Opinions on faith and life

The Offense of the Cross

2006-12-01

Christians have always argued about the best approach to evangelism. Should it be “fire and brimstone”, where we instill the fear of hell into people and scare them into heaven? Or perhaps the other extreme, where we pat the lost on the head and say “There, there, Jesus will make it better. He wants to be your friend.” Another option is “Pascal’s Wager”, where we basically ask the lost to “make a safe bet” on Jesus, that they have nothing to lose by accepting him. But what does the Bible tell us?

Acts 18:16-32 (TNIV) While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. ...

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. ...

”Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone-- an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.“ When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ”We want to hear you again on this subject.“

1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (TNIV) For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-- not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ”I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.“

Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Notice that when addressing the Greek philosophers, Paul never used fear or intimidation, but calm reason. He simply told them that Jesus was God, who proved himself divine by rising from the dead. It is this ”message of the cross“ that we must preach, not either fear of hell (even though it is a reality) or a life of peace in this age (even though true believers can have it). Paul did not attempt to make friends first, but instead went straight to the resurrection. Neither did he try to extract a confession of sin out of anyone, or fan the flames of hell before them. We waste a lot of time when we fail to follow his example.

Instead, let us simply tell people that Jesus is God reconciling the whole world to himself by becoming one of us, sacrificing his physical life for sins, and rising physically from the dead in an immortal body. We must be prepared to present evidence for this, with answers to common objections to the resurrection. Questions may follow, such as why Jesus had to die, why we needed to be reconciled to God, etc., and we must have ready answers. But the gospel itself is all about Jesus rising from the dead.

We’re just presenting a claim, backed up by historical evidence, perhaps adding our own testimony as further proof of the miraculous transformation that turns a believer into ”a new creation“. A true ”conversion“ is when these facts are presented and the person accepts them as true, being personally convinced beyond any doubt. This is very important; we need to make sure the person is not just saying what we want to hear, or making a hasty judgment only later to think of more questions and begin to doubt.

Think about it: How likely is it that after a person is given the facts about the resurrection and accepts them, that this is a false conversion? How likely would that person be to have doubts later, since they can always re-examine the facts? Those facts will never change, and they don’t depend upon our good deeds or emotions. We should never tell people to look at us or at any mere human leaders for proof of how well Christianity ”works“, knowing that we’re all human and subject to falling. Instead we should always point to Jesus, who will never let anyone down.

This is not to say that emotions must not be involved, or that the great love of God for all mankind can be tossed aside. But we need to reset our focus as a church and ”sound a clear signal" (1 Cor. 14:7-9). The gospel accounts are for the very purpose of giving evidence of Jesus’ divinity, sacrifice, and resurrection. Growth and maturity are what the rest of the New Testament is about, and they are very important, but people must be born before they can grow.