Posts filed under ‘Religion’

41 Quotes from Michael Green’s “Evangelism in the Early Church”

GreenIn seminary I was introduced to Michael Green as part of my reading in an independent study on evangelism with Dr. John Hammett at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Green is a British theologian, Anglican priest, Christian apologist and author of more than 50 books. Green’s last appointment was Senior Research Fellow and Head of Evangelism and Apologetics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford in 1997. If you are unfamiliar with Green, here is an introduction to his classic book Evangelism in the Early Church.

“Probably no period in the history of the world was better suited to receive the infant Church that the first century A.D., when, under an Empire which was literally world wide, the scope for the spread and understanding of the faith was enormous.”[1]

“By the second century Christians were becoming more reflective and self-conscious about the background into which the Church was launched, and began to argue that it was a divine providence which had prepared the world for the advent of Christianity.”[2]

“Wherever they went, Christians were opposed as anti-social, atheistic and depraved. There message proclaimed a crucified criminal, and nothing could have been less calculated than that to win them converts.”[3]

“Worse still, this worship of crucified Messiah was distinctly blasphemous. The Old Testament made it perfectly clear that anyone hanged on a stake was resting under the curse of God.”[4]

“In the first place, Christianity was new and almost by definition nothing new could be true.”[5]

“Christianity was ridiculous; for it proclaimed that the wisdom of God was exhibited in the cross of Jesus.”[6]

“The resurrection came to them as God’s vindication of the claims Jesus had made. They saw that he was “designated Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead”. And they continued to announce these joyful tidings with tireless zeal and boundless enthusiasm.”[7]

“The one who came preaching the good news (Jesus) had become the content of the good news (Jesus).”[8]

“The good news is only effective among those who repent, believe, and are prepared to engage in costly, self-sacrificial discipleship.”[9]

The Gospel has “clearly defined”[10] content.

The Gospel is “equated with Jesus. Once again the cross and the resurrection are central.”[11]

Now “repentance and faith are the essential human conditions.”[12]

“Evangelism is never proclamation in a vacuum; but always to people, and the message must be given in terms that make sense to them.”[13]

Paul employed the analogy of adoption {in evangelism], “this practice was common in Roman society.”[14]

The role of the apologist is to “minimize the gap between himself and his potential converts.”[15]

“They made the grace of God credible by a society of love and mutual care which astonished the pagans and was recognized as something entirely new. It lent persuasiveness to their claim that the New Age had dawned in Christ.”[16]

The intellectuals, too, made their way slowly into the Christian movement. They were…dominated by a concern for truth, and Christianity offered them One whom they believed was final truth in personal categories.”[17]

Christianity is “wisdom teaching.”[18]

“But what about the ordinary man- supposing, for a moment, that such an abstraction existed: what attracted him to Christianity? Undoubtedly the love of Christians had a lot to do with it, so did the moral qualities they displayed, the warmth of their fellowship, their manifest enthusiasm, the universal applicability of their message. Reconciliation with God had a lot to do with it.”[19]

“this added a new dimension to living here and now, without waiting for whatever might befall after death. The assurance and confidence of the Christians, who were quite willing to lose home comfort, friends, and even life in propagating their cause won its share of converts; so did fear of judgment…But perhaps the greatest single factor which appealed to the man in the street was deliverance, deliverance from demons, from fate, from magic.”[20]

“The very fact that we are so imperfectly aware of how evangelism was carried out and by whom, should make us sensitive to the possibility that the little man, the unknown ordinary man, the man who left no literary remains was the prime agent in mission.”

