I had the opportunity to see Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics (New York Times Best Seller) and The Call to Conversion, speak on two different occasions yesterday. The first was a panel discussion where four pastors and professors from the Church of God (Anderson) responded to chapters out of Rev. Wallis’ book The Call to Conversion. There was a pretty small Audience of no more than 50 or so for this discussion.
I haven’t read any of Wallis’ books, though I have both of them sitting on my desk now. He had some wonderful things to say about Christianity, partisanship, politics, the right, the left, and living the Christian life but I won’t bore you with those. He did, though, say something about the nature of evangelism that struck a chord with me. He pointed out that Christians in the west are answering questions that aren’t being asked.
The first century church lived a radically different lifestyle than the society of their time. They lived a radically different lifestyle than Christians today live. Their life was marked by their commitment to one another, their commitment to the poor and the oppressed, and their willingness to share everything so that all needs were met. They were known for preaching “good news to the poor” with both their mouths and their lifestyles and numbers were added to them daily. People were asking questions.
“Why would you live this way? What’s in it for you? Who is this Jesus character you keep talking about? Is he the reason you are living so differently? Is he the reason you sold all you had? Is he the reason you won’t join the army? Is he the reason you would rather be killed than fight back?”
These are the questions being asked in the Bible. These are the questions Peter urged his fellow believers to always be ready to answer. Today we try to sell something we don’t have. We advertise a lifestyle of passion, hope, change, conversion, radicalism but what we sell is dramatically different. We sell moralism. We sell suburban hopes and dreams. We sell 401Ks and stewardship. We sell political agendas that are too narrow to encapsulate all of the things that God loves and cares about. We sell Christian alternatives to every conceivable form of recreation and it just isn’t working. It isn’t working because all it is is a cleaned up substitute for what people already have. It isn’t working because we’re selling a re-packaged version of the materialism that our society is already trapped in. It isn’t working because what we are selling isn’t good news to anybody, especially the poor.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”