What is Pre-Evangelism?

What is pre-evangelism?  Pre-evangelism is the tough work of tearing down objections and obstacles to a sincere hearing of the Christian message of the gospel.  Some persons have walls in their minds and hearts that simply will not allow them to give an open ear to the claims of the Christian faith.  When we do pre-evangelism, we may not be “sharing the gospel” with someone, but we are doing the necessary work of helping them clear hurdles that stand in the way of really hearing the gospel.

A few weeks ago I was reading an excellent book entitled Prelude to Philosophy by Mark W. Foreman.  In the forward, J. P. Moreland, a well-known Christian philosopher and theologian, writes these very true and powerful words which mention the important work of pre-evangelism. It’s a long quote, but it’s worth the 3 minutes it will take you to read and digest it:

“[O]ur culture is in deep trouble.  And while the causes of our malaise are varied, a core problem is the general inability of the American people to think carefully about things that really matter.  And the church of Jesus Christ, which is called to be the pillar and support of the truth, is just as anti-intellectual as the broader culture.  There is a straightforward application of the church’s anti-intellectualism for the body of Christ’s ability to affect the world for Jesus.  To see this, consider the fact that a person’s plausibility structure is the set of ideas the person either is or is not willing to entertain as possibly true.  For example, no one would come to a lecture defending a flat earth because this idea is not part of our plausibility structure.  We cannot even entertain the idea.  Moreover, a person’s plausibility structure is a function of the beliefs he or she already has.  Applied to outreach, J. Gresham Machen got it right when he said:

‘God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favourable conditions for the reception of the gospel.  False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel.  We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here or there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.’

If a culture reaches the point where Christian claims are not even part of its plausibility structure, fewer and fewer people will be able to entertain the possibility that they might be true… This is why a vibrant intellectual life is so crucial to evangelism.  It empowers the church to be able to create a plausibility structure in a person’s mind, ‘favourable conditions’ as Machen puts it, so the gospel can be entertained by that person.  To plant a seed in someone’s mind in pre-evangelism is to present a person with an idea that will work on his or her plausibility structure to create a space in which Christianity can be entertained seriously.  If this is important to evangelism, it is strategically crucial that local churches think about how they can address those aspects of the modern worldview that place Christianity outside the plausibility structures of so many.1

Churches should labor to teach and train their people to do pre-evangelism.  This is not purely an intellectual exercise, but it is no less either.  Every church can play a role in this great task, even if it’s doing something as simple as supporting ministries like Ratio Christi who focus exclusively on the important work of pre-evangelism, or attending and supporting events like next year’s Why Jesus? in Bangor, ME.

  1. Mark W. Foreman, “Prelude to Philosophy: An Introduction for Christians” (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), 9-10. The bolded text is my emphasis.

A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Today it’s commonly argued that our Constitution does not allow for any speak of God in our public life by the government or its officials; that God and government cannot and should not be mixed and that to do so is to violate our Constitution’s most sacred ideals (or not-so-sacred ideals).

For example, groups like the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) suggest that our nation is fundamentally a “secular” one.  Speaking of the phrase “In God We Trust” on our nation’s currency, they argue:

“‘In God We Trust’ is a religious phrase. It does not belong on the legal tender of our secular nation, the first nation to separate church and state with a godless constitution.”

The FFRF believes that the establishment clause contained within the First amendment grants them a constitutional right to be free from religion.

Interestingly, the founders of our nation didn’t feel that way.  In fact, the prayers and speeches of many of our nation’s earliest leaders suggest to us that whatever the meaning of the establishment clause, it most certainly was not to cut God off from our public life or to free people from religion.

Take this proclamation made by George Washington in New York City on October 3rd, 1789, when he first proposed that our nation have a national day of Thanksgiving:

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.” 1

Nearly 75 years later Abraham Lincoln would make Thanksgiving a Federal holiday.  I won’t post it here, but that proclamation as well makes it clear that despite the claims of so many today, the founders of our nation did not think that God and government were like oil and water.  The Federal holiday we know as Thanksgiving Day, a day that was set apart by our government itself, is a day for the offering up of praise, thanksgiving and prayer to our most beneficent Heavenly Father (in the words of Lincoln).  And this holiday stands as a monument to the fact that historically, our leaders have not interpreted our nation’s founding and governing documents in a godless fashion, but rather naturally saw it not only their prerogative to make religious proclamations while in office but also their duty and proper place to exhort the entire American populace to recognize the source of our many blessings in this once great nation as coming down as “gracious gifts from the Most HIgh God” (Lincoln’s words again).

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Image “We the People” by Stephen Nichols, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

  1. The text from this proclamation can be found at http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/washingtons-thanksgiving-proclamation. Accessed on 11.26.15.

Jesus and the Supernatural

Do you believe in the supernatural?

A survey from 2004 showed that thirty-nine percent of those living in the UK consider themselves atheists or agnostics.(1) Yet a more recent poll found that, while many of those in Britain are abandoning Christianity, their interest and faith in spirituality hasn’t gone anywhere. Over half (fifty-five percent) of those surveyed professed belief in the supernatural and superstition; twenty-nine percent claim to be able to see into the future; and a similar number reported that they had knowledge of past lives or possessed telepathic powers. In comparison, less than ten percent attend a Christian church weekly.(2)

In the US we have our own national fascination with the supernatural. A 2007 poll found that a significant number of Americans believe in UFOs (thirty-four percent) or have personally encountered a ghost (twenty-three percent). Lest we think that a lack of education is to blame, Americans with at least a college degree were more likely to believe in ESP (fifty-one percent) than those with a high school education (thirty-seven percent).(3) And of the top ten most popular TV shows last year, five were based on the premise that the supernatural is real and at work in our world.(4) At the same time as more and more of our neighbors are claiming no religious faith (or claiming to be opposed to it entirely), our interest in the weird and bizarre has stayed put. One could even argue that the decline of Christian belief has led to an increased appetite for the paranormal.