“the great mission of Christianity was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries.”[21]

“The very disciples themselves were, significantly, laymen, devoid of formal theological training. Christianity was from its inception a lay movement, and so it continued for a remarkably long time.”[22]

“But as early as Acts 8 we find that it is not the apostles but the ‘amateur’ missionaries, the men evicted from Jerusalem as a result of the persecution which followed Stephen’s martyrdom, who took the gospel with them wherever they went.  It was they who traveled along the coastal plain to Phoenicia, over the sea to Cyprus, or struck up north to Antioch. They were evangelists, just as much as any apostle was.  Indeed it was they who took the two revolutionary steps of preaching to Greek who had no connection with Judaism, and then with launching the Gentile mission from Antioch. It was an unselfconscious effort. They were scattered from their base in Jerusalem and they went everywhere spreading the good news which had brought joy, release and a new life to themselves.”[23]

“This must often have been not formal preaching, but informal chattering to friends and chance acquaintances, in homes and wine shops, on walks, and around market stalls. They went everywhere gossiping the gospel; they did it naturally, enthusiastically, and with the conviction of those who are not paid to say that sort of thing. Consequently, they were taken seriously, and the movement spread, notably among the lower classes.”[24]

“There was no distinction in the early church between full time ministers and laymen in this responsibility to spread the gospel by every means possible, there was equally no distinction between the sexes in the matter. It was axiomatic that every Christian was called to be a witness to Christ, not only by life but lip.”[25]

The “connection between belief and behavior runs right through Christian literature. The two cannot be separated without disastrous results, among them the end of effective evangelism.”[26]

“The fellowship which the church offered, transcending barriers of race, sex, class and education, was an enormous attraction.”[27] In fact, “the church cared so much about fellowship that the Jews and Gentiles converted to the faith broke down centuries-old barriers and ate at the same table.”[28]

“Christianity is enshrined in the life: but it is proclaimed by the lips. If there is a failure in either respect the gospel cannot be communicated.”[29]

“When we think of evangelistic methods today, preaching in a church building or perhaps a great area readily comes to mind. We must, of course, rid ourselves of all such preconceptions when thinking of evangelism by the early Christians.  They knew nothing of set addresses following certain homiletical patterns within the four walls of a church.  Indeed, for more than 150 years they possessed no church buildings, and there was the greatest variety in the type and content of Christian evangelistic preaching.”[30]

Speak to “inflame the heart of the hearer, drag him away from his sin, and convert him to repentance.”[31]

“In early Christianity there was no such distinction between the work of the evangelist and the teacher…both evangelized through teaching the Christian faith.”[32] “The preaching and teaching went together, and there was much practical work as well, the visiting of prisoners, the encouragement of those condemned to death for their faith, as well as working for a living and exercise of great abstinence in food, drink, sleep, money, and clothing.”[33]

Two points emerge in observing Paul’s interactions in Acts, “the intellectual content of his addresses must have been very stimulating. Here was a man who could hold his own, and presumably make converts, in the course of public debate, dialegomenos.”[34]

Now, it is important to mention that “Paul or anyone else in the early Christian mission through that argument alone could bring anyone into the kingdom of God. But they know it could break down the barriers which obstructed men’s vision of the moral and existential choice which faced them, of whether to respond to Christ or not.”[35]

“One of the most important methods of spreading the gospel in antiquity was by the use of homes. It had positive advantages: the comparatively small numbers involved made real interchange of views and informed discussion among the participants possible; there was no artificial isolation of a preacher from his hearers; there was no temptation for either the speaker or the heckler to “play the gallery” as there was in a public place or open-air meeting.”[36]

“with the Scriptures and prayer as their main weapons, backed up by their love, their burning zeal to share their faith with others, and the sheer quality of their living and dying that the early Christians set out to evangelize the world.”[37]

“The Christian Gospel was intended for all men everywhere. The early Christians had no hesitations on that point: it was the agreed starting point for mission. The very nature of God demands a universal mission: if there is but one God, whose will for all men is that they should be saved, then the preaching would be worldwide.”[38]

“It would be a gross mistake to suppose that the apostles sat down and worked out a plan of campaign: the spread of Christianity was, as we have seen, largely accomplished by informal missionaries, and must have been to a large extent haphazard and spontaneous.”[39]

“Evangelism was the prerogative and duty of every church member. We have seen apostles and wandering prophets, nobles and paupers, intellectuals and fishermen all taking part enthusiastically in this primary task committed by Christ to his Church. The ordinary people of the Church saw it as their job: Christianity was supremely a lay movement, spread by informal missionaries. The clergy of the church saw it as their responsibility…the spontaneous outreach of the total Christian community gave immense impetus to the movement from the very outset.”[40]

