Applying Edwards’s Life & Ideas: Toward a ‘Missional Faith’

The way in which [Jonathan] Edwards sought revival of his church and the salvation of the lost ought to receive attention from Christians today. With an eighteenth-century perspective, Edwards worked to fulfill the Great Commission in his own life and pastorate. It is not necessary to adopt a certain model or method in order to advance the gospel in this world, but it is necessary that churches–see themselves as agents of Christ for the spread of the gospel. This means adopting what some call a ‘missional’ mindset, but may also be called more traditionally an ‘evangelistic’ way of life. Such a lifestyle will naturally look different than it would have in the 1970s, but believers today can proclaim the gospel just as Edwards did in his generation.

Through conversations and meals with neighbors, discussions in coffee shops, playing basketball at the local court, joining a book club, going to a local playground with one’s children, talking with strangers during an airplane ride, inviting people to church, and many other ways, Christians can evangelize the lost and work to bring people to saving faith, just as Edwards did in 1734. Pastor Mark Driscoll has written helpful material about this kind of life in books like Radical Reformission, which details how he sought to reach the lost people in Seattle in the early years of his ministry. For many of us, simply attempting to get to know lost people and becoming involved in our communities and neighborhoods would make a great first step.

From Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeney’s Jonathan Edwards, Lover of God (The Essential Edwards Collection, 1st of 5).

(Stay tuned, as I hope to review this excellent set of primers to Jonathan Edwards’s life and thought in the coming months!)

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Spring Reading 2010 — Evangelism

One of the five classes I’m in this semester is Evangelism, emphasizing the personal aspect of sharing one’s faith (in contrast with the emphasis on the evangelistic or missional role of the church community). The following is a list of books both required for the class, and ones I’m adding for supplementary reading (or re-reading). Feel free to suggest others, as well.

Required:

True Evangelism: Winning Souls Through Prayer (Chafer)

The 7 Principles of an Evangelistic Life (Cecil)

Supplementary:

God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself (Piper)

The Heart of Evangelism (Barrs)

Tell the Truth: The Whole Gospel to the Whole Person by Whole People (Metzger)

The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church (Various Contributors)

Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Chester & Timmis)

Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (Kostenberger & O’Brien)

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 5

Effective intercultural communication should aim to gain the acceptance of the receptor’s affections, and not merely his intellect.

People are not only thinkers, but feelers, as well. Reception of a message always involves the affective dimension (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Spring 2008). Jonathan Edwards, aware of this aspect in the communication process, said:

“I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with” (Edwards, 387).

One’s values are probably more determinative in making a decision than are one’s allegiances (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Fall 2007).

Unfortunately, a lot of Christian communicators aim to gain merely the receptor’s intellectual assent to their own message. A great danger follows this line of communicating. For instance, an American missionary presents the gospel to a European unbeliever. The unbeliever listens intently to this message as he perceives its contents. After the presentation of this gospel message, the missionary asks the European for a response, to which the European says, “Yes, I believe everything you just said.” The missionary then says, “Pray this prayer and you will be a Christian.” One of the problems with this method of communication, James implies in his epistle, when he describes the intellectual orthodoxy of the demons: “Even the demons believe — and tremble” (2.19). The devil and his entourage believe Paul’s every word in 1 Corinthians 15.

One of the assumptions of this point is that everyone in this world wants to be happy, regardless of one’s culture or ethnic background. We are whole beings, comprised of the mind, heart, and will (though the limits of language often make it complicated when describing the interaction between the three dimensions). Everything we do, whether consciously or unconsciously naturally inclines toward getting happy. God knows this, because he made people this way. Jesus himself is the supreme example for effective intercultural communication that aims to gain the acceptance of his receptor’s affections. Some of his own last words aimed toward his disciples’ hearts for the purpose of increasing their affections in some way or another: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15.11). “I have said these things to you to keep you from falling away…But I have said these things to you, that when the hour comes you may remember that I told them to you” (Jn 16.1,4). I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16.33).

Perhaps, well related to this point is the important distinction that Jonathan Dodson makes between faith and mere belief.

Note: More to come on this very subject…

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 4

Effective Christian Intercultural Communication must be aware of the Meta-Culture in order to appropriately deal with the receptor’s response to the Communicator’s message.

According to Louis Luzbetak, “Culture is a design for living. It is a plan according to which society adapts itself to its physical, social, and ideational environment…Cultures are but different answers to essentially the same human problems” (Perspectives, p. 392). The Meta-Culture referred to here in this principle, is the Culture beyond all other cultures in this visible world. This Culture transcends all other cultures. It is God’s Culture, his design for living, and his answer to the same human problems that other cultures attempt to remedy.

