Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Thoughts on Evangelism

In class last week, Dr. Coppenger was talking about a growing trend in evangelism. He graphically displayed it on the white board as the first picture I have reproduced above. The blue circle is salvation and the red cross has Christ as the center. The arrows represent the spiritual paths of individuals. All people are in different places in this view, with some closer to Christ than others. Some will never enter the circle of salvation, but what is important is movement toward the center, Christ. As Christians, our responsibility is to help others move closer to the center.

While Coppenger believes there is some insight here, he finds it problematic. Primarily, he thinks there is a misunderstanding of humans in our natural state. None of us is moving toward the center--we are all moving away from it. Therefore, he drew the second picture above as a more biblical understanding. Rather than simply guiding others closer to Christ (as in the first view), the responsibility of Christians is to confront individuals with their wrong direction, pointing them toward Christ and warning them of the direction they are headed.

I find his clarification insightful, taking seriously Romans 1:18ff. The gospel is confrontational. May we never forget this truth as we evangelize.
posted at 9:00 AM  
Comments (18)

At 10:27 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

What about Cornelius in Acts 10? He seemed to be someone moving toward Christ, but Peter was sent to guide him in completely.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger said...

I appreciate what Cop' is saying, though I think it is a bit too simplistic. I think the Puritans had the best grasp on an individual's journey to and with Christ.

They, and I believe Scripture, would argue that some people are moving toward Christ prior to regeneration/conversion. Of course, this is the drawing work of the Father/the convicting work of the Spirit. There are "points of faith" along the way as Owen says where men are coming to grips with the truth, though they still lack saving faith. And some men who are yet to be converted are "not far from the Kingdom" as Jesus says. So, yeah basic anothropoligy teaches us that man, in his "natural" state, has a mind that is hostile to God and a heart that does not seek Him. But much more needs to be said. Especially concerning the journey to Christ.

At 1:50 PM, Blogger The Traveler said...

I think the key to what Coppenger is saying is that people are enemies of God before they are saved. They hate who God is. If they don't seem to hate God it is because they do not really understand who God is.

The only way a person moves towards God is when God drags them kicking and screaming towards Christ.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger said...

The Reformed tradition knows of no such "kicking and screaming" conversion. It is true that regeneration is God's work, preceeding faith, and that prior to that all men reject Christ. Apart from effectual grace, no one will come to Jesus. But God draws, convicts, and regenerates - this changes our heart/will so that we come willingly, not kicking and screaming.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Baptist Superman said...

Two words: Romans Road.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

Traveler, your description may hold true for some, but it is not so for all who come to him. Case in point is my own experience.

Some of my earliest memories are sitting in my mother's lap in her rocking chair while she read me Bible stories. I can dare say that there is not a day in my life that I can ever remember not knowing that God loved me. And I've never "hated" God in my life outside of sinning against him which I suppose could be considered hateful action.

But I never kicked and screamed when I came to him. One day when I was about seven years old, the gospel message was clear for the first time, and I was ready to commit myself. In fact, my parents LITERALLY held me back from responding to an invitation at church until they could talk to me privately.

But there was no kicking and screaming unless it was to run to him! I understood the gospel. I understood I needed to repent of doing things like throwing spitballs and picking my nose after my mother told me not to (I was only seven after all). I understood that Jesus died for my sins and rose from the grave. I put my trust in him.

But no kicking and screaming. I became a believer in Christ out of love for him and thankfulness.

Have I known people who kicked and screamed? Sure. Some people are stubborn and rebellious, and they do not want to submit to anyone, even God. But God loves them and works on their hearts as he draws them closer.

And of course there is the experience that is the opposite from mine. After accepting Christ at a young age, I was rather disheartened when it took the threat of hell to convince my friends to make decisions a few years later. All my life I've wondered if a commitment made out of love and devotion is different from a commitment made out of horror and fear.

Have I ever kicked and screamed? Sure as God has worked in my life in the process of sanctification, as I have "worked out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13), as he's disciplined me (Heb 12:5-7).

