Evangelism - a trial definition

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Johan Maurer

Feb 17, 2013, 9:49:39 AM2/17/13
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October 12 2004 at 9:49 AM Johan   (no login)
This is taken from my article in the October 2004 Quaker Life:

What do I mean by evangelism? It is the persuasive communication of the Christian good news, accompanied by an invitation to experience the community formed by that good news. Evangelism is incomplete without access to the community that is formed by the message. The elaboration of this definition would involve understanding what makes a message persuasive--what builds genuine credibility, including the quality of the relationship formed between the evangelist and the hearer.

I contrast evangelism with proselytism, which can be defined as the process of inviting a person to change their religious allegiance from one faith to another, not necessarily taking into account whether that change would be fundamentally good for the person being proselytized. When I hear the old cliche that “Friends don’t proselytize,” I agree, and then say, “but we DO evangelize!”

I also contrast evangelism with outreach, defined as the process by which the faith community makes its resources available to meet needs outside that community. It is a good thing as far as it goes, and it might be a part of evangelism, but outreach doesn’t necessarily involve making our spiritual resources available, and too often it doesn’t involve providing access to the community itself.
Martin Kelley 
(no login)
Re: Evangelism - a trial definition November 13 2004, 10:04 AM 

Hi Johan,
I like how you differentiate proselytism and outreach from evangelization. They're all related of course, but as you note, they bespeak different attitudes and expectations. The actual definition of Evangelism that you give here sounds good as far as it goes but I worry that it would break down when people started arguing the details (What is the "Christian good news"? What do we mean by "community"?) There's all that messy stuff about discipline and authority and what makes a Christian and just how strictly we take the Bible, etc. 

I'd love to hear an extended definition. It surprised me when I read the "Core Values" put forth by the Behr's Simple Churches ministry to be ones even this liberal Friend can sign off on: "Leadership over Location, Ministry over Money, Converts over Christians, Disciples over Decisions, People over Property, Spirit over Self, His Kingdom over Ours." I've not met them but at least online they seem to be Friends who aren't worried about whether we're called Friends or not.

These terms sound different to different types of Friends even before we start defining them. How does that play in? I love to use the word Evangelism around FGC Friends, because it makes everyone squirm a little and prompts them to think about why we have issues with that sort of language. If I were among Evangelical Friends I'd probably throw out liberal terms to see squirms. It's not like I want to cause trouble, it's just that I think that the work Christ calls us to do in our communities and in the world straddles the ideological divides we Friends have constructed for ourselves. That's not to say the divisions are artificial--the East Coast yearly meeting reunifications in the 1950s have made our identity hard to articulate. But I often feel led to be Evangelical, a Liberal, a Christian and a Universalist all at the same time. I suspect Christ would give us all a good talking to if he were to return in person (he's already doing it through the Holy Spirit, wouldn't you say?), and what Fox, Woolman, even Gurney and Wilbur, would say. I can't even imagine the browbeating we'd get from Margaret Fell, she was quite the rhetorical firecracker, you always knew where you stood with her! I think I'd chaff in whatever branch of Friends I found myself in. But the point I'm trying to make is that even embarking on an effort to define "Evangelicalism" will be met with differently by different groups of Friends. I'd love to hear you flesh out your definition and see if we could get something that would help us better articulate where we sit with Christ and where we sit with community.

You've probably seen this, but for your readers here's a post on my site responding to More about Boldness. I've also submitted a FGC workshop proposal with lots of squirmy language, Strangers to the Covenant. [Need revised links.]

Thanks you for all of your work on behalf of the Spirit, it is a blessing.
In Friendship,
Martin Kelley
(Login Reedwood)
Forum Owner
Re: Evangelism - a trial definition November 24 2004, 7:06 PM 

Martin, thank you!

There are so many dimensions to the task of "fleshing out" evangelism. Where do we start? Here are some ideas:

- content of the invitation implied by evangelism: not based on the superiority of Christianity as a religion, but based on the availability of a community where Jesus Christ is experienced as trustworthy leader and shepherd, where healing is possible and is offered, where there is genuine equality, where leadership is held accountable by all and is functional (based on observed gifts, not social status), and where that leadership holds us accountable for the promises we've made to each other; where we are invited to use our minds, not surrender them, but where we use them to understand rather than one-up each other (I could go on and on!)

- nature of evangelistic communication: joyful, bold, tentative, humble; honest, based on what we know personally and know as a community; listening before speaking (earning the right to communicate through deep listening and awareness that the Holy Spirit has already been there); not hiding what we know or what we don't know; not seeking to scare or trick or gain anything on the other person; not criticizing what we don't understand; asking God at all times to make us aware of bondages, but not assuming that we can diagnose someone else from superior knowledge or glib classifications (*)

- nature of evangelistic division of labor: everyone is (or tries to be) prepared to explain what God is doing in their lives and their community; being aware of those in the community who are especially gifted to communicate faith or to discern the condition of others; supporting each other in whatever roles we're led to; honoring creativity in communicating faith and healing in unusual ways (dance, music, street theater, nonviolent direct action, Web sites, tax court...)

- goals of theological teaching, learning and discussion: (1) honest and persuasive communication of faith; (2) formation of mutually understandable pool of vocabulary, history, references, stories, concepts, etc.; (3) protection from manipulation from inside or outside; (4) continuity with the past combined with communicability in changing cultures and circumstances; (5) capacity to communicate respectfully with those undergoing doubt or considering leaving the community; (6) open consideration of community boundaries; setting of desirable boundaries, elimination of undesirable or unintended boundaries; (7) awareness that the Holy Spirit trumps all human rules, while not allowing claims of Spirit-led innovations to be used manipulatively; (8) deepening our understanding of the "teaching voice" of the church, and of the role of dissent in a healthy community; (9) joyful connection with other communities, whether similar or very different, while retaining discernment so as not to pretend that differences don't matter

- nature of the human beings whom Friends seek to evangelize: people like ourselves and unlike ourselves, people with short and long attention spans, people of all colors and languages, people of mystical orientation and people who aren't the least bit mystical, rural and urban, well-traveled and homebodies; prophets and stewards; stoics and people who cry easily; in short, anyone with a willingness to ask Jesus some honest questions (without necessarily having their christological ducks all in a row!)

- unclassifiable aspects of evangelism in today's world: openness to miracles, to the power of God over violence, racism, sexism, objectification in all its manifestations, to Friends testimonies as manifestations of the Lamb's War

* I like Yakov Krotov's comments in his article "Is it possible to witness and not proselytize?" elsewhere on this site (see "Quotations III" under the topic "Books, Links, Quotes & other resources....")
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