Apropos of reaching out to unbelievers, one traditionalist commenter, who is either Roman Catholic or Orthodox (I can't quite tell), said last week:
My goal is to state my position as clearly and openly as possible so that they can make a decision on it, not to make it persuasive to them. I'm happy if they accept it, because I think their souls are better for it, but it's not my job to convert people. My job is to share the truth that I know and to prevent it from being misrepresented .... [Emphasis added.]
That's certainly a different attitude about evangelism. When Jesus (reportedly) said, "make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28.19) , his language suggests that he wanted results, not just effort. To get results, we can't merely proclaim what we personally believe our message to be, in a way that makes sense to us, and then be indifferent to whether or not our audience actually understands it and accepts it.
Perhaps the first lesson taught to both budding sales people and aspiring litigators is this: You can’t just say what you want to say, in the way that you want to say it. You have to figure out how to express your message in terms that your audience will understand and relate to. I’ve seen this described as sender-oriented communication — which often doesn’t work well at all — versus receiver-oriented communication.
This isn’t rocket science; it’s Sales Training 101, not to mention one of the first things I learned in a former life as a technology litigator (try getting the attention of an overworked, non-technical judge to explain the finer points of a data-compression algorithm, for example).
Jesus evidently understood this: His teaching style was heavy on parables that drew analogies to familiar events. It should be no surprise that he didn't command us to make disciples just of those people who happened to understand our particular teaching style — he said to "make disciples of all nations," implying it's our job to figure out how to make that happen for our various audiences.
Suppose that when Evangelist A dies, God informs her that her theological views were utterly wrong. But also suppose that, during her lifetime, she managed to bring X number of doubters to the point where they tried to love God with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbors as themselves.
Now suppose that Evangelist B dies, and God informs him that he got it 100% right about every point of orthodox belief. During his lifetime, however, he managed to convert only one-tenth as many doubters as did Evangelist A; the other nine-tenths could never understand or accept his message and were left unmoved by it.
Other things being equal, was one of these two evangelists more successful than the other? Clearly, yes: Evangelist A, who (hypothetically) "got it wrong" in terms of doctrine, but was far more effective in bringing people to God.
(Adapted from a comment I made during a verbal battle I found myself in last week.)
 While the Matthean version of the Great Commission is not without its problems, on this point it seems far more plausible than Mark 16.15-16, from the longer ending of Mark, in which Jesus is said to command the Eleven:
Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.
This Marcan passage does makes it sound as though Jesus was indifferent to whether people actually believed the good news and were saved. But that attitude seems decidedly out of character for the rabbi who told of the shepherd who left the 99 sheep to go find the lost one, and of the father who raced to greet the returning prodigal son. In any case, scholars regard the longer ending of Mark, in which this passage is contained, as of suspect origin, because it's not contained in the earliest and most reliable manuscripts.
I take the verse at face value. I am to tell who Jesus is and about His great work to reconcile us to God.
I am to do so with gentleness & respect.
Again, I am not worried about the "can God create a stone He can't lift" type of scenario. (In this case, "Evangelist A and Evangelist B")If I worry about this kind of thing, am I trying to find a loophole???
I am ashamed of my self when I am--less than courteous on sharing what I believe, or (worse yet) when I have an opportunity to share the great superhero works Jesus did to save us, and I say nothing.
And I pray for the teen girl who came to you and wanted to know who Jesus is...she needs answers.
Posted by: believing person | May 30, 2007 at 04:05 PM