“If you wanted to take America back for God, how would you do that? Generally, we think in terms of acquiring greater social and cultural power and influence; that’s the way we will ultimately bring this country into line. We’ve got to throw that away. We need to recognize that we have a gospel that doesn’t require us having a position and a status for it to be powerful. . . . Let’s take America back for God—as in the sense of let’s preach the gospel, and let’s see lives change.” — Elliot Clark
Date: April 2, 2019
Event: TGC 2019 National Conference, Indianapolis, Indiana
Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
- Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land
- Want Gospel Opportunities? Embrace Opposition
- Christians Need Gospel Audacity
Find more audio and video from the 2019 National Conference on the conference media page.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Jason Cook: My name is Jason Cook. I will serve as the moderator this afternoon. And we desperately need this conversation. A quick Google search or cursory survey amongst your church or even those whom you may know will reveal that many Christians believe evangelism to be optional, outdated, intrusive, and/or have altogether abandoned this joy-filled mandate from our Lord.
In fact, just recently, we learned through a study that 50% of millennials actually say it’s wrong to evangelize. And so, wrapped up in this conversation are all sorts of racial and political and socio-economic implications here in the West, and it seems that many of those things are keeping believers from hopping into the fray. In short, it’s a mess. But to help us unpack these ideas and more and to move toward clarity, I am thrilled to be joined by Jen Michel, who’s the award-winning author of Teach Us to Want and Keeping Place. Jen holds a BA in French from Wheaton College. That’s impressive.
Jen Michel: I’ll speak in French, so nobody will know I’m saying dumb things, you know.
Cook: Exactly, wisdom. She also has an MA in literature from Northwestern, and she and her husband, Ryan, have five school-age children and attend Grace Toronto Church.
Next to her is Elliot Clark, who has lived in Central Asia where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and children. He is currently working to train local church leaders and give theological education and training overseas through Training Leaders International. And he’s the author of Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, the namesake of this breakout, and he’s all around the man. So, brother, thank you for joining us.
And then next to him is Dr. Russell Moore, who is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Distinguished gentlemen and lady, thank you for joining me. I wanna kind of open up our conversation with a general question free for you all to ask or answer rather, and it is as follows. In your context and experience, what are the challenges of evangelism in a post-Christian and a postmodern world?
Elliot Clark: Well, I’m gonna maybe step in there. I would say, as our family came back three years ago, stepped back into living here in the U.S., I sense a shift, and I’m sure all of you do because you live here, that we are moving from an apathetic audience, from people who are generally, maybe we might say, uninterested in the gospel or maybe uninterested in coming to church to more an antagonistic response. Okay. Well, maybe before we would say, “That’s fine for you to believe the gospel. That’s good for you to believe it, whatever.” But I think as we move into this more antagonistic response, it might still be that they’ll think that that okay, “It’s okay for you to be a Christian to believe these things, but it’s not good for me, and it’s not good for society.” And so we’re finding people who actually are opposed to our gospel and opposed to us.
And the challenge I see that…I mean multiple, but one challenge I think in particular would be, we have conceived of evangelism in terms of raising people’s interest, getting them to be more curious, an attractional model of evangelism whereby we can draw people in and make it interesting for them. That might work when you have an apathetic audience. But when people are against the gospel, against the church, they distrust you. And the institution, the pastor, whoever, we’re gonna have to rethink how we go about this if people’s perception in response is fundamentally different than it was before.
Michel: I was just gonna share from our context. I live in Toronto, and you can pray for one of the church pastors who have been…they’ve planted a church from our church. They’ve now looked at 40 locations in the city to have a permanent home in the city, and they’re having a lot of trouble. And they’re actually running into people that are incredibly hostile to renting to them, including actually, ministers in other churches, “We don’t wanna share our building with you. We believe that you holding a traditional sexual ethic is actually bad for our city. Do you know the suicide rates of transgender teens and, you know, in the LGBT community? Because you do not, you know, sort of proclaim sexual freedom to do whatever you want, you’re bad for our city.” The city councilor has actually told them that. Numerous people have told them that as they’ve looked to rent in the city. We’ve had difficulty renting with the Toronto District School Board because, again, there’s just such hostility in Toronto for evangelical churches. And so I just wanna actually put out a call to pray for Christ Church in Toronto that they can find a permanent rental space in the city.
Russell Moore: One of the things that has changed is for a long time in an American context, there was the ability to try to find what’s the connection point where we enter in with the gospel, and a lot of times, that had to do with family, marriage, parenting, or sort of find your purpose in life, your meaning in life. And so you would have that connection point where people who weren’t interested in the gospel, but they were interested in trying to figure out, “How do I raise my kids?” And so you could have that entry point. Well, now you’re at a point where people not only are not interested in the gospel, they also have no reason to think that the church has any necessary expertise when it comes to raising children or figuring out marriages. They have life coaches when they need life…for people who need life coaches. For other people, there’s not that point of connection. And for a lot of churches, that’s a hard transition to make. It’s a necessary transition to figure that out, but for a lot of places, it’s a hard transition to figure out.
