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James: I don't have a problem with that. C.H. Spurgeon once said, "A man can know he's alive without knowing his birthday." I also agree with one of Jonathan's biggest critiques of my generation's approach to evangelism: We often focus on "decisionism" (have you decided to accept Jesus) rather than discipleship (becoming more like him).

But Scripture is clear that at some point we have to pass from darkness to light and from death to life. At some point, there has to be a conscious decision to repent of my sin and place my faith in Christ. So I don't want to get into semantics, but people may fall in love, yet they must decide to actually love.

Jonathan: I'm not sure about that. When I was in college, I remember waking up one day and thinking, I'm in love with this girl. I didn't decide to be in love with her.

James: All I'm saying is that you can't get away from the biblical model of deciding and acting on the impulse. You don't "fall into marriage" or "fall into having children" or "fall into taking up your cross and following Christ." At some point you have to make a decision—and we have to help bring people to that point of decision.

Jonathan: Maybe we should just leave this point alone.

Actually, there's an important tension here. You two seem to be talking about a shift in how we introduce people to Christ.

Jonathan: Yes, and church leaders have already acknowledged this shift (even if they don't recognize it) because we've gotten away from altar calls and invitations to accept Christ at the end of each service. To me, that change shows a certain flaw in "decisionism"—namely, that it's inconsistent with the way most people have experienced Christ's work in their lives. If that's the norm, we should be presenting opportunities for a decision continually.

James: Yes, many preachers have gotten away from presenting the gospel of Christ on a regular basis. And that's a problem. You can listen to some of the most popular preachers in the country for months and never get within a country mile of a gospel invitation.

After a worship service, I always want to ask, "If I were far from God and had no clue how to connect with him, based on what I heard today, would I at least know how to do that?" And if the answer is no, that's a real problem. Many popular preachers today will preach on a lot of things, but they'll hardly ever mention Jesus.

Jonathan: That's an accurate critique of my generation's approach. We're often at risk of promoting a Christless Christianity. There's a lot of talk about loving God and following God, but there isn't as much talk about Christ. Our generation needs to recover the centrality and supremacy of Christ. That's the danger of my generation.

I have the opportunity to hang out with a number of young evangelical influencers, and sometimes it's breathtaking how little we think about, talk about, or seem concerned with personal evangelism.

James: Do you think there's almost a disdain for evangelism among these younger leaders? I'm talking about legitimate evangelism, not just a negative, judgmental, "turn or burn" message.

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Winter 2012: The Outreach Issue  | Posted
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