Monday, April 16, 2007

Danger: Man-Centered Missions and Evangelism

Within most Southern Baptist churches, when we talk about missions and evangelism, we primarily talk about “man.” We discuss our salvation experience. We talk about other people’s need to hear the gospel. We make reference to certain people we know who are not saved. From many pulpits it is even implied that if we do not share the gospel, we are responsible for people going to Hell. What does this all lead to? This man-centered focus leads to guilt. This is why so few people want to have anything to do with sharing their faith. It has a legalistic, guilt-ridden feel to it.

The main problem with man-centered missions and evangelism is that it is simply not biblical. Biblical missions and evangelism is primarily about God. It is about God deserving the worship of the peoples of the world. It is about God being held up and magnified for who He truly is. Look at the following passages:

Isaiah 43:6-7: “I will say to the north, give up, and to the south, do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

Matthew 28:18-20: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Acts 1:6-8: So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

In these three passages, we read about God creating men for His glory, about all authority being given to Jesus, about all peoples becoming disciples of Christ, about all peoples obeying Christ, about the Holy Spirit giving power, and about the original followers of Christ being witnesses to Him.

These critical passages appear to be very God-centered. This is how we should be focusing our missions and evangelism efforts in Southern Baptist Churches. We need to proclaim God’s majesty, beauty, wonder, and glory to our people in the pews. We need to give them a picture of joyful living in Christ. It is this joy in Jesus that will spur them on to want to share their faith, either here or on the other side of the globe.

Man-centered missions and evangelism leads to guilt. God-centered missions and evangelism leads to joy.


Maël said...

Great point Eric,

When I first read your title I thought of a different man centered versus God centered aspect of missions: man planning versus God planning. I'd much rather have God plan.


Eric said...

Good point, Mael. Whenever we get ahead of God, the results do not turn out the way we had hoped.

Michael said...


I think that you have diagnosed a very important problem when such attitudes and actions become the exclusive focus in thinking about missions. But while I agree with you that a primarily man-centered approach to missions will obscure right thinking about missions and evangelism, I believe there is a place for secondary motivations.

The apostle Paul certainly had no trouble referencing his personal salvation experience. He talked about the need for people to hear the Gospel, and even seemed to imply that if we did not go—they wouldn’t! (Romans 10:14-15). He had no qualms talking referencing those who needed to be saved, even to the point of desiring his own condemnation would only his countrymen believe (Romans 9:1).

I’m not sure there is absolutely no place for guilt either, provided a proper context. Though I wrench the following text from its hermeneutical context to marshall it for my argument, I do believe that it gives us insight into the nature of God and his relations with human beings. Ezekiel writes:
33:1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, 3 and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, 4 then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. 5 He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.
7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

Obviously, there is not a one-to-one correlation here with the message of the gospel. Furthermore, to suggest from this text that believers are ultimately responsible for the fate of the unevangelized does violence the larger counsel of the Scriptures. I do take this text to imply, however, that we are in some sense accountable and in part responsible when we disobediently fail to warn the lost of their eternal doom. I grieve over the lost condition of friends and family members. I do not believe this in any way diminishes my understanding of God’s sovereignty and justice, for I further believe that he has placed this burden in my heart. For a “Christian” who experiences no grief over lostness or urgency to share the gospel, I believe that guilt is a proper emotional response—not necessarily as a motivation to begin sharing the gospel boldly when he otherwise wouldn’t, but as a Holy Spirit wrought conviction for him to examine his view of God, hell, and perhaps even his own salvation. The predicament of lost peoples is not primarily that they are seeking joy in things other than God, but that in desiring the perishable they have become enemies of God subject to his wrath with the “gun of God’s judgment pointed at their heads ready to blow their brains out” (as John Piper eloquently puts it).

Furthermore, I believe that the failure of Christians to evangelize is generally not that they have been discouraged through incessant guilt trips, but rather because they fail to grasp this latter reality. Lifestyle evangelism, servanthood evangelism, and relational evangelism are not evangelism at all until the evangel has been proclaimed verbally—and that is a message that is a divisive, counter-cultural stumbling block. And so, the guilt that is induced comes not so much from church, or even less in some perceived sense from God, but from a culture that intimidates their fragile faith into culturally correct silence.

Eric said...


Thank you the thought, effort, and time that you put into your comments. I love being stretched by others to think further through issues like this.

I fully agree that in order for man to be saved, he must hear the gospel and respond to it in repentance and faith. There is no doubt that God's primary means of people coming to Him is through verbal communication of the gospel. "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17)

I wrote this post for two reasons. First, it has been my experience that in the area of evangelism people focus too much on man, and not enough on God. I do certainly hope that all Christians have a deep desire that their family and friends be saved. However, I also hope that this is secondary to their desiring that God receive the glory of these people's salvation.

The second reason for the post is that I find guilt to be a primary method that some pastors use from the pulpit to try to motivate their people to share the gospel. I think it would be much more appropriate and effective to preach about the glory of Christ, and then tell them that their joy in Him should lead to a natural outflowing of the gospel message. Evangelism should then be a fruit of those who are children of God.

To finish up here, I did not mean to create some sort of false dichotomy between our focus on God and our focus on the lost. They are both critical. I just hope that the people in the pews look to God first, and man second.

Michael said...

Well, knowing you, I kind of figured that's what you meant. So, my comments were not totally intended to critique, but to consider the implications of your post. As I said, I actually agree with your main point completely; your post, like any really good one, just got me thinking!

By the way, I left you a note over at my place before I commented on your post. It's good to hear from you, and I've enjoyed your new blog. I'll try to continue commenting.

Eric said...

Thanks Mike. I look forward to it.