And the other part of it I think that’s happening internally, and maybe especially within our sort of circle of evangelicalism, is we all tend to overreact to the last bad thing. And so a lot of us have reacted to a really programmatic sort of step, here’s the list of steps when it comes to leading somebody to Christ, and to sort of manipulative kind of decisional models of evangelism. But that’s being replaced often with no evangelism or with evangelism that goes right up to the point but doesn’t get to the point to the call to decision. And some of that is actually driven even further by these cultural trends because a lot of Christians are intimidated when it comes to people, especially when people are kind of hostile. I think, well, that’s intimidating and that shuts me down. When in reality, we have a biblical model for why there’s initial hostility. When you have initial hostility, it’s not that you give up. It’s that the light shines in the darkness. That it’s actually working at that point, but I think we tend to get discouraged and withdraw.
Cook: I wanna come back to that here in a moment. But Jen, you hit on something I think that is something I’m finding a lot, which is this ideology based on memes and maxims where everyone’s trying to live their best life. And in an age of self-discovery, the whole lose yourself to find yourself, self-empowerment, life coaches, as you mentioned Dr. Moore, and the sufficiency of self and the pursuit of happiness, the gospel in many ways stands in stark distinction to a lot of that worldview and ideology. In many ways is a blessing to those who are kind of trapped in that thinking. Can you kind of talk to how the gospel may be a blessing to those who see the world through that lens?
Michel: I think as soon as you embrace the kind of, “You do you, and I’ll do me,” and we’re all sort of, you know, captains of our ships and free to do whatever we want, I mean, essentially, that ends up not leading to freedom but to slavery. And I think about like if I have to be in charge of my life and my happiness, that means I have to control every outcome, I have to make sure that none of my relationships fall apart, I have to make sure that I have absolutely the job that is meaningful and purposeful and gives me the money that I need, and I have to be able to afford all the vacations. Like, it’s all up to me. And can you imagine what happens when your child’s diagnosed with cancer? What happens when you have that unexpected season of unemployment? What happens when your spouse leaves you? What happens when you have chronic illness?
So, as a Christian, I really feel like we get to tell the world, you know, “There are two ways to build your life,” Jesus said, “and you can.” And we’re all building a house, and the rain is going to fall in every house that’s built. Some are built on sand and will fall, and some are built on rock and they will stand. And we get to proclaim the gospel that you don’t have to control every outcome of your life. You actually could face the very worst, and you could still know peace, and ultimately, you can know hope beyond this world. And I think that’s an incredible message to proclaim.
Cook: Man, the power of that and sharing the gospel with people, man, that’s so strong. Now, Elliott, I got some beef with you, brother. Now, I’ve read your book, and for all of you all in here, the book is fantastic. I highly recommend it. But you say some pretty incendiary things in there, brother. And one of the things that you say is you take issue with the phrase, “share the gospel,” and you say that it’s wildly unhelpful. I’m really kind of in my feelings over here, bro. Can you share a little bit about what you mean, and what is it that you find problematic about it, and what’s the better way forward that you would advise?
Clark: Well, I think to be…I’d love to be in everybody’s feelings on this topic a little bit. It starts with definition. What does scripture mean when it talks about evangelism? And we go back to the Greek word. It just simply, by definition, to evangelize is to announce or proclaim good news. That just needs to stand on its own, and we need to listen to that first. But then, I think when we look at even how scripture describes the act of evangelism, when we read the Acts of the Apostles and see what they do with the gospel, what we find is Luke recording them, proclaiming, declaring, heralding, announcing, persuading, pleading, calling, bearing witness to Christ, calling sinners to repentance. We don’t find them sharing the gospel.
And I’m not opposed to this term, this phrase, totally. I mean, you can find…1 Thessalonians 2 would be an example. You can find maybe one or two examples scripturally. So, this is not an unbiblical concept. Paul gave the gospel. He shared the gospel with the Thessalonians. But even in the context of that giving, if you look at how Paul describes what it looks like to give the gospel, to share it, it’s, “Remember how I proclaim to you with all boldness.” And I think it should give us pause when we think about the reality that the dominant way, almost exclusive way we speak of evangelism is in terms of sharing and giving, because I think that…I mean, words communicate something, and sharing is a far more passive way of talking about evangelism than declaring. And you know what? Sharing is easier than declaring. It really is.
I’m tempted to default to kind of polite spiritual conversations and then be happy with myself that I’ve proclaimed the gospel, and it’s just not always the case. And so I need to be corrected, and I think the church needs to just wrestle with this issue. The way we talk about evangelism inevitably influences the way we try to go about it. I mean, if you’re a pastor in here, think about what you’re communicating with your people when you call them to obey the gospel…to obey Christ and evangelize the Lost. And the way you use your words, the way you give examples, inevitably affects how people envision the way they would carry it out. There’s more we could say, but that’s [inaudible 00:14:29].
Cook: There’s two things in there, the Gospel as announcement, so the image of a herald being sent from the King to announce good news to people, and the messenger being sent to announce good news. But also you talked about sharing the gospel or heralding that good news in a polite fashion. Now, I live in Memphis, Tennessee. I live in the south, now the capital of politeness, right? And in a day and age where we are so fragmented and so broken and so divided, there is coming a time when even that polite speech…and even now, there’s consequences for heralding the good news to people, there’s consequences for that.
