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Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again

An interview with Dominique Dubois Gilliard.
Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again
via wikimedia/National Archives at College Park/CC0

Ed: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

Dominique: Amid increasing political polarity, the church must be reminded that Christianity cannot fit neatly into partisan politics. Both the left and the right are inadequate. Neither party is God-ordained, and both have championed principles that are antithetical to the Kingdom. In this critical moment, we must remember that our hope is exclusively in Christ, and that our ethics, values, and virtues must be biblically rooted.

Moreover, the church is called to be a prophetic presence in the world, not merely an echo chamber that only resounds once there is no longer any social risk involved in speaking up.

However, far too often, fear prohibits us from faithfully responding to the needs around us. Fear domesticate our witness—be it the fear of being perceived as “too political” when we strive to embody passages like Proverbs 31: 8-9, Matthew 25, or 1 John 3:16-18, or political fear-mongering—which both parties deploy—that we succumb to, which leads us to “other” or dehumanize individuals made in the image of God.

In this watershed moment, we must remember the wise council of Dr. King, who said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”

Dr. King also spoke about the urgent need for the church to recapture its prophetic zeal and remember its missional purpose. In his legendary “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he wrote, “Wherever the early Christians entered a town the power structure got disturbed and immediately sought to convict them for being ‘disturbers of the peace’ and ‘outside agitators.’ But they went on with the conviction that they were a ‘colony of heaven’ and had to obey God rather than man… They brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contest.”

King continued, “Things are different now. The contemporary Church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. It is so often the arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the Church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the Church’s silent and often vocal sanction of things as they are.”

This bleak picture that King paints is the situation the church finds itself in today. And, because of this, as King predicted, many people believe that the church has “become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

Ed: Evangelism has especially fallen on hard times. It seems that everything else—even good things like discipleship—has overwhelmed our passion for sharing the love of Jesus with others. What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?

Dominique: Today, effective evangelism is just as concerned with demonstration as it is proclamation. For far too long, evangelism—within many context—has been solely defined as oral articulation. The world is tired of hearing about God’s love and not seeing it demonstrated. People want to see a counter-cultural witness that is fashioned after the life, ministry, and teachings of Christ.

The world desperately desires a church that is more known for what it is for, rather than what it is against. The world is yearning for our words to be legitimized through our love; for one another, the least of these, and our enemies. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Additionally, today, effective evangelism is concerned about the whole person, and not just saving souls. Evangelism must be holistic if it is going to be good news in the here and now, and not just in the afterlife.

In “Pilgrimage to Non-Violence,” Dr. King wrote, "The gospel at its best deals with the whole man [sic], not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial."

Holistic evangelism recognizes and tends to the spiritual, mental, and physical needs of people.

Finally, effective evangelism summons the church into the margins, not because God is not already there, but because God has commissioned us to serve as co-laborers and ambassadors of reconciliation. God appoints the church to traverse fortified boundaries of belonging, to wade into socially detestable kinship.

We are called to not conform to the patterns and logics of this world, and this means thinking differently about, and interacting distinctively with, stigmatized place, people, and groups. The Apostle John tells us in John 4:4, “Jesus had to go through Samaria.”

The integrity of the gospel depended on it. Jesus shows us in this passage that his followers cannot abide by social status quos. Scripture calls us to see our inherent connections to others across lines of difference—be they ethnic, racial, or economic.

Healthy evangelism helps us realize that we are covenantally bound to one another. And, even when the world says stigmatization is permissible, the gospel calls us to a distinctive—Christ-like—engagement with those we have been taught to fear, avoid, and see as inferior.

Ed: You are a plenary speaker at our 2019 Amplify North American Evangelism Conference next summer, and you are talking about “Why must all of us be preoccupied by the love of God.” Tell me why our focus on the love of God is so critical today.

Dominique: John 13: 34-35 says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We have failed to love one another as Christ has loved us. This failure has distorted our witness in the world and served as a stumbling block for many people who have yet to come to know the goodness of God.

We must all be preoccupied by the love of God because God’s love is supposed to inform how we love. The sacrificial, self-giving nature of God’s love should be a hallmark of the church. Scripture declares that our love has a missional and evangelistic purpose. How we choose to love ultimately bears witness to our true citizenship.

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Preoccupied with Love: Lifting High Evangelism Again