Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Evangelism, II: Paul's Mission

6 Epiphany
5 Hilary
Cyril & Methodius, Missionaries

Who was Paul evangelizing, and what form did that take?

Many Christians and church historians have told the story that “the Jews” of the ancient world (as a monolithic, homogenous group) rejected the apostolic proclamation of Jesus for the greatest part, leaving Christian missionaries to work primarily with Gentiles, who knew nothing of the God of Israel.

According to Rodney Stark (The Rise of Christianity), the arguments for this thesis are:
  • In the Acts of the Apostles, a frustrated Paul declared that he was finished with Jews, and would go (minister) to the Gentiles.
  • Archeological and literary evidence indicates that Jewish synagogues remained active in the Diaspora for centuries
  • Extensive polemics between Jewish rabbis and Christian teachers indicate the continuing presence and interaction of distinct Jewish and Christian communities who found one another quite threatening.
Stark seeks to debunk this support, arguing respectively that
  • Paul didn’t move on to just any Gentiles. The narrative in Acts depicts him going to “Godfearers,” those non-Jews who were familiar with and sympathetic to Israelite theology and ethics, but who hadn’t taken the step of conversion to Judaism. The picture of Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17, introducing the faith to Greeks who were entirely unfamiliar with the Jewish narrative, does not seem to be the norm for his preaching.
  • The idea that the continuation of any synagogues indicates the failure of the Christian mission to Jews is akin to supposing that just because a “Little Italy” neighborhood exists in some large American cities, Italians on the whole have never assimilated into American culture.
  • All the harsh writings between Christian and Jewish leaders could be reflective of Christian success in mission just as easily as it could reflect failure. We can really only say that both sides were sensitive.
So what’s the implication? When people talk about evangelism in the early church, they like to imagine powerful preachers stepping out into the public square, introducing the entire Christian narrative to a lot of strangers who had never heard it before, who in turn converted en masse. That probably isn’t true. Stark’s arguments indicate that it’s possible that many converts had already been exposed to Judaism to a considerable extent.

The picture of apostolic evangelists telling groups of strangers about a “Romans Road” or “Four Spiritual Laws” just doesn’t hold up. That kind of “cold-call,” door-to-door sales approach to announcing the Reign of God in Christ isn’t biblical. Most people don’t pull that garbage anyway, and when they do, it doesn’t get them anywhere. And nobody likes the people who try. And do you know what? That’s okay. It really is an ugly and unloving thing to do.

So you can stop telling yourself that you should do those things, and like it.

Why is it that what most Christians think “evangelism” to be is actually something they don’t want to do, and would never want done to them? Why is it that people imagine that the work of proclamation is really a very dehumanizing thing?

Technorati Tags: , , ,


+ simonas said...

Man, you should read some about those saints you have at the header. The story kind of fits with what you are talking about. You can see some nice relating pictures about them on our community blog. Of course, you will not understand much since it's all in Lithuanian. :-)
And for the record, Lithuanians are not Slavs, so I'm not claiming my saints. They "belong" to many more then just me. :-)

Anonymous said...

"Why is it that what most Christians think “evangelism” to be is actually something they don’t want to do, and would never want done to them?"

I HATE whn people tell me that I need to abandone my beliefs and go for theirs. If it was about science or how to bake a pie, maybe. But to change my beliefs on something spiritual just for the sake of being one of "us" not "them"... It kinda bothers me.

Ok, I may be slaughtered for this, but... I don't believe that a person need leave their context and be a follower of Jesus. I'm definately not promoting "lone-ranger" sprituality, in any way. But, I do believe that one can become a Christ-follower, repent of his or her sins, take up their cross, and follow the Savior.

Too many times I have done the same thing I hate. "Leave them and come with us." But then I casually shrug off people who do the same to me. I think Jesus had a word for people like me...

And it isn't a fun one.

Driscoll is becoming less and less someone who I aspire to be like, but I still think his idea of "Reformissionary" evangelism is one of the most biblical. Establish relationships with people NOT just for conversion (that's not a friend, it's a target), invite them to participate in your world (which should be more than Sunday-christianity), and remain friends with them regardless of whether or not they accept our common faith.

I like this the most. It assumes I'm living for Christ, basing my decisions off of scripture and tradition, and that I'm mostly consistent.

I like to think I'm good at the christian thing.

Well, there's my rambling thought...


Anonymous said...

Oh, yah.


Expax said...

Let the single ministries rejoice on this blessed day.

Kyle said...


Thanks, Mike. I must say, when people try to get me to change my mind just for the sake of getting me to change my mind, that makes me all the more determined to bake pies my way, even if they turn out something like a green bean cassarole with grasshoppers.

Hmm. Could be that Driscoll has something good to say.

Thanks for the subtle hints, Simonas and Ben. Ben, be encouraged to go spend time with the singles ministry. Thos middle aged lonely divorcees would love a nice piece ...

Well, you know.

Expax said...

Middle Aged, HA! Older the better. Vintaged. What soon so wealthy shall pass.

So lets sing that good ole song... "Older Women make beautiful lovers. Old women they understand."

Have a Happy Valentines day. Hmmm Fat Tuesday isn't to terribly far from here either is it...