Traditionally, evangelism, communicating the gospel, has been about communicating the truth. Whether it is in Billy-Graham-style with Bible in hand and finger pointing, or in a more modern cultural idiom of smoke machines and radical music, the underlying method is the same: I have the truth and you don’t, but you are about to receive it. However, many people now are saying that telling the people the truth is not going to impact them in the same way that it might have done 20 or 30 years ago. We want to discover how people receive the truth in the 21st Century.
Take some time to discuss what you think as a group and why. Look at things such as examples of where people have seen this style of evangelism done and how effective they thought it was and why. Some of your discussion may well have focused on the cultural change that our society has undergone in the last few decades, bringing in the post-modern era.
We live in a relative age in which people have become suspicious of the idea of truth. This cultural change is probably the most dramatic and fundamental change that has been seen in the last 1500 years. Post-modern philosophy says there is no metanarrative; no all-encompassing truth on which to base life. The only truth is the individual’s personal experience and so we all choose our own truth and live how we individually want to. Make sure everybody contributes.
Use Philippians 1:3-11 as the focus for your worship this meeting.
Split into two groups and look at a story each. What can we learn about new paradigms and for our evangelism?
Breaking out of the Christian sub-culture
Acts 10 is a story of Peter who fails to realise that the gospel stretches way beyond the traditions of his Jewish sub-culture until God offends him by asking that he eat ‘unclean’ food. He realises that what applied to food applied to people and that he shouldn’t call ‘unclean’ what God has called ‘clean’. For many Christians, the transition the church needs to make will be as radical as when the gospel was first preached to the Gentiles! If the gospel was obscured by culture, or if it was fully understood as part of a single particular culture then it would never have been proclaimed among the Gentiles.
Understanding and engaging non-church culture
Acts 17:16-31 is a story of Paul in Athens, a city full of idols. Firstly, Paul went to them(v17). If we are to reach this generation, we must find ways of putting church where the people are, instead of calling them out of their natural networks. Secondly, he sought to understand where they were coming from (v17-21). Thirdly, he approached them in their language and even quoted pagan poets (v23-28). Fourthly, he makes the unknown, known (v23) and unpacks the gospel to them in a way they could understand.
Within this new paradigm, then, how do we move forward with evangelism? The part of the answer that we are looking at in our small group meeting today is relational truth (truth communicated in the context of relationships). This isn’t a new concept and is modeled right at the heart of God, the Trinity, who operates through relationships. In the Old Testament his primary aim wasn’t to lay down a law, but to establish a relationship with a people.
This principle reaches its prime in Jesus.
In other words, the truth came and lived amongst us in the shape of Jesus who could be touched, seen and experienced. The Apostle John in his first letter, said, ‘That which we have seen, that which we have experienced, we proclaim to you.’
What we see here is God presenting himself into a pagan culture in a dynamic way.
What can we learn from this for our own evangelism?
What implications does this have for how I live my life?
The question above leads to the conclusion that a part of telling our friends the truth is their being able to see it and experience it through relationships with us, and that when our words and the examples of our lives are the same thing, then there is power.
Spend the rest of your time together looking at these following questions and then praying for one another. Feel free to break into smaller groups if you think it’s more appropriate:
Do we have any genuine friendships with people who are not Christians?
Are the lives that we live with them and the things that we do with them compatible with our Christian faith, or are we living in two worlds at once?
confession and prayer
Be honest and confess if you know of any area in your lives in which you are living inconsistently and would like prayer. Who would like prayer to develop consistent friendships with non-Christians?
For next week's word, why not find out what your not-yet Christian friends perceive about the Christian faith- what are their preconceptions about Christians, about God? You could make a survey and get lots of friends involved.
For a good book that looks further at postmodernity and our response as Christians, see Leslie Newbegin, Gospel in a Pluralist Society