. God is the triumphant soldier and we as Christians are those people who had been taken captive by God. In his book, A Spirituality of the Road, Bosch says that the metaphor which Paul uses most probably refers to the march of triumph of the Roman general who parades his captives and booty in the busy streets of Rome. The same metaphor is used in Colossians 2:15. Under normal circumstances the prisoners were a sorry sight, according to Colossians stripped of their clothing and bound in chains. Paul, however, is rejoicing in the fact that he had been captured by God. Although he realises that he may be martyred because of his faith in Christ, there is no better place for him to be, than to be captured by God.
For centuries, the church had a mentality of triumphalism. The military terms that were used (and still are being used) to describe the triumph of Christianity include words like soldier, forces, advance, army, crusade, campaign and many more. Up to this day we still speak of an evangelism crusade or a campaign in the context of “us” overpowering “them”. We are the triumphant ones.
Paul’s attitude is totally different. We are those who had been humiliated by God. Being part of Christ means sacrificing your own will. This is humiliating! I have to bow down before God and I have to bow down before people (even washing their feet!) because of my choice to follow Christ. This is in total contrast with the “normal” way of understanding 2 Corinthians 2:14-15. But then, if I had to choose again, I wouldn’t choose anything else than to be a prisoner in God’s triumphal procession. Ironically, there is no safer place to be than within this procession – a prisoner of God!
David Watson touched on an important issue on his blog today. It’s really worthwhile reading. You can find it here.
I’ve always been more positive about personal evangelism as opposed to mass evangelism. I’ve just seen too many cases of masses of people in an audience praying the sinner’s prayer but never making any commitment to the Lord. (Yes, I know that many people can witness to the fact that they met the Lord on such an occasion, but I’m still not positive about this.) I prefer a one on one method of evangelism where I can be fairly sure that the person I’m talking to really understands what is going on and where I can make an appointment to return if I am not convinced that the person to whom I spoke were ready for a commitment.
The question David asks is whether personal evangelism is Biblical. The argument he has is that we read very seldom about individuals only coming to repentance. In the case of Cornelius (Acts 10) it is not only Cornelius but also his family and friends who come to repentance as is the case with Lydia and the prison guard. I believe that he may have a valid argument, although I would probably not feel as strongly about it as he does. The point that he is trying to make is that, in many countries, when people turn to the Lord, they are rejected by their families and by their communities which makes it extremely difficult for them to live as Christians. Had an entire family or even better, an entire community decided to turn to Christ, this at least would have been easier.
In Swaziland we won’t find that a Christian would be rejected by the family, but it is definitely more difficult if a person decides to follow Christ wholeheartedly while the rest of the family are still unbelievers or at most, no more than lukewarm Christians. As I had written previously, Christians often struggle to fight against cultural traditions which may eventually also lead to a break between family members. Where I differ from David is that he says that Satan is willing to let one member of the family go if he can keep the others – in other words, Satan is quite happy with personal evangelism as the community will never be reached in this way. I’m uncomfortable with this type of argument as I feel that we are overestimating the power of Satan and underestimating the power of God. Ultimately it’s not for Satan to decide who will be saved and who not. And furthermore, if each Christian who had received the Lord could be trained to become an effective witness for the Lord, the strategy of an organisation such as Evangelism Explosion, then, through the repentance of one individual, an entire community could potentially be reached. Nevertheless, I can see that, working with a community, may eventually bear much more fruit than merely working with individuals only.
When concentrating only on individuals, we inevitably target those who seem to be good prospective Christians. Quite often, as David says, we target young people (or women). But the young people, especially in Africa, (and this applies even more to the women) are not really able to change a community due to the paternalistic structure of most of these communities. However, once the father of a household decides to commit himself fully to the Lord, chances are that the rest of the family will follow suit. But this way of working will probably be more difficult than the old ways of either doing mass evangelism where hundreds of people pray the sinner’s prayer without really understanding why they are doing it or targeting the easy prospects to become Christians. It seems to me that we would need to do much more strategic planning if we want to evangelise people effectively.
I would be reluctant to make a choice of either one (personal evangelism) or the other (community evangelism). If the Holy Spirit allows someone to cross my path with whom I can share the gospel, I would not be convinced that I have to remain quiet until such time as the community this person comes from had become Christians. But I can definitely see the need for strategic planning if we want to evangelise effectively.
Last week I had a great experience. Through some circumstances it happened that I got connected with the Global Director HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life – does that ring a bell?) What a great privilege it was to have him and his wife, together with their son and mother at our house for dinner on Wednesday and then to spend the greater part of Thursday with them in Swaziland, showing them what we were doing in our Home-base caring program and in what way we were putting our vision of becoming the hands and feet of Christ into practice. We spent many hours in discussions on how we were going about doing this work and then also hearing from them how they saw their task in this regard in their home church in California.
I must be honest that I’m not always very positive about mega-churches, the main reason for this being that some of these churches seem to exist merely for the sake of being able to claim that it is a mega-church with seating for so many thousand people. It’s not that I think that a small church is necessarily better than a larger church. I recall that Rick Warren writes somewhere that any church larger than 300 people becomes impersonal, which is the main objection which I have heard against mega-churches (that there is a lack of true fellowship and warmth within such churches.) But this objection would then be equally true for medium-sized churches.
However, as I listened to what these people had to share with us, I realised one important thing: God grants some church leaders the privilege of leading huge churches, but then God also expects so much more from them! In terms of resources, people and expertise, they have so much to offer in order to assist others to fulfill their calling. I have had contact with some of the world’s largest churches (on two occasions I’ve had the privilege to visit Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale where Evangelism Explosion originally started) and I’ve also had close contact with people from Willow Creek and now also with Saddleback. From my experience with these specific churches, they are all greatly focussed on God’s mission in the world. This is great! I sincerely believe that the main reason why God grants some churches to become mega-churches is in order for them to do even more in the world than would have been possible if all of those people had been divided into a number of smaller churches.
However, what was however perhaps the most remarkable of this visit, was when we were told: We did not come here to teach you. We have come to you in order to learn from you and to understand what you are doing. Being a small church ourselves, we tend to become used to the fact that people come to us with a lot of knowledge which they want to share with us. Finding that representatives from a church as large as Saddleback tell us that they can learn something from us was really very special (and very humbling) and also a great encouragement. There is a good possibility that we may be able to take hands as partners to increase our own influence in Swaziland. However, as I’ve learnt in the past, this is something which the Lord will have to guide us through in order for such a partnership to work to the advantage of both parties, which, if you had been reading this blog for some time, you will know I feel very strongly about. But we are full of hope that some great things may follow.
And then, to top an already wonderful visit, we determined that this man and my wife are related! About six or seven generations ago they shared the same great-great-great…. grandmother and -father! So, not only were we linked through the blood of Christ, but we were also linked through family blood. I thought that was pretty neat!