Although evangelism is a term associated with the evangelicalism (for apparent reasons), anyone who’s set to follow in the way of Jesus will inevitably be involved in evangelism. It is what has been called The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-18; Luke 24:46-47 and Acts 1:8). The question is: what does it mean to do evangelism?
The recent movie Avatar is a great illustration of the way Christians have been relating to the rest of the world and a lesson for how they should relate. Truth is, we don’t relate to the “other” from a position of equality. For a long, long time Christians have made evangelism a one way street. They have projected themselves to be God’s brokers to the world. Their role was to bring God to places where there is no God. This approach has put Christians in a posture of superiority. If Christians built relationships with the other (be it a next door neighbor or someone from a far off country) it was ONLY to learn their ways SO AS TO get a chance and a way to present their God. Like Jake Sully, they learn about the other in a dry, mechanic way without any emotional investment. There is an AGENDA! There is no real interest in the other. As Samir Selmanovic writes in “It’s really all about God”, we don’t think the other has anything of value to offer us about God. We certainly don’t need them; they are the ones who after all need us. If we care, we care for “their potential”.
This is where the Avatar movie is a great metaphor for what evangelism could and should become. Although Jake Sully entered Na’vi world initially with an agenda in mind, he got to appreciate their way of life, its beauty so much so that he wanted to become part of it. Eventually his presence there really helped to save them. But it was something organic. Evangelism should really be a two way street. We enter the other’s world because we really believe we are enriched by the interaction and our horizons will be enlarged. We celebrate good and beauty where ever we find it. Jesus often found faith outside his religious tribe (Israel, God’s people) and praised it (Matthew 8:10; 15:28 to name a few instances). Actually, when we read the Gospels we often find Jesus saddened by the lack of faith among his own people and followers.
We don’t bring God to the other, but find God in the other.
We get to know them so as to see what God has been doing before we got there and learn alongside. Evangelism is a take and give, give and take love relationship. We initiate the relationship because we believe there is a treasure in the other we can’t miss. We evangelize “to be evangelized.” If we’ve got something of value to offer (which we certainly do) it should become evident in the relationship. But let’s not force it upon the other but let it grow naturally. Just as we find value in the other, the other will find value in us. This kind of evangelism the world needs desperately. We need it desperately.