Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Appropriate Metaphor for Evangelism: Warfare or Advertising? ---from John Woodhouse's commentary on 1 Samuel

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John Woodhouse has some insightful things to say about evangelism that evangelical and Reformational churches need to hear. His comments introduce chapter 16 of his commentary on 1 Samuel. Read and learn from a wise Christian scholar:

"Have you noticed how often the New Testament employs military and warfare language and images for the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ? It is true that this way of speaking is often used negatively, underlining its metaphorical character: "we are not waging war according to the flesh" (2 Corinthians 10:3), wrote Paul. "We don not wrestle against flesh and blood" (2 Corinthians 10:4). However, although we are not engaged in a literal and physical war, "the weapons of our warfare . . . have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Paul wrote of "the weapons of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 6:7). "The word of God" is "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17). We are called to "put on the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:11) Furthermore Paul described his gospel preaching around the Mediterranean world as a "triumphal procession" (2 Corinthians 2:14), although, importantly, that is hardly what it would have looked like to most observers.
"The metaphorical character of these expressions is important. The cause of Jesus Christ cannot be advanced by literal, physical violence on our part, any more than by "cunning" and "disgraceful, underhanded ways" (see 2 Corinthians 4:2). In an age of terrorism this distinctive of the Christian gospel needs to be clearly understood. We refuse to fight this war with worldly weapons.

"As we engage in efforts to win our neighbors, friends, relatives, and everyone else for Christ, we must remember this lesson. Never allow your longing for victory to tempt you into thinking that it may be won by worldly means, whether by human power, human cleverness, or human impressiveness. No. It must be won (to quote the apostle again) "by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the wearpons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left" (2 Corinthians 6:6, 7).

"However it is also important to be reminded that the proclamation of the gospel is war. As we take the word of Christ to an unbelieving world, we go to do battle. It is right to feel apprehensive. "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Corinthians 2:16) It is also right to sense the excitement of gospel work. War is like that.

"I suspect that in our day we have a problem with this kind of talk. We are not entirely comfortable with the language of aggression applied to Christian work. "Going to do battle" is not how we like to think of our evangelistic efforts. This Biblical language does not fit comfortably with our approaches to making Christ known. In many ways the business world has replaced the battlefield as a source of categories for thinking about this work. Gospel work is then not war by commerce: we go to sell a product, not to fight a battle. We are marketers, not soldiers. We have merchandise, not weapons. We face potential customers, not an enemy. We are out to expand our market share and increase our customer base, not to capture, defeat, and destroy a foe. We form a business plan, not a battle plan. The conflict we face arises from the competition in the marketplace of ideas where our product is not the only one offered, rather than the hostile wiles of an enemy. The language of war, weapons, and battle is too extreme for the way we think about evangelism. We are more like advertisers than fighters.

"If this description is approximately correct, then we need to think again. We need to allow God's Word to show us what we are engaged in. If we are uncomfortable with the battle language, it may well be because we are not seeing the task before us as clearly as we must. How are we to understand the military language of the New Testament?

"Behind the warfare language of the New Testament, we need to see the actual warfare of the Old Testament. Just as we should look back to the Old Testament to understand the New Testament's language of sacrifice, election, redemption, and so much more, we ought to see the language of war associated with the Christian gospel against its necessary and clarifying background in the Old Testament."

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