The easy answer is: “yes, we should evangelize.” Evangelism is often about making the world see our light…without us being aware of it. They see us warts and all, without us being preachy.
However, most Christians are
- legalistic and preach the law more than the riches of His grace;
- inside a box but don’t realize they are;
- don’t seem to understand that it is often the goodness of God that calls sinners to repentance;
- are not really good at speaking about other big issues in the world; and
- American Christians preach their class, race, agenda, and denomination.
Here is more of what I mean.
1. We don’t know enough about the riches of God’s grace to share that. So often preachers will preach about the many facets of being good and how we should not sin and how thankfully Jesus saved us. This is preaching legalism under the guise of preaching grace. We have to understand the many facets of His grace. We have to widen our understanding of grace. Then we can teach and evangelize instead of always majoring in being good.
2. Christians often think they know what the world is saying, thinking, doing. But really they don’t know. Case in point, most Christians have been so taught that the world really needs to understand John 3:16. But honestly, the world has heard that a lot. The world already knows the gospel. Another case in point, most Christians see every conversation through what their church or denomination teaches. So even when they talk to or debate a fellow Christian, they are often unable to hear what the other Christian is saying because they are so trained to think the other Christian thinks like they do. Can you imagine such folks having conversations with non-Christians? Already imagining where they think the other person is coming from.
Case in point — a recent conversation I had with two Christians in which I used this quote:
“Once our hearts get broken, they never fully heal. They always ache. But perhaps a broken heart is a more loving instrument. Perhaps only after our hearts have cracked wide open, have finally and totally unclenched, can we truly know love without boundaries.”
— Fred Epstein
Every Christian who spoke with me about it interpreted it as Epstein saying “God’s sovereignty created trouble.” They were self-righteous and angry and could not see that God was not shown as the causative agent at of broken hearts at all. They could not see past their assumption about what the “other” was thinking or about where the “other” came from.
For 3, I will just point you to this article. Note that this writer WAS a Christian and she believed that we go to heaven because we are “good.”
For 4, I will also use the above link. Note also that she speaks of social justice. American Christian evangelism generally only speaks of sin. There are no Romeros, Martin Luther Kings, etc in the United States. Not in a big way. Most of the times Christians talk about anything in the world, they speak of it in order to get a “person” to stop sinning. They ponder only personal evangelism and saving each human or saving The United States (as a nostalgic hearkening back to a rural type of Eden where America is the unique country, the city set on a hill) rather than saving the world.
The problem is that while some folks are focused on their personal sins and will be open to dealing with their own salvation, there are other larger “secular” (so-called) issues that Christianity could touch. And I don’t mean “touch” as “show how sinful it all is.” American Christians are also very divided so they deal with issues in a very me-oriented way. Most white Christians don’t go on marches against guns, poverty, climate change, torture, war. They don’t give flaky lectures in the way New Age philosophies do. Christianity and art. No. Science, sex, and dehumanization …or whatever else. The spiritual joy of sex, artistic creation, linguistics, horse-racing, interior design, fabric design, whatever. Christians are just not good at engaging the popular culture without making it be all about sin. The upshot is that the world (and the world’s religions) speaks of stuff like this and there is no Christian counterpart. There are Christians who don’t seem to understand that all good gifts come from God therefore even atheists are blessed with talents, etc, and are speaking of God’s beauty and creation even though those atheists aren’t aware of it.
For 5, I will use as an example the following quote:
I ask, “How have you all this wealth?” For the care of the poor consumes wealth. When each one receives a little for one’s needs, and when all owners distribute their means simultaneously for the care of the needy, no one will possess more than one’s neighbor. Yet it is plain that you have very many lands. Whence all these? Undoubtedly you have subordinated the relief and comfort of many to your convenience. And so, the more you abound in your riches, the more you want in love.
— Basil the Great
Even if this might be deemed by some as a bit extreme, a Christian should not look at the quote and immediately start talking about welfare mothers. But this is just what most white Christians do — especially when the quote is mentioned by a black Christian. If the quote is mentioned by a white Christian, then most Biblical American Christians will start talking about commies and progressives.
So then, to your question. How can people who have so much of the world in us, how can people who are so blind to the speck in their own eyes, how can people who cannot see past their own cultural issues truly bring a great wonderful Christ to a sinner without the sinner — if said sinner is perceptive — rolling their eyes?
Earthly things lead to heavenly things
Jesus said, “If I tell you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you of heavenly things?”
I think Christian fiction could improve by being more cosmology based. And not the usual cosmology of angels but about some personal dear truth that touches the writer’s unique soul.
There is a kind of trust Christians should develop, a kind of fearless delving into the unknowing and letting the creative chips fall where they may. But often we are so afraid of veering into sin, of veering into what we don’t know, and we work from an invisible doctrinal outline. I really think we have to brave the creative process and discover our own emotional issues. The Holy Spirit works in our spirit and in our emotions. The book of Revelation says that he who overcomes will receive a white stone with a name on it which no man knows but the receiver.
I think our personal relationship with God is like that. We are individuals whom God loves — and He works within our individuality and personality. As artists, Christians are so aware of a Christian creative tradition (Lewis, the Arthurian Cycle, and Tolkien, for instance) and so aware that other Christians want something like Tolkien and company that they unconsciously write for other Christians instead of writing from their own unique souls.
I think the problem with many Christians is that they are very conscious of planting spiritual seeds that might grow and mature in the reader’s mind. And some Christian writers even go so far as wanting to write a book that plants seeds, waters them, and harvests them into an altar call at the book’s end. But I think that’s hard to do when there are often so many mental, emotional, and theological arguments that make the mental soil of the reader so hard to cultivate. If the field is the soul of the reader, then Christian evangelism should try to affect that soil/soul. Even if we only cultivate the soil/soul and someone else reaps the harvest, we will have done our part.
One of my favorite books written by a Christian is George MacDonald’s The Day Boy and The Night Girl. One cannot read it and say it “means” anything. Because whatever theology contained in it is pretty unclear. But it touches the soul. There is such a thing as soul. And so many Christian fiction books touch doctrine, or the mind, or the emotions but not the soul.
It’s not an evangelical book but it is a seed-sowing kind of book that breaks up fallow ground. We each know what has wounded us against God or religious people, what has troubled us about the world, what has terrified us about the cosmos, what has enchanted us about the universe. That is our little white stone with our name on it. And sometimes we don’t really realize that what is what our soul wants to write about. If we would simply trust the creative force of the Holy Spirit and believe that we can dive into a piece of writing without being theologically “sure” how it will all turn out, then our souls will peek through.
When I wrote The Constant Tower, I wasn’t aware the story would be about God’s love. But since my spirit is joined to God’s spirit, God knew what the story would be about. When I wrote My Life as an Onion, I thought I was writing a romance, but Holy Spirit knew that I was writing about woundedness. When I wrote Wind Follower, I thought I was writing about cultural wars but Holy Spirit was writing about loss.
All these things — loss, woundedness, God’s love — are not obviously about the cross of Christ or His great work of salvation. But they can touch the fallow ground souls of people and will help to prepare the soil by creatively doing the Great Commission Work of healing, cleansing and raising their souls from the dead.
This is a crucial issue for anyone who loves stories but loves Jesus more, and wants to glorify Jesus through our enjoyment of stories or our making of stories.
During October our new SpecFaith series explores this issue.
On Thursdays, reviewer Austin Gunderson and writer E. Stephen Burnett host the conversation with interactive articles. On Fridays and Tuesdays, guest writers such as novelists and publishers offer their responses to the question.
We invite you to give your own answers to the #StoryEvangelism conversation.