God has communicated, and continues to communicate to us about himself. He wants us to know something about himself. “God made the world that He might communicate…his glory” (Jonathan Edwards). “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19.1). Psalm 19.7-11 speaks of God’s special revelation. Moreover, “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son (who is the radiance of his glory)…[and] through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1.2-3). So, God has given his creatures (receptors/perceivers) two books to communicate about himself: the Book of Nature (natural revelation, as found in the World), and the Book of Scripture (special revelation, as found in the Word).

The communicational interaction between a believer and nonbeliever is an intercultural interaction in this sense. The communicational interaction happening between them is mainly intercultural because their culture of citizenship is different spiritually. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4.4). Because of this, the Christian Intercultural Communicator should have the ability (in the strength that God supplies) to engage with the receptor’s response to his or her own message.

“The missionary may well find that his foreignness is at once an asset and a liability, but he should never forget that it set him apart. He is on trial. His message is from the outside” (Hesselgrave, p. 461). The apostle Paul tells of the foreignness of the message, and the receivers’ response to that message, “The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1.18). As well, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2.14).

God’s remedy to this problem of non-acceptance and inability to understand the Christian communicator’s message is to shine his supernatural light into the hearts of unbelievers to give them the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4.6). So, in the process of the intercultural communication between believer and nonbeliever, the believer must depend on the Spirit of God, and pray that the Lord would give the light of the knowledge of himself to the unbeliever.

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 3

Effective intercultural communication seeks a great degree of congruity between different systems of code in a variety of mediums.

The perceiver/receiver determines whether or not the two systems of code are intentional or credible based on their congruity, or lack thereof (Mark Young, Course Lecture, Spring 2008). For example, if the communicator attempts to share the gospel with a perceiver, without any sort of voice tone, hand gestures, or facial expression that seem congruent with the content of the gospel, the perceiver may see the communicator and/or message as not credible or appealing. John Piper tells of the importance of congruence: “Lack of intensity in preaching can only communicate that the preacher does not believe or has never been gripped by the reality of which he speaks — or that the subject matter is insignificant” (Piper, p. 103, emphasis added). He urges, “We simply must signify, without melodrama or affectation, that the reality behind our message is breathtaking” (Piper, p. 104, emphasis added). To further illustrate, he says, “Albert Einstein gave a devastating indictment of preaching fifty years ago that may be more true today: Charles Misner, a scientific specialist in general relativity theory, was quoted like this:

‘[The design of the universe] is very magnificent and shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, I believe that is why Einstein had so little use for organized religion, although he strikes me as a basically very religious man. He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing‘” (DesiringGod.org, emphasis added).

This phenomenon of congruity between different systems of code relates possibly more heavily to the significance of the code itself than to the message. The German poet, Klopstock wrote, “The tones of human voices are mightier than strings or brass to move the soul” (quoted in Samover, p. 214). This “paralanguage, which involves the linguistic elements of speech — how something is said and not the actual meaning of the spoken words,” was displayed in the apostle Paul (Samover, p. 214). He said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2.1-5).

Notably, Jonathan Dodson illustrates this very point when he says:

In the end, the evangelist must first have faith in the gospel himself, this authenticates our words more than any saying, method, or defense. All too often we share the gospel without believing it.

Intercultural Communication 101: Part 2

Effective intercultural communication seeks to appropriate its message and code in a fitting manner to the context of the perceiver.

“Unless the message is within the receptors’ frame of reference (context), there is no guarantee that they will even be able to interpret it” (Kraft, p. 145). The apostle Paul exemplified this principle in his life. Particularly in Acts 17.16-24, while Paul was in Athens, waiting for Silas and Timothy, he was in a place where he could observe his receptors’ “frame of reference” (i.e., context). As he stood in the midst of the Aeropagus, he told them what he observed: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ After Paul gathered what he needed from the context of his audience, he crafted his message in a way that would be understandable to them; and he used a code (verbal) with which most of his receptors would have most likely been familiar. “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you,” was Paul’s beginning statement of his message.

From the outset of Paul’s message, he aimed to craft it in a way that would be appropriate and fitting to the context of his receptors in Athens. He observed his surroundings (their physical context); and, he understood how to adjust his message and communicational vehicle (language used) to obtain a valid response from his receptors. Like the apostle Paul, “the effective communicator should have more than one style, just as repair persons have more than one tool in their toolboxes” (Kraft, p. 147). Paul certainly had more than one tool in his toolbox, having quoted a Greek philosopher and a Greek poet, with whom his receptors would have been familiar. “Understanding does not, however, automatically mean acceptance by the receptors” (Kraft, p. 146). Though Paul contextualized his message, not all his receptors accepted it. Some mocked, others said, “We will hear you again about this.” And some joined him and believed his message (Acts 17.32, 34).