Vol 8 No. 36 Evangelism

Dear Folks,

Evangelism, the sharing of good news of Jesus Christ is so theologically debated and
experientially complicated that we often find ourselves reacting and avoiding the very topic. I’m not
even going to begin today to try and re-state and respond to some of the questions that arise for us here
but I promise to do so in the months ahead. I bring up the topic because I have been strongly and clearly
moved afresh over the summer. I was prompted in the most unusual places – whether it was in Assisi,
Italy with some of the stories of Frances, or at Holy Trinity Brompton in London, England, the originator
of the Alpha course, or while preaching at Keats Camps in July – I have been shaken and encouraged by
the Holy Spirit in this area.

I want to share a story with you, which I think addresses one of the central difficulties we have
with this topic. Maybe it is not your issue but it has certainly been a major part of evangelical literature.
The concern seems to be raised over and over again about how culturally appropriate or inappropriate
we are in this area. The Incarnation clearly lays out the notion that like Christ, in his work and person,
we must be willing to “inconvenience ourselves” for others, while being true to an orthodox gospel. This
is a very fine line to walk for some of us. The best of us simply seek to live out the fruits of the Spirit in
our own lives, praying for others, asking that the Holy Spirit will be made known to others and that folk
would come to faith. Others of us are like bulls in a china shop…yes, real bulls…real china…a real mess.

The name “Baptist” is particularly awkward given some of the religiously obscene and
inappropriate behaviour that gets reported by the press from south of the border (come to think of it,
there are some nasty stories this side of the border too). I have fallen into two traps: the first is that I
can find myself obsessed with a cultural incarnation which lands up emphasizing the culture over the
Incarnation of Christ…some of our seeker friendly theology has done that…sometimes, but not always.
The second trap I can fall into is that I forget the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in people coming to
faith. Conversion is an individual choice and the work of the Holy Spirit. The official biographer of Billy
Graham, Grant Wacker, is clear that Graham gets this distinction. The Graham Organization under Billy
always referred to people as inquirers, not “converts”…in respect for the person and in deference to the
Holy Spirit.

Let me illustrate with a story from my experience at Holy Trinity Brompton this summer. It
re-wired me again to recognize that no matter how inappropriate we can be as Christians (I’m not
defending inappropriateness and I hope we’re not), the Holy Spirit seems to sort out with individuals
their own conversion narrative, no matter what lengths we go to mess it up.

I arrived early to a very welcoming setting where at the back of the church I was offered
a choice of fruit, Danish, tea or coffee. For that part of London, a very appropriate, up-scale welcome.
While the food was welcoming, no one really made an effort to welcome me, which was fine, I wanted
some space. I was early for the service, but 10 minutes into the service, a man in his mid-30’s, in a suit
and with a Bible almost the size of an old laptop (this particular observation is odd because the man
seemed very familiar with the church and if you are familiar with Holy Trinity then you know that the
scriptures are projected on a screen…people don’t usually bring and use their Bible during the service
and this guy never opened his Bible once; it almost looked like it was brought as a prop). Anyway, he
arrived with a young man in his twenties dressed indifferently and looking rather disinterested in the
proceedings. During the entire service, the suit enthusiastically participated in the service, laughing and
nodding approvingly at all the right times and checking to see if his seemingly disengaged guest was
laughing too (he never did). While the “guest” never sang a song, his host did so enthusiastically and (I
kid you not) on several occasions raising his hands and hoisting, I presume, a rather unwanted armpit
into the face of the twenty-something (some of this narrative is in jest but essentially accurate). The
teaching at Holy Trinity is usually excellent, that Sunday…not so much. The preacher was leaving after
twenty years and there was quite naturally a lot of personal story and very little scripture, although to
his credit, he did try to shoehorn in the story of the prodigal son towards the end of the sermon. Nicky
Gumbel, (bless him, the kind evangelist) tried to make an “alter call”/invitation to commitment from the
prodigal son passage asking people if they wanted to “go home”. My thought at this point was that I’d
rather go anywhere but in that service. I’m being tough here and quite critical, but it’s only because I’ve
seen this happen so many times in the past with a negative or even a nasty outcome. Here is the twist.
After all of my negative observations and inaccurate projections, when it came time for people to
respond to all that had gone on in the service that day, the “disinterested and disengaged” young man
was remarkably engaged after all…

He went forward for prayer.

I wouldn’t take away anything I observed or have just written about his host, but I would
however, learn two things from myself. No matter how inappropriate we can be it is a sovereign Holy
Spirit that seeks to engage us, no matter how much confusion and inappropriateness we ourselves can
cause in the coming to faith/conversion narrative of others. And, by the way, the second thing I’ve
learned, not just that day, but often in the context of other Sunday morning worship services I find
myself in, I discovered my need to have someone pray for me. I joined the young guest at the front and
had someone do just that.


In Christ,