This evening I had the house and garden to myself since my wife was out at a Deanery meeting, one son was off to Frinton with a load of mates and the other son was celebrating the end of term by going to a party in Braintree.
The perfect opportunity to sit in the garden with a beer and continue my current read, ‘How (not) to speak of God’ by Peter Rollins.
For those of you who haven’t yet read this book (and with apologies to those of you who have) the basic premise is that the ways we sometimes speak of God can often create more problems of understanding than they solve. I’m still processing the first few chapters, and I’m not yet sure to what extent I agree with him, but I’m finding a certain resonance with many of his key points.
Today I got to chapter 3 and Peter’s analysis of what he calls the ‘power discourses’ that can be a feature of much of our evangelism. This is where the apologetic of the word, (“this makes so much sense you’d be a fool not to believe it”) or of wonder (“see the miracle and believe”) can be presented in a way that is more an exercise of power than of gift. He writes:
“In this way, the acceptance or rejection of the system is based, not upon a love for the system or a feeling of overwhelming seduction by it, but rather upon the accumulation of evidence that stands secure, regardless of the motive and desires of the individual.”
I’d prefer it if he replaced ‘the system’ with ‘Christ’, but I know what he’s getting at (sometimes evangelism can be a bit like inviting someone into a system!)
In all of our evangelistic endeavours with young people I am acutely aware that it’s too easy to overwhelm with a stark choice, a killer argument or even an irresistible emotional appeal. Peter again:
“Like a lover of nuts who is offered thousands of shells with no centre, so we offer God thousands of ‘converts’ with no heart.”
I fear this can too often be tragically true. However, I also know people who responded to an ‘appeal’ but weren’t quite sure afterwards what they had done and yet that decision marked the beginning of a journey of becoming Christian, a point at which their heart changed towards God.
And yet, and yet… in avoiding the excesses of coercion and in my longing that people will ask, as they did of the Apostle Peter, “What must we do to be saved”, I still believe God intended for his word to be shared and spoken about, and for his Spirit to work signs and wonders to bless unbelievers and believers alike. The difference seems to be whether we do this because we have the power, or because we are offering a gift on behalf of the giver.