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20 Quotes on Evangelizing a Culture That Wants You to Shut Up

The following quotes caught my attention as I (Matt Smethurst) read Elliot Clark‘s marvelous new book, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land (TGC, 2019) [foreword]. I cannot remember the last time I felt this convicted, and inspired, to hold forth the beauty of gospel grace.


Fear of the future isn’t necessarily the problem. We actually don’t seem fearful enough, not nearly as exasperated or concerned about the certain and dreadful end of our unbelieving neighbors as we should be. (21)

More and more I see Christians incensed when the world mocks us and our faith. But we seem to have no trouble disparaging others with whom we disagree, whether it’s for their position on the environment or economics, guns or gays. Meanwhile, we unnecessarily disenfranchise unbelievers by becoming ardent apologists for relatively unimportant opinions, such as our preferred diet or sports team. But, at the same time, we somehow lack an authoritative voice on far weightier matters. Few of us would ever risk offending someone by actually proclaiming the good news of Christ. Instead, we’ll only passively or reluctantly share the gospel provided someone else is inclined to listen. (21–22)

As you walk the lonely dirt road into a shameful exile, away from what you’ve known in a sheltered American past, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re not even excluded. Just the opposite. You’re being included into God’s global family. You’re joining Christ outside the camp. (25)

Christian, you know God loves you and has sent his Son to save you from your sin. You also likely know your great purpose in life is to glorify God for that salvation. But did you know God’s grand salvation plan is to glorify you? (32)

When we suffer, if our collective Christian tone is complaint, if we constantly lament our loss of cultural influence or social standing, if we weep and mourn as if Jerusalem has fallen when our chosen political agenda is overlooked, then we expose our true values. Those troubling circumstances have a way of unmasking our highest hopes. Sadly, far too often they reveal our hopes have actually been in this present age and not in the one to come. (37)

Hope for the Christian isn’t just confidence in a certain, glorious future. It’s hope in a present providence. It’s hope that God’s plans can’t be thwarted by local authorities or irate mobs, by unfriendly bosses or unbelieving husbands, by Supreme Court rulings or the next election. The Christian hope is that God’s purposes are so unassailable that a great thunderstorm of events can’t drive them off course. Even when we’re wave-tossed and lost at sea, Jesus remains the captain of the ship and the commander of the storm. (42)

I believe one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism is fear. Or, more accurately, a lack of fear. As feelings of anxiety and dread well up within us and drown out our evangelistic zeal, the solution isn’t to eliminate all fears. Our absence of appropriate fear is actually part of the problem. The solution we find in 1 Peter is to fight fear with fear—to grow in our fear of God and our fear for (not of) our fellow man. (50)

I doubt many of us are guilty of browbeating anyone with the gospel. But if we’re honest, we’re often culpable for not respecting our opponents. For not showing due honor. For using our words to shame our enemies or attack their agendas. For casually slandering those with whom we disagree, even rejoicing when our sarcasm gets laughs or our meme gets likes. It should be noteworthy to us, then, that from the outset of his letter Peter was concerned that his readers who faced regular insult for their faith be quick to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2:1). Those are strong and comprehensive words. But Peter knew that Christian exiles easily slip into an unending volley of tit for tat. Of hurting those who hurt them. Of showing spite to their accusers. Of harboring malice toward those who put them down. Of mentally standing on their toes, like a tennis player, ready to return serve. (71–72)

The time is coming, and is here now, when the world won’t listen to our gospel simply because they respect us. However, they might listen if we respect them. (81)

If we continue the pattern of waiting for perfect opportunities, they may never come. And our fate will be that of the wary farmer who observes the wind and doesn’t sow, who considers the clouds and never reaps (Eccles. 11:4). Such farmers have empty barns in winter. (91)

Praise is the most natural thing in the world for us, and we do it all the time. We brag about our favorite sports team. We rave about restaurants. We shamelessly tell others about the deals we find online. We can’t stop talking about the latest Netflix series or our last vacation. . . . While we (I include myself here) demonstrate an incredible ability to proclaim the glories of endless earthly trivialities, we somehow stutter and stammer at the opportunity to speak with others about our heavenly hope. So it’s obvious our gospel silence isn’t because our mouths are broken; it’s because our hearts are. Because if we worshiped God as we should, our neighbors, coworkers, and friends would be the first to hear about it. (103)

You must come to a point of being willing to offend, or else you’ll never say much of anything. (105)

One common rebuttal [from Muslims] I would receive was, “We believe in Jesus too. He’s one of our prophets.” In response, I’d suggest that Jesus made for a miserable prophet. Prophets of Allah should show the way and teach the truth. But Jesus said, “I am the way; I am the truth.” Then I’d add, “Sounds like blasphemy, don’t you think?” (106)

The apologetic force of our preaching isn’t always that our message is more believable than another, but that it’s more desirable. In evangelism, we don’t simply make a logical case, but a doxological one. We aren’t just talking to brains. We’re speaking to hearts that have desires and eyes that look for beauty. We’re not merely trying to convince people that our gospel is true, but that our God is good. Over the years I’ve tried to move away from cold, structured arguments into exultations of praise. . . . From merely explaining why Jesus is needed to showing why he should be wanted. From defending the Bible’s truthfulness to rejoicing in its sweetness. (107)

In America, Christians have adopted a kind of false modesty in our evangelism. We never presume to suggest that we’re actually holier than someone else. Furthermore, we think our gospel is more credible to others when they see us as mostly like them. We’ve come to believe that God is most glorified and people are most evangelized when the church is either hip and trendy or when it’s struggling and broken and weak. So the last thing we’d want to do is portray ourselves as either holy or healthy—and most certainly not better than anyone else. (119)

Our great danger isn’t being like the pious Jews in Jesus’s day, doing external acts of worship to receive the approval and admiration of others. Instead, the threat to the American church is the opposite, though equally sinister, form of hypocrisy. We want to be inwardly transformed without showing any outward change. We don’t want to stand out. It’s as if we’ve lit a candle but are trying our best to hide it under a basket. But the whole point of a lit lamp is that others will see it. (119–20)

Anthropologists have observed that immigrants and refugees sometimes have a greater love for their national identity and a greater commitment to cultural preservation than those who remain in the homeland. That’s because when you have everything stripped away, you cling to what makes you who you are. We too, as we experience increased isolation and shame in our country of origin, have an opportunity to embrace the foreignness that comes with being like God and a citizen of his kingdom. (122)

One way sinners enter the kingdom is by first entering our kitchen. Some will only come to the table of the Lord after first coming to our dinner table. (137)

Christian hospitality isn’t just what we do to show kindness to strangers or unbelievers. It’s certainly not what we do to entertain guests or show off our home. Christian hospitality can’t even be reduced to a sacrificial act of generosity and love, because in reality it’s far more. Christian hospitality is the reward of the gospel. It’s a foretaste in this life of a shared inheritance in the next. It’s a seat at the table now, the shadow of a future feast where we’ll recline at table in the kingdom. (147)

We who by nature long to be insiders, to be accepted and approved, can be freed from that burden and as outsiders take the scary step toward being culturally inappropriate—in positive and proactive ways—and do the otherwise unthinkable. . . . But the fringe isn’t always a bad place to be. The voice of outsiders has power because it confronts monotony. A musical note struck off key is the one most easily recognized. Now is not the time for us to try to cohere the Christian message to a shared sensibility, to make the church fit into the surrounding cultural mold. We should keep Christianity weird. And in so doing, we just might reach our neighbors. (155)

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