Sunday, March 1, 2009

Redeeming Evangelism

You are to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example, to those among whom you live, and work, and worship.

For my non-Episcopal friends: this quote from the examination of diaconal candidates is as close as most Episcopalians come to uttering the e-word, evangelism. If you'll pardon the pun, the idea of evangelism scares the hell out of us. Which, of course, is exactly the goal of those who love us with signs like this one:

I'm organizing a coup to take back the word evangelism from those (mostly old-school) folks who perform it with equal doses of carrot and stick. "Jesus loves you, but if you don't love Him back . . ." What? He's going to make sure I never love anyone else? Candy-coated threats make Jesus sound like a stalker.

Equally troubling, on the other end of the seesaw: magic Jesus. "If you accept Jesus into your heart, you'll spend the rest of your life riding horses on the beach in soft focus." Once a young drug addict came into our church drawn there by the early morning organ music--like a line from the song Sunday Morning Coming Down. I prayed with her, sat with her in the front pew through as much of the service as she could handle before her withdrawal got too bad. She'd been out of jail for 24 hours and had already gotten high again. "I don't understand!" she despaired. "When I was in jail, I prayed the sinner's prayer like they told me. Everything was supposed to be different." Pure cruelty, if you ask me.

So how do we show someone redemptive without forgetting about the love part? What would that look like? Redeem comes from the Latin redimere--to buy. And most of the definitions of the word convey the sense of re-purchasing: buying back something that was once owned. I think this has something to do with the restoration of relationship--with people, with God. But human relationship is too often cemented by fear. We've all known people who don't have friends; they take hostages. And relationship through threat is the primary tool of the abusive spouse. God's version of relationship is different--cemented by the love of the Creator for the created. It's that relationship that we're trying to get back to.

I like how Huston Smith puts it in his book Why Religion Matters: "All human beings have a God-shaped vacuum built into their hearts. Since nature abhors a vacuum, people keep trying to fill the one inside them. Searching for an image of the divine that will fit, they paw over various options as if they were pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, matching them successively to the gaping hole at the puzzle's center."

As an evangelist, what shape of God am I'm offering, what kind of puzzle piece do I proclaim in word and (more) in deed: loving? vengeful? manipulative? compassionate? simplistic? partisan? judgmental? forgiving? . . .

Please, God, let me live into a shape that's You.


  1. Hey, Deac, great, thought provoking posts on here! I often wonder how many times God has to follow me around like the clean-up crew follows the horses in a parade, big shovel, big scoop, after I attempt to do my version of the loving thing. Of course some people are just naturally more adept at this than me, but I don't think I will ever get it just right until I learn to hear God's voice, day in day out, moment by moment, directing my path. Until I can learn to discern His voice, first time everytime, I will always be plagued by the unintended consequences of my good intentions. And,yes,I absolutely believe it can be done.

  2. Okay, you two, I am just soaking it up! Echoing your thoughts:

    Philippians 2:12-13
    12Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

    An inexplicable convergence of offering, obedience, imperfection, all of me laid bare, for purposes so grand I conceive just a shabby corner - I pray I won't spoil it.

    Love the last line, "Please, God, let me live into a shape that's You." Nails it.

    Keep 'em coming!

  3. No wonder we are admonished to pray for wisdom.

    And if I got it right everytime think how big my head would be. Oh my.

    That is not reason or excuse to no worry about my failings, but reassurance that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

    Oh that the heart could stay fixed on you, Lord. And not constantly be checking the mirror for what I look like (but rather, what You look like through me).