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Emerging Evangelism: Critical Beginnings

posted by xscot mcknight

Perhaps the word “missional” is more appropriate to the emerging sense of evangelism, and I suggest the following are some of the major complaints against traditional evangelism. We can all give some bad examples of evangelism, and the best way to do the work of the kingdom is to get beyond criticizing traditional faith by appealing to bad examples. Still, there are some issues for many of us:
First, there is the issue of reducing the gospel to a marketable simplicity. Many are concerned that the gospel is so profound, so comprehensively transforming, and identity-forming that reducing to some simple few steps truncates the gospel to a formula not discoverable in Jesus or the early Church.
Second, some contend that many evangelists are downright manipulative. Some of you may know of my work on conversion (Turning to Jesus). In that piece we discuss “encapsulation theory” which is the isolation of a person — sometimes innocently, sometimes not — and this can occur at the level of the social and the rhetorical. And it is not always easy to discern the line between genuine care and persuasive force and the manipulative. Many of us in the emerging movement steer a wide berth around anything that smacks of manipulation — and rightly so.
Third, a clear issue is what I am calling termination, and what I mean by this is the goal of the evangelist: when is it “over”, when has the evangelist accomplished his or her goal, when is the person “saved”? Because traditional evangelism has often made a clear distinction between decisions and disciples, and since the emerging folks want to create disciples and those who follow in the way of Jesus, then the termination is not so clear and thus the dividing line is not so clear — and this creates an entirely new dynamic. [Response to Comment below. What about baptism? If an emerging local church practices adult immersion by profession of faith, then the “termination” of evangelism would be here, but baptism would also be understood as the commitment to a life of dying and rising with Christ.]
Fourth, many understand evangelism as rationalization of faith in Christ — and many in the emerging movement think faith transcends the rational, is profoundly relational, and is therefore transpropositional (Stephen Shields’ expression I like). If faith transcends the rational, then “evangelism” can’t be limited to the rational and that means it is deeply personal — and how does a person measure when someone loves another person? Well, that is central to many of us in the emerging movement.
Fifth, a major, major issue is colonization — the goal of leaving one’s station (say your local church) and gathering more who will be colonized in your group. Well, local churches are fine and good — they reflect the kingdom in God’s plan. But, scoring folks for your group is not what genuine evangelism is about. It is getting folks to follow Jesus and that means wherever they might be and at whatever level they might be following Jesus. The line between “us and them” and between “in and out” is not so clear sometimes.
Sixth, an issue I hear about all the time is arrogance. Whether you like the pomo generation or not, that generation simply can’t stomach those who think they know all the answers. When evangelists come over as “I’ve got the answer” many will turn them off. The emerging movement wants to create a form of evangelism, if it calls it that (and I am loathe to give up a wonderful NT word), that is genuinely conversational and authentic and natural.
Seventh, a final issue is agenda. When the emerging generation thinks someone is being friendly, or striking up a conversation, or showing an interest, simply to create an opportunity for evangelism emerging folks fly to the other side of the room. It is embarrassing, they argue, to use friendship for the sake of evangelism: we ought to be friends of others because we love them not simply so we can “lead them to Christ.”
Well, these are some observations. You may have more. Chime in, please.



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Andrew

posted May 1, 2006 at 6:26 am


Interesting post.
This is probably a sub-set of your first point, but I think it bears mention: Forgetting the importance of pre-evangelism, e.g. creating a genuine curiosity about the gospel by knocking down misconceptions about it, and challenging people to question their existing presuppositions. Showing people that it is not a question of faith v. no faith, but faith in the Jesus worldview v. faith in some other worldview.
We need to show people that they already have a worldview and that many aspects of that were adopted by faith. Then encourage them to question their current worldview, consider its foundations, and consider alternatives.



