Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Should we engage in "confrontational evangelism?"

I received several comments on my blog-post "How high should evangelism be on your priority list?" All of them were great and much appreciated. One comment in particular caught my eye because of a question that the author posed to me. After thinking about my response for a time, I decided that I would dedicate a blog entry to answering the question rather than simply batting it around in the comment area. It is after all a very important question, and one that I believe every Christian must ask at one time or another.

Drew Pearce asked, "[A]re you saying that there is no place for confrontational evangelism, or just that it should not be our primary evangelistic method?"

I talked with Drew briefly about what he meant by "confrontational evangelism" because I wanted to make sure that we were on the same page before I began formulating a response. We agreed on the following definition for the purposes of discussion: Confrontational evangelism is the act of sharing the gospel message with a person with which you have no substantial relationship. Drew and I are referring to situations where the Christian person finds himself/herself in a position to share the gospel message with someone on a plane, a bus, door-to-door, etc. One might refer to the intended audience as a "stranger" or at the very least a "casual acquaintance."

Anyone who engages in evangelism should be aware of certain traps or pitfalls that he/she might encounter along the way:

1) The temptation to forego our scriptural mandate to disciple. The Great Commission is not a command to tell the story of Christ. It is first and foremost a command to disciple fellow believers. All too often it is the case that the person receiving this new information (whether they decide to step out in faith and act upon it or not) is left to deal with it without follow-up, guidance, or instruction. You are never "off-the-hook" when it comes to your responsibilities to disciple. Sharing the gospel is a commitment. It is a commitment to a relationship. Even if the person does not accept Christ on the spot, you are not relieved of your responsibilities. You should always provide them with some sort of contact information and tell them to feel free to contact you if they have questions or would like to know more; but you must remember that in doing so you are committing to building a rapport and relationship with that person should they so desire. If they accept the gospel, then you've definitely got some work ahead of you! Paul understood this commitment. He didn't just run around the Mediterranean telling the story of Jesus, getting a few bites, and then moving on to new and greener pastures. The church has to be built, and the building process relies on established relationships, not casual acquaintances.

2) The danger of reducing the gospel to a story, and thereby ignoring its full power for the salvation of everyone who believes. The story of Jesus is only a part of the gospel, albeit a crucial part. The whole of Scripture and its teachings, at the very least, constitutes the entirety of the written gospel. Simply summarizing the contents of this or that narrative (e.g. the crucifixion/resurrection narrative) is not a complete gospel presentation. God may move a person to accept Christ after he/she hears the F.A.I.T.H. presentation, but don't think for even a second that the gospel has been shared in its entirety. This goes back to the relational commitment. Those whom I consider to be examples of mature Christianity are still sharing the gospel with me through their knowledge of Scripture and their living witness!

3) The danger of pointing someone down a path and then leaving him/her to complete the journey alone. Satan is our enemy, and he will try to coax us away from the path of righteousness at every turn. I am not trying to be flippant or to trivialize Scripture when I say that discipleship is God's "buddy system." Discipleship is the passing of wisdom from those who have more to those who desire more. We are to confess our sins to one another; we are to build one another up in love; we are to encourage one another. This is the core of mutual edification. Discipleship and mutual edification, when executed scripturally, function as a system of "checks and balances" designed to keep us walking in the light. If someone is left alone to fend for himself, the chances of his straying from the path greatly increases.

I could say more, but I have to stop. This post is getting ridiculously wordy. Please note that the common denominator between all of the points above is the concept of "relational commitment." When you identify someone with which you intend to share the gospel, remember that you are about to make a serious commitment. I personally believe that long-distance relationships can be more difficult to maintain than close-proximity relationships. If you are going to engage someone who does not live near you, then make sure that you are ready to assume the discipleship role if necessary (meaning if they accept). When evangelism is viewed in this way, then the phrase "confrontational evangelism" comes to mean "the discipleship journey that began with someone I did not know." Given that your gospel presentation begins at the first handshake of any relationship, the term loses any significant definitional value.

In other words, I'm not saying that "there is no place for confrontational evangelism." I'm saying there's no such thing. A stranger is simply someone whom you have yet to accompany on the path to their salvation, sanctification, and glorification; and they have yet to accompanying you on yours.

Friday, January 12, 2007

How high should evangelism be on your priority list?

