Have we become too familiar with our own well-worn version of the gospel? Are we willing to proclaim what we actually believe, instead of waffling with platitudes and sentiments? Myk Habets offers some theological thoughts about evangelism.
My children play football so like all good dads I get involved. I love the game and played it as a kid and teenager. My dad even played for the All Whites (before they were called that). So when my son’s team needed a referee for the season I jumped at the chance. I went along to classes and achieved my volunteer refereeing card.
The lesson of the whistle
We were told to bring a whistle along to the first refereeing class. I had in my pocket the $2 whistle I bought at The Warehouse. We had to go on the pitch, stand in a line and then each of us had to blow our whistle. The first guy blew on his whistle as if it had leprosy. “Blow that thing so we can hear it, man!” the instructor barked at him.
I was second in line and blew my Warehouse whistle like I was a man overboard. So I was surprised to hear the trainer now yelling at me! “What’s that you’re blowing? A whistle from a Christmas cracker?”
Next followed a 10-minute lesson to us all on whistles and the various tones and pitches they can have and how we all had to go out and purchase for ourselves a Fox 40 whistle and blow it like a westerly blows through Palmerston North.
The great good news
Who knew there was so much to learn about something I thought I knew so well? But it’s like that with a lot of things in life. Take the good news of the scriptures, for example. The gospel is such great news but I wonder, given what my theology students tell me and what I hear around the churches as I preach, if we know just how good it is.
As Michael Horton wrote:
Of one thing we can be certain: God has given us the greatest show on earth, a drama full of intrigue that is not only interesting but actually brings us up onto the stage, writing us into the script as actors in the ongoing production. It gives us a role that contrasts sharply with those one-dimensional characters and shallow story lines of this present age.1
He is right, of course, because the life of presumed independence from God, even for those with good jobs and families, is flat—it is one trivial success or failure after another. People living in this space long to be a part of something meaningful that is bigger than themselves. The good news is that God is in control, he has a plan, it is being worked out, and within that plan there is a place for each of us.
However, for too long, many have considered the Bible, doctrine and mission—key elements in understanding and sharing this good news—to be stale, outdated and, at worst, irrelevant to contemporary culture. This is nonsense. Here the timeless words of Dorothy Sayers are salutary:
We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—‘dull dogma,’ as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of [humanity]—and the dogma is the drama.2
Please pass it on
Each week people go to church to be told or reminded of what the script for their lives is and how they should perform it. They need to make sense of their lives and find meaning and fulfilment. Here are three things I wish, as a theologian, that pastors and preachers would know and pass on:
- The gospel includes not simply the salvation of human souls but the utter redemption and recreation of the entire cosmos. What starts in the garden ends in a city and all of it is earthly, physical, embodied and holistic. Be real in your preaching and your gospel talk. Relate it all to the embodied, the physical, the social and the concrete. The sphere of the Spirit is not in some pie in the sky—his work is in relationships, communities, marriages, disputes, cancer diagnoses, and all the other vicissitudes of life.
- The gospel is about Christ in us, above us, before us, behind us and over us. It’s about Christ. So could we finally stop talking about ‘incarnational ministry’ and every other stupid term like it. ‘Incarnational ministry’ means embodied ministry. Great—what other type of ministry do you think you can do? The good news is that Christ has lived, died, risen and ascended for us so that we are now united to Christ and found in him. Our old life is gone and the new life we have is the life of Christ in us. So there is no ‘incarnational ministry’ if that refers to you and me! There is only the ongoing incarnational ministry of Christ and our participation in that.
- Know that the triune God has a plan and an end game that will make sense of this world and your lives. God is for you in Christ Jesus. God loves you by his Holy Spirit. God the Father has reconciled the world to himself in the Son. Tell people what I am telling you now: there is not a single one of you that God has not created and doesn’t know everything about. God knows the best and the worst of you—and he still loves you, still wants you, and still has a way to make your life in this world, and more in the next, the most fulfilling and incredible adventure you could never imagine.
The gospel is truly good news. So please take that seriously, understand what God has in store for us, work hard at the wonderful and beautiful doctrines of God—salvation, judgement and resurrection—and lead your communities in rescripting their lives to the glory of God.
In other words, if the gospel was a football match and you were the referee, blow your Fox 40 like you mean it!
Story: Myk Habets
Myk is a graduate of Laidlaw College and Otago University, and has taught theology for a number of schools and universities in New Zealand and abroad, including Carey Baptist College. Currently he leads Laidlaw College’s School of Theology and is a member of the senior leadership team there.
This article is an abridged version of a talk Myk Habets gave at Baptist Hui 2018.
- Michael Horton, A Better Way: Rediscovering the Drama of Christ-Centered Worship (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 16.
- Dorothy L Sayers, Creed or Chaos? (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1949), 3.