Archive for September 4th, 2009

Those “born again from above” are regenerated by the Holy Spirit at the Father’s good pleasure, not by how YOU present it.

This comment was posted recently by a detractor who occasionally visits us here at As is often the case, the comment thread had taken a turn to a minor subject that was both irrelevant to the original topic and also the topic of heated debate. In the midst of a discussion about presenting the Gospel in varied ways this comment was inserted.

Now, theologically I would agree. Yet, theology is not what we were talking about – we were discussing practical issues and strategy of Gospel presentation. And while the two are, of course, nearly inseparably intertwined – they are still two separate issues.

This comment represents a whole (and here I freely admit I am raising it as a metonymy) school of thought – a school that derides new ways of delivering the old message, that mocks the need for considering the position of the hearer, that scolds others for trying to be relevant to unbelievers. Now, I also grant that there are those who take this too far – yet our detractors often throw out the proverbial baby with their bathwater

Since I am working on my doctorate in missiology, the issues surrounding the communication of the Gospel cross-culturally are of particular interest. Therefore comments such as the one above pique my interest.

Then I read this in a mission’s publication:

After several people died in Brazil’s Pacaas Novos tribe due to illness, the missionaries felt they needed to speed up the sharing of the Gospel. The missionary with the best grasp of the language stood in front of the people and started sharing. His delivery was animated; he wanted to convey how important this was. Another missionary seated in the middle of the group overheard one man ask another what the missionary was talking about. “Oh, don’t pay attention to him, he’s just drunk,” said the other.

More time learning the culture and the language revealed that only when they were drunk did the Pacaas Novos stand up and talk to a group. So everything the missionary said that day was discounted and ignored, due to the culture of the people he was speaking to. (emphasis mine)

So apparently it does matter HOW you present the Gospel.

Of course, opposition to new methods is nothing new. William Carey was confronted one day by a man in England who objected to new ways of reaching the heathens in far off lands – “If God wants to save the heathens” he was told, “He can do it without your help.” What the man objected to was change… he also objected to a message that challenged his comfort, his way of thinking, his assumptions about God.

Here we are 200 plus years later and people are still saying- “God can save the heathens without you repackaging the message.”

I suppose these missionaries could have skipped the study of their intended people group… they could have stood there and “Preached the Gospel” in the Pacaas Novo language and assumed they had done their duty (does this bring any videos to mind?). How many times a day in America does someone think they have fulfilled their calling to preach the Gospel – yet, due to their lack of understanding those to whom they preach… that is all they have done – “preached.” They have “communicated” nothing.

The missionaries were not satisfied with just preaching the Gospel, their goal was to communicate the truths of the Gospel. And this is a completely different endeavor. Often the latter measn the former… but the former does not guarnatee the latter.

Even though it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates a person upon salvation to the pleasure of the Father – it does indeed matter how WE present that truth.

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Here’s a super thought:

“We love men not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some kind of divine spark. We love every man because God loves him. At this level, we love the person who does an evil deed, although we hate the deed that he does.”

–Martin Luther King, jr. (The first two sentences are quoted by Philip Yancey in Soul Survivor. The last sentence is from Strength to Love. The entire quote is from Strength to Love.)

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