Christians shouldn’t be surprised by this, since the Bible reveals our world to be chock-full of beings and realities that transcend the scientific definition of “natural.” Aside from God himself, spiritual beings like angels and demons are unapologetically presented as real and relevant to human life. Heaven and hell are not metaphors, and their inhabitants play as much of a role in the affairs of our lives as flesh-and-blood people — if not more.

Yet that is not to say that the spiritual world is an angelic Wild West. Hebrews 1:1-3 has already shown that Jesus, having accomplished the earthly work necessary to save his people, is now seated in heaven “at the right hand of the Majesty.” In other words — the King is on his throne, and the spiritual world is subject to him:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” In speaking of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, his servants flames of fire.” But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He also says, “In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.” To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?
Hebrews 1:4-14 (NIV)

The author of Hebrews affirms what many post-Christendom Westerners believe (and what the overwhelming preponderance of the citizens of the Majority World have always believed): there exists a world that our minds can only barely comprehend. Yet he goes further to say that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, rules over it all and directs its affairs. He quotes multiple passages from the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to show that this has always been true — the eternal Son of God has eternally ruled over angels, who were created through him (1:2).

So are we crazy for believing in the supernatural? Not at all. But more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we submit to the rule of the King of the supernatural. Do we acknowledge Jesus, not only as the Ruler of the angels, but as the Ruler of our hearts? We’d be crazy not to.

 


1 – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/pdf/wtwtogod.pdf
2- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2590349/God-Were-likely-believe-supernatural-Number-people-think-sixth-sense-higher-regularly-attend-church.html
3 – http://www.christianpost.com/news/how-many-americans-believe-in-ghosts-spells-and-superstition-29857/
4- http://www.imdb.com/search/title?title_type=tv_series

The False Gospel of Legislative Reform

I was reading just this week a pamphlet that I received in the mail urging Christians to get involved in the political process for the good of our nation.  Here’s one quote:

Many Christians are praying for and expecting revival.  While it is true that God has already given America three national revivals in the past, we desperately need another one today.  Personally, I’m not sure we can have one without legislative reform, because we have strayed so far from our Biblical foundations.  You cannot pollute the minds of a nation with ten billion dollars of pornographic literature annually and murder one and a half million unborn babies and have a revival.  We must have legislative reform, but we will never have legislative reform until we elect enough leaders who are committed to that reform.

Would a righteous God give us revival while we murder 4,000 babies every day?  Will He bless us while we legalize pornography and remove Him from the respectful position He has had traditionally?  I think not.

This raises a fundamental question about our Christian faith: which came first, our goodness or God’s grace?  Does God give us His grace in response to our goodness or is our goodness a result of His first pouring out His grace?

Or, to put it in political terms, should we only expect God to give revival once political reform has already happened, or is it more likely that God would give us revival which would lead to legislative/political reform? 1

In both cases, I would argue the latter.

Or think of it this way: Did God not give Jesus Christ to an apostate Israel after 400 years of deafening silence and that during a pagan Roman occupation?  There was little good to be spoken of in Israel or Rome at the time, yet God sent His Son, the One through whom He was going to make “all things new” (Rev. 21:5).  The greatest gift we have ever received in the history of the world, God’s Son, was not given to us in response to our goodness, or because we had the right people in power, or because we were pursuing legislative reform, but simply because God loved us.  God gave us His Son Jesus, because “he so loved the world” (John 3:16).  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).

Take John 3:16 for instance.  “World” or cosmos in the Greek, is a almost like a dirty word for John.  When John says world, think “bad.”  For example, John, the same John who wrote the gospel of John,  says in 1 John 2:16: “For all that is in the world (same word in Greek as is found in John 3:16), the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”

The world is bad.

Paul gives us another depressing picture of the world in Romans 3:10-18.  “There is none righteous, not even one.  There is none who understands, all have turned aside… There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

So then why did God send Jesus?  Why does anything good ever happen to us?  To anyone in the world?

Love.

And God’s love (or blessing) does not depend upon our pursuit of legislative reform, or because we attain it.

Revival is possible in this nation, and I do pray and hope that God gives us a wave of revival like never before seen.  I do see the vast array of problems that only seem to multiply and continue to grow in power and influence here in what used to be a great nation.  I do fully understand as well, that as we grow increasingly hostile in this nation to God and to His truth that it will become harder for Christians to live as they please.  That grieves me unspeakably.

But I do not think that the way to pursue revival is by banging on the doors of the White House or by changing any laws.  That may be necessary.  But where there are cold hearts, no law(s) will ever warm them.  Only the gospel will warm the heart.

That is what we need more of, not legislative reform.  Christians should, in my opinion, focus more on living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and less on enshrining our values in the laws of our land.  There may be overlap there, but they are not one and the same thing.

  1. I’m not going to address the very real issue that many Christians do not feel that we need significant reform.