51: So… evangelism. (Questions Part 1)
Should we try to get as many people to be Christians as possible? This week we respond to listener questions about evangelism and the great commission. Also, what churches did they work for? And beyond penal substitution, what are more positive ways to share the gospel?
Nate: Why don’t you kick us off this time?
Tim: Hey, Nate. We’re back.
Nate: Hi, Tim. We’re back.
Tim: What are we doing?
Nate: [laughing] So that’s—I feel like when I kick off the show I do some long introduction for what we’ve been doing and where we’re going go today and that kind of thing, and then I say, “Hey, why don’t you kick off the show?” And you’re like, “Hi.” [laughing]
Tim: Well, yeah.
Nate: Thanks. Thanks for taking that out of my hands.
Tim: I don’t know what we’re doing. You’re piloting the plane, captaining the ship. Driving the bus.
Nate: I said, “Hey, we should do, we haven’t done this in a while, a question and response episode. Or even just let listeners kind of dictate the topic for the show.” So we’ve had quite a few questions and thoughts come in via email and Twitter and Facebook and all that stuff over the last couple months, and we just haven’t really gotten to them unless they fit in the series we were doing. So I want to get some of those in, and I also just shared a tweet and a Facebook post last night saying we’re doing this today, and we got a number of questions that way, too. So we got a lot to get to, a lot of questions. It might be kind of rapid fire because this probably isn’t going to be that long of an episode. Yeah, rapid-fire, and we’ll see how many questions we can get to, and if we have any interesting thoughts to share. I don’t know if we do. This is definitely Question & Response, by the way, emphasis on response, not emphasis on answer. We don’t have the answers to everything, we’re just giving a response. Instead of us deciding the topic, you decide the topic. Tim, does that sound good?
Nate: Okay, so I put a bunch of questions here in this list that we got in a bunch of different places. Do you want to just see how many we can get through?
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Nate: Some I feel like are going to be twenty second responses, maybe we won’t have a ton to say, or something like that, but—
Tim: I’ve never done that in the history of being asked questions.
Nate: [laughing] Okay, well let’s just start at the top with Brandon Warner’s question. He emailed in, which you can do, too, at email@example.com! He said, “Are you guys able to share what evangelical church it was that you used to work for?” Interesting question. Um, we worked for different churches, first of all. Well, I guess technically before that we worked for the same ministry. It wasn’t necessarily a church, but the same ministry, which is where we met and were roommates. I don’t know if anyone wants to know this, but yeah. Anyways, we met and that’s where we became friends and how we got to know each other. And then we kind of split. Well, you were already with a different church at that time. I started and was planting a church with a couple other guys. I guess I don’t… we’ve never said the name, the names. Okay, I was going to say this, Tim, off of this question. You probably need to share a little bit, you don’t have to share the church or the story or anything, but we’ve hinted at this story that you have that you haven’t shared on the show, and we’re like 51 episodes in now. You at least need to say why you’re not sharing more yet, I feel like.
Tim: Oh gosh. And I’m supposed to do this in twenty seconds? Yeah, right.
Nate: No, I said some of them are going to be twenty second responses, not all of them are going to be twenty seconds!
Tim: Here’s the thing: I’m okay sharing. So Brandon, I was a pastor with a church called Reality San Francisco, which was a part of this kind of affiliation of churches started in Santa Barbara, California, called Reality. So that’s the world that I saw the dark underbelly to, buyers beware. It’s interesting, I’ve been ready, I think, to share the story of what went down and all the abuse I saw and why I got fired and all that craziness, but one of my good buddies who was a pastor and elder at the church who also got seriously manipulated, traumatized, and fired as well, he just hasn’t been ready to share. Even, gosh it’s been two years now, and it’s still too raw, too sensitive, too traumatic for him to want to dive back into it. But I’ve realized the last few months: I’m kind of getting to the spot where I’m not remembering. Like if I try to tell the story now by myself, I probably couldn’t remember some of the details without really going back and swimming in all the emotions. So we did a run through. Remember, we got in the shed with my buddy and you, Nate?
