5/30/2007

Our Theological Grid Determines Our Evangelism

Toward an Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism

The way we do evangelism is based on our theological grid.

Theological Grid #1:
Every human being is thoroughly depraved. Each person is in rebellion against God, in enmity with God, and deserves the wrath of God. Everything he or she does is tainted by sin, and nothing he or she does pleases God. A person’s rightful destiny is Hell. This world is so fallen that it is destined to be destroyed. The only hope for each person is to realize his or her sinfulness and turn to God for forgiveness, believing in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. When a person does this, he or she is assured to escape from this fallen world, be spared of Hell, and guaranteed a place in heaven with God.

Most of these theological assertions are true (though I think that this world is not destined for destruction but rather for renewal, and that the destiny of Christians is not to escape this world, but for God to renew the earth so that He will dwell here with us).

I’m not questioning these theological assertions as much as I am questioning their use in evangelism in our postmodern 21st Century culture. If we approach people with this theological grid guiding our methods, we inevitably feel compelled to explain to them this theological grid. We have called this “proclamation of the gospel.”

If we approach people with this theological grid, we will get certain results. Some will repent of their sins and confess that they need Jesus Christ as Savior. Others will see our religion as judgmental. Still others will react negatively and see our religion as disconnected with the real lives that they are trying to live. Ask yourself, How do I react when somebody confronts me with the worst of who I am and seeks to force me to admit it? What do I think of people who believe that their calling is to point out other people’s faults so that they can fix them?

The evangelism method that we've been using tells people they have problems. The “good news” we proclaim is based first on the “bad news” that they are a mess. Ask yourself, Is there a problem with only focusing on the problems?

Now, watch as we start with a different theological grid…
Theological Grid #2:
Every human being is crea
ted in the image of God. Each person is a special creation of God, unique in his or her potential contribution to the rest of God’s Creation. Each person is inter-relational, meant to be connected with God and with other people, for the good of the Creation. God’s greatest desire is to bring out the very best in each person. This very best is intrinsically connected with the work of Jesus Christ in reconciling each person in deep relationship with God and reconnecting each person to others in myriad networks of authentic relationships. God is in the process of redeeming all of Creation for his glory. A person’s best possible destiny is to live glorified on a renewed and redeemed earth. God is already at work in people’s lives to pull them into the potential he has for them in the context of redeemed relationships. In order for people to move into their glorious destiny, a major change must occur to the status quo of that person’s life and to the common assumptions this person has about how life works. The person needs to yield to God’s re-creation of him or her into somebody very new and very different. That re-creation is key to the transformation of the world.

I believe that all of these theological assertions are also true.

So, what if my evangelistic conversations were framed around exploring and discovering what God is already doing in this person? What if I started with asking appreciative questions that reframes the conversation so that we can approach the positive change that God wants to accomplish in a person?
  • What is your vision of what a better world would be?
  • What do you think is your unique contribution to the world, to your friendships, in your workplace, to your family?
  • When have you experienced being closer to what you think God wants you to be?
  • What do you envision as your purpose in God’s desires for the world?
  • What do you think is your current destiny, and what do you think God wants it to be?
More on Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism:


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10 comments:

Ted Gossard said...

Bob, this works well for me (and well-worded, too) and especially I think so, in the world and post-modernism of our day. Though certainly there may be a time when we're "led" to share more along the lines of the first theological paradigm you set forth. But I think this approach you set forth is better now, emphasizing the relational aspect as well as the new creation.

Thanks!

Nate W said...

Bob::

As opposed to this being a "method" of evangelism in the context of our postmodern culture here in the 21st century, maybe what you are proposing is simply more faithful to the entire Biblical narrative.

I have been wrestling with the negative connotations of evangelism for quite some time now. I think the reason why I have found myself so frustrated is because this "good news," as you pointed out, was missing.

I find this so difficult to bring up with many of my Christian friends. The idea of recreation and renewal are literally nowhere to be found in their "good news." Good news, for many, is that we can go to some far off place after we die and be with Jesus. This is such a struggle for me. How has this message of hope for the entire creation been tainted to the extent that it has in our Western Christianity?