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Dustin

posted May 1, 2006 at 7:17 am


You final point about friendship hit the nail on the head. All too often, through church functions and “Bible college,” it seemed as if the call to befriend the “lost” was always with a motivation beyond mere friendship. This has always disturbed me, even to the point of wholly rejected such rationale in lieu of simply loving for love’s sake. As I read through the Gospels, I see a picture of Jesus the Christ, who simply loves because he himself is the definition of love. While I know we are far from it, should we differentiate at all between the love Christ shows to us and the love we show to others? I’ll be interested to read more of what you have to say on the subject.
Fantastic post, by the way.



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JP Lakin

posted May 1, 2006 at 7:54 am


What I run into in my church is that people use all of the above to avoid the “e” word. The “missional” paradigm seems to produce a kind of paralysis in our people. Is friendship evangelism? Where does friendship end and evangelism begin? Our church has a hard time getting over the conquering mentality of traditional evangelism. There is such a fear of offending…. I look forward to what others have to say in this conversation.



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Ted Gossard

posted May 1, 2006 at 7:57 am


I find myself in agreement with all the concerns and emphases listed here. And also reluctant, myself, to drop the term “evangelism” from euanggelizo.
In spite of whatever anyone else may be doing in the world (already doing this?), we need to interface with these matters, I believe. As we seek to be more authentically true to the faith.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 1, 2006 at 8:06 am


Dustin,
One of the finest statements ever of “friendship” or “love” is that of Aristotle in book 8 of Nicomachean Ethics, in which it is very clear that seeking for virtue and accountability to one another are inherent to genuine friendship or love.
I think for Jesus love is about loving another person so they might become all that God made them to be. So, I’m not so sure I would say that Jesus loved for love’s sake — I think he loved for the other person’s sake.
Direction-less love, so it seems, is Romantic or Transcendental, but not what 1 Cor 13 is abouit.



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Larry

posted May 1, 2006 at 8:13 am


Scot,
Interesting thoughts.
Question about your third point, “termination.” Doesn’t baptism mark some sort of termination or beginning? I don’t think baptism is a regenerative thing, but it is a declaration of commitment to Christ and intention to follow him. It seems to me that marks some sort of visible dividing line between disciple and unbeliever.
I agree that the work of the gospel continues, rather than terminates. Can you enlarge perhaps on what you are saying, particularly with reference to baptism?



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Cam West

posted May 1, 2006 at 8:14 am


Scot, thanks for articulating the list above.
I agree that ‘appealing to bad examples’ doesn’t provide much way forward. Nonetheless, I must ask whether these pitfalls are inherent to conservative Protestantism? (Perhaps I am being too biased towards my sisters and brothers nurtured in other Christian traditions.)
Now to chime in in a constructive way:
(1) Erwin McManus makes the point that we tend to talk about individual spirituality in terms that portray change as positive, but corporate spirituality in terms that portray conservatism as positive. But inasmuch as I believe the personal/communal distinction artificial, I attempt to use ‘conversion’ language consistently.
(2) Eddie Gibbs (perhaps borrowing from David Bosch) said he shies away from the term ‘evangelism’. He prefers ‘evangelisation’ (similarly, a fundamentalist friend prefers the somewhat more unwieldy ‘gospel-isation’). Catholics use the term to refer to a more wholistic process than evangelism, which all to readily rhymes with patriarchilsm, colonialism, capitalism, and any number of other ideologies.
I look forward to reading further comments and (hopefully) posts on a topic close to my heart.



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RJS

posted May 1, 2006 at 8:41 am


Effective evangelism is genuinely and deeply relational, whether the relationship is of relatively short duration (e.g. a summer coworker, a teacher, a classmate), or long duration (e.g. family). Faith, however, must also be rational and should be approached rationally. After all, anything can be relational, whether it is true, or believable, or not. Many “faiths” transcend the rational. The Faith must be deeply rational or we are chasing butterflies.
I would contend, in the line of your thoughts here, that evangelism (emerging or otherwise) should define how we live, the choices we make, the careers we pursue, the schools to which we send our children, how we relate to people socially and professionally, and so on.
The caricature that is apparent in many of your points is that evangelism can be confined to “numbers of decisions” and that conversion is a well defined point in time. We all have turning points in our lives – but the lead-up and the follow through are as important as the turn itself.
Of course none of this is new, just profoundly important.
RJS



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Rich

posted May 1, 2006 at 9:18 am


Thanks for your thoughts, Scot. Good challenge.
What is your view of the Engel scale, for instance? There are many steps to conversion. Evangelism includes more than the “decision” to ask Jesus in your heart, in secular America and elsewhere it has to begin for some accepting that even God exists.



