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.

Home

Home.

We often think fondly of our homes, where we are from. I grew up in rural South Carolina at the base of theBlue Ridge Mountains. I spent my summers exploring the woods around our house, playing in the streams and discovering interesting animals and plants. There was a cattle farm across the street from our house which emanated interesting smells and sounds. My grand parents lived two houses down, which was a quarter of a mile in those parts. I would often walk or ride my bike to see them. They would always offer me orange juice, cookies and ice cream. I had several trails through the woods that I could take to visit their house before my parents would let me walk or ride my bicycle on the road. I knew every square foot of those woods. Every hollow and every tree.

Home.

What is home? Is it a place or is it a feeling? Isn’t home the way you feel when you are most comfortable. The place where you can wear your PJ’s and not feel like you’re somehow being informal or immodest? Isn’t home the place where you can sleep a deep sleep and not wake up in the night wondering where you are? Isn’t home a sense of comfort, a feeling of relaxation, void of the worries and cares of the outside?

Home.

The rock group Metallica famously screamed, “Where I lay my head is home.” Their anthem is eerily, and perhaps uncomfortably, similar to Jesus’ own statement, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Metallica roams because they are revolutionaries, speaking their minds as they please. Is this similar to Jesus? Maybe on the surface, but there is a fundamental difference. Jesus has no place to lay his head because he has rejected his first home. Yet rebellion and anarchy is not the end of Jesus’ story. Jesus is not just rejecting his first home, he is busy building a new home and a new household and a new family. This is why he famously tells his mother and his brothers, “who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and my sister and my mother.” You see, Jesus is not just rejecting the old home in order to become a vagabond, a wandering ascetic, he is putting off the old in order to build something new. A new home. A new family.

Home.

One of the things that we most long is to feel at home. This is one of our deepest felt needs as human persons. We want to be loved. We want to be cared for. We want to be touched, embraced, and kissed. We want to feel comfortable, relaxed, and safe. We want to be home.

The good news of the gospel for you today is that Jesus is building a home for you here in his church. A place where you can be known. A place where you can be loved. A place where you can be safe.

Home

A New Pro-Life Strategy

If this is as good as it sounds and spreads it could be a wonderful thing!

A prayer for mothers who are considering abortion:
God of all grace, out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy You have given us life and commanded us not to hurt or harm our neighbor in his body. Teach us to care for unborn children whom you have created in Your image. Grant your grace to all mothers that, by your word and Spirit, they may live according to your will and have the courage to nurture and cherish their children. Surround all mothers with those who will rejoice in the child, and provide for the needs of both mother and child both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Pro-Life Youth’s Innovative Save the Storks Effort Helps Women

Counter Culture: a Lenten Reflection

The National Anthem of the United States of America is “The Star Spangled Banner.” Yet while this song about the perseverance of a piece of cloth (for we have no human to revere in our great land) still tugs on our patriotic heartstrings from time to time, perhaps the real anthem of the modern America is a rock song by Queen:

I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now.

This anthem is what drives the American spirit. Just walk into any Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart where you can literally have it all, and have it now, if you only have access to enough credit.

I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now.

How did we get here? We are a country that was built on the backs of hard work and perseverance. How did we become so lazy, impatient, and averse to suffering? How did we get to the point that we truly believe that everything is our due, and we owe absolutely nothing for it?

I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now.

No, this is more than our anthem. This is our litany, our national prayer, our creed. We name it, and we claim it. We shouldn’t have to wait, we shouldn’t have to save or do without, and we shouldn’t have to pay for it.

I want it all. I want it all. I want it all. And I want it now.

There could be nothing farther from the ethos of the scripture than this litany of consumerism, this patriotic anthem of acquisition, this creed of impatience, pride, and gluttony. The bible says, wait, be patient, and suffer. That’s actually what the bible says! Wait, be patient, and suffer. What could be farther from our cultural norm? Yet we see in Mark 8:31-38 that though Christ was God incarnate, omnipotent and omniscient, and he certainly could have taken the rule of the entire earth, for he certainly had the power,yet he didn’t! He waited, he was patient, and he suffered.

And yet even after he waited, faithfully passed the tests, was patient, and suffered for his bride, he still does not have the fullness of worldly power. Why? Why did he not at least then, after he waited so long and suffered so much, did he not then take what was due him? Why? Because he also wanted glory for his people, his bride, and the only way to real glory is to wait, to be patient, and to suffer. So we must wait, be patient, and suffer, though we are anointed priests, kings, and prophets to the world, we must wait, be patient and suffer for the life of the world just as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did.

We must wait, be patient, and suffer.

A Biblical Theology of Maturation and Renewal

The apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” How is it then that the Spirit is transforming us from glory to glory?

The pattern of maturation in the scriptures is a progression from priest to king to prophet. The priestly phase is a propaedeutic phase of keeping rules and doing things exactly according to the book. This corresponds to our childhood which is full of rules. The kingly phase is a phase of ruling and exercising dominion in the vocation that God has given us. This corresponds to the main phase of our adult life. The prophetic phase is a phase of increasing influence and wisdom based on a lifetime of knowledge and experience. This phase corresponds to  our “golden years” which all to often in our culture are discounted by the younger generation. Biblically speaking, the prophetic phase is the most glorious and most influential, though we tend to value the kingly phase the most in our culture.

The bible also shows us that moving from glory to glory is preceded by a time of testing. The first test is the wilderness trial, where the person must deal with the Heavenly Father and come to terms with their personal loyalty to him. This trial is shown in Israel’s wilderness wandering as well as Jesus’ 40 day temptation in the wilderness. At the end of the wilderness trial, Joshua says, “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15). Passing this test makes one ready to become a priest, where performance is measured by doing exactly what God says, and blessings/curses are meted out accordingly.

The second test is the garden trial. The garden trial is a test to see if one is willing to lay down his life for others, specifically his bride. The garden trial is shown in the scriptures in Adam’s test by the serpent in the garden as well as Jesus’ temptation in Gethsemane. Being willing to lay down one’s life for the sake of others is the test that is required to move into the kingly phase of life and ministry, which requires exactly that one lays down one’s life on behalf of those which he (or she) has been given to rule. The kingly phase is marked by wisdom, and the exactness of the rules of the priestly period are stretched (and sometimes broken) according to the wise rule of the king.

The third test is the fiery trial. The fiery trial is a test to see if one will pass on the kingly rule and all the things which one has built to the younger generation of junior kings. The fiery trial is shown in the bible in several places: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, Elijah’s handing down his ministry to Elisha, and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit to his church on Pentecost. Passing the fiery trial (which involves both being willing to let go of our “sons” as well as passing our ministries down to them) makes one ready to become a prophet. Being a prophet in the bible is the most glorious and the most influential. Where the king is taken up with the day-to-day aspects of ruling, and his influence is largely over those he rules, the prophet has time to spend influencing and impacting the greater world. Prophets in the bible are world changers. They usher in new covenants and phases of redemptive history. They have power to rebuke and instruct the nations of the world, not just the local Israel. Being a prophet means one has remained faithful through the three major tests of life, and that one has gained a treasure trove of wisdom and knowledge based on his life experiences, knowledge of the scriptures, and close connection with God. Prophets should always be listened to, and never discounted in the church.

For the most part we as Americans are good at getting to the kingly phase, but we stall before getting to the prophetic phase. How can we do a better job of passing the fiery trial and becoming world changers? Kings have power and influence, but prophets make kings and disciple the nations. This is the phase that we must most aspire to, and must value the most in our churches.