Anyways, thanks for the post. Good stuff.

::Peace

Bob Robinson said...

Ted,
Relationship and New Creation are the keys.

Bob Robinson said...

Nate,
Yes, not just a "method" but a whole new paradigm, right?

The question your comment raises is this: How can we help your Christian friends shift their paradigm? It is a slow process, but it's worth it. Keep talking it through with them. Keep your finger on the text of the Bible as you do so, showing them there in black and white (and sometimes red!) what you are talking about.

Bill said...

Hello,

I guess we all have to decide which outlook is more biblical. I can't think of anytime in the Bible when the second outlook is used in evangelism.

Furthermore, the cross and Jesus' brutal torture don't really make any sense unless you use the first outlook. Why would God let Jesus be tortured, and even be pleased by that torture, unless He's angry at sin? Any verse that speaks of Jesus' love for us is in regards to the cross.

With the second outlook, you can't even quote John 3:16, because it contains the idea that those who don't believe will perish.

Thanks,
Bill

Bob Robinson said...

Bill,
It isn't a matter of whether one is biblical and the other is not. They are both biblical.

As I've said elsewhere on this blog, there are other ways to look at the horrible anguish of our Lord on the cross. It may not be just that God is "angry at sin."

Anonymous said...

Bob,

One significant difference between these "grids" is that grid #2 places man at the center of evangelism and the gospel rather than God. For example, you said, "God’s greatest desire is to bring out the very best in each person." What is the biblical precedent for this assertion? I would say that God's greatest desire is to glorify Himself.

"For the sake of My name I delay My wrath, And {for} My praise I restrain {it} for you, In order not to cut you off. "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. " For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act; For how can {My name} be profaned? And My glory I will not give to another." (Is 48:9-11,)

A gospel that places the glory of man ahead of God would indeed make repentance secondary, if not obsolete.

Eric Steen

Bob Robinson said...

Eric,

You are absolutely correct in asserting that God's desire is to glorify Himself. Thanks for helping me clarify this!!

What I meant was this: The ULTIMATE goal of everything is God's glory. God will glorify himself, period. God has decided to glorify Himself through his creation - all of God's Creation declares the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-4). The epitome of this declaration of God's glory through His creation is found in his human creatures, made in his very own image (Gen 1:26-30; Psalm 8:3-5). Therefore, as we reflect God as human beings, God is glorified. Redemption in Christ is the restoration of the Imago Dei in humanity. Therefore, God's greatest desire for humanity (because they are made for His glory) is that we would be transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:12-18). God's purpose for humanity is that we be glorified so that we can glorify Him (Romans 8:28-30).

Therefore, when I said "God’s greatest desire is to bring out the very best in each person," what I meant is that God is glorified when we are what we were created to be!!! This is the very purpose of redemption!

"God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus." (Eph 2:6-7)

Bob Robinson said...

The biblical precedent that God desires to bring out the very best in each person (which, in my view, is a subset of his greatest desire to glorify himself):

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:28-31)

Anonymous said...

Bob,

I appreciate this line of reasoning that God glorifies Himself through a redeemed man that reflects God’s image. As we know, original sin taints man's ability to reflect His image. To restore it man must be holy. And one can only be holy if one embraces the Savior in sincere repentance.

What seems to be lacking in Grid #2, and the questions posed in the “evangelistic conversations", is the idea that God, His holiness, and man’s repentance are at the center of the good news.

You state that man must change, that he be reconciled to God, and you come really close to explaining what this change is, but it just doesn't seem to happen. Your statements below conspicuously omit references to God's holiness and man's need to repent:

"This very best is intrinsically connected with the work of Jesus Christ in reconciling each person in deep relationship with God..."

"In order for people to move into their glorious destiny, a major change must occur..."

"The person needs to yield to God’s re-creation of him or her..."

Is Grid #2 an introduction to Grid #1? Or is there a Grid #3 that explains reconciliation and the required change mentioned in Grid #2?

Thank you for your thoughtful responses.

Eric Steen