Monday, June 09, 2008

Stay With Me (further thoughts on evangelism)

I'm reading Lesslie Newbigin's classic work: The Gospel in a Pluralist Society that out to be required reading for anyone trying to tell and live the message of Jesus in, well...a pluralist society.

It's a pretty heady work, but it's right on track and offers a very urgent and needed message, so stay with me. I think there's a goldmine at the other end (though we'll see if I can get it there, so this will be a bit of a long post. I know, I know, I hate long posts too--but that doesn't somehow keep me from using them. Physician! Heal thyself!).
In talking about John's gospel, particularly Jesus' statements from chapters 14-16, Newbigin makes this comment on the implications of John 16:13 ("When he, the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth..."):
BlockquoteTo the Church...the work of the Spirit will be "to declare the things that are
to come," to interpret coming events, to be the hermeneutic of the world's
continuing history."
First, what's a hermeneutic? A short history of the word.
  • The word derives from the greek god Hermes, the messenger of the god's. He sent the message the god's wanted the people to hear (aka, the little naked guy on the FTD florist logo).
  • It refers to the message that is being sent and how we understand that same message.
  • And now means "the art and science of biblical interpretation," i.e., the lens through which we see and experience and then live the message of the Bible.
Second, everybody has a hermeneutic--a lens through which we see and interpret what happens in our lives and our world. As in "Oh, my mom's death meant that." "That my kids no longer love me means this." "That I can't get a job means that." "That he loves me means this." Etc.

We attach meaning and value to what is happening because of the way we interpret what is happening. And for most of us, we never give that lens a second thought. We live, for better or worse, unexamined lives, accepting whatever old lens is blown our way by the prevailing winds around us. A hermeneutic (even if you don't know what it is) is a very important thing.

So--and stay with me--to get back to Newbigin's statement about the role of the Holy Spirit, this means that the Holy Spirit of God interprets history (aka, the events of our lives and how they fit into God's efforts to save and redeem all of creation) to us the Church, the people of God. In other words, we are given a lens through which to understand all the tragedies and joys of life, and not in an unthinking way (because even with a hermeneutic, you still have to decipher and weigh and make sense of things).
So (and keeping staying with me because I think we are close to the gold mine), does this then mean that the Church is to do the same thing for the world? That we help the world make sense of the tsunami's and earthquakes and 9/11's and divorces and addictions and injustices and to quote Hamlet, "the thousand (other) natural shocks that flesh is heir to." And we also help make sense of falling in love and beautiful art and a good meal and having children and playing in the sand at the beach.

In short, we interpret what it means to be human.

And if that is the case, what kinds of relationships would we need to have for the world--that is, the people around us every day--to actually trust and listen to our interpretation? It's a basic given of human nature that we don't listen to someone's take on things without being really close to them. And what's more, we don't listen until we've been listened to.

Christians are often guilty of having a lot to say (like on a blog, for instance) but not having anyone to really say it to (like, again, on, ahem, a blog, for instance). We think we have the answers, but no one is listening because they don't know us.

So maybe we need to change evangelism from 'who can we get to listen to us?' to 'who are we listening to?' In the listening, we show them what it means to be human.


Juliana said...

Very thought-provoking, Scott... There's a natural human desire to know the meaning of life - the point of our existence and our experience. There are multitudes of modern-day philosophers offering their different theories, but the Church seems to be in the background in that arena. Maybe the lack of listening has something to do with it.

Brian Miller said...

I haven't read your blog in a couple of weeks and have some catching up to do...

I actually picked up this book in the library and am thinking I'll be reading it sometime in the next couple weeks... I'm really intrigued by Newbigin.

That's it. And maybe when I'm more awake I'll find myself back here reading through the rest of the posts I've missed.


Josh said...

this is a good read.

i especially like his development of predestination in the later chapters, where he connects that theology to a theology of being predestined to live like God (summed up shortly).