21 Evangelism Lessons for the 21st Century – Lesson 20
Many of our attempts to reach non-believers sound like, “No!” I wonder if there might be some ways to have them sound a bit more like “Yes.” Please don’t be alarmed – I’m not espousing a Robert Schulleresque distortion of the gospel – “God wants you to hear him say, ‘Yes. You’re a winner!’” Nor am I retracting anything I’ve said about the dangers of overloading our gospel presentations with “God loves you.” Far from it. The need to be clear about the badness of our sin has never been greater. Without that, the goodness of the gospel seems inconsequential or just plain silly.
But I do think we should consider starting the connection with outsiders through the common ground of common grace. We can acknowledge shared longings through beauty, hope, and unfulfilled desires. I’m thinking of C. S. Lewis’ discussions of Sehnsucht or longing for something we can’t find in this world. I wonder how many of our non-Christian friends would respond to that kind of appeal.
Lesson 20 is that we need to appeal to longings to pave the way for evangelism.
A Biblical basis for this approach comes from Acts 14 where Paul told a group of religious pagans that God “has not left himself without a testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their season; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). I love the notion of using food as a pointer to the kindness of God. Asking people to consider where the joy in their hearts comes from can be an effective way of pointing them to the God of the gospel. But note: Paul made this declaration after telling these idol worshippers to “turn from these worthless things to the living God.”
Too many of our evangelistic pleas have a sense of “No, you’re wrong. No, Jesus was not just a good teacher. No, the Bible is not just a collection of writings like any other book. No, different religions are not just different paths up the same mountain.” To be sure, there are times when our message must sound like that.
But some of the time, with some people, our message can have the affirming tone of “Yes, you are right to think there’s more to life. Yes, you are right to feel a longing for the transcendent. Yes, there is something more to life. Yes, music and art and beauty and good food and close friendships do point to another world.”
Some of our friends feel these tugs to the transcendent profoundly and they don’t know how to handle them. If they pursue them with zeal, they may eventually crash on the rocks of disappointment. Or they may suffer from the harmful consequences of hedonism. If they try to stifle the desires, they may get depressed or cynical.
But we can affirm their desires while pointing past them. As C. S. Lewis put it in The Weight of Glory, “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”
You may not have considered inviting a friend to an art gallery, a concert, or on a hike amidst beautiful scenery as pre-evangelistic activities. But I think it might be worth the experiment. You and your friend might simultaneously say, “Yes!” and can then compare notes about why you said such a thing.