I hear it all the time. I hear people in various churches saying things like, "We need to be a Great Commission church." I hear sermons about the dire need for people to stand up and tell the world about Jesus. "When was the last time you shared Jesus with someone," they'll ask. "Jesus gave his all for you. Are you ashamed of Him?" Evangelism programs have been cropping up everywhere for years: F.A.I.T.H., G.R.O.W., The N.E.T., and the list goes on. When one program gets old and enthusiasm withers, the pastor will attempt to re-energize the congregation with the latest program designed to win the world for Christ. They'll say, "If you want to recommit yourself to sharing Jesus, then come down to the alter and pray. Pray that God will give you the boldness to share His gospel with the world. Commit yourself to sharing Jesus by participating in [Place Evangelism Program Name Here]." And here they'll go. They'll go in droves. Why? Because if you stay in the pew then you don't want to commit yourself to sharing Jesus. If you stay in the pew then you don't want boldness, and you don't want to share Jesus with a lost and dying world. If you stay in the pew, then you don't love Jesus.

The question I have is this. If evangelism should be so high on the priority list, why doesn't Scripture say more about it and how to do it effectively?

When I read the New Testament, I see a tremendous amount of instruction on the nature of holiness and right action, but I don't see any substantial instruction on how to share the gospel. I see commands left and right in the Epistles, but they all seem to address the living of a holy life. Not once do I hear Paul say, "And I hear that you guys aren't sharing Jesus with anyone. Have we been raised to walk in newness of life to sit on our tails and not share the gospel? May it never be!" Not once do I hear the gospel writers chastise the body for not going door-to-door or participating in some evangelistic initiative. Why is that?

I believe that Scripture makes it absolutely clear that the greatest gospel presentation any member of the body will ever give is a life lived for Christ. A holy life is a living testimony to the power of the gospel. Go back through Scripture and see how many times members of the church were approached by people who wanted to know more about the lives they were witnessing. People saw something in Paul, John, Peter, and others that they had never seen before, and they wanted to know what it was, where it came from, and where they could get some. Were the pioneers of the early church fishers of men? You can bet they were, but a great deal of the time the fish were jumping into the boat. Evangelism wasn't so much an activity that they engaged in as it was the light of the Holy Spirit radiating from within them into the surrounding darkness. It is a trustworthy saying that those remaining souls that constitute God's elect, those that are still lost and groping in the darkness, will quite naturally make their way toward the light; but there must be a light to make their way toward.

If you walk away from this post thinking that I am against evangelism, then you are dead wrong. I am simply trying to follow Scripture and put things in the proper perspective. How does Scripture say that we should share Jesus? Through F.A.I.T.H. or through faith?

Do you believe that evil serves the greater good?

David Hume: “Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence is evil?” [1]

In his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume presented what is widely considered to be the classical formulation of the Problem of Evil. The Problem of Evil addresses the question: "How is the existence of evil compatible with an omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent God?" Christian philosophers and theologians have posited a variety of different theodicies over the centuries to explain the paradox that arises from the fact of God's existence and the fact of evil's existence. The Greater-Good theodicy (G-G) is one such explanation.

When confronted with the questions "Why does evil exist?" and "What purpose does evil serve in God's creation?", many people will respond with something like the following: Evil serves the greater good, which is to say that God only allows evils that will result in the occurrence of a good that is greater than the evil in question. William Rowe, a self-professed atheist, stated the G-G theodicy in this way: "God would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering He could, unless He could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse." You will no doubt notice that Rowe added the stipulation that God might also allow an evil as long as it is equivalent to any other evil that might occur at that moment or to prevent a worse evil from occurring. In other words, God might allow a beating if it would prevent a murder. Proponents of the G-G theodicy often quote passages of Scripture in support of their position. The two passages that I most often hear are Gen. 50:20, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result..." (NASB) and Rom. 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." (NASB)

Personally, I am not a proponent of the G-G theodicy, and it is my intention to explain why. I think there are some very serious problems that arise when one approaches the issue from the greater good perspective; problems that are fatal to the theodicy as a whole. Because I am not trying to give a complete exposition of the G-G theodicy, and because I don't want this post to be overly lengthy, I will focus on my top three objections to the G-G Theodicy:

1. The G-G theodicy makes the actualization of certain evils a necessary pre-condition for the actualization of certain goods. Consider a situation where there might be at least two ways for God to actualize a certain state of affairs, S. Suppose that in one way he can actualize S by first actualizing a really good state of affairs that leads to S. In another, he can actualize a really bad state of affairs that leads to S. Face with these two options, doesn't it seem intuitive given what we know about the nature of God that He would choose option 1? Why would God use evil to bring about S when he could just as easily use good? What I am trying to convey here is the notion that if God uses some evil to bring about a good state of affairs, then that evil must be necessary in order to bring about that state of affairs. I think that we can only conclude that God is unable to actualize certain states of affairs without using evil, for if He could, He would qualify as a sadist. This places a limitation on God that I am not prepared to concede. Moreover, I have difficulty believing that any really good states of affairs owe their actualization to any really evil states of affairs.

