Monday, November 24, 2008

Out of the Salt Shaker & into the World, by Rebecca Manley Pippert

This is a great book on evangelism that I wish I could put into practice. Someday, I hope to do so. Right now, I am at a point in my life where I need to see more ‘fruits of the Spirit’ before I go around trying to evangelize unbelievers. Obviously, I don’t think I need to be morally perfect in order to do this, but I do think that part of conversion, perhaps the main part, is manifesting a transformed life; a transformed will. If Christianity is just a worldview (as listening to many evangelical apologists could lead one to believe) than it is just a subject of ideological debate. Faith is supposed to be so much more than that. Now, let’s get to the book itself.

The author rightly points out that in evangelism we should be ourselves. By communicating our true selves to others, they can see that we are not being fake, not hiding something. Given the general suspicion that Western people have of Christianity, this is very important. Through mirroring the Jesus, we must be bold, willing to challenge people to make a clear choice, while also being compassionate. Religion isn’t something just for the scholar or the theologian, but for the poor and downtrodden. Jesus brought it to them by reaching out to them. The woman at the well was one example of this. In our society, it is easy to surround oneself with wholly like-minded people on every subject from religion to politics. Jesus challenges our tendency to barricade ourselves in comfortable environments.

“Jesus is Lord,” is a phrase that identifies Jesus as the one in charge. If he was about the poor, the marginalized in society, then we cannot call ourselves Christians unless we are also concerned about the people society has forgotten about. The children starving in Africa, the millions of children dropping out of school in America, or the plight of the unborn, are just some examples. It is easy to be self-consumed, thinking only about your own satisfaction and happiness. Jesus reminds us that we are mortal and that we are ultimately accountable to God at the end of the day.

Pippert asks us to ask ourselves, “Does my life reflect only religious activity or does it bear the mark of profound love?” This is a key question that separates the religion of Jesus from that of the Pharisees. Do we really care about people in our lives? Jesus is clear that how we treat and think of others reflects what we think about God. Jesus balanced being radically identified with the world with being radically different as well. We must not wait for stimulating intellectual answers or the right feelings before we obey Christ.

The author notes that we tend to either over-identify with the world ensuring that we are no different from them or we separate ourselves from the world. Since we are called to be salt and light, we must both not hide and not give in to the ways of this world. Pippert writes, “We must ask ourselves, How do I interpret the needs and lifestyles of my friends? Do I look at their messy lives and say ‘That’s wrong’ and walk away? Or do I penetrate their mask and discover why they are in such trouble in the first place? And then do I try to love them where they are?” For me, I definitely fall on the side of a ‘whatever floats your boat’ mentality. As stated in the first paragraph, I don’t think I’ve fully converted yet to Christianity. Just because I have a Christian-type worldview does not make me a Christian. Doctrine is essential to Christianity, but doctrine alone isn’t the full picture. “The Creed does not belong to you unless you have lived it,” Pippert quotes the Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow as saying.

Pippert goes into three models of trying to bring the evangelism into our conversations with friends and strangers. The most attractive one for me is controlling the conversation by asking probing questions. Socrates was the exemplar of this. By asking ‘why,’ one can get to the heart of things. The value judgments and basic view of life that the person has. By digging deeper, their values and beliefs can be compared with those of Christ. Another method that goes back to Christ is to provoke a person’s curiosity. This means sharing what you believe in such a way that isn’t conversation ending, but thought-provoking. Jesus’ ‘living water’ statement to the woman at the well is a good example of this.

Looking over where I underlined in this book really brings out the obvious fact that apologetics serves evangelism, rather than existing for its own sake. Since I love intellectual things, I tend to forget this. This book is a great call for Christians to be more serious in the faith and thus in their witness to the world.

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