“Unless there is a transformation of contemporary church life so that once again the task of evangelism is something which is seen as incumbent on every baptized Christian, and is backed up by a quality of living which outshines the best that unbelief can muster, we are unlikely to make much headway through techniques of evangelism.”[41]

(more…)

October 23, 2014 at 6:45 am Leave a comment

Sermon: Learning To Be Quiet Before God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7)

I preached this sermon at The Fellowship on Sunday 10/19/2014, from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

October 21, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Sermon: The Purpose of Community

You will notice that I reference a woman named Carol Boo in the sermon. This past week Mrs. Carol tragically lost her life when a truck crashed into her home. You can find the news story here.

Carol was a committed member of our church. She loved Jesus, and served our church family faithfully for many years. On this particular Sunday, many of Carol’s family members and friends were present for the worship service. Mrs. Boo will be greatly missed by the Fellowship family. We are all thankful for the example of her life, and thankful that she is in the presence of our Savior Jesus Christ.

October 16, 2014 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

“How Should Christians Engage in Culture?” with Andy Crouch

Andy Crouch talks about how Christians need a better understanding of scripture in order to engage culture well. This video is from Ministry Grid.

September 18, 2014 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

The Eclipse of the Gospel in Evangelicalism

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A few years ago I read Graeme Goldsworthy‘s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical InterpretationIn Chapter 12 Goldsworthy discusses what he titles “The Eclipse of the Gospel in Evangelicalism” (pp. 167–80). Goldsworthy recognizes “that eclipses are not always total and can even be partial enough to pass unnoticed by all but those trained to look for them” (p. 90).

In this insightful chapter, Goldsworthy surveys eight evangelical hermeneutical approaches that approach Scripture naively. I found his observations and warnings challenging and convicting. Take some time to consider these categories. These summaries are taken from Andy Naselli’s post on the same topic.

1. Quietism: Evangelical Docetism (pp. 168–69)

“the tendency to overspiritualize and dehumanize Christian existence, including the way we use the Bible. We have seen it in the ‘let go and let God’ holiness piety. Overall, it is an inclination to downplay the function of our humanity in life, as if our relationship to God is almost entirely passive. It leads to strange aberrations, for example, in the matter of guidance. . . . The human characteristics of the biblical documents are ignored. Historical and biblical-theological contexts are regarded as irrelevant. If a text ‘speaks to me’ in whatever way, the careful exegesis of it is dismissed as cerebral intellectualism. The gospel is neatly eclipsed by what exists beneath a veneer of spiritual commitment.”

2. Literalism: Evangelical Zionism (pp. 169–71)

“Some evangelical literalists use what is sometimes referred to as the ‘slippery slope’ argument—that is, a claim that failure to adopt this particular approach will lead to certain disaster. Thus we are told that if we do not interpret the Bible literally, the text can be made to mean anything we want it to mean. Hermeneutic chaos is predicted as the inevitable result. Yet literalism has seldom proved to be much protection against such a tendency . . .“The New Testament clearly does not support such a simplistic hermeneutic as literal fulfillment of prophecy. . . .

“If the gospel is our hermeneutic norm, then while it is true that the interpretation of the New needs an understanding of the Old, the principal emphasis is on the way the gospel and the New Testament as a whole interpret everything, including the Old Testament. The literalist must become a futurist, since a literalistic fulfillment of all Old Testament prophecy has not yet taken place. Christian Zionism not only reshapes the New Testament’s view of the future, but also affects the present period in which such a future is anticipated.”

3. Legalism: Evangelical Judaism (pp. 171–73)

“Legalism is something to which we are all prone, because it is one of the key tendencies of the sinful human heart. At its base it is an assertion of our control over our relationship to God. It is a soft-pedalling of the greatness of God’s grace to sinners. On the surface it may appear to be an exalting of the law, however the law is understood. Yet when we examine the nature of legalism, we find that the opposite is true. Once we imagine that we can somehow add to God’s grace or establish our righteousness by our deeds, we have in fact dragged God’s law down to our level of imperfection. If salvation is by faith in Christ plus some form of obedience, the gospel is diminished to the extent that we add to the principle of Christ alone. . . .

