The horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT, this past Friday will be on the minds of many for some time. It will be hard for me to pass an elementary school and not think of the 20 children gunned down through no fault of their own, and of the adults who died, some in attempts to [...]
The horrific tragedy in Newtown, CT, this past Friday will be on the minds of many for some time. It will be hard for me to pass an elementary school and not think of the 20 children gunned down through no fault of their own, and of the adults who died, some in attempts to protect the innocents. Many have written eloquently on the tragedy, including the near-prescient Russ Moore here and a remarkable piece in the New York Times here.
The jarring reality of events like this, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and others shakes up a world too often caught up in the superficiality of trivial and sentimental things. We live in a world broken apart by the Fall. This reality should inform our evangelism as well. An overly simplistic evangelism that winks at the depths of sin and intends–either in actuality or in appearance–to be more interested in an immediate response than a radical reorientation of life will not help to understand such evil.
I have preached the gospel, shared the gospel personally, and taught others evangelism my entire adult life, and yet I remain a student. About three or four years ago I made a fundamental shift in my own witness both personally and corporately. I did not know at the time all I was doing, but I now see that I was personally shifting from focusing on the method of my witness to the message. The message has for me increasingly become the method. Rather than asking just the right exploratory question, I began unpacking the great Story of the Bible. I do not mean to disparage other approaches to sharing Christ, as I have personally used many approaches with God’s good blessing. But we live in a world filled with people who often do not see beyond our external differences to see the real change the gospel makes.
I’m pretty good at talking to people, so presentations of the gospel have been natural to me. But I began to have conversations with people rather than give them presentations. I begin with the beauty and wonder of Creation. No one to this point has disagreed that our world displays great beauty. Nor has anyone to date differed with me on the reality that humanity is unlike anything else we see, although they may not buy the “created in the Imago Dei” explanation for the uniqueness.
But after talking about the wonder of the created world and the uniqueness of humanity, no one has argued with me on the next point: something has gone badly wrong in this world. I have had countless discussions with believers and unbelievers on four continents who agree that both on the macro level (hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues) and on the micro level (divorce, cancer, drug addiction, etc) we live in a world that has been broken. Sin is more than an idea. Sin is personal.
I fear too often we have run past these truths to get to the cross. The cross is the point, of course. But to understand just what point the cross makes, people need the context given in Scripture of the Creation and the Fall. Then we understand clearly the glory of the Rescue and the hope of the Restoration.
And these truths really matter in times like these.
What I am trying to say is this: in your witness, people skills do matter, but not as much as the message. How you share makes a difference, but not as much as what you share. But more than ever we need to see that the message IS the method, that helping people see the big picture of what God has done and is doing, and the truth of why Christ’s suffering was necessary, will help to show people a light at the end of the tunnel of such darkness as we witness in Newtown.
Jesus Christ did not die on the cross primarily to get us to cuss less or lust less, or to get us to attend church more or even to give to Lottie Moon for missions. He died because we — all of us — desperately need to be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the Kingdom of His son (see Colossians 1). The gospel gets us to heaven, but the message is much richer than this: it gets us to a restored relationship with God Himself for now and eternity!
We cannot give glib answers to such horror as this. I do not know all the details, but it seems thus far that a young man intentionally went to his mother’s class and slaughtered all those children on purpose. I watched the names and ages move across the television screen today. 6, 6, 7, 6 years old. This makes me physically ill. I do not understand it all. But I do understand something about depravity. My hope is in Christ: not a Christ who gives a surface religious meaning to things as they are, but a Christ who makes all things new.
In his compelling piece in the New York Times referenced above Ross Douthat brings up the impassioned speech of Ivan in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karazov, which recounts the slaughter of innocent children. It is a speech, Douthat contends, that “ remains one of the most powerful rebukes to the idea of a loving, omniscient God — a speech that accepts the possibility that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.”
But Douthat continues: “It’s telling that Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, offered no direct theological rebuttal to his character’s speech. The counterpoint to Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness. In this, the Russian novelist was being true to the spirit of the New Testament, which likewise seeks to establish God’s goodness through a narrative rather than an argument, a revelation of his solidarity with human struggle rather than a philosophical proof of his benevolence.
“In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains. That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.
“The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death. In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.”
We cannot explain all the reasons for a tragedy like this. But we who know the great love of our Redeemer have a commission to tell the world of a loving God and to demonstrate how this love has changed us. The message is the method. Let us be faithful, compassionate, and bold in telling the message in its raw truth by our words and our lives.