2. The G-G theodicy does not account for certain instances of intense suffering that seem to be obviously gratuitous. In his attack on theism, Rowe cites the case of Sue as a possible instance of gratuitous evil. Sue was a five year old girl who was raped, brutally beaten, and then strangled to death on New Year's Day, 1986. Rowe's contention is that Sue's situation was an example of evil and suffering above and beyond that which was necessary to bring about any greater good. The degree to which Sue suffered was, in effect, overkill and therefore purposeless. If Sue's death was necessary to bring about a greater good, then surely she could have simply been shot in the head and died immediately rather than suffering the rape, beating, and strangulation. Moreover, if a greater good did actually occur, then who experienced it? Certainly not Sue who is now dead; her last earthly experience being the hands of a murderer clutching her neck and choking the life out of her. As Rowe contends, even if you could demonstrate the greater good that obtained in this case, you would be hard-pressed to demonstrate it for every horrific act of violence perpetrated against man and animals. This brings me to the third and final criticism of the G-G theodicy.

3. Quite often, proponents of the G-G theodicy expect the theory to be taken at face value due to their inability to answer the key question: What greater good state of affairs obtained as a result of this particular evil? When faced with this question, proponents of the G-G theodicy are often at a loss to provide a satisfactory answer. What greater-good came about as the result of Hitler's murdering 6 million Jews? Could God not have brought about the same good with only 5,999,999 deaths rather than 6 million? Wouldn't that be better?

In closing, please remember that I am not denying God's ability to make the best of a bad situation. As in the Joseph narrative, I believe that God can actualize good states of affairs in spite of the bad ones. I am simply denying that He intentionally uses evil states of affairs for the purpose of actualizing better ones. When one looks at the Problem of Evil through the lens of a G-G theodicy, evil appears to be a tool that God uses to accomplish His holy purposes; purposes He can only achieve by using evil. This is an idea that I have a very difficult time accepting, and an idea which I do not think that Scripture teaches.

[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1989), 84.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What is a deeper and more intense experience of God?

My friend Alan recently posted some comments on his blog (The Assembling of the Church) about an article released by the Barna group called "House Churches Are More Satisfying to Attenders Than Are Conventional Churches." The article is interesting, and I recommend reading it. My comments here, however, are not about the subject of the article itself, but are related to a comment made within the article. When talking about the segment of the population that is attracted to the house church model, the author writes: "The older participants, largely drawn from the Boomer population, are devout Christians who are seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God and other believers." The phrase that catches my eye is the one about "seeking a deeper and more intense experience with God."

I have both heard and felt this sentiment many times, and I would be absolutely shocked if there were any Christian in the history of the world who had not felt it at one time or another. I recently heard an opponent of the emerging church movement say that "[he too] yearn[s] for deeply moving worship experiences." Yes, he is an opponent of the movement, but he made the comment in an attempt to identify with an attitude which he felt was common among the proponents of the movement. From the literature that I have read (which admittedly isn't very much), it seems that a more profound and meaningful worship experience is at least part of the emerging church conversation, especially for those who are ready to throw off what they consider to be the shackles of the institutional church.

I commonly yearn for "deeply moving worship experiences" and a "more intense experience with God" as well. I often wonder, however, what I mean when I think or say such things. What is a deep and intense worship experience? What is a deeply moving worship experience? I find that I am afraid to answer these questions from somewhere inside myself. I know that I am fallen. I fear that I will get caught up in some sort of hyper-emotionalism of my own creation. If a deeper, more intense, and more meaningful worship experience is possible, then its form, substance, and nature should most certainly be derived from Scripture.

I believe that the yearning or desire that we have for a deeper worship experience occurs for a number of reasons, all of which are directly related to God's nature and the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit. First, we realize that God is worthy of our worhip and that He is the proper object of our worship, and we long to give Him what He deserves. Second, as Christians we realize to a great extent (even if not fully) how separated from God that we truly are, and as a result of this knowledge we desperately long to be reunited with Him. Although we are saved, guaranteed by the indwelling Spirit, there still remains a gulf between us and God that will not be completely bridged until we are glorified in the eschaton. Third, the Spirit within us desires to be in that perfect fellowship with the Father and the Son, and His desire carries over to us. He is our Counselor, and in this matter, he counsels us in the beauty and meaningfulness of perfect fellowship with God.