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Scot McKnight

posted May 1, 2006 at 9:29 am


Cam,
Is that in Emerging Churches where Gibbs says this? The term “evangelisation” is definitely a broader term, but I’ve not heard it described quite like that.
RJS,
You are right. Some time ago I blogged about the Four Spiritual Laws and suggested that the criticism of it is sometimes misplaced since it all depends on who is doing the “sharing.” My contention then and now is that evangelism is most cases is determined by the relationship and not the word alone. People believe because they find someone credible.
Rich,
Allow me to mention my Turning to Jesus. I expound a process-ive theory of conversion in that book. But I’m not sure I know of the Engel scale.



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Patrick Hare

posted May 1, 2006 at 9:59 am


Excellent categories – provocative stuff. Your concepts of Manipulation, Arrogance and Agenda remind me of the wonderful word coined by Andrew Rumsey over at Ship of Fools:
Evandalism – the “indiscriminate dumping of the gospel without thought for the surroundings. When the believer’s need to deposit their faith outweighs their love for neighbour, it is rarely good news for anyone.”



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Cam West

posted May 1, 2006 at 10:08 am


Scot,
Eddie mentioned this at a Churches of Christ ministers’ retreat in Queensland last year. I can’t find my notes at the moment, but I think it arose out of a discussion of Bosch’s discussion of ‘Mission as Evangelism’ in Transforming Mission (409 – 420). It made a distinct impression on me when he mentioned it. I can’t recall it being mentioned in ‘Emerging Churches’.
BTW The chapter that ‘Mission as Evangelism’ appears in is entitled ‘Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm’. Interestingly, Dan Kimball’s post outlining the history of the term ‘emerging’ and its relatives doesn’t mention this chapter Bosch’s 1991 book.



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ed lebert

posted May 1, 2006 at 10:44 am


I wonder how the first Christians, recorded for us in Acts, “evangelized.”
It seems to me that they boldy and publicly proclaimed the Gospel, but they were not arrogant.
They boasted in the cross of Christ, but not in their own law-keeping.
They were not ashamed of the Gospel, but instead said “Christ died for our sins” and “Salvation is found only in Jesus” even to total strangers, and even if it meant they would suffer terribly for it.
Rather than being seen as “savy” and “sophisticated”, they were seen by the world as fools.
They befriended people so that the Gospel would be told to them (scandalous!), but they did not mislead or “trick” people.
I suggest that whatever the evangelism model of the Emergent Church is (or is going to be), it should be tested against Jesus’ and the apostle’s teaching and practice as recorded in the Bible.



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Anonymous

posted May 1, 2006 at 11:17 am


Swimming in the Divine Chaos… » Blog Archive » Scot Mcknight on Emerging Evangelism…

[…] Excellent short post asking important questions about current notions of “evangelism.” Thanks Scot. Full Post: Jesus Creed » Emerging Evangelism: Critical Beginnings Teaser: First, there is the issue of reducing the gospel to a marketable simplicity. Many are concerned that the gospel is so profound, so comprehensively transforming, and identity-forming that reducing to some simple few steps truncates the gospel to a formula not discoverable in Jesus or the early Church. […]



