The Starting Place…
By Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, — John 3:16-21 (NIV)
Evangelism and the word “evangelical” seems to have gotten a bad name in recent years. I’ve struggled to understand why, because it literally refers to the sharing of good news. But then again, I think some of our evangelical efforts in recent years have started in the wrong place.
John was careful to point out that the reason Jesus came into the world was not to condemn but to love—not to chastise but to redeem. And while John does not hold back about the reality of judgement (those who do not believe are already condemned), the starting place is God’s love for us- not our sinfulness or brokenness. And I wonder if that’s the problem?
It seems that as culture has evolved, as we have perhaps become more “enlightened”, we have become quite sensitive to the appearance of any kind of judgement. And yet, as I think of all the ways I was trained to do evangelism in my youth, they all started or led early on with the sinfulness and brokenness of humanity. Think about it… the Roman road begins with 3:23- “for all have sinned” and follows with 6:23 – “the wages of sin is death”. Indeed, we have institutionalized the coming down the aisle to repent of our sins, praying the sinner’s prayer and testimonies of how evil a person was before they came to Christ as being the standards of good Christian evangelism. And while these are all realities of our human nature—is it the best starting place to bring people into relationship with Christ? Is it where Christ started?
I don’t think so.
You see the starting place for God in the problem of human brokenness was not confrontation but connection. The starting place for God was to send the Son to enter into relationship with the world and love the world and to minister to the world and ultimately to redeem the world. And yes, along the way, the problem of our brokenness and of our sin, was addressed. But it wasn’t the starting place.
I wonder if the traditional starting place for evangelism in the last century, human sinfulness- a place which worked well in modernism– which was an age that was focused on intellectual truth- is the wrong place to start in a post-millennial era? I wonder if we ought not to start instead like God did– from a place of relationship and love?
For what God did—was to love us enough to send the Son.
It’s something to think about…
Prayer: Oh God, let me have the love for my fellow human that you have. Let me approach them in love to share your good news of love come down through Christ. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Steve Van Ostran