Our relationship with God cannot and will not be fully repaired until our glorification. In effect, we long for that which we cannot have, and in realizing this we must exercise great caution. It may be that our attempts to experience that for which we yearn so deeply, that which we are incapable of satisfying, may result in an emotionally driven "worship" experience of our own manufacturing, and ironically, become detrimental to the profoundly meaningful relationship with God that is our heart's desire.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The Gettier Problem

It would take far too much space to explain the Gettier Problem, so I leave it to the reader to familiarize himself with the issue at hand. Wikipedia has a very clear and concise description of the problem and I highly recommend it. Gettier's original article is short and easy to understand. I recommend it as well. Most people who would read this post and respond know the problem anyway, so a detailed explanation is unnecessary.

Gettier Case 1: Smith is making three claims to knowlege here, not just one. His primary claim to knowledge stands wholly dependent on two others. His justification for claiming that "the man who gets the job will have 10 coins in his pocket" is that he knows (by the definition justified true belief) that "Jones is the man who will get the job" and that "Jones has 10 coins in his pocket." In order for him to know these two propositions, they must be justified, believed, and true. One of these propositions, however, is in fact not true, so Smith was not within his epistemic rights to claim that he knew it. Consider his argument:

(1) Jones is the man who will get the job.
(2) Jones has 10 coins in his pocket.
(3) The man who gets the job will have 10 coins in his pocket.

It should be obvious that the argument is valid, but it is not sound. Premise 1 is not true, and therefore not knowledge. Knowledge, like truth, propogates through the argument to the conclusion. Smith is making three claims to knowledge in this case. His knowledge of (3) is dependent on his knowledge of (1) and (2). In fact, the heart of Smith's justification for (3) is his knowledge of (1) and (2). In other words, Smith's justification for (3) was poor. If he does not know (1) and (2), then he is not justified in claiming to know (3). Smith's claim to knowledge fails, not because justified true belief is inadequate, but because premise (1) did not meet the criteria for knowledge (it was not true), and therefore served as a poor justification for believing (3).

Gettier Case 2: Like Case 1, Gettier sort of "glosses over" the fact that Smith is making multiple claims to knowlege, some of which depend on others. The first claim is (f), “Jones owns a Ford.” In order for Smith to claim knowledge of (f) under the definition in question, (f) needs to be a) justified, b) believed, and c) true. Smith is justified in believing that Jones owns a Ford and he does in fact believe that Jones owns a Ford, but it is not true that Jones owns a Ford. It is true that (f) entails (g), (h), and (i), but given that Smith cannot claim (f) as knowledge, he is not within his epistemic rights to claim as knowledge any of those propositions entailed by (f). All that Gettier has succeded in showing here is that knowledge carries through the entailment. If Smith knows that “Jones owns a Ford,” then by entailment, Smith knows that “either Jones owns a Ford, or Brown is in Barcelona.” The same applies to the Barcelona clause. In order for Smith to know the disjunctive proposition, he must know one or both of the corresponding clauses. Once again, Smith's claim to knowledge fails, not because justified true belief is inadequate, but because (f) did not meet the criteria for knowledge (it was not true), and therefore served as a poor justification for believing (h).

Friday, January 5, 2007

What is the relationship between truth and knowledge?

I have been spending a considerable amount of time lately thinking about the phrase "justified true belief" and whether or not it constitutes an acceptable definition for "knowledge." I have worked through the Gettier examples, and while he may have had a point, the problem I'm talking about is of a much more fundamental nature. Gettier attacked justified true belief at the application level. He attempted to conceive of some scenario where all three elements could be accounted for, and yet, to claim knowledge would be erroneous. In other words, he was attempting to think of a situation where justified true belief would not equate to knowledge. For the record, I do not believe that the Gettier examples, nor any of the "Gettier-type" examples that I have encountered thus far, actually demonstrate that justified true belief is not an acceptable definition of knowledge. I hope to post more on this later, but for now, I mention it so that the reader will not think it is an area that I have overlooked.

Consider the following definition: A proposition q is knowledge for person P if and only if q is justified for P, true, and believed by P. The question that I have is this: If I can determine that q is true, why do I need the justification and belief? It seems to me that the very question that is being asked when I inquire about knowledge is whether or not I have a cognitive grasp of a proposition's truth.

Consider the set of all true propositions, T. It seems to me that the set of propositions K that P could claim as knowledge is the subset of T that P knows to be true. In other words, a true proposition does not become knowledge until its truth is known by someone. The only distinction that can be made between a proposition that is true and a proposition that is known is that the known proposition is comprehended in a special way by P. Any q that is a member of K is so because P has a cognitive grasp of the truth of q. It seems to me that whenever we talk about knowledge, it is this attribute or property that we call "truth" and its comprehension that is in question. In my mind at least, this is the very issue that epistemology as a discipline attempts to address. Can we ever cognitively grasp the truth of a proposition?