The Area of Evangelism is well engaged but all too rarely discussed in the denomination.
Today’s newsletter outlines the first part of an overview of courses currently available in North America. I include only the first part because it is a sort of public record kind of overview. The rest of the analysis critiques some of the theological perspectives of the courses from a strongly Reformed perspective. There is nothing wrong with that perspective except this particular author is a little savage with free will and particularly biased against Alpha. There are, to be sure, some cautionary notes to be made on Alpha, but in the main, it is immensely effective.
So, four things.
First, Shelby has included the email or web address of the sites she could find.
Secondly, if you have any 1 paragraph descriptions of community initiatives you are involved in, please write Shelby Gregg at email@example.com so that we can include them in a resource letter in the months ahead.
Thirdly, I am committed to re-starting and evangelism affinity group for the Union this fall. While we are going to write more about this topic (theologically, sociologically, practically, biblically, theories of transition, transformation and life stage… you name it… well, you get the drift) we need to get passionate voices together in this area. By the way, an artist’s and social justice affinity groups are also in process.
Finally, would you pray for people who are seeking Christ that they find him and that we would be a catalyst to be used by the Holy Spirit to see new people in Christ for the first time or for a “returning time”.
All the information below has been collected from the 9Marks website at http://www.9marks.org/ as of 30 August 2006.
Evangelism Course Comparison Guide
Simply Christianity would be a good introduction for people who are completely unfamiliar with Christianity. You would have to be careful, though, to use biblical words like “faith,” since the course seems deliberately to avoid them sometimes in order to speak the language of the student. The most useful aspect of this course is its session on why the Bible is reliable, along with the supplementary information for that session, though Alpha includes the same information as well.
Alpha is a long course and would probably be better for discipling one who is already a Christian. A decision is asked for by the end of the third of fifteen sessions, even though neither faith nor repentance is discussed until the fourth. My concern is that the course seems to want to ease people into being a Christian almost before they know what’s happened. Repentance and faith are treated in passing under the heading “How can I be sure of my Faith,” which seems like a strange place to handle those. Even then, repentance gets one sentence, and faith gets about a page. Most of the other courses are much better at explaining clearly and up-front that you must repent and believe to be a Christian. My other concern is that by session 6, the course assumes that all the participants are Christians. By that time, the goal is to lead students to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to speak in tongues at a weekend retreat. Even bearing with what is certainly debatable theology in those sessions, it seems a little presumptuous to so solidly assume conversion after only six weeks of an introductory course.
Coming Alive will not be very useful to anyone. It is too long at ten sessions to be an evangelistic course, and the concepts are utterly confusing. Substitutionary atonement is handled, but only as one aspect of the cross along with moral example and others. The course would be immediately confusing to anyone not already familiar with Christianity. The first session asks the student to engage in a little biblical theology to kick things off. Again, very little of the course is actually evangelistic; 70% of it assumes the person is already saved. That means that if the person isn’t converted after three weeks, the rest of the course will be fairly irrelevant.
I was at first excited as I began reading Discovering Christianity. The first couple of sessions were excellent, dealing with Christ’s claims to be God and with His resurrection. The idea was to establish Christ’s authority in the minds of the students. As the course came to discuss the heart of the gospel, though, it dissolved. The authors were reluctant to use the words “sin” or “repentance.” I understand the desire to use words that are understandable, but saying that we “have not lived moral lives” and that we “are not good people compared with Jesus” does not begin to explain the concept of sin. Much better is to use the word like so many generations of Christians before us have, and then explain it. The course seems to deliberately avoid any discussion of Reformed theology, even going so far as to omit reference to uncomfortable verses in John’s gospel. The discussion of atonement is confused, I think, and spends too much time on peripheral questions. For example, it spends a huge chunk of the time explaining why Jesus’s death was loving—because it saves us—but gives almost nothing to explaining exactly how that was.
Christianity Explained is over-all the best of the courses I have seen. It is a good length, six sessions, each of which carefully explains one aspect of the gospel. It doesn’t rush a decision, but the student’s understanding of the gospel will become progressively clearer with each session. The core doctrines of the gospel are discussed in detail. This course is by far the best at describing that salvation is by grace, not works. A full session is given to the topic, and it is masterfully done. That is usually the session where the penny drops and students begin to really understand the gospel. My only concern with the course is that sin is not sufficiently dealt with. Of course it is mentioned, but only as a caveat to the cross. In using this course, I have had to explain again later that sin was the reason Christ had to die. I would recommend using this course, but with a session about sin added before the one on the crucifixion. You might profitably insert the session on sin from Christianity Explored.
Christianity Explored has just been published by Paternoster Press in England (2001). It is overall an impressive looking program that is plainly an answer to the Alpha course. It includes ten sessions and a weekend retreat, just like Alpha. The presentation of the gospel is clear, and the teaching on the Holy Spirit is much more biblically sound than Alpha’s. I am not sure, though, that the weekend retreat or the last three sessions are best taught in an evangelistic introduction. Assurance, the church, the Holy Spirit, and holy living are probably more wisely taught as a person embraces Christ and becomes involved in the church. An evangelistic course should just present the gospel clearly and then leave off to allow the church to do its work. There’s no need to try to teach everything that’s involved in the Christian life. The use of the sinners’ prayer and immediate assurance is also troubling. Far too many people have been confused into thinking they are Christians because they have said a prayer. Christianity Explored does not defend against that error very effectively. Nevertheless, I like the session on sin, and the first seven sections do a fairly good job of explaining the gospel clearly.
My recommendation is to use all of Christianity Explained and insert the session on sin from Christianity Explored. That would result in a seven week course. One further note—Christianity Explained is great in that it can very effectively be used in one-on-one relationships, which are the best way to share the gospel. There is no retreat to be planned, no monologue to be given. The truths of the gospel can be discussed easily sitting over a table at a coffee shop.
Simply Christianity – available via Matthias Media in Australia
International – http://alpha.org/
Canada – http://www.alphacanada.org/
Coming Alive – is available from the UK on the Rutherford House website.