Nate: Yeah. I still have that, yeah.
Tim: Yeah, it was like two and a half hours just rehashing, kind of as a test to see if my friend was ready to share. And gosh, you really, when you start getting back into the details of the story, which that would be the whole point of sharing, is just to really share the facts, and we’d have to name names just so people can see the mechanisms at work and see how bad stuff really is. I really had to, and I think so did my friend, just re-enter that world. And all of a sudden you start feeling the same feelings again. It really is re-entering trauma, and it’s completely exhausting. So I haven’t tried to sit down and hash through it even in my own recollection for several months, and I don’t really want to. I want to for storytelling’s sake, for truth’s sake and justice’s sake, so people can know what they’re dealing with. But personally, selfishly, emotionally it’s really gnarly to go back in and dig all that stuff up. So two years later, it feels much less raw, but if I were to really jump back into it, I would be ripping those wounds wide open.
Nate: Yeah. I think another reason I’ve heard you say that you do want to do that—oh, someone’s flushing again! Two weeks in a row! [laughing] Wait for it. Okay—is that you want to help people who have also experienced or are experiencing something like that not feel crazy. And we get a lot of emails from people who have kind of picked up the hints of the stuff you’ve shared over the last fifty episodes and have shared their story as well. Anyways, I would still love for that to happen sometime, and I feel like even if bits and pieces we can get in to some extent, we would like to do that. My story is a bit different. Didn’t necessarily experience too much power dynamics and manipulation personally, although some of that I think was there. But yeah, my theology changed, and then I kind of felt like I needed to take a step back from teaching and figure out, “What do I actually think? And why do a lot of the things I’m saying not feel right anymore and not work when I go to the world and tell them these things? They don’t want to hear them, and they don’t consider it good news, so I need to go figure this all out.” So that’s why I took a step back. It took my wife and I a couple years, or I guess we’re still sort of in it, but it took us a couple years to heal from that and heal from some of the bad ideas that we believed and were teaching people, and to just get over the burnout of this life of ministry all the time. In the sense of, every free minute you have you need to be out telling someone about Jesus so they don’t go to hell. So that was a big season for us to heal from that. So anyways, you asked about the name of the church. The church that I helped start was called We Are Church in San Francisco. Okay, should we just do the next question? [laughing] I feel like we just jumped in the deep end of the pool or something, you know?
Tim: Yeah, a little bit.
Nate: Okay, so I guess it’ll get easier from here. Okay, so next question is from Paige, faithful listener of the show: “On the deconstruction/reconstruction side of things I am curious on hearing more on ways to share the gospel outside of penal substitution. Perhaps ways you wish you had shared it in your ministry years? Or for people like me in ministry now teaching what are healthy and helpful ways to share? What is the way you would share “salvation”?” Tim? She didn’t say, “Tim,” but I’m saying “Tim.”
Tim: Do you want to lump in this question with the one I saw, a Great Commission question? Because they’re kind of going to be the same.
Nate: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me scroll here. Oh here we go.
Tim: Just gonna do a show on evangelism.
Nate: So Pete asked a similar question. He said, “I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Great Commission, Matthew 28:16-20. It comes up a lot”—I’m going to read the whole question. It’s kind of long, but it’s helpful, I think. “It comes up a lot in Christian conversations and communication and seems to heavily influence churches, American ideology, and choices of where Christians give money.” Just an aside here, that’s exactly what I was talking about when I talked about the church that I planted. We were—I have this question now. I have this same question Pete has. “What is it really? Relevance, importance, our role, history, interpretation, misinterpretations, role in evangelicalism, making disciples, dangers of misinterpreting or ignoring? Has your view changed? And maybe most importantly, how it should look and be applied in a loving way in the world we live in?” And I like the context he shared here. He says, “I have family in missions who love Jesus and love people, but I struggle quietly with their ideas that we must reach these people groups and convert them to intellectual agreement to essentially save them and bring Christ’s return. For instance, a tenth of the world is without clean water, but so much Christian and church money and efforts seem to focus on evangelizing to minds. I’m trying not to be too critical and to see the heart behind what people are trying to do with good intentions, but I’m often grieved that it feels like we are missing the point by misinterpreting and worshipping commands from a text.” So great questions Pete and Paige. Um, what are your initial thoughts, Tim? I have a couple.