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Craig OBrien

posted May 1, 2006 at 12:35 pm


I am really happy to see you writing on the emerging evangelism conversation. We keep working on it here in Vancouver, BC, as well. Evangelism in the process of making disciples and showing them how to do everything Jesus commanded (Matthew 28:18-20) seems to require three aspects of relationship: presence, proclamation and persuasion. At Cityview we are trying to work out what it take for us to have life-giving conversations with anyone that we share life with. It seems to me that conversation is the pathway for conversion in our vancouver context. Several sources are informing our exploration together. I deeply appreciate Neil Cole’s comments on the Parable of the Soils (Mark 8) in his book Organic Church; Neil wonders if we, the church, are spending way too much time on trying to generate growth, rather than investing our lives in sowing the Word of God and communicating the Gospel. David J. Hesselgraves book, Scripture and Strategy: The Use of the Bible in Postmodern Church and Mission encourages a dialogical approach, heavy on listening and on the communication of Jesus–the meaning of our life, rather than church & practices–the forms of our life. As well Joseph Myers’ book, The Search to Belong: rethinking small groups and community, has provided insight to our emerging evangelism conversation; Myers applies Edward Hall’s work on culture and space–i.e. public, social, personal, and intimate to small group issues. However, it has got me working on the different expectations vancouver-canadians have about space and the kinds of spiritual conversations that can happen there. Spiritual conversations could be envisioned to reflect the establishment of presence, proclamation, or persuasion. Some questions: Do evangelism approaches crafted in each generation reflect different cultural expectations regarding “space” and the kinds of conversations that can happen there? Do the emerging generations in vancouver have a smaller concept of what public and social relationships look like than previous generations? Has our media-rich context caused us to presume that persuasion cannot be accompanied by love?



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Andrew

posted May 1, 2006 at 12:43 pm


Rich, the Engel Scale idea is in part what I was getting at in my first comment above. Tim Keller put it this way:
A city-center church today must use presuppositional reasoning more than the old evidential approach. It has to show that all doubts and objections to Christianity are themselves alternate beliefs and faith-acts. (If you say, “I just can’t believe that there is only one true religion”—that is a faith-act. You can’t prove that.) And when you see your doubts are really beliefs, and when you require the same amount of evidence for them that you are asking of Christian beliefs, then it becomes evident many of them are very weak and largely adopted because of cultural pressure. The city-center church redundantly weaves responses to these defeaters into every area so that people “in process” will have these major barriers to faith removed.
Full article here:
http://www.redeemer2.com/themovement/issues/2006/winter/ministry_in_globalcultureIII.html
By the way, in this article Tim discusses a lot of issues relevant to several of Scot’s recent evangelism posts.



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Jordan

posted May 1, 2006 at 12:48 pm


Scot said “I think for Jesus love is about loving another person so they might become all that God made them to be.” (#5)
I think this is right on. I hear a lot that we need to be friends without an agenda, and so this means not having an agenda and then making friends. Both are wrong. Rather than an either/or we need a both/and. That is, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you can’t be a true friend without wanting the same for your friend. So, a true friend is one, as Scot said, that wants them to “become all that God made them to be.” That’s not having an agenda, but having a true and loving relationship in which you want the best for that person. Obviously this can be taken too far, but I think true friendships can exist where evangelism is done without having an agenda.



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Hunter Beaumont

posted May 1, 2006 at 1:13 pm


Scot, as a historian, I see the influence of the Second Great Awakening all over the place. One of the strongest influences I see is the tendency to reduce the gospel to an evangelistic message about “getting saved” and then the application of sales and marketing principles to get people to “make a decision.” Nathan Hatch’s “The Democratization of American Christianity” should be required reading for all contemporary evangelicals.
I think we need to help people see that salvation is more than conversion or justification or “getting saved.” At a personal level, it also includes sanctification and our eventual perfection in resurrected bodies. At a cosmic level, it includes uniting all creation under Christ, the Kingdom of God. This, of course, means that the gospel is more than an evangelistic message that the insiders share with the outsiders. It’s a message for everyone, regardless of where they are on the spectrum. In my thinking, this eliminates the concern about whether the church should be aimed at either “seekers” or “believers.” The gospel speaks to everyone, and the church can speak to everyone if the church is about the gospel.



