For a series intro, check out the first post: Intro
The title of this post is “Praise,” but it will take a minute to get to that….Elliot Clark (the author) first wants to discuss the reality of the world we live in and how we think about evangelism…
“We increasingly define “evangelistic opportunities” as those rare instances where we perceive others to be open to the gospel. When we think we have a willing audience. When we surmise that those around us are sympathetic to our perspective and will listen without rebuttal.”
“As we come to Peter’s first epistle, we may even assume that he advocated for such a passive witness. That when we live as exiles, we ultimately rely on silent testimony. That we merely depend on others observing a living hope in us, then asking us to tell them about it. That we should delay our witness, sometimes for years, waiting for opportunities like we’d wait for a nibble on a fishing line.”
“But Peter never intended to portray our evangelism as exiles solely in terms of quiet humility and respectable conduct. He expected Christians facing shame and social exclusion to embrace their exile by boldly preaching the gospel with authority—even when others don’t want to hear it. Even when such proclamation is sure to invite ridicule and suffering.”
“For Jesus’s disciples the call to be “fishers of men” didn’t conjure images of a leisurely weekend on the shore passively waiting for a bite. They understood fishing to be labor. It involved risk and implied a proactive approach of launching out with nets to claim a catch.”
“But proclamation of any kind can be especially difficult as exiles. After all, we’re not in a position of authority, so how can we speak with it? And isn’t authoritative speech unnecessarily offensive? So we often passively wait for gospel opportunities. We submit the call of the Great Commission to the will of those ill-disposed to our message. We defer preaching to suitable situations—or just the pulpit. We placate others by hemming and hawing about our convictions or their sin. Or we avoid awkward religious conversations altogether. Perhaps in the past we could get by with such a hands-off approach, when we could count on a reasonable percentage of the population having a favorable view of the church. But depending entirely on others to express interest in our gospel is less tenable as society becomes increasingly disillusioned by our faith, and we become an excluded minority. If we continue the pattern of waiting for perfect opportunities, they may never come. And our fate will be that of the wary farmer who observes the wind and doesn’t sow, who considers the clouds and never reaps (Eccles. 11:4). Such farmers have empty barns in winter. We too, if we’re too busy trying to discern the times, raising a moistened finger to the wind to see if someone is ready to respond to the gospel, will likely never see a harvest of souls. We’ll never open our mouths to speak, because we’ll be waiting for a better day. But better days don’t seem to be on the horizon.”
Do you think about evangelism as “sharing the gospel?”…
“For some time now, American Christians have conceived of their witness in terms of “sharing the gospel.” Read any book or listen to any talk on personal evangelism and you’ll inevitably encounter the phrase. On one level, the terminology is positive, conveying the gracious act of giving others a treasure we possess. However, if by “sharing” we imply a kind of charity where we only give the gospel to willing recipients, then our Christian vernacular has become a problem. Especially since the Bible rarely uses such language to describe the act of evangelism.”
“And when that becomes our default instruction—to simply share the gospel—we fail to convey the attitude, approach, and authority necessary for the act itself. Thus what started as a subtle change in terminology results in a massive shift in our whole ethos of evangelism. That’s because “sharing” typically involves the act of giving something to someone who desires it. Children share (or don’t share) Legos with other kids who want them. Friends share a great cookie recipe with another friend who asks for it. Or we might share money with those holding a cardboard sign at the street corner. In each case, we share with others because they’re asking for what we possess. But the reality is, few people are ever begging us to share the gospel with them. We must ask ourselves, then, whether casual Christianese has influenced the way we view the gospel mandate. We must consider why we’re only willing to speak the gospel when we perceive openness on the part of another. We must ponder whether we even have a category for proclaiming a message that people oppose, one that’s innately offensive. Or do we tiptoe through polite spiritual conversations and timidly share our opinions, then call it evangelism?”
“Far more than just sharing, evangelism involves testifying to Christ—warning, persuading, defending, pleading, and calling. As we saw last chapter, such authoritative witness need not be in opposition to gentleness and respect. Moreover, the context of healthy, trusting relationships can actually add force to our words. But sadly we often value those relationships more than a clear statement of the truth. Rarely do we engage people with a sense of authority or urgency.”
If “sharing” isn’t the ideal metaphor for exiles in the world, you might think he’s going to talk about strong proclamation…let’s see what he suggests:
“When we think about speaking the gospel with urgency and authority, we may envision a fiery preacher pounding a pulpit, or perhaps a man in a sandwich board warning of judgment to passersby. But that day, sitting on plastic chairs in the park, I just tried to explain to Meryem how Jesus is good news for us—and for the world. I wanted her to understand the joy and forgiveness he brings to our lives. The urgency of the moment opened my mouth with praise, not with stormy rhetoric. Likewise, Peter described the content of our exilic proclamation as praise. He called us as priests to declare God’s glory to others. Yes, we preach Christ crucified. But we do so glorying in the cross. We exult in God, and our adulation overflows to others, telling them how he has delivered us from darkness and into glorious light. In other words, worship is essential to evangelism.”
“Praise is the most natural thing in the world for us, and we do it all the time. We brag about our favorite sports team. We rave about restaurants. We shamelessly tell others about the deals we find online. We can’t stop talking about the latest Netflix series or our last vacation. We adore musicians, endorse politicians, and fawn over celebrities. We promote our kids’ school and post about our morning coffee. We sing the praises of just about everything, even gluten-free pizza. But ask us to raise our voices in praise to God outside of weekend worship, and we struggle to string together a whole sentence.”
Are you surprised by his suggestion of praise?
Questions For Thought or Discussion:
1.What things in your life do you spend more time praising publicly than the gospel? Why?
2.When you think of the note of praise of God and the gospel, what words or phrases come to mind? How would praise play into your opportunities and efforts to be more open to evangelistic opportunites?