Tim: I’ve got a million. Well, let me just start off by saying, I was actually just having a conversation yesterday with my mom on a very similar topic, and one of the last things Pete said was he’s trying not to be too critical and understand and remember that many of these people are coming and doing things out of good intentions. First thing I want to say is, where I will come to this entire conversation is I agree with you, and I actually think a vast majority of Christians are doing things out of mostly positive intentions. And I don’t think that matters at all in terms of having a conversation of what is good, what is right, what is just. It does not matter to me anymore.
Nate: Why? Why do you think it doesn’t matter what the intentions are?
Tim: So here’s how I framed it yesterday with my mom: it matters for me in terms of how I feel emotionally towards the person we’re talking about. For instance, with all the stuff that went down at my church, there are some people I would point to and I’d say, “These people are just evil. They did evil; they intentionally did evil. They intentionally schemed manipulative plans over the course of months and put them into action soberly. I will never sit in a room with them again. There are others who I think were just fools who were brainwashed, indoctrinated, and convinced to perpetuate and participate in that same evil. I think they were just foolish. I think deep down they’re actually pretty good people. They were just swimming in horrendous ideology, one that basically made them think that kicking out some of the pastors of the church and basically putting them in the grave, sort of this whole manipulative scheme, in order to protect the reputation of the lead pastor was defending the kingdom of God. I don’t want to be around those people. I’m not going to be friends with them. But I certainly feel different emotions toward them. There are others who I know were involved that were just complicit because they were scared. They were just scared people. Again, I feel very hurt and betrayed by those people. I’m no longer friends with them. But it would be much easier for me to see them again, have a conversation, and know that they weren’t intentionally trying to do anything towards me at all. They just didn’t help me out when I needed some help. So for me, there’s a very big emotional difference in how I feel about people based on what I think their intentions are, whether they have positive or negative intentions. But here’s the thing: all of those people’s actions, from intentions that I would say was straight up evil to intentions that I think were completely good, the consequences were exactly the same. The way it affected me and some of my friends and the church and people around me was exactly the same. So when we’re talking about what’s good, and you and I have talked about this, assessing the fruit of our theology, the effects of our religion, the consequences of our thinking and our actions, that’s what’s most important when we try to decide what’s good and right and true and beautiful. Not just whether we think it’s biblical or not, but whether it’s actually good and loving. So to me, that’s an important caveat in this conversation. Just because I’m going to critique an idea or critique a behavior, an action, doesn’t mean I’m saying everyone who’s doing that is a willfully evil human being who’s trying to do evil. I think western evangelical Christianity is wrapped up in white supremacy. That doesn’t mean I think every person who goes to an evangelical church is overtly racist. But is their Christianity and their participation in evangelicalism at large helping perpetuate white supremacy? It might be, even if those people have good intentions. So that’s the first thing I want to say, and then we’ll get into all our thoughts on evangelism. Does that make sense?
Nate: Yeah, totally. I see what you’re saying. It really doesn’t matter. If at the end of the day, what you did was evil or you had the right intentions but you caused the same hurt, then what’s the difference really? Yeah, I wrestle with this question a lot. Just to give you all a bit of background on me, I always thought I was going to be an overseas missionary to an unreached people group growing up. That’s what I… and it’s not because I’m cut out for it, necessarily. Like I’m not a big outdoor jungle guy.
