It’s been interesting to follow the comments on Tony’s post about the ethics of everyday evangelism. Tony makes a helpful point: rather than getting caught up with the question of whether we must evangelize, it’s far more useful to ask how we can encourage, inspire and equip more Christians to talk about Jesus with their friends.
In this post, I’d like to offer one suggestion, based on my previous post about the insidious heresy of nowism that’s creeping in and killing our Christian lives. I reckon that if we can keep fighting nowism, this will really help our evangelistic endeavours.
Sometimes in the debate about evangelism, 1 Peter 3:15 is quoted to show that all Christians should at least be ready to answer for their Christian faith if asked. 1 Peter 3:14-16 reads:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.
But let me ask you: how often are you actually asked for a reason for the hope that is in you? How many times this week did anyone come up to you and start demanding reasons for your hope? If you’re anything like me, it doesn’t happen that often. But Peter seems to be expecting that it will happen—at least regularly enough that it’s worth giving instructions about what to do when it does happen! Why is that? Because Peter knows that our hope of salvation—of the glorious inheritance kept for us in heaven—is the basis for our entire Christian lives (1 Peter 1:3ff), and he expects that that hope will make real, obvious and demonstrable differences in the way we live. Christians should be equipped, encouraged and inspired by our hope to live and act very differently to the people around us. For example, we will rejoice in inevitable sufferings (1:6), prepare our minds for sober-minded action (1:13), live as if we’re exiles and aliens in the world (1:17), and treat the world’s ways as futile (1:18). In the immediate context of 1 Peter 3:15, we will suffer for the sake of righteousness, without fearing the world. As a result, Peter expects that unbelievers will see our weird, outlandish behaviour and demand answers from us!
So how often has that happened for you? If it doesn’t happen often, why not? Is it because so many of us are are really nowists? We come to church or Bible study each week, and we rejoice that we have our doctrine of the future sorted out. Having passed ‘living hope 101’, we then spend our lives conforming to what everybody else is doing: following that career or course, working those long hours, building that big house, creating a future for our children in this world. Our friends and colleagues know we’re ‘Christians’, but from our behaviour, they think that means we’re a sort of polite, morally upright version of the world. In the minds of unbelievers, we’re quite nice people who are running after the same goals they are, with the same sorts of lives and dreams, the same concerns and cares, but with a bit of extra ‘Christian’ stuff added in (e.g. we might choose a Christian school instead of a public school for our kids, or we might decide to go to church instead of soccer on Sundays).
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the things of this world—with food and drink and houses and cars and families and schools. And there’s nothing inherently more holy about suffering or poverty in itself. But, at the same time, if our whole lives are made up of a series of decisions that look similar to the decisions unbelievers make (even though there is nothing wrong with any of those decisions individually), questions must be asked: is our nowism stifling not only our Christian lives, but our evangelism to boot?
Rather than worrying about whether we’re supposed to evangelize, I reckon we should put our efforts into changing our attitudes and lives so that evangelism will be simply unavoidable.
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13)