Author: Paul Joshua
Category: Proclamation Evangelism
To facilitate a truly global conversation, we ask Christian leaders from around the world to respond to the Global Conversation’s lead articles. These points of view do not necessarily represent the Lausanne Movement. They are designed to stimulate discussion from all points of the compass and from different segments of the Christian community. Please add your perspective by posting a comment so that we can learn and grow together in the unity of the Spirit.
A response to our lead articles this month:
Nothing Rhymes with Orange. False. Nothing and Orange do not Rhyme - Rev Richards Gibbons
Preach The Gospel Wherever You Go - Use Words if You Have to - Rev Derek Simpson
Toward a Biblical Approach to Understanding Proclamation Evangelism - Thomas Johnston
The three articles by Gibbons, Simpson and Johnston were both instructive and interesting to read. They have served us well with their perspectives on proclamation evangelism, for which we are thankful. I am in full agreement with them on the need to preach and proclaim the gospel, as the scriptures encourage us to do. The gospel is the foundation and faith of the church and if the whole church has anything to share with the whole world it is the whole gospel of Christ. Just as Gibbons says in his last line, it is here in this gospel that our confidence lies; and as John Stott (1977) succinctly put it, ‘evangelicals are gospel people.’ So, clearly as the church we cannot dispense with the gospel of Jesus Christ, or aspects of it, in our attempt to accommodate ourselves comfortably into current philosophical frameworks and existential moods of society. If it is, as I believe it is, a divine act, a God initiated movement, then surely the gospel will stand the test of any rival philosophy or system. One need not worry about the power of the gospel. That has already been proved in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and through the life of the Church over the years.
The issue that I would like to pick up on pertains to the apparent dichotomy between ‘proclamation’ and what could be called ‘presence’ and other forms of mission. Various practices and quotations seem to have been marshalled in defence of a primacy that has been accorded to ‘proclamation’. Let me clarify that by raising this point I do not mean to water down the importance of proclamation. On the contrary I wholeheartedly affirm the need for the affirmation of the truth of the Gospel. But yet at the same time just as Jesus Christ was full of truth, one must affirm (as we find in John 1:14) that he was also full of grace. Pursuing truth at the expense of grace yields to legalism. Pursuing grace at the expense of truth leads to libertarianism. The two need to be held in a healthy and productive balance. Proclamation about Christ will be persuasive not only because of its logical validity but perhaps more because of its existential veracity as it is lived out in the life of the Christian disciple and in local congregations. One may say that Christian truth is graceful truth, and Christian grace is truthful grace (i.e. it is intimately shaped and formed by Christ, because he is the way the truth and life – John 14: 6). Correspondingly our lives, our mission is to be suffused with grace and truth, because just as the Father sent the Son, full of grace and truth, the Son sends us (John 20:21) to live in and share both his grace and truth. ‘Presence’ is crucial if proclamation is to be understood and received, for disembodied proclamation could mean next to nothing for many. Proclamation, on the other hand, is crucial if presence is to be rooted and identified intimately with Jesus Christ.
Those two models however do not exhaust the shape of mission. There is one other model, among others of course, that could be mentioned here. Along with presence and proclamation, we also need to emphasise ‘prophetic witness’ as a significant model of mission. Focusing on proclamation alone has tended to become a ‘pie in the sky’ type of answer to the problem of sin. We know from our study of the scriptures however that salvation is much more than that. Focusing on prophetic witness as well therefore has the potential to make our proclamation meaningful in the day to day affairs of the world; in the expression of and living out of the Christian answer to the sin problem, both in its personal dimension as well as in its structural manifestations. Prophetic witness may take many forms yet whatever form it assumes it will proclaim the kingdom of God that Jesus Christ inaugurated and announced in and through his life, death and resurrection.
Proclamation, presence and prophetic witness are three models that commend themselves to us as being biblically rooted ways of serving the purposes of God. Each validates the other and confirms that the gospel is holistic and constructive. Each stresses that the gospel implicates life in the here and now just as it implicates life in the hereafter. Emphasising one without the other tends to upset the balance that we need to maintain as a church that has been gifted an important role in God’s mission. An integrative approach seems to be the biblical way to live in and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In India, where I am from, often the ‘proclamation’ approach alone does not make significant difference in local communities. This, among other things, is because for the most part the Indian psyche has been stamped with an impression that Christianity is a foreign religion that will rob one of all Indian roots and patriotism. Christianity came to India, so it is believed, with colonial powers and so has little to do with peace loving and tolerant India, its diverse cultures and peoples. Adopting that foreign religion, whatever its inner meaning may be, implies rejecting one’s culture, ones people and ones heritage. ‘Proclaiming’ the gospel therefore meets with innumerable philosophical and psychological hurdles. For the most part some churches do little to allay such fears and prejudice. In fact they often reiterate such clichés through some of their life and practices.
When on the other hand, we are able to adopt the presence and prophetic models of mission and thus live out the gospel by being present in society and speaking prophetically against injustice and oppression and for peace and societal welfare, then we earn a hearing, we are taken as having something legitimate to say. Our proclamation then gains a weight that it otherwise may not have had; it breaks down walls of prejudice and allows people to recognise that the gospel of Christ speaks to the heart of the human condition. It is seen as part of the total life of the Christian community in the land, and not as disembodied propaganda for some foreign power. Truth when lubricated with grace is a powerful witness to the gospel of Christ. The gospel thus seen as life, as service and as truth, has a greater persuasive power, not least because we are being true to the gospel itself, as God’s design for life.
While I affirm the importance of proclamation, I would like to suggest that we couch such discussion equally and firmly within the practices of the presence and prophetic witness models of Christian mission. Perhaps then we will reflect more clearly the Lausanne tagline: ‘the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world’, and perhaps more importantly, we will be ‘gospel people’ that calls for an integration of being, acting and speaking in the world.
Paul Joshua, India