Nate: Is that a thing, an outdoor jungle guy? I know people that are that. You’re kind of that. But it was because I thought that was the pinnacle of being a Christian. Like if you were a true, sold out follower of Jesus, that’s what you did. So to give you a little bit of background, that’s what I thought I was going to do. So anyways, what Pete shared that at the end is where I’ve been stuck a bit, I guess too. People whose intentions are good. In the worldview you’re living in, these people are going to hell, we need to reach them before that happens so that they don’t go to hell. And like he said it’s all this intellectual assent to a set of ideas. When you really boil it down. I understand that there’s a true love there, you want to love the people and help them in other ways too, but at the end of the day, really why you’re there is to try to get this breakthrough where they hold the same set of intellectual assents to a set of data and really believe that with all their heart. But is that the end goal? Oh, and one other thing I was going to say here, which I think is a super, super dangerous interpretation of I believe it’s a verse in Matthew. Pete shared here. He said, “Convert them to an intellectual agreement to essentially save them and bring Christ’s return.” The “bring Christ’s return” line, if you haven’t heard too much about that, in Matthew 24, there’s this line that says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” So there’s guys like David Platt who, their whole thing is, “We need to list how many unreached people groups there are in the world, and then let’s just go check them all off. Go and tell them. Tell that group the gospel.” And it’s not just as simple as dropping there and saying the words and leaving. It’s going to be a twenty year thing where you’re going to go and preach the gospel to this group of people. So the idea, once you get through that list, that’s what’s keeping Jesus from coming back, is we haven’t told everyone the gospel yet. And so I’d play it out logically. I mean let’s go logically here. But even, let’s say, you check off all the list. Did you tell every single person? Did you tell—but then, how many people are born each day? Did you go tell all those? You gotta be at the hospital when the babies are coming out and tell them. What if you missed one, how are you going to know? You know what I mean? I’m just looking at it logically, that can’t be what that’s talking about there. That can’t be what that means. So those are some of my initial thoughts. But that’s what I used to teach. I was hardcore in this direction, and… I have more thoughts. I’m just rambling a bit. Tim, save me.
Tim: Well, I think we’re going to be here for a while. So okay. One of the questions that Pete asked is how has our view changed on the Great Commission? And Paige’s question was along the lines of what are ways to share the gospel? And so one of the first and major ways that I have changed, multiple times, in my view of the Great Commission and evangelism in general is that what I think the gospel is today is so, so different from what I used to think the gospel was.
Nate: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s it. That’s it. I’m not cutting you off, but that’s exactly what I think the major change is.
Tim: Yeah. So one piece in here is whether Christianity really is about getting people to intellectually believe a certain set of facts. And Paige was specifically asking, “What’s a better way besides the penal substitutionary view?” And I think what she’s getting at is exactly where you and I have come from, Nate. Basically what you’re supposed to get people to believe is A. They’re sinful. B. Therefore God is going to kill them and send them to hell and torture them forever. C. Jesus did something to give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. And D. [This is probably the most intellectually fraught of all of them.] What you have to believe is that believing that will get you into heaven instead of into hell. So literally the first piece is you have to believe these sets of facts. And then the second piece is that you have to believe that your belief in those sets of facts will get you into heaven. And then that is essentially the foundation for most of the rest of western evangelicalism. Everything is built on top of that premise, that it’s adhering to the right set of beliefs. So that’s why you have people like John Piper whose essential mission in life is to just keep people believing. It’s why they’re so frustrated and threatened by podcasts like ours that no longer feel scared to admit that some days we believe, some days we don’t believe. Some days we’re not sure what we think; some days we don’t think there’s a God at all. Just being open, kind of like we talked about when we looked back at the conversation with Rachel Held Evans, that faith is risky if you actually admit and are honest with doubts. So first of all, I would just say, that has almost nothing to do with what I think the New Testament authors were thinking. It has almost nothing to do with the Great Commission or the last few verses of the book of Matthew and has no emotional resonance with me at this point whatsoever. So for instance, I was having a conversation with my mom yesterday, and she was kind of like, “Where are you with your faith?” And she tracks with me on most, we’ve been on a pretty similar journey, but I think she’s still a little bit uncomfortable when I’ll be like, “You know, I don’t know. Today I don’t know if there’s a God at all or if it’s all just made up.” I think she’s a little uncomfortable with me being that casual with a whole lot of doubt. And part of what I was sharing with her was that I’m just at a place where I no longer feel stressed or anxious or any sort of pressure to make sure I’m believing the right things and that I’m really, really believing them. If God is real, if Jesus is true, if Christianity isn’t all made up, then I think I’m fine. You know what I mean? Then the God that Christianity reveals is not going to punish me for having a day where I was really unsure whether it was all true. And I’m in a place where I’m like, “Am I living a good life? Am I giving away my power and living a self-sacrificially loving life to serve and empower other people?” The idea that if I die, and this afternoon I wasn’t really sure about stuff, then I’m screwed, that just doesn’t scare me. I just don’t think that’s a thing anymore.