But kicking and screaming ot come to him is NOT the only way a person moves toward God.

At 11:12 PM, Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

I first had that very diagram drawn on a napkin for me by a member of Navigator staff from a college in the Northeast.

At 11:15 PM, Blogger G. F. McDowell said...

I didn't like it then, and I don't like it now. Evangelism isn't a vectors equation where you preach one gospel to one man on one end of a field, and another gospel to another man on the other end, in order to get both to meet in the middle. The illustration is not so far removed, in my opinion, from universalism. We preach one gospel to all men; some will receive it with joy and bear fruit but many will reject it in the end.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger John said...

Wow, I have appreciated the comments on this post! Here are a few of my thoughts:

First, neither Dr. Coppenger or I meant to suggest that one can never move closer to the center (through the work of the Holy Spirit) apart from having salvation. This is why I said "Coppenger believes there is some insight here" in my post. The problem is when we start viewing unbelievers this way generally. Hence, I find myself in general agreement with Joe Thorn in his description of conversion.

Second, and with all respect, I fear Traveler has a very distorted understanding of God's drawing of people to faith in Christ. As Thorn pointed out, regeneration changes our heart and will so that we come willingly, not kicking and screaming.

Third, I am not sure what to say about R. Mansfield's testimonial. Since the Fall, and our being in Adam, we have all rebelled against God. I see no exception to this truth. Scripture and the doctrine of original sin teach us that we are born hating God. If all you mean by your statement is that you were raised in regular exposure to the gospel, then that's great. But if you are suggesting that you were not alienated from God prior to your conversion, then you do not understand life outside of Christ correctly.

At 10:45 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:49 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

John, before you start to opining as to what I understand and don't understand about life outside of Christ, you should give me the courtesy to clarify.

I never said that there was not a time when I was not alienated from God. There was. My point was in response to Traveler's suggestion that everyone comes "kicking and screaming" to Christ. This is simply not true for all who come to Christ, but undeniably true for some.

I never said that I never rebelled against God. I rebelled as a small child and I still rebel today.

Yes, because of original/inherited sin, I was born alienated from God. I was fortunate to be brought up in a Christian home, where as I said in my previous comment, that I don't remember even one day when I didn't know that God loved me. And it was because of this love, that when I first understood the love he displayed on the cross with the crucifixion of Jesus for our sins, that I immediately wanted to receive his free gift of salvation BECAUSE I realized that otherwise I was alienated (although I didn't know that word back then--but I certainly understood the concept).

“I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
(Mark 10:15 HCSB)

As for being born "hating God," where does the Bible specifically state that we are born hating God? My question does not mean that we are not born in original/inherited sin, and thus we are born alienated from God, nor that we are not in rebellion to God (which perhaps could be described as "hateful action"), and nor do I mean that there aren't people who do in fact hate God (Rom 1:30).

But how do you define "hate"? Two helpful definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are
1 : to feel extreme enmity toward [hates his country's enemies]
2 : to have a strong aversion to : find very distasteful [hated to have to meet strangers] [hate hypocrisy]

I can say without reservation that neither one of these definitions apply to my experience, and I would dare say the experiences of many believers.

However, perhaps you have a defintion you would like to propose or suggest a particular scripture passage. In the interest of charitable Christian conversation, John, I'll extend the invitation to you to do that without calling into question your understanding of the scriptures or doctrine.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger John said...

R. Mansfield, thank you for your clarification. I appreciate it greatly.

As far as what I mean by "hate," I'm now wondering if this is a difference of semantics. So, before I answer, let me ask you a question. How do you understand our natural attitude toward God in light of Romans 1:18ff and Romans 3:9-18?

I also must say that I disagree with you (and Traveler) on people coming to faith by God dragging them toward Himself kicking and screaming. Traveler thinks this is universally true while you think it is sometimes true. I think that this is never true. Regeneration changes our heart and attitude toward God when he draws us to Himself. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, a disciple begins desiring God (to borrow from John Piper). In essence, God changes our wills in conversion.