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Anonymous

posted May 1, 2006 at 2:04 pm


craig obrien blogs :: keller on engaging the city-centre culture :: May :: 2006

[…] Thanks to Andrew for responding in Scot McKnight’s post on emerging evangelism. Andrew posted a link for an article by Tim Keller that has definitely enlivened by morning coffee at The Grind. Keller’s article “Ministry in the New Global Culture of Major City-Centers (Part III) has some gems in it for anyone wrestling with how to equip your congregation for life in the city. An excerpt below and the link to the full article. In general the church’s communication and preaching must continually chip away at the main “defeaters,” the main, widely held objections to Christianity that form an “implausibility structure” keeping most people from solid faith thought because “all the smart people I know don’t believe Christianity.” Here are the main ones in U.S. cities today: […]



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RJS

posted May 1, 2006 at 4:10 pm


Andrew (#16)
This is an excellent article by Keller, thanks for pointing it out.
We can translate this article to the secular University and it hits smack-dab center on most of the major attacks on Christianity. In fact Keller’s opening paragraph about the city hits on the factors that I think are pulling college students away from the faith that they came in with and keeping many others from even exploring the plausibility of faith, because “all the smart people, all the experts, all the scholars, … don’t believe Christianity.” It is an insidious gnostic attack of sorts. Those “in the know” know that these things are true –
Keller lists six factors quoted here:
1. The other religions. “No one should insist their view of God is better than all the rest. All religions are equally valid.”
2. Evil and suffering. “A good, all-powerful God wouldn’t allow this evil and suffering. Therefore, this God doesn’t exist or can’t be trusted.”
3. The ethical straitjacket. “We must be free to choose for ourselves how to live—no one can impose this on us. This is the only truly authentic life.”
4. The record of Christians. “If Christianity is the true religion, why would so much oppression happen in history with the support of the church?”
5. The angry God. “Christianity is built around a condemning, judgmental deity who demands blood sacrifice even to forgive.”
6. The unreliable Bible. “The Bible can’t be trusted historically or scientifically and much of its teaching is socially regressive.”
I would add a seventh to this list. (Keller doesn’t place this among the principle objections – but I would, at least in the University)
7. The inherent belief in scientific naturalism – That every thing has and must have an inherently natural explanation.
This opinion is so ingrained in so many that it isn’t even taken as a hypothesis, but as a statement of scientific fact. If you don’t think that this is true consider the reflexive and visceral nature of so many to the recent conflicts between so-called “Intelligent Design” and evolution.
Keller deals with this further down in the article when he claims that “outrage against injustice despite how natural it is (in a world based on natural selection) shows that we already do believe in God at the most basic level but are suppressing that knowledge for our convenience.” Of course, the scientific approach here is to assume that outrage against injustice and, even a propensity to believe in a god or gods, is controlled by specific genes that can be identified. There are researchers trying to find just these genes and interactions. One of the hardest things, in the circle in which I travel in anyway, is getting people to realize that it is as much a matter of faith to assert as an initial hypothesis that “the universe arises entirely through naturalistic evolution from the big bang according to the laws of physics” as it is to assert that “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
Not everyone will have equal problems with all of these issues, but most will have significant concerns about a subset of them.
This is why evangelism must be both relational and rational. Relationships build credibility, but faith must be and is rational and we must be prepared to deal with people rationally.
RJS



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Scot McKnight

posted May 1, 2006 at 4:25 pm


RJS,
I sorted through three of the pieces by Keller, but I don’t think the fourth is available is it?
I agree with much that he is saying.
One of the most interesting things here is that the apostle Paul sees the Church as the community of God with full awareness of the cracked nature of Eikons, and the biblical flow is that God is at work in this cracked world. So, some of the arguments against the purity of the Church and the gospel (our grasp of it at the epistemic level) are set in the context of a really visible fallible world, where there are bad things going on and injustices, and that somehow it is just this kind of world in which God is redemptively at work. So, for God, redemptive work is not (in the natural coure of things) perfection, but a life of striving in faith as we trust the One Who is Trustable! So, yes, I’m with you on the importance of faith up front (at each juncture), relationship and rationality.



