22 May, 2008

How Important is Friendliness in Evangelism?

With some people, you may establish a relationship in five minutes, whereas with others it may take months. But the principle remains the same. The right to talk intimately to a person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend and really care about him. And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging into the privacy of other people's souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away--these modes of behavior, in which strong personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! In fact, rudeness of this sort dishonors God; moreover, it creates resentment, and prejudices people against the Christ whose professed followers act so objectionably. The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other man. We have to give ourselves in honest friendship to people, if ever our relationship with them is to reach the point at which we are justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ, and can speak to them about their own spiritual needs without being either discourteous or offensive. If you wish to do personal evangelism, then--and I hope you do; you ought to--pray for the gift of friendship (J.I. Packer)

3 comments:

Andrew said...

Saints, elect and called to be so by the free grace of the Father, through faith given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord, and effectually applied to us by the work of the Holy Spirit: (insert priestly greeting here, withheld so as not to offend)

In humility, and realizing how often I unwittingly offend the Body with my comments, may I question a few things for the sake of our Lord's receiving the full measure of the reward for the travail of His soul?

1) May I suggest that while Packer is right on the mark regarding how we ought to act toward those unbelievers God ordains we have much interaction with in our lives, such as those in our workplaces, families, acquaintances from before salvation, &c.; I remain unconvinced that since faith comes by the hearing of the word of Christ not only for your acquaintances, but also for all the elect, that the number of ordained 'path-crossings' should in any way obviate my responsibility to those whom God has ordained only to enter my path once while waiting in line for something... How, indeed, are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard, and doubly so in a culture rife with false conceptions of the Triune God, and *especially* of the God-Man Jesus Christ?

2) If we are prepared to describe any providential encounter with a stranger during which the believer purposely takes action to steer the conversation toward spiritual matters, in the hopes of delivering the good news to a lost son of Adam, 'rude,' I fear we have created the same exact false assumption that the emergents, especially Mr. Bell, create - namely, that you cannot *genuinely* interact with someone (or care for someone) if you have an "agenda" concerning said person. This is fallacious in my opinion, and dangerously so.

Am I wrong to drive in my car, simply because I actually have a destination in mind when I enter it?

Does a father fail to genuinely interact with and love his daughter when he speaks with her, because he has the "ulterior motive" of lovingly imparting wisdom that she hasn't been born with - that she might live a life pleasing to God, in faith?

Hogwash. I think in both instances what matters is the heart behind the motive - I'm not wrong to drive in general, but it can be made a great evil by the heart of the driver, to say nothing of that heart's planned destination for the vehicle. The same car can potentially carry me to Reformation Heritage Bookstore (shameless plug - that place is a gift from God!), or to a store laden with pornography and the vilest of evils. Similarly, the father can desire to teach his daughter God's word and impart wisdom for the purpose of ascribing glory to the King of Kings, OR - he can do the same exact teaching for the ultimate goal of being the 'best Christian father' in the church, wallowing in pride the whole time he 'lovingly' leads his daughter.

Well, in the same way, I can speak with a stranger out of a desire to massively crush someone's worldview and thus heap up some terrific psychological pressure on someone to say some stupid Arminian prayer ex opere operato...

Or, in love, I could consider that those walking down the street with me, who have *absolutely* no idea what their end will be if they do not hear and obey the gospel, are not 'someone else's problem,' but for whatever reason, we've been ordained to spend at least some time together... If I really love my King, and love his elect, oughtn't I to seek and save that which He came to atone for?

3) I think if we say that an evangelistic 'agenda' toward strangers is rude and potentially damaging to the name of Christ, we come dangerously close to blasphemy. Our Lord took opportunity while walking in his daily life to 'accost' people with the truth concerning Himself, and the kingdom of God, &c. Think of the Samarian woman at the well - there she was, drawing water for the day (and likely looking for yet ANOTHER partner), and suddenly a thirsty Jesus takes but a few short comments to turn the conversation from natural water to the Living Water, the right worship of God in Jerusalem under the Old Covenant, the coming change in worship, etc.
If you prefer, think of what He told the self-righteous rich young man: get rid of your idol of stuff - and then follow me...
Was Christ rude when in John 6, he turned to the crowds eagerly awaiting another happy-meal from heaven and told them to eat and drink HIM instead? Did Jesus need a course in friendship evangelism? Sensitivity training perhaps? I ask not to blaspheme, brothers, but to give glory to God! God forbid we should mark any behavior in which Jesus regularly participated as 'rude!'

4) Packer says: "The right to talk intimately to a person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned...," to which I *vehemently* disagree.

The right to speak to a person *at all* is inherent within your human nature - you are, by your physical birth, brothers (or sisters) in Adam with every other human being, whether or not they realize it.

The right to speak for your King was given you at your second birth, when He made you "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 1Pe 1:9,10
Above, note the reason for our 'ordination,' as it were, as a royal priesthood: that we may proclaim the excellencies of the mercy to be received in Christ!

*and no, I'm not claiming that everyone is ordained in the proper sense, nor am I rejecting the authority given by God to both REs and TEs within the Body. TE's are ordained to gospel ministry in a different capacity, and to the visible church primarily. I'm not a Quaker - put those rocks down, all of you.

In closing, I acknowledge that to many of you, my enthusiasm and concern to [***LOVINGLY - don't just bang away senselessly, man!***] share the gospel with strangers may no doubt seem to be Arminian to the extreme. Is there a Remonstrant goat amidst the Presbyterian fold here at PT? God forbid! If you knew how much I believe in the necessity of the grace of regeneration preceding faith, it'd probably offend you :)

I merely question Packer's words out of a desire to see our King honored. If you have been able to keep the MESSAGE as the offense and not YOURSELF, when someone storms away offended at your sharing the gospel with them, God is still glorified in its telling. Let us not bow to the Arminians' desires to keep all who hear us speak of Christ from being offended - one bygone saint, whose name shamefully escapes me at this moment, is quoted as saying "The same sun that melts the ice, hardens the clay." God's word WILL NOT return void, and maybe when our hearers stomp away angrily God has ordained their hearing to harden them unto the praise of His glorious justice...

They called Whitefield an Arminian, too. I'm just sayin'

:)

Andrew said...

Oh, and I fail at this too. Lots. God forbid I should look upon myself as one who has arrived in this regard!!

May the LORD open our mouths for the sake of his blessed Son,

~a

Stephen said...

That's a great quotation. Do you know where it is written?