At 4:06 PM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

John, in answer to your question posed to my question, I'll be glad to oblige for the sake of clarification. The first passage you asked about (Rom 1:18ff) relates the gentiles' estrangement and rejection of God in spite of the revelation they had been given. The passage in Rom 3:9-18 brings evidence of both the guilt of the Jews and Gentiles together in Paul's argument.

Having said that, the passage is pretty clear in that Jews and Gentiles (and thus, all of humanity) are being spoken of in universal language in regard to the fact that all are in sin and without excuse. But much of the conversation being made in this blog entry has to do with the experience of the individual. We need to be careful that we don't alter Paul's meaning in this passage to apply each description to the experience of everyone who comes to Christ. He is not speaking in abolute particulars that applies to invididuals. Case in point, before I came to Christ, my mouth was not filled with cursing and bitterness, my feet had never run to shed blood. And Paul was not saying that I in particular had done so. But as a race, WE have certainly done that. However, as referred to in v. 10, I was certainly not righteous. And Paul's description in the following verses certainly do describe humanity as a whole, which is why we are ALL condemned without Christ. Therefore, to answer your question, OUR ATTITUDE (speaking generally of the human race) toward God is one of rejection, indifference, and even hostility.

Now if you go back to my testimony which I gave in an earlier post, a strong case could be made that because of my mother's faithfulness, I heard the gospel from almost the time that I was an infant.

“So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.”
(Rom 10:17 HCSB)

That was why I never had an experience of kicking and screaming as described by Traveller.

I know you say you disagree with me, but like you said about the word, "hate," this issue may be one of semantics with us as well. We may not be far apart if we are apart at all. When I say that some come to Christ kicking and screaming--well, actually that was Traveler's term. Perhaps for some we could say that unlike my experience, some really struggle in submitting to God. You are certainly right that through regeneration and through the Holy Spirit's work on a person's heart a person begins to desire God. But I think it's unfair to discount the journey that some take in getting there.

Case in point is Paul's own submission to Christ. Consider Paul's description of his encounter on the Road to Damascus: “When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’" (Acts 26:14 HCSB) [Ha--note that here there actually is a reference to "kicking"!].

What did Christ mean by that statement? Well, it was a fairly common proverb in Greek literature that meant "resisting one's destiny or fighting the will of the gods." From John Polhill's commentary on Acts: "In persecuting Christ, Paul was fighting the will of the One who had set him apart from birth (cf. Gal 1:15). Like a beast of burden kicking against his master's goads, he would only find the blows more severe with each successive kick. He was fighting the will of God (cf. Acts 5:39). It was a futile, senseless task."

When I say that some people struggle (to use my term) that's all that I mean--that God has called them, but the response is not always immediate (as in the case of Paul being called from his mother's womb), but rather some choose to fight against God. And of course, in doing so, they often waste what could be years of faithful service.

In my case, from the earliest moment that I clearly understood the gospel (when I was seven), I responded favorably. But a foundation had been laid because I had heard the message (Rom 10:17) for most of my life. Have I been rebellious since then? Have I fallen into sin since then? Certainly, we all have. But I've never sinned without the conviction from his Holy Spirit, and that is one of the ways I know that I belong to him.

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom 8:16 NASB)

Again, I don't know if we're all that far off from each other. My hunch is that I may not be phrasing certain things in the same rubrics of a particular theological system that you are using. But that doesn't necessarily mean we disagree. And I have attempted to appeal to scripture throughout our discussion as foundational to my argument.

Now...don't forget my original question, brother :)

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Tim said...

This is something I have heard of. As far as I know, it originated with Dr. Paul Heibert, a prof at TEDS and a big name in Missiology. Heibert, an anthropolgist, refers to it as the center set theory. The idea is the the items that are moving toward the center of the set are considered part of the set. Those moving away from center are not.

