Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Gospel Growth Conference: Day II, Session I

Session I: Mark Dever Evangelism "What it is and what it isn't"
[10/31/07 9:00am]

Mark started with a confession...that members of his own denomination are usually condounded in his views in regard to evangelism. Mark is bothered and distressed about the naïve desire of many for numbers. He is always encouraged in evangelism by his Sydney Anglican brothers.

I. He then layed out what five mistaken identities of what evangelism is
I. Imposition
His main point is that it is indeed wrong to impose beliefs on others. Sometimes the way evangelism is done he can understand that people understand it to be that way. It is often treated like a club that many hit someone over the head with.

He said it's nto a matter of imposing beliefs. It is displaying first…facts. Like the pilot of his plane coming back from St. Louis recently didn’t impose his beliefs about where the runway was we are doing the same thing in evangelism. It is a fact. When we are talking of facts we don’t say that we are imposing something. The message Christians share is not our message…not like it’s yours in that it uniquely pertains to you and your ideas. We shouldn’t say, “This is how I see it,” or, “This is how I like to think of God.” This is the Christian gospel and it isn't only unique to individuals (although it does pertain to individuals).

"We didn’t invent this message. We don’t have authority over it. It is simply telling the good news…not making sure people respond properly." As in 1 Corinthians 3, “Apollos and Paul planted seed but God made it grow.”

He then discussed his conversations with a friend in Cambridge (a muslim friend). His friend wanted another more worldly muslim friend to become a better muslim and Mark wanted him to become a Christian. His friend would talke about how corrupt the Christian country that Great Britain was. Mark responded, "There is no such thing as a Christian country." His friend said that that’s Christianity's weakness. Mark responded that that’s why Islam doesn’t have a good view of human nature and reality...because you can't force someone to become a Christian if it consists only in outward acts. The fact that they can put a swrord to a throat to convert is wrong. As a Chrsitian we believe no one has any good in them that they have the ability to turn to God…and that we ourselves cannot make others to become a Christian by force. God does that. We share the gospel, but God does the work.

We don’t do things by force or imposition. We share and pray for them. Evangelism doesn’t include cooercion, or manipulation into life. Imposition…the gospel is not that!

II. Personal Testimony
Psalm 66 is an example of personal testimony “what He has done for me.” The New Testament is a personal testimony of people. 1 Corinthians 1 says, “our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you.” The truth of the gospel is proved in our daily lives. We should delight in God an verbally with others. But personal testimony is not evangelism!

He recalled a story of a non-Christian professor who leaned over to a student and said I don’t believe in any of this (regarding an evangelistic talk taking place). And the student responded, “yeah, I know, but wouldn’t you love to?” He said that she then began to weep.

Further, the blind man in John 9...Jesus heals him, “one thing I do know, that I was blind and now I see.” This is a verbal testimony to the power of God, but not evangelism...or the gospel. What the blind man did…is NOT evangelism. It is part of it, but there’s no gospel in it. The man didn’t even know who Jesus was.

Mark then discussed baptisms in at CHBC…they were getting great individual stories but the gospel wasn’t being shared in many of the testimonies people would share. So they then they made sure that people would give manuscripts of testimonies ahead of time to the pastors…to make sure the gospel was witnessed to in the ordinance.

"We as pastors need to be the ones to teach people that it’s not enough just to share what God’s done in their life…not telling them not to share that…but they need to make clear what Christ’s demands are on people"

Testimony is popular in Postmodern culture…people love narratives. Who would object to you saying something good about our lives. Mark is contending for the fact that it is sharing the message of the gospel that is evangelism…and personal testimony is not that.

III. Social action or public involvement for evangelism
This tends to come about from the New Perspective on Paul folks using "kingdom" language to. Mark then said, "This sounds like turn of the century liberalism."

He then discussed William Jennings Bryan who was a democratic candidate for US…he may be the only man to run unsuccessfully three times in a row for the US presidency. He was a fervent Christian. In laboring for social action some friends believed he was sharing the gospel. However, he was not.

Many friends are confusing implications of the gospel for the gospel itself. Don’t confuse the implications of the gospel with the gospel itself. Social action is always more popular with non-Christians.

In the New Testament we don’t get a long treatise from paul of the abuses of the Roman government. He then quoted some of the passages that Social Justice Gospel folks point to: (1) Matthew 5:16 “see your good deeds”; (2) 1 Peter 2:12 “see your good deeds and glorify God”; (3)Matthew 25 “the least of these you did not do for me”.

But this action is not evangelism. Such actions commend the gospel. In and of themselves they share the gospel with no one. They can avoid the propositional, thorny truth that the gospel is. Social action tends to focus on horizontal solutions and normally take away our shame and avoid our dealing with our vertical problems with God.

Social powers are too limited to fix the problems in the world…they can’t reach the problems of our sins before a holy and just God. Proverbs 11:30 “He who wins souls is wise”. Evangelism is not declaring God’s political plan to the nations…it is declaring the gospel to men and women. He then invited those that disagree with him to come and talk after his lecture.

