Monday, February 13, 2006

Evangelism: Talking Points

6 Epiphany
5 Hilary
Absalom Jones, Priest

I know lots of Christians who hate talking about evangelism. I think if you really pressed them, they might even admit that they hate evangelism, or at least what they think it is. You might have a good idea of what comes to their minds: offering a tract to people, explaining “four spiritual laws,” or some other kind of step-by-step mini-seminar on “how to go to heaven” that nobody really wants to hear anyway.

Lots of people think (some enthusiastically, others not) that this is a model they’ve picked up from the ancient Church as described in the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus’ early disciples stood on street corners day and night shouting at people to repent and accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior. Right? Nope.

I think that picture results from projecting the peculiar opinions and practices of present-day faith communities onto the ancient faith, rather than considering historical evidence. So, what was evangelism in the early church? What did it look like? Who was it to? What form did it take? What the heck did they mean by it?

I’d like to offer a series of observations and talking points on evangelism based on some of the reading I did last year. I’m finding this difficult to write about, so I may only put up one or two posts on this each week.

Good News?

The word transliterated as evangelion is the news that a new king is in power. In the parlance of the times, it was the word used for the proclamation that a new Caesar had been enthroned in Rome, that he was indeed the “Lord and Savior” of the world. For Paul and others to carry an evangelion about Jesus was to proclaim, in Tom Wright’s simple phrase, “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not.” This gospel is not simply “spiritual,” but also blatantly political – good, pre-modern Jews, after all, did not separate their lives into such neat compartments.

I see that kind of context for the “gospel” to be deeply provocative, indicating that the present and coming reign of Jesus brings a direct and serious challenge to the “secular” order, and indeed that no part of life gets to be “secular” ever again.

What do y’all think of this notion of the gospel as a rival proclamation against imperial power? Is that a surprising notion, or are you there already? In what ways do you find that provocative for your own life in Christ’s Church?


naak said...

I agree that Christ kingship should be a real part of the Christian message. As I read through Matthew it seems that he goes to great lengths to show that Christ is the one promised to Israel who would sit on the throne of David. For this not to be a part of the "good news" would be kind of silly.

Look forward to your next writing.

Anonymous said...

Last semester my Introduction to Holy Scripture class was taught by a priest I hadn't seen since I served at his alter in gradeschool, Fr. Richard Cassidy and he has written some interesting stuff over the years on this very subject. His book "Christians and Roman Rule in the New Testament" was used in the class and your post pretty much sums up the main premise. It was an interesting class and I have thought about some of it before, but not very deeply. Having read Wright I have had his perspective as well which is similar.

It has provoked me to be careful not to identify too closely with either political party.

Steven Carr said...

'Jesus is Lord, and Caesar is not'

Didn't Jews preach that Yahweh was LORD and Caesar was not?

Of course, Wright has to turn Romans 13 into a 'subversive' document, when it clearly implies that the Roman Emperor had been appointed by God.

1 Peter 4:7 says 'The end of all things is near.'

But even though the author saw the end of Roman rule in the near future, he had written in chapter 2
'13Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.'

How radically subversive can a message of submitting to secular authorities get?