Nate: Well, because if that God is real, if that God that you would be screwed because you didn’t believe the right set of things this afternoon—or this year, or this set of ten years or whatever—if that God is real, why would you want to be with that God?
Tim: Totally. Yeah. So I’m totally at peace with God being totally at peace with me not knowing what I believe and what I trust, and if I think there’s a resurrection, and if I think there’s life after this or not. I’m at peace with that God. I just don’t know if that God exists. So I know I don’t believe that some vindictive, angry God that needs blood to appeased, I know I don’t believe that God exists. But basically, that undermines the whole thing. That’s why I bring this up. The whole premise of evangelism and our understanding of the Great Commission to go do evangelism, to make disciples, is that for a lot of us, we were trained to think that basically means getting people to believe a certain few tenets. A few tenets of the faith. And literally, for a lot, we’ve talked about this, the gospel equals believing penal substitution. Or I actually think it’s more accurate to say that faith in many circles means believing penal substitution and believing that penal substitution is enough to get you into heaven. If you believe that that’s what Jesus did, that he appeased God’s wrath, and if you believe that believing that will save you, you will be saved.
Nate: And there’s nothing you can do, right? I think that’s in that same vein. There’s nothing you can do if you try to earn your way or whatever. It’s all because of this thing that’s all been done that already happened. That’s a huge tenet that you have to believe.
Tim: Totally. And is this part of what I was talking about with my mom, is I have people very close to me in my life who I remember years ago, they were not Christians and I was basically just hoping and praying whatever that this person would become a Christian. And he did. And years later I now look at it and say, “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to him. Hands down.” The kind of fundamentalism, the subculture that’s all wrapped up in gun culture and anti-Islam and homophobia and all that. He now believes in some of the things—the tenets, the facts asserted in protestantism—he believes those things that I was trying to get him to believe for a long time. And I think that everything that’s come with it has been literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.
Nate: Yeah, but okay. A lot of people would say that’s an exception. The tenets are fine, and this is back to episode 9 or whatever, but the tenets are fine. He just got involved in a group that takes those tenets and does crazy stuff with them.
Tim: Yeah, I’m just saying, use that example. What part of that is good news for anyone? For the world? If good news is a list of facts that you can believe in that has no positive outcome on the world or even potentially has a negative outcome on the world, how is that good news? So again, we used to come from the stream of thinking, and we’ve got to take ownership for this ourselves, that the good news is that we get out of hell and get into heaven. And I’m just saying that in my own journey, that was good news for about two years. Long before my later stages of deconstruction and getting fired by the church and all that, I was very dissatisfied with that theory. It just wasn’t psychologically appealing anymore.
Nate: Yeah. That was the first thing to go for me. I’ll let you finish there, but that was the first thing to go for me. The ministry I was in—and I was a large part of this, I was one of the leaders—was largely about, “Get out there because people are going to hell and they could die at any minute. Or we could die at any minute, and we want the last word we ever said was trying to save someone from hell.” And so I get a lot of people that agree with a lot of that stuff that would go, “Whoa, you’re a little focused on hell!” But they still believe the same thing.
