Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Analogies of Evangelism

When most people think about the taint of sin and guilt that man inherits from Adam, they think of a sickness that makes it hard for them to come to God - a sickness that infects their moral nature and makes them more apt to do bad things. In this way of thinking, what man needs is a remedy. He needs the medicine of a better understanding of the truth or the therapy of some good Christian friends to gently steer him in the right direction.

To change the analogy slightly, this sin-sick man is like a traveler on a ship that has been cast overboard and is struggling to stay afloat in the water. His sin is pulling him downward. He needs rescue. In this picture, those who have the saving gospel of Jesus Christ need to throw it to their drowning friends like life-preservers to save them from immanent death. For every drowning man we see, we need to toss a life-preserver. At that point, if only the man would take a hold of it, he could be saved. The offer of salvation is on the table, but he has to stretch out and grab it.

I wonder what effect this analogy has on the mind of the evangelist? He pities those who are drowning. He tries to get the life-preserver that he throws close to the target so that grasping it is not too much of a trouble. He waits in fearful anticipation to see whether the sinner will grasp the promise of life. His hope at this point is a hope in the activity of man.

The Bible doesn't like this analogy of evangelism. The Bible likes to call the lost "dead in their trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Our corrupt human nature is not 'sick', it is 'dead'. The man who does not belong to Christ is not drowning, he is in the latter stages of complete decomposition on the sea floor. He cannot grasp your life-ring. It is many, many fathoms above him. In fact, the whole activity of sailing around the sea casting life rings for drowned sinners starts to look really stupid.

This is the point where people start to sneer at the Calvinists and say, "See! I told you they don't believe in evangelism!" Such a statement is shamefully false, though, because those who base their theology on the Scriptures have a much better picture of how a Christian is to evangelize.

While the Bible never presents evangelism as rescuing the sick or drowning, it does have a great picture of evangelism as raising the dead. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is led to a valley of dry bones. Now these bones are really dry, pointing to the fact that the people the bones came from are REALLY dead! Ezekiel does not walk around this valley (maybe it used to be a sea floor - actually it was! (Genesis 7)) putting life-preservers near the hands of the dead, hoping that they will reach out a grab a hold. No, instead he is told by God to "Prophesy over these bones...Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live!"

Now, what is in the mind of the evangelist who thinks of his work as telling dead things to come to life? He knows the true nature of the men he speaks to. He knows the absolute inability of his own power to make them live. He knows the abundant power of the word that he proclaims that can even raise the dead, because it is the word of the Almighty and ever-living God. And finally, his hope is not in the dead bones to comprehend what he says, but his hope is in the infinitely powerful, sovereign, and gracious God who gave him this task. His joy at seeing the bones live is a joy in God, not a celebration of a man's decision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is one of my favorite of your posts.
-- Jonathan