Rethinking Evangelism

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This post is brought to you by a happy accident. Some might even call it providence. The gospel lesson for today is Matthew 5:17-20. By accident I turned to Mark 5:17-20 and here is what I read:

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:17-20 ESV)

I’ve been dwelling on the topic of evangelism a lot lately. Many of us have been a part of one evangelistic movement or another in the past. Many of us have been severely burned by those evangelistic movements. Yet we cannot escape the call of scripture, and of Jesus himself, to spread the good news.

The problem most of us have these days is exactly how we are to spread it. Jesus uses  such care free metaphors in the gospels. The most care free is that of the farmer simply flinging seed through the air. If only evangelism were that easy.

Yet is it not just that easy? Have we made evangelism into something more than it is? Have we made it so large, so unattainable, that only the giants of the faith (and those with social disorders that relieve them of any awareness that what they are doing is supposed to make them and others feel uncomfortable) can do it?

In this text, Jesus tells a man simply to, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.”

So simple. So profound. How do we put this into practice?

This statement presumes that one has friends that need to hear the good news. The first task is to make sure that we are developing friendships among the unchurched, underchurched, and unbelievers. But we don’t develop these relationships simply for the goal of evangelizing them. Jesus calls them friends. This is where some past evangelistic movements have gotten it wrong. We don’t develop relationships soley for the purpose of sharing the faith. This is cheap, and everyone feels dirty afterwords. It’s all rather unseemly isn’t it?

Rather, we want to develop true friendships with folks outside our church and outside our faith, not for the purpose of evangelizing, but for the purposes of having a friend.

But this is where a lot of us who have been struggling with evangelism have left it. I have made many friends who needed to hear the good news. Have I at least done this simple thing that Jesus tells the young man to do?

We need to be bold enough simply to tell our friends what the Lord has done for us, and how he has shown mercy on us. It’s that simple. Yet we are called to do it. And no matter how they respond, we don’t simply move on to the next person or evangelistic opportunity. They are our friends after all, and not evangelistic targets. Friends are in it for the long haul.

This method certainly isn’t the most “effective” nor does it bring in results the way we would like. But isn’t it the most dignifying and respectful to the human person? Isn’t it the way Jesus implies in the gospels? And in the long run, doesn’t it bear the most fruit, fruit that lasts and bears other fruit?

So go out. Make friends. And tell them what the Lord has done for you.

My Dissertation Defense (I passed!)

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I haven’t posted for a while because I have been busy preparing for my dissertation defense. Many folks have been asking me about the details of the defense, so I decided to compose a blog post to fill everybody in.

The defense was a wonderful experience. My director, Dr. James Ginther and my two readers were very complimentary of my work. First, I gave a short presentation on my dissertation to introduce it for the sake of the audience. Then were many questions and answers from my committee and the audience. After this, my committee went outside the room to deliberate and came back with their decision. My director pronounced a welcome in to the community of university masters (in Latin!) and presented me with my doctoral hood.

Here is the abstract of my dissertation that I composed for the defense program:

Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus of Corbie were two ninth century monks who each wrote treatises on the topic of the Eucharist—both with the same title, De corpore et sanguine Domini. During the sixteenth century Reformation an historical narrative and interpretation was established which posited Paschasius and Ratramnus as bitter rivals in a eucharistic controversy. Ratramnus was claimed by the Reformers as one who shared their view of the Eucharist, and Paschasius was claimed by the Roman Catholics as one who shared theirs. This common interpretation has persisted to this day. However, in the last 25-30 years there has been some call, led by the French scholar Jean-Paul Bouhot, to theorize that there was no controversy between Paschasius and Ratramnus. These more recent scholarly questions led me to discover that there were two lacunae in modern scholarship surrounding Paschasius: no one had ever attempted to read Paschasius’s text in its own particular context and in its own terms, and no one had explored the role of the theology of corpus in his text and how that might lead to developments in its overall interpretation. The purpose of this dissertation is therefore to carefully explore the historical and theological context surrounding the writing of Paschasius’s treatise. In doing this I was very careful to isolate Paschasius’s text from his supposed interlocutors, with whom I argue he had no interlocution, in order to discover its inherent meaning. When applying this method I was able to articulate Paschasius’s doctrine of eucharistic presence, which I label “Eucharistic Motion,” and to articulate a cohesive theology of the concept corpus, which serves as the hermeneutical key to his treatise. Finally, I argue in this dissertation that the entirety of Paschasius’s writing and theologizing was for the purposes of promoting unity in the church through the means of worthy eucharistic reception.

Here is a link to the audio from my defense that Jeff Meyers recorded:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/62419900/LeCroyDefense.mp3

Here is a link to the program for my defense:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3172770/lecroy%20defense.pdf

Here are the last two paragraphs of my dissertation that I used to close my presentation at the defense:

Which leads me to the final aspect of my conclusion: my estimation, or hopes rather, for the ultimate impact of this study. I am a Presbyterian minister. I did my doctoral work at a Jesuit university. I have rubbed shoulders with many followers of Christ from different, often warring, ecclesiastical traditions: Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox. I have seen that a great deal that holds us apart is our view of the Eucharist. This is utterly absurd when we stop to think about it! A table that was meant to unite has become a table of division. Devils rejoice at the thought.

My hope is that this study will help to show that we can all agree on the Eucharist. I believe that Paschasius’s doctrine of the Eucharist presents us all a way forward, a way of conceiving of the Lord’s Supper that we can all agree with. A Eucharist that is powerful. A Eucharist that distinguishes between the bodies of Christ. A Eucharist that insists upon its mystical nature. A Eucharist that eschews Berengar’s oath. Paschasius’s theology pre-dates our disagreements. His theology represents an era before our Church was rent asunder. If I a Presbyterian pastor can work to rehabilitate a Roman Catholic saint, attempting to show that his theology presents us all with a way forward, cannot we all give a little ground? What beauty would it be – What glory! – if this text, a text that has been used as a blunt axe to split the Table of the Lord in to pieces, could finally be used as it was originally intended: a text to bring us all to the Eucharist together and to make us all one.

An Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

‘See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

“The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.