Instead of defining it as salvation or not salvation, he is speaking of who is and who is not a Christian. There are folks we know who are different than we are and yet we would consider them Christians. Where then do we draw the "in/out" line? Aside from some essentials, it is hard to define.

My problem with that theory is that it assumes a commonly defined center. Mormons have a Jesus and so do JWs. I'm sure there are some in those traditions who are moving toward him. But he isn't the true Jesus Christ of scripture. So there we go, we've defined some theology to explain our set.

The model isn't really all that helpful in my opinion.

At 11:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Tim, you nailed it! Having read some of Heibert's works, Dr. Coppenger's analysis really brought some perspective to this contemporary view.

R. Mansfield, I am not sure we agree here. I see Romans 1:18ff as universal with Romans 2 demonstrating to the Jews that they are included--hence the climax of chapter 3. I apologize for not pointing to commentaries for more substance here, but I assume that you get the general idea.

Regardless, I thought I indirectly answered your Cornelius question in my first response:

"First, neither Dr. Coppenger or I meant to suggest that one can never move closer to the center (through the work of the Holy Spirit) apart from having salvation. This is why I said 'Coppenger believes there is some insight here' in my post. The problem is when we start viewing unbelievers this way generally. Hence, I find myself in general agreement with Joe Thorn in his description of conversion."

Cornelius was clearly moving toward Christ through the power of God. But my point is that apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, people never move toward Christ, they always move away.

At 11:20 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 11:36 AM, Blogger R. Mansfield said...

John, I don't disagree with your brief assessment about the passages in Romans AT ALL. In fact, I believe I said the exact same thing (using different words) in the FIRST paragraph of my last comment.

Evidently, you and I have some kind of communication difficulty. Perhaps we'll have to meet on campus over a cup of coffee sometime and discuss these things in person.

A case in point of our communication is one that I will take complete blame for. In my last post when I asked you not to forget my original question, I was not referring to the original question I asked regarding Cornelius. I had asked you a question in an earlier comment regarding the definition of hate and for scripture references that said we are all born hating God--especially in light of my own testimony that I had shared. You had then replied that before you were going to answer me, you wanted me to tell you what I thought two passages in Romans meant which I did in my last post.

You still haven't given me a different working definition of hate than the standard definition I proposed. And you also haven't pointed out any particular scripture that says we are born hating God.

Again, I'm not saying that we aren't born with original/inherited sin or that we're not born alienated from God because of sin--an alienation that only Christ can atone for.

But you said in an earlier comment that scripture says we are born hating God. Again, where does Scripture say that?

The original part of this discussion was in response to a generalization that Traveler made (that we are all dragged kicking and screaming to Christ) and then you replied with another generalization (that we are all born hating God).

My implicit point has been all along that we have to be careful to distinguish between general truths and particular realities.

The universal truth is “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, NASB). The individual/particular working out of that truth is going to vary from person to person.

Thus we aren't all going to be dragged kicking and screaming (contra Traveler), and we aren't all going to be born hating God (your argument). As I pointed out, because of the witness in my home, I never experienced that particular emotion (as defined by definitional standards) directed toward my Creator.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger John said...

R. Mansfield, let's get together sometime. The Founders Cafe has long hours!

Anyway, let me get back to your question about my definition of "hate." I consider hate to be whenever we do not treat someone as he or she deserves to be treated. This is why I asked you about your understanding of Romans 1:18ff and 3:9-18. In these passages, we learn that humanity is naturally opposed to our Creator.

Here is another way of looking at it. You agree that as sinners we commit "hateful actions" toward God. I understand these hateful actions as coming from a hateful heart (Matthew 15:10-20). In other words, because we hate God, we commit hateful actions.

Our hatred may not manifest itself in the same way, but we are all living in rebellion against God (without the Holy Spirit working in us).

So, I do not believe that we are very far apart after all. I can also see where our communication seems to have broken down. I hope our little discussion has been beneficial!


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