Outlooks on Outreach
Are you saying that a ministry like Fred Rogers's (not explicitly evangelistic but focused on restoring God's goodness in the world) can become part of the wooing process to bring people to Christ?
Jonathan: Yes. Let me explain it this way: I ask a lot of Christians from my generation about when they came to know Christ. Most of them say something like, "I can't name the day; I just know that for a long time God was pursuing me until I consciously allowed Christ to start transforming my heart." Don Miller said something to this effect in Blue Like Jazz. For many people in my generation, Miller said that following Jesus is less like making a decision and more like falling in love—it happens to you and then you recognize it. Yet they definitely have a legitimate salvation experience. This seems to be a normal process for my generation.
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.