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Cam West

posted May 1, 2006 at 8:31 pm


Craig,
In my work in church-based youth ministry chaplaincy-based defence mission, I’ve seen the value of the threeefold presence-proclamation-persuasion model you mentioned. But I know of someone who operatees on a five-fold model, adding ‘power’ and ‘propagation’ to the mix. I wonder if it’s just a matter of semantics (demonstrations of God’s power eg. healing, and the formation of new faith communities being fairly persuasive).
Presence, proclamation, and persuasion are (to me) so christocentric that they run the risk of becoming christomonistic. (This is a danger for evangelicalism in general.) Power and propogation help us set evangelisation in a trinitarian framework, remembering that it is Spirit-driven and church-oriented.
I too was deeply challenged by Cole’s book, and have seen Myers’ around too, but had no idea about



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RJS

posted May 2, 2006 at 7:57 am


Scot,
Probably not since the first three were in the Summer 2005, Fall 2005 and Winter 2006 Newsletters – I guess we just wait with baited breath for Summer 2006.
Anyway, as an insider in secular academia for almost 25 years now, since I began as a grauate student, I am deeply concerned with the attack on faith and Christianity in this environment. It is intense, and perhaps not fully appreciated by those in the ministry – perhaps even those involved in student ministries.
As a result I have been thinking a lot lately about two things. First – how can we as a community (i.e. the church) equip, support, and disciple students (graduate and undergraduate) as they enter and are enveloped in the culture of the University. Second – how can we effectively have an evangelical (or missional) witness within a University community, to undergraduate students, graduate students, post-graduate scholars (Post-docs, residents…), and even to faculty.
RJS



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Anonymous

posted May 2, 2006 at 4:06 pm


from dialogue to discipleship » Blog Archive » EE of EE

[…] Emerging Evangelism: Critical Beginnings […]



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posted May 2, 2006 at 6:05 pm


Mr. Aston.org » Emerging Evangelism: Critical Beginnings – from Jesus Creed

[…] Emerging Evangelism: Critical Beginnings: […]



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Bob Williford

posted July 20, 2006 at 10:58 am


I sort of feel that the so-called emerging church movement is afraid to face the reality of the context of life. And that context contains the horrible ‘s’ word or sin.
And this new culture is afraid of being confronted with the reality that confrontation really hurts because the truth of who we are does hurt when it reveals who we are without Christ. And athe Cross confronts us with the reality of our sin. and that hurts and often time is embarassing.
I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation, and Paul said this. Jesus was and His Word is confrontational and His Word is not in retreat.
Sometimes it does take awhile to develope the kinds of relationships that the emerging church movement mentions in order to help people across bridges. And I do that when necessary. But, I also am in the business of simply sharing with folks….whoever they may be and wherever they might be….how to get to heaven…the context is not important.
The great problem that the church today faces is that it does not attempt to build those bridges that I have mentioned. And this is why it is important to start new churches where the older and out of touch churches exist. But as we do so, we must not forget that the message of Christ is confrontational. And we must not make excuses and forget how to do evangelism.
My fear that I feel when I read about the emerging church movement is that there is too much of the ‘touchy, feely’ kind of environment. My son and family attend a ‘seeker friendly’ kind of church that is considered to be an ‘emerging church’. And I am uncomfortable with what learned when I attended it, and what I read about the same.
If I am wrong…I will admit it and go on. But I have deep reservations about the cultural model that has developed.
Bob Williford



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Bob Williford

posted June 28, 2009 at 9:58 pm


I am another Bob Williford, and I find it quite interesting that I find myself ‘mirrored’ by the aformentioned Bob Williford.
Here I am almost 3 years later and absolutely nothing has changed. However, the “Driven” models are showing up everywhere, and “Driven” is the word found in book titles of all sorts of things. This is worrisome in numerous ways, but the numero uno are the terms so often used that utilize the prefixes “re” and adjective “true”, ie, recommit or true believer.
My questions for both of these thoughts are:
1. What was this person committed to in the beginning if there is a need to be committed again…..
2. Is there such a thing as a true believer? Either a person is a Believer or is not a Believer….losr or saved….this is not hard to understand.
Finally, the Gospel is confrontational and causes a difficult decision that must be made…follow the Christ or not to follow the Christ.



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