Tim: Yeah, so for me, years and years ago, one of the first Bible study adventures I ever set out on was to try to figure out, especially in Paul but in all the New Testament writers, what was—in their minds and in their preaching and ministry, to them, what was the psychological appeal? How were they emotionally appealing to people for why this was good? Why the story of Jesus was a good announcement for the world? And not once, not once is the idea of getting out of hell the primary psychological appeal being made. Not one time. So that was a breakthrough moment for me. And since then, it’s actually a part of why I wanted to do the weird Genesis stuff at the beginning of our podcast last year, is it does circle back actually to this question of, ‘What is the gospel?’ And so here’s something I want. I end up wanting to shout this sometimes when the conversation of evangelism comes up, just as one of those poking the beast in the side to be provocative. So here’s my point: the biblical authors, including especially people like Paul in the New Testament, believed in a world that was governed by multiple divine beings that had actually been appointed to be the gods of the various nations of the world by Yahweh. And that what Jesus did was to begin the long-awaited project of taking that delegated authority back from those national deities so that Yahweh was going to begin acting as the national deity of every nation in the world in place of all of these other sub-gods that had been temporarily put there for a season.
Nate: If that sounds like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!” Go back and listen to episodes 2-7. We build the case there a little bit more. Yeah, anyways, continue.
Tim: Yeah, if it’s new, go back. Here’s my point: the Great Commission, when Matthew writing this, or most all Paul’s letters, the default assumption is that what Christian evangelism is, spreading the Jesus story, is making people less religious by telling them that their little god has now been dethroned by Jesus, who is a human manifestation of the super-God, or the One true creator God. And that therefore they should essentially stop their worship of these other gods. Not because they aren’t real; not because they were never supposed to worship them in the first place; not because it’s all made up religion. But actually precisely because of the opposite. It was all real, that was an okay thing for them to be doing, but the times had changed, and now Yahweh through Jesus was taking back territory over the world. That that is what was essential to this idea of a Great Commission, going out to all the nations. So for one, my question is, “Do you, evangelist, or you, missionary: do you believe that to be true?” Do you believe that the nations you are going to, nations that weren’t even on the map for the Paul or especially for the writers of the Hebrew Bible, that weren’t in this list of the seventy nations in the ancient Near East? Do you believe that to be true about the world, that long ago, Yahweh placed tribal deities to be the national gods over all the other nations and you’re going to tell them that Yahweh through Jesus is now going to be their national god? If not, then let’s slow down and question this whole divine calling or ordination to go out and evangelize, because that is what Paul was doing. We talked about how he was trying to get to Spain, to what he perceived as literally the ends of the world, because he needed to get this good news out to all of the nations and the nations’ gods. So very little of that has to do with convincing anybody to believe the right ideas about grace and forgiveness and substitutionary deaths or anything like that. That has to do with a worldview that I actually don’t think many people doing missions work or evangelism believe at all, have any real belief that there were ever these other gods. Does that make sense?
Nate: Yeah, so you’re saying the justification for going and the material that they’re taking with them as their motivation, but also the stuff they want to teach, all comes from writers that were giving this material—New Testament writers, Hebrew Bible—to go and do this thing, this new plan of Jesus taking back the reins from these tribal deities that Yahweh had laid out, and they were cool, they were fine, but there’s a new plan in place. Something had changed. So that was the whole deal. So if you’re just going to take those passages out as your motivation to go do something different than that, then let’s pump the brakes here and let’s talk about what we’re doing and why we’re doing this, because it’s all kind of contained within this one worldview. Is that sort of what you’re saying?