IV. Apologetics
People often mistake apologetics for evangelism. They are a good thing and Mark’s not against them (likewise he's not against social justice!). 1 Pet 3:15 “give a good reason for the hope that we have”.

Apologetics argue for the truth of the gospel. Christianity fits better with the state of reality…frankness of death…etc. They are good arguments for the truth of Christianity. Mark then recalled a talk at Cambridge...the leaders that invited him said thanks…BUT. Not everyone there was as critical as agnostics as he was before he was a Christian…he may have brought more doubts to people’s mind in their Agnosticism and Atheism then helped to share the gospel with them.

Sometimes his personal addiction to apologetics can be a cowardice. Like Jacob and Esau…he has inadvertantly put many things out there to soften the blow. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. They discuss the purpose of life…what happens when you die, etc. They can also easily lead to evangelism…but it’s not the same thing as evangelism.

Mark led atheist group in college. They set the agenda and the questions and they would just discuss for hours. He can’t say that they were helpful sessions. They were kind of fun…but it sets everything up with the wrong attitude. Like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

He said that it is rather better to have straight up presentation of the gospel and then deal with questions as honestly and sensitively as they come.

Just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. All knowledge in this world is limited. We proceed from what we know and then we work out. Even the youngest child does this.

The greatest danger in evangelism is being distracted from actually sharing the gospel. It is the positive act of telling the good news of Jesus Christ for the salvation of others.

He used to get into so many arguments with non-Christians about the inerrancy of the Bible. He doesn’t see this kind of evangelism pursued in the book of Acts. Tell the gospel and pray that God will convert hearts.

V. Don’t do evangelism for evangelism itself...
Evangelism should not be mistaken for the fruit of evangelism. Evangelism may not be defined in terms of results, rather the faithfulness of the gospel preached. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 describes a “fragrance of life and smell of death”. Ministry certainly has these two separate effects. It is not how the seed is planted but the nature of the soil.

We can’t judge the rightness of preaching by the results that we see. Pragmatic results oriented, outcome oriented businesses…is not evangelism… Evangelism has become emotionally manipulative rather than the supernatural act of God toward the heart of a sinner. He then quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “If what happened last night has not lasted twenty four hours I’m not interested in it.”

Many are undermining real evangelism in real churches…history is full of people coming to Christ years after they heard the gospel. Most don’t respond the first time they hear the gospel.

He then introduced us to Luke Short...and it took him a long time to be converted. He was a New England farmer who lived to be 100 years old. He was recalling his life...and he recalled a sermon he heard in England as a boy. He was converted to Christ 85 years after hearing John Flavel preach the gospel!

Evangelism is not to persuade people to make decisions…we do want them to make decisions…but we give God the glory. We fail only if we don’t tell them the gospel at all. Telling what it is to be converted, and then how to be converted.

II. The gospel is NOT these things
Positively the gospel is telling the wonderful truth of God, the good news about Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners. Understanding this increases evangelism when it is not a guiltrip…and it becomes a joy. What it is is: (1) Honesty, (2) Urgency, (3) Joy, (4) Using the Bible, and (5) Backing it with praying to the glory of God.

Then he quoted from the evangelism chapter in the 9Marks of a Healthy Church book… It was how to maniuplate people with "psychological pressure." It is a controlled conversation technique "new" in evangelism… “get your prospect alone”…etc.

Mark also recalled that an attender one morning after preaching told him that the sermon was, “Best sales pitch I’ve ever heard. But I have one didn’t close the sale.” Sounds like a modern follower of Tillich.

We need to know what kind of sales we can close and ones we can't. The eternity of one soul is not one that we can accomplish. We shouldn’t let what we preach be molded by what it gets as a response. The problem is too deep that we are dealing with. God must change hearts!

Liberalism generally comes with a concern for evangelism. Look back…the desire to present the gospel in a way with people that don’t agree with you. Hence it changes the message in order to get a response. Relevance often holds in it's hand the very gospel itself (and can leave it out).

What we need to know is that instead of us to use our powers to change sinners…I should resolve to preach the gospel like a gentleman. Preach the gospel unashamed…God will use us to do it, but it won’t be is God at work. Like God used Moses the stutterer to get His message to Israel, and Paul the Jewish National to share the gospel with Gentiles

Like George Whitfield scoffers the "Hellfire Club"...the leader was mimicking Whitfield to his cronies…then he was converted and he was so pierced that he sat down on the spot and prayed for forgiveness of sins.

As we heard last night, the gospel is what produces fruit!


Gordon Cheng said...

Greetings Noah from a fellow-blogger and also a buddy of Tony Payne's and Phillip's from Matthias Media. Thanks heaps for blogging about this, it's a great help to know what's going on.


Gordon Cheng said...

Oh and PS, I blogged about your blog here.

Thanks again!