Using Appreciative Inquiry to Discern Structure and Direction

Most evangelistic tools start with the theological grid that begins with the Fall and ends with Redemption. This is what Mike Metzger, of The Clapham Institute calls a “Two Chapter Gospel.” It leaves out chapter one (Creation) and chapter four (Restoration or Consummation). Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism seeks to discern, through positive conversation, those two missing chapters in a person’s life.

In order to honor the fullness of the “Four Chapter Gospel,” our evangelism needs to move beyond a truncated gospel proclamation of just Fall and Salvation. Our gospel is larger than that, so our evangelism needs to be larger than that as well. We must include all four chapters of God’s story of Recreation. Those chapters are:

Creation: God created all things and called them “very good.” This created cosmos, therefore, has a creational structure or order to it. This is the Shalom peace that God originally intended. Cornelius Plantinga writes that Shalom is “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be, Eerdmans, 1995, p. 10) Our evangelism must start here: exploring with people how they understand how things ought to be, helping a person discern their creational image-bearing goodness hidden in the fallenness of their depravity, affirming that God has created them as special human beings with much to offer.

Fall: We now all experience the perversion, pollution, and disintegration of Shalom due to humanity’s rebellion against the intended purposes of God. Because of the Fall, the creational structure or order of all things has been redirected in “a sinful deviation from that structural ordinance” (Albert Wolters, Creation Regained, Eerdmans, 1985, 2005 p. 88). Our evangelism must help a person understand and own their own culpability in this perversion of God’s intended purposes for his creation.

Redemption: In God’s grace, he has determined to redeem human beings, in order to restore the entire cosmos. God’s grace is restoring all of nature, “renewing conformity to God’s creational order” (Wolters, p. 88). Therefore the redemption of people must be seen as the central part of God’s intention to redeem all of creation. Our evangelism often conveys that God wants to save people from the created structure, when in fact God wants to save people from the perverse deviation of God’s structural order. He also wants to create a people who will be instrumental in redirecting this sinful deviation toward his intended purposes. As we read in Colossians,

15 He (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Our evangelism, then, must not be about promises of escape from this earthly experience into some heavenly bliss. It must be about joining in with God’s intended purposes for his creation. God is calling a people to be his redemptive agents in the world today.

Restoration: We all know how transformative it is to have a clear vision of the way things can be. This is true of evangelism as well. Part of our call to reach people is to call them into the hope of the eschatological future God holds for us all. As we see the way things will be, it calls us to, as much as we possibly can, bring that future into the present in small and large ways. Our evangelistic message of hope, therefore, is not a spiritual life divorced of the material world around us (as Greek Platonist philosophy would have us believe), but the message of hope for this created world, the world that God called “very good” will be restored, and we will have a place in it.

Therefore, our Appreciative Inquiries with people will help them discern “structure” (that is, the way things were meant to be, “Shalom”) and “direction” (the way things have been perverted, polluted, or disintegrated). But it does not end there. We ask people to join in God’s “redirection” (that is, the redemption of all things back on the course God intends for them) and we help them envision a world where everything is the way God intends it to be.

As Albert Wolters writes, “What was formed in creation has been historically deformed by sin and must be reformed in Christ.” (Creation Regained, Eerdmans, p. 91). We are inviting people into the reformation of all things.

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theologien said...

Great post, esp. the tie-in to AI, I'd like to see more of what it looks like. We are using it here in France with English speaking churches, and a friend is going through AI with a French church, and the results are encouraging.

It is interesting that the AI process leads one back to structure. In the process of working through our findings we discovered the concept of the church as prophetic, priestly, and kingly, based on the offices of Christ, and the paradigm for how the body of Christ functions and ministers in the world.

There are times when we are called to be prophetic, representing God to the people; priestly, representing and advocating the people before God, and having the wisdom and ability to lead the people of God toward the vision that he has given to us as the body of Christ. Christ calls the church to be all three so that we can fully experience the Christ life.

One more quick note. I subscribe to the Clapham Institute newsletter, but I've not seen the discussion you mention. Do you have a more specific URL or whatever? I'd like to follow it up from their side.

Bob Robinson said...


Mike Metzger spoke at a CCO staff training event last year, where he introduced this terminology to us for the first time.

He references the "four chapter gospel" a lot in his commentaries. Here is a google listing of those commentaries.

Ted M. Gossard said...

This sounds like Jesus' evangelism or at least the way he did it numerous times, as well as his end at all times.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I read through this again (actually more carefully). For the life of me, I can't understand what anyone's problem would be with such evangelism. It completes the picture we see in Scripture and the Story there.

Bob Robinson said...

I know exactly what people's problem with this form of evangelism would be:

It does not highlight enough the problem of personal sin. The gospel, as we've understood it in the evangelical church, is primarily about dealing with our personal guilt due to our sinful nature.

The critics of my Appreciative Inquiry Evangelism ask, "Where do you proclaim to the person that he or she is a sinner, falling short of God's glorious standard for righteousness? Where does the person repent of their sin? When do they apply the atonement to their personal lives?" They would maintain that there is nothing to appreciate about a person's total depravity. They would agree that the imago Dei is important, but would maintain that to focus on the imago Dei is to shift the focus of the gospel away from the real issue of sin and God's righteous judgment of that sin.