Tim: Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of toxic mission work out there, a lot of toxic evangelism. But let’s actually even put that on the side. Let’s talk about mission work and evangelism that’s good people, like we said, with good intentions, that are decent human beings and are relatively loving towards those they are evangelizing. This is part of the conversation I just got in with my mom. I was kind of poking fun at her a few weeks ago because her wifi password was Jesuslovesyou or something like that. And I think I was kind of poking fun at her because, so in a lot of protestant world, that is another version of the gospel. And I think that version of the gospel is way better and way less toxic than the, “You’re going to hell unless you believe these things. So it’s the John 3:16 at the football game, right? God loves you, God loves the world, God is good, so believe in Him. So become a Christian. That’s kind of one other version of the gospel. I don’t need to go knock anybody off their pedestal; if that’s the version of Christianity you appreciate, fine. If being loved by a divine entity is emotionally helpful or psychologically appealing to you, great. There was a time when it was for me, too. At this point of my life, it’s not significant for me. It’s not meaningful. It might be later on. I don’t think, if God is real, that He’s anti-loving or hateful. It’s not that I think, “God loves you,” is a false statement. It just, for me personally, it isn’t all that important for me to think that thought on a day-in, day-out basis. But more significantly, back to the conversation we’re having, do any of the New Testament writers say that’s the gospel? And if you actually read the gospels, the four gospels, they spend far more time talking about Jesus inaugurating God’s kingdom and about power and authority than they do about love. So if we’re just talking in terms about what the biblical authors had in their mind, again that’s where I’m saying, the view point is about essentially taking back the world from rival deities far more than it is about revealing that God loves people. So again, you could be out there doing evangelism trying to tell people that God loves them, but where are we getting that? Are we just getting that because we like that version of Christianity, or we like that simplification? It’s nice and neat and feels good sometimes. That’s fine, but the Great Commission was not, the line when Jesus speaks it in Matthew 28, “Go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” It’s not saying, “Go out into all the nations and tell them I love them.” That is not Matthew’s idea of what evangelism and the gospel is. He quotes Jesus saying, “I’ve been given all authority.” And we kind of set up the worldview when we did the Genesis stuff, and I know this is a long rant. The worldview really was the Jews were going to be the people that God chose to rule the world. Which is a terrifying religious idea. The only thing that makes that idea not fully atrocious is that Jesus then said that, “The entire way that you’re going to go about doing that is by actually giving up your power in self-sacrificial love, and then after you relinquish your power will you ever be given power.” So what Matthew’s version of Jesus telling the disciples to go out and do is is to essentially go conquer the world for God by immersing, baptizing yourself and others, into the life that Jesus lived, convincing people that it’s a good thing to do, to choose to die and give up your power for others rather than to keep it.
Tim: Again, that’s where I’m like, if evangelism means to you to go talk to your neighbors or people on the other side of the world and use the story of Jesus to try to convince that the best thing they can do with their lives is to give away their social, economic cultural power so that those around them can be empowered over them? All the power to you to go do that. And if that’s what you call Christianity, spread that to the ends of the earth. And I actually think that’s much closer to what Matthew and Paul had in mind than convincing them to believe some set of facts about religion. But the reason I bring up all the weird tribal deities and other god stuff is, honestly, it’s just to poke and prod, because I think both for Pete and for Paige, and you and I, Nate, so much of our sense of what evangelism is and the guilt complex we have of whether we’re doing enough of it is because of what we’ve been told is “biblical.” And this is the great “biblical” command. That’s why it’s called the Great Commission. It’s like this great biblical command that therefore has this divine weight upon our lives, yet we don’t even understand the context of where this is coming from. And that’s the part I’m just trying to poke at. Especially if you’re one of the pastors out there who, every other Sunday, is just reaming for why they’re not being good enough Christians because they’re not evangelizing enough.
Nate: Oh, gosh. On that, I probably said this too, but the lead pastor from the church that I planted would say that God is not with you unless you are out sharing Jesus.
Nate: He’s only with you if you are doing that. It’s like, “Whoa.” I mean, not just one time. That was said many, many times and repeated by all of us.
Tim: Totally. Okay, so I just went on a long rant, Nate. Share with me your thoughts. How do you feel about all that?