“Legalism is a subtle thing. Those who do not place the same emphasis on the law will be branded as antinomians, as against law, even lawless. But it needs to be emphasized that recognizing that God requires us to honor his laws and to be lawful is not the same as being legalistic. Sometimes the problem is cultural. Young converts often find themselves in a subculture that is strong in its spoken and unspoken taboos. In becoming more mature in the faith, they may realize that the safety of legalism needs to give way to the more risky business of being responsible to work out in the light of Scripture what is acceptable behavior. All behavioral norms need to be owned, or disowned, on the basis of their consistency, or inconsistency, with the gospel. Legalism is attractive because it is safe. It is easier to have a set of rules agreed on by the wider group than to have to make responsible decisions for Christian living. . . .

“The legalism I am concerned with here is a more uniformed piety that has not really reflected in any concerted way on the relationship of grace to law, of gospel to works. However, even largely unthought-out positions reflect a hermeneutic, and such unreflective evangelicalism can eclipse the gospel.”

4. Decisionism: Evangelical Bultmannism (pp. 173–74)

“A key evangelical belief is that people must be called to make a decision concerning the claims of Christ. Thus when people decide that Jesus Christ has indeed lived and died for them, they are often said to have made a decision for Christ. There are plenty of grounds for challenging people to repent and believe the gospel. That is not in dispute. . .

“I have experienced and witnessed the effects of calls to ‘decide for Jesus’ that have been made when almost no reason had been given why anyone should so decide. Rudolf Bultmann applied his existential philosophy in such a way that for him the historicity of the events of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth is not the central issue. What matters is the telling of the story, which may or may not be historically factual, and the way this story helps us in our self-understanding and authentic decisions in life. While not endorsing Bultmann’s philosophy and historical skepticism, there are evangelicals who are so earnest in calling for decisions for Jesus that they seem to forget to tell people why they should decide for Jesus. . . . It seems that the decision can become everything. . . .

“The problem is not the call for a decision. The error of decisionism is to dehistoricize the gospel and to make the decision the saving event. To that extent it expresses an existential hermeneutic.”

5. Subjectivism: Evangelical Schleiermacherism (pp. 174–76)

“Friedrich Schleiermacher is regarded as the father of liberal Christianity. . . . [He propounded] a whole system of theology that centered on the notion of a feeling of absolute dependence on the divine. . . . From time to time one encounters evangelicals who are convinced of the centrality of Christ and the authority of the Bible, but who nevertheless seem to operate primarily on the basis of feeling. Schleiermacher’s ‘feeling’ is not simply subjective emotion, but rather intuitive feeling. In the same way, evangelical ‘feeling’ is not necessarily purely emotive, but may be an intuitive conviction that is popularly expressed in terms of what a person feels to be the case. . . .

“The problem arises when we assume the meaning and significance of words that are translated from Hebrew and Greek as ‘happy,’ ‘blessed,’ ‘rejoice,’ ‘peace,’ etc. We easily read into them meanings that are insufficient or misleading. . . .

“Here we have two related problems affecting evangelical hermeneutics. The one is eisegesis, reading into the text an assumed meaning rather than trying to ascertain how the word is used in the biblical text. The other is allowing the importance of emotion, and an idea of Christian experience, to dull the objectivity of the word. It is in fact a form of reader-response hermeneutics in which the reader, often under the guise of being led by the Spirit, determines the meaning of the text. Gospel-centered hermeneutics sees Christ as the determiner of meaning.”

6. “Jesus-in-my-heart-ism”: Evangelical Catholicism (pp. 176–77)

“Many evangelicals use the evangelistic appeal to ‘ask Jesus into your heart.’ The positive aspect of this is that the New Testament speaks of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27); of Christ dwelling ‘in your hearts through faith’ (Eph. 3:17), and the like. It speaks of the Christian as having ‘received Christ the Lord’ (Col. 2:6). But it also makes clear that Christ dwells in or among his people by his Spirit, for the bodily risen Jesus is in heaven. Furthermore, there are no examples or principles of evangelism or conversion in the New Testament involving the asking of Jesus into one’s heart. In many cases this practice represents a loss of confidence in faith alone, for it needs to resort to a Catholic style of infused grace to assure us that something has happened. . . .

