This article is part 3 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 4 of this series!
Please read my short narrative “The Good Test” before reading this post, where I describe my encounter with a man on the University of Illinois campus (“Kevin”) who was proselytizing on our main quad. Talking to Kevin was revealing of the barriers that not only kept him from being interested in interfaith work, but that made him opposed to it. I’d like to share my own perspective on Kevin’s approach to evangelism.
I believe that Kevin had the greatest of intentions to share the good news of the Christian faith. But something about Kevin’s approach shuts the door nearly as quickly as it is opened. And I hope that my conversation with Kevin has shed light on the reason for that. I also believe that Kevin is what Gabe Lyons calls an evangelizer (the third type of Christian we’ve discussed so far in this Next Christians-inspired series).
In Next Christians, Gabe Lyons describes Bill, a man who evangelizes to his neighbors by handing out Gospel tracts to trick-or-treating children on Halloween, which upsets their parents. Lyons explains:
“Bill is an evangelizer, and to be fair, he thought he was doing what was best. Driven by a desire to spread the ‘good news,’ he felt compelled to use any method possible. Thinking he was building bridges, he had actually accomplished the opposite. His plan to show love to his neighbors had backfired.”
I think that Kevin’s approach backfires too, although perhaps in a different way. His failure to make meaningful, genuine connections with other people denies him the opportunity to communicate the big picture of the faith – an it turns off many with whom he does have the chance to talk.
He was also caught up in the perception others held of him, seemingly to overlooking that fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17) while the religious leaders (Pharisees) whispered about him in the background. Kevin may have forgotten also how Jesus healed on the Sabbath without concern for the Pharisees’ judgment (Matthew 12:1-14).
Where some might have stopped for fear of being perceived incorrectly, Jesus proceeded brilliantly, always communicating the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: that Jesus offers restoration, and that his followers are called to restore and be restored.
This is what the evangelizer is missing. His or her message is only about hell and the decision that can save you from it. But the gospel is about the restoration of the individual (yes, from sin and the punishment of hell to life to the full) as well as the restoration of the whole world. This is what Jesus demonstrated in his healing and relationships. This is what the Pharisees never understood. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
The evangelizers that Lyons describes don’t fit into the interfaith movement because the movement doesn’t mesh with the techniques people like Kevin employ to communicate the gospel. But the gospel message will be told when we as Christians take our place in the Kingdom of God narrative: a narrative of restoration – the child suffering from malnutrition, the community destroyed by an earthquake, the sinner in need of forgiveness.
Remember how Jesus communicated the message? Service, storytelling, and relationships.
And if you ask my friend Adam (mentioned in my last post), I bet he’d tell you which approach is more effective at communicating the message. If I’m wrong, I guess I better get my business card updated…