Archive for April, 2010

Numbness & Evangelism

Posted: April 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

One of the most wonderful qualities of my mother is her passion for evangelism. A passion that she inherited from her father, a man I met only as an infant. Lately she has reflected that it seems more and more difficult to engage people in meaningful evangelistic conversation. To get them to consider their spiritual fate.

This reflections came to mind as I read the following pair of books the past couple of months. First was Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination and the second was Richard Stearns’ The Hole in Our Gospel

Brueggemann’s book is my favorite book of those I read this year. It draws connections between Moses, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Christ as the paradigms of prophetic ministry. A central claim is that the “royal” world of human control, a world that marginalizes denies God, survives by convincing people that everything is okay – we shouldn’t really expect any more. Here is a quote from the book:

What I propose is this: The royal consciousness leads people to numbness, especially to numbness about death. It is the task of prophetic ministry and imagination to bring people to engage their expericences of suffering to death. – Kindle location 881

Thus an essential role of the prophet is to teach people to mourn. To lament the falleness and wickedness of the world.

I have come to think that there is no more succinct summary of prophetic ministry than the statement of Jesus: “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh” (Luke 6:21), or, more familiarly, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt 5:4). — Kindle location 1996

It is only after we break through the lie that things are going alright, that we can’t expect better, only after we acknowledge the reality of pain that our numbness begins to dissipate and we open ourselves to the work of God. A God who doesn’t work per our expectations. One last quote:

Jesus is able to articulate a future that is distinctly different from an unbearable present. But that future is energizing only for those for whom the present has become unbearable. For those people and that community the abrasion takes the form of promise; the judgment takes the form of energy; the condemnation takes the form of hope. Believers in that future given by God are able to sing and to dance, to heal and to forgive. All those actions that the numb cannot take are given to believers in that future. — Kindle location 1907

Thus to embrace the hope and joy of our salvation we need first to truly lament the dreadful (death full) effects of sin all around us. Or to return to the opening of this post, as long as we (both as individuals and a culture) are basically satisfied with this world it will be hard to be excited about evangelizing. About sharing the good news. And this is where the second books comes in.

Richard Stearns is the president of World Vision and his book is call of the Church to respond to the poverty of the world. I was hesitant to read this book b/c when one starts to look seriously at the problems of the global poor it can quickly get overwhelming. Although The Hole in Our Gospel tries to offer some encouragement, it does not offer simple or easy answers. In fact it calls out Americans for too often simplifying poverty to a lack of money or food and actually making things worse when we send those things.

Since our well intentioned but often naive attempts to help can easily backfire one is tempted to ask why bother. Why not do the best we can at home and not meddle with other people’s problems. There are surely many responses to this but the one that strikes me reading these books in tandem is that we need to engage with the hunger, thirst, suffering, and violence of the world not to fix those problems but to break out of our Western parochial mindset that things are basically ok. We need to mourn with those that mourn, to get to know the grieving mothers and AIDS orphans and thus to leave behind the chilled numbness of hearts warmed only by the glow of TV screens (or computer monitors).

Perhaps the hole in our attempts to evangelize is that we do not know enough about brokeness of the world. Listening to those who wail in grief and getting to know their stories in all there ugliness and horror. Letting that pain hit us until we join them in mourning. And then as we share these sad stories with the world maybe we will all find a renewed interest in a King like no other king and feel the energy and hope that there is a different, better world coming. A world we can not make but we can receive – with singing.

I’m still chewing on all of this but it seems compelling. I think I and many others are often numb to the claims of the gospel. We don’t feel that we need to be saved from anything. It would be interesting to see what would happen if a church would take a break from the typical upbeat worship and spent time grieving corporately.