By Merv Budd
In my last article I explained the four assumptions upon which evangelism has often been characterized:
- Evangelism is Proclamation
- Evangelism is Propositional
- Evangelism is Punctiliar
- Evangelism is Personal
In part 1 we looked at evangelism as proclamation, and today I’d like to propose that we look at the assumption that evangelism is propositional. Further, I’d like to propose that we consider it as if we were aliens from outer space, while drinking cappuccino at a Starbucks.
I hope some of you are saying, “He’s nuts!” or “That doesn’t even make sense,” or some other discerning comment regarding the ridiculousness of my propositions. You have become, as many within our society have become, skeptical of the starting proposition.
Once more the struggle with making a proposition is that starts from a position of power. The one who states the proposition controls the content of the dialogue. It assumes the “right to propose” which may or—as is too often the case—may not have been granted. This is not to say that anyone is not free to make a propositions to another, but unless credibility has been established, unless there is relational trust, and mutual consensus of association, there is no compelling reason for the proposition to be considered or responded to.
Why Should I Listen?
“Why should I even listen to you?” is the question being asked of the church in Canada and until we have not merely given good reasons, but have earned credible social capital, our culture will not listen nor will our neighbours care. Too often our propositional evangelism comes across as trite or a one-size-fits-all type of concoction. The proposition we are making only confirms that we don’t understand the issues. And until they know we hear and understand their issues our proposition comes across as “nuts.”
Along with our dialogue (see part 1) we need to be asking questions that help us to understand what is being said. Probing questions that get to the heart of their (often assumed) presuppositions. Questions asked not in an accusing tone (e.g., “Why the heck do you think that?!”) but rather from deep humility that seeks to understand and to convey our true compassion and desire to empathize. We need to tread lightly as questions are powerful tools which can expose gaps, assumptions, and ignorance.
We may even find, that we learn things that we did not know. We may even have our own presuppositions revealed and have light shine on our own gaps, assumptions and ignorance. Perhaps we can “reason together,” a posture that God holds out to us even though He really does know all the answers (Isaiah 1:18).
I’m not saying we don’t need propositions; but simply that we can no longer lead with propositions, at least not if we want our propositions to be considered. In short, our evangelistic engagement starts not with talking but with listening interest.
At least that is what I propose. What do you think?