Nate: Yeah, I think you put into words pretty well some of the stuff I’ve been feeling and kind of growing in in my thinking regarding the gospel. Because I think that’s really what we’re talking about here. I don’t think, if the gospel is, “Cookies are good and eat them,” no one cares if you’re going to go around telling everyone the gospel. It’s like, what are we talking about when we say that word? Because it’s kind of this word that gets thrown around by a lot of different people, and we don’t really know what they mean by it. So for you and I, I know… I guess I’ll just talk about for me. A lot of what started changing was I started reading N.T. Wright, and I started listening to Tim Mackie, who has been on the show recently here. And what they’re talking about. They would say Jesus was going around not talking about penal substitution, not talking about being saved from hell, not talking about, “God loves you.” He was talking about this new order in the world, and flipping upside-down the power structures, and saying Jesus is king, and what that means is this subversion of power. It’s like what you said, trying to move down the power and giving up your power to move down the ladder, stuff like that. I think that was the biggest thing that happened, is my picture of what the gospel is changing. But yeah, if that’s what it is, if it’s this giving up of power and trying to go around convincing people that giving up your power, even to the point of letting other people kill you (e.g., Jesus), then yeah, go preach that. Go tell everyone about that. And if the way you get to that is through the story of Jesus doing that, that is amazing, that is wonderful. Go do that. But yeah, I guess it all just comes back to, “What are you saying the gospel is?” And then there’s so much more to get into here, I think. We start talking about bringing western thought to non-western people around the world. Largely what missions has been—and I know we don’t think of it this way because we are western, but it’s bringing these western ideas, westernism and western Christianity and western evangelicalism and that kind of stuff to these people. So I think there’s… I’m not saying everyone who does that is racist or whatever, but there’s a hint of elitism or racism that sneaks in there sometimes. I know it did in the way I thought about it and the way I taught that. So I think there’s more to get to there. We probably don’t have time to get to that today, but. There’s so much here. But I think essentially it’s understanding. What are you saying the gospel is, and then does that fit in this worldview of New Testament writers and even Hebrew—I’m saying too much here—what the gospel is.
Tim: Right. And I think I’ll just add: part of what I’m trying to say is that the gospel is many different things to many different people. Some of those things I think are good and valid, others I don’t. But that’s just my opinion. So we value assessing the consequences, the ramifications of your version of the gospel. But some people may be super excited to hear that God loves them. They may have been told that God doesn’t love them. Or some people may be super excited to hear about a vision in which there’s a God who is going to help us renew the world. There have been times when I’m super excited about that idea. What’s problematic, I think, in terms of overall postures, is trying to conform people to fit an emotional-psychological mold that you have established for them in advance because you think that’s the biblical mold, rather than actually knowing people, befriending, and seeing if there are any ways that your version of Christianity or that somebody else’s version of Christianity might be helpful to them in this season of life. So for instance, this conversation with my mom. She’s feeling really nurtured by the reminder that God loves her. I don’t need to take that away from her. And I also don’t need to try to convince her to hold to a different version of Christianity. A conversation I think we had at the Portland gathering, I can’t remember, but I know you and I have talked about it, Nate, is on this journey, I have no idea where it’s headed. I don’t know what I’ll think or believe five or ten years from now, but I’m pretty dang certain wherever this journey heads, I’m never going back to evangelism. If evangelism means trying to get people to be Christian for being Christian’s sake, I don’t conceive of a future world where that is ever a value to me. And that was the underlying principle, right? Whatever your version of the gospel, it was the idea that we need to help people by helping them become Christian. I don’t think I’ll ever hold that premise again. That doesn’t mean I think there’s anything wrong with sharing your faith or your religious ideologies with other people or talking about what you believe. I don’t think any of that’s bad or wrong. But I don’t think I personally will ever go back to thinking that if someone goes from not believing in Christian theology to believing in Christian theology that de facto their life will be better. I don’t think I’m coming back to that one.
Nate: Okay, so we had to cut things short because we recorded way too long to put it into one episode. So we’re chopping this up into three parts. So this was part one of questions from you all. Make sure you are subscribed to this show wherever you get your podcasts because we have so many more great questions from you, like: Have we created an idol of the Bible? What about divine healing? Does it matter if the exodus happened historically or not? If you want to hear those, come on back. But make sure you subscribe, because you never know when we’re going to publish a podcast! And hey, I think we could all use one more notification on our phones, right? Okay no, but anyways, go to almostheretical.com to find out more about the show, and subscribe if you want to listen to parts two and three of this series. Catch you next time, friends.