“When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble. The New Testament calls on the repenting sinner to believe in Christ, to trust him for salvation. To ask Jesus into one’s heart is simply not a New Testament way of speaking. . .

“Once again, we see that it is not always an outright error that we are dealing with. Rather, it is allowing something that is good and necessary (Christ present by his Spirit) to eclipse something that is of prior importance (faith in the doing and dying of Christ) and upon which the good thing we emphasize actually depends. The result can be disastrous.”

7. Evangelical Pluralism (pp. 177–79)

“I would suggest that an important hermeneutical question, if not the crucial one, is this: does God say contradictory or incompatible things in Scripture, or is it that some things may appear to us as contradictory or incompatible because we do not fully understand them in relation to the ‘big picture’ of the Bible? The fact that we can and do err, and that no interpreter of the Bible other than God himself is infallible, does not mean that God did not speak a unified truth in his word. If pluralism means that the Bible does not speak with the one voice of the Holy Spirit, then it is in error. But if it means that the gospel message, or even a specific text, may have different applications in different situations, I can see no problem. . . .

“If the descriptive and synchronic study of the Bible [i.e., systematic theology] is not checked by the diachronic holistic approach based on the recognition of the unity of the word of God [i.e., biblical theology], it can lead to a revision of the sense of the authority of the Bible.”

8. Evangelical Pragmatism (p. 179)

“Evangelical aberrations are often a dehistoricizing of the gospel. When the gospel is reinterpreted primarily as how God does good and useful things in our lives now, a pragmatic hermeneutic may take over. This can take many forms, but the same basic problem is the constant of these aberrations. Good and important biblical truths are allowed to crowed out the central truths of the historic events of the gospel. Theologically speaking, this usually involves allowing the present experience of the Christian, rather than the finished work of Christ, to become the hermeneutical norm. It means focusing on the continuing work of the Spirit at the expense of the finished work of Christ. It undermines the centrality of our justification in Christ. . .

“Evangelical pragmatism takes on many forms and may include any or all of the matters already mentioned. Pragmatism is the view that what works is true. It ignores the issue of how we determine what kind of results we should look for. Thus, if it feels good it is true; if it brings people to church it is valid and right; if we get the numbers and a good cash flow our methods are correct. We conclude from good results that we must be acting biblically. Once again, it need only be said that the gospel hermeneutic does not necessarily support these views. Pragmatism is really a hermeneutical framework that is used to determine not so much the meaning of texts, but the meaning of events. . . . It is at its core a trinitarian error and a form of religious humanism.”

photo credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via photopin cc

August 21, 2014 at 9:05 am Leave a comment

9Marks Journal on “Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide of the Church”

BiblicalTheology
 
Biblical theology is not just about reading the Bible rightly, though it begins there. It serves to guard and guide the local church. It maintains the right message, defines the task of the messenger, identifies imposters, tells us what we do when we gather, and sets the trajectory of our mission. It answers the question, Who are we, as the church in the world?
 
The newest 9Marks journal explores the role of biblical theology in the life of the church. Biblical theology is not simply “theology that is biblical”, it is a theological discipline. For a good introduction to biblical theology, see David Schrock’s blog post Biblical Theology for the Non-theologian.
 

August 19, 2014 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

Salvation and the Mission of God: Ed Stetzer, Trevin Wax, David Platt, and Frank Page

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On June 10th, 2014, at The Southern Baptist Convention, Ed Stetzer, Frank Page, David Platt, and Trevin Wax discussed the topics of salvation and the mission of God.

  • Does one’s belief on the extent of the atonement affect their understanding of mission and the offer of the gospel?
  • Can two Christians disagree on soteriology and partner in ministry?
  • Does the order of salvation affect how one does evangelism?
  • When it comes to the theological particulars of salvation, what is the difference between compromise and cooperation?

We hope you are encouraged and challenged by the audio of this important discussion. Below are Ed and Trevin’s reflections on the discussion.

August 13, 2014 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

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