A cultural storm has been brewing in America for decades. Certainly, the clouds have darkened over the past few years. What we have seen over the past few months — Bruce Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, the Supreme Court ruling on you-know-what — is the first round of lightning, thunder, and hail (or brimstone). A long, hard rain is coming.
So, we can sit back and gripe until our tonsils ache, or figure out how to be obedient, effective Christ-followers in this downpour. The wise approach is to head straight to the Gospels and read with a keen eye toward the methods that Jesus employed in teaching the truth to folks who opposed it. Jesus was the master teacher, he talked to and engaged people among all classes of his society from religious leaders and rulers to tramps and tax collectors. He did it perfectly. He did it with remarkable deliberation, as stated in John 12:49:
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment- what to say and what to speak.” (ESV)
Let’s crack this verse open and discover things that are urgent for us to understand today:
- The message came from above. God the Father had given Jesus the message, and it was not man-centered or earth-based.
- The message had specific content that was unchanging.
- The methods of sharing the message would vary. I don’t want to get too technical, but, “what to say and what to speak,” has the hint of “what to say and how to say it.” This provides insight into how Jesus interacted with people as he taught them. And, it will help us too.
Jesus never changed the message, but he would share the unchanging Gospel in different ways with different people. He would not speak the same way to a Pharisee and a leper, and shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t either. Jesus, being fully God, was the master of knowing the condition of his hearers. We should follow his example by discerning the mindset and attitudes of those that we speak to as well.
The pinnacle of Jesus’ means of teaching and reaching others was his use of parables. Given what we have just seen, you can appreciate why parables were used so frequently in Jesus teaching — they applied to all walks, stages, and positions in life. They were almost universal in scope. Brilliant!
Here are some examples:
“And he was teaching them many things in parables…” Mark 4:2
“With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.” Mark 4:33-34 (Notice that he taught two different groups in two different ways — one with parables, and one by instruction.)
So, what are we to do with this?
From this we learn that we cannot use formulaic methods, cookie-cutter presentations, or tired, wheezy methods from the days of sideburns and leisure suits. We have to take up the example of Jesus and prayerfully and studiously get our message from above (the Gospels and entirety of Scripture), learn the message inside and out, and engage others relationally by using varied ways with different people. Like Jesus did. Sounds like a lot of spiritual and mental homework, right? It is. And, if we had done this all along we might not be sitting in this societal slop.
Here are some practical first steps:
- Do not assume that others want to hear God’s Word. Most don’t. They want things their way. Take heart, this is the same response that Jesus received many times over. Pray for God to open the hearts and minds of those around you.
- Do not rely on recipe-style methods. The “Roman Road” or “ABCs of the Gospel” may work with our children in Bible school, but it won’t work with that angry, worldly, Bible-hater that sits two cubicles down from you at work (Drat, he just hung up his rainbow American flag). Outlined presentations can be a starting point, but discussion and interaction have to follow.
Here’s a verse that punches cookie-cutter methods right in the snout:
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63
This verse shows why methods will fall short; methods cannot convey spirit and life, only God’s Word can.
3. In following number two, learn your Bible inside and out, particularly the Gospel message from the four Gospels. Ponder how Jesus spoke to and engaged people.
4. Read some solid books on basic doctrine and apologetics (the study of how to explain and defend the Christian faith), and read them slowly. I recall hearing a conference speaker back in 1997 suggest that the days of simple evangelism were ending, and that the days of apologetics as a means of evangelism were beginning. Yep.
Here are few good books to get you started: Concise Theology by J.I. Packer (a must read, it’s short and stout), Everyone’s a Theologican by R.C. Sproul, Fool’s Talk by Os Guiness, and Christian Apologetics by Douglas Groothuis (longer, read the others first).
Here’s a summary of our four points: understand your hearer, do not lean on a spiritual cane from the past, learn God’s Word, and study and think. The good news is that God will honor all of this. He is the one who puts people directly into our lives. He is the one who gives us wisdom and leadership by his Holy Spirit. He is the one who brings people from darkness into the Light. We are to be faithful farmers sewing the right seed, runners training for our race, witnesses sharing the evidence, soldiers practicing the art of engagement, and disciples learning from and imitating Jesus.
It’s work, but it’s worth it. What could honor Christ more than us learning from and imitating him as we share God’s Truth with a broken, lost world?
“Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him any question.” Luke 20:39-40
See, told ya!