Dr. Moore, you talk about being a prophetic minority in talks and in your books and what it means for Christians to come from that place of being a prophetic minority, not a moral majority or some other power dynamic, but that the power, kind of structure is flipping. And I’m curious if you can speak briefly to why being a prophetic minority is a strength and not a position of weakness.
Moore: Well, the problem is the example that Jen just gave a few moments ago is coming from, if you think about the perspective of those places that don’t want that church there, their perspective is that sort of evangelical Christianity is the dominant majority that is oppressing people. And then you turn around and you talk to evangelical Christians, and they feel as though they are a persecuted minority surrounded by dominant secularism. So, you end up in really everybody is feeling not just like they’re a persecuted minority, but that they’re a persecuted minority who has lost this golden age of being in the majority at some point. And so there’s a backstory behind all of that. So when I say seeing ourselves as a minority, I don’t mean victim status. What I mean is, it’s why I often put that prophetic in front of that, the Jeremiah call both to tear down and to build up. There’s a power that comes with the word that doesn’t have to be backed up by power. As a matter of fact, power often distorts it.
And so the weakness…not just weakness, but the felt weakness in the New Testament is the conduit by which the power comes. And so if you have a group of people who when you’re looking around the typical reaction can be, “Uh, look at what’s happening in my community. Look at what’s happening.” And that’s not just. For a long time, for evangelicals, that was kind of an urban problems, people are worried about their kids going off to the big city where they were going to lose their faith. Now, in many contexts, that’s kind of flipped where you have the cities that have strong churches and strong ministries, and then you go out into the rural areas, and you have churches that are struggling in terms of substance abuse, in terms of family disorder, and everything else.
So, the minority status is to say, “We don’t need power the way the world defines it if we have the power of God,” which means a lack of being, “I don’t have to be offended that people don’t get me or don’t understand me because it’s not my… that’s not where I’m justified, in their opinion. But I also don’t have to be intimidated by that, and to kind of withdraw from that. I can press forward.” And often, you know, if you just look at the way most of the people that we know who came to faith in Christ, most of them, it took a period of time of struggling with this, and they’re not usually struggling with that publicly. They’re usually saying, “That’s nonsense. That’s ridiculous,” but then in their mind, the Spirit’s doing its work. We ought to be confident in that.
Cook: I wanna stay here for a moment because I think that dynamic is interesting, that Christians surrounded by a secular culture feel oppressed by that while a secular culture feels oppressed by Christianity and organized religion. And I wanna open this up to everyone. Like, how do you even begin to make inroads with people? Like as a pastor who’s moved 40 times in a city, the temptation to wanna give up and quit and move somewhere else is pretty great. How do you live in that tension where everyone’s offended by the other, where everyone has beef with the other person? What are the gospel ways for…how do we move forward in relationship building in a way that maybe Christ would do it with the climate being so hostile like that?
Clark: I think we have a real opportunity to be countercultural through honor, through demonstrating humility and gentleness and respect in ways that people don’t have categories for when they know you’re at odds with them. So, when you’re talking with someone, when you have a neighbor that you know, “Well, we’re just gonna butt heads on every topic possible.” But I’m committed to bless that person, to serve that person, to honor them. So, don’t hear me saying, in trying to correct what I think is lacking in the term sharing the gospel in that phrase, don’t hear me saying we shouldn’t be polite. We should be the most honor giving people there are.
And so Paul, again, looking at the example of the Apostles, there’s this tension. Paul’s able to do evangelism in what is attention for us with all humility and boldness. We need to recover that that “I don’t…it doesn’t matter if someone offends me. I’m not gonna be…I’m not gonna take offense. I’m going to show them honor by virtue of who they are as a human being, I’m gonna show them honor for the sake of Christ and His gospel, and I’m gonna treat them as I would wish them to treat me.” And I think those things, just those simple acts of blessing others have a way to bear witness to Christ and validate our bold proclamation.
Moore: And I would say put one of those blood pressure cuffs on Jesus throughout the gospels and monitor, what are the things that cause that blood pressure to rise and what are the things that don’t. And so you have Jesus in the temple with the desecration of the temple very angry and passionate there, but then you have Jesus, he encounters the woman at the well in John 4, not shocked by what’s going on by her. He’s able to speak to her with honor but also to kind of deal with the issues she’s bringing up but then get to the ultimate issue that she needs to hear. And there’s not a sense of…
A lot of times, the reason that we’re personally offended exposes our idolatry more than anything else, because the issue isn’t that you’re messing with Jesus. Jesus is fine. It’s that when you’re saying Christianity is stupid and evil, you’re saying, “I’m stupid and evil,” and I take offense at that. People know what that is. They can see that. So, the kind of tranquility that we see with Jesus before Pilate, “I’m not scared of you because there’s nothing you can ultimately do to me,” is exactly what needs to characterize us in our relations to the outside world, and that means having a sense of compassion and understanding why people think the way they do about us.
I mean, I deal with hostile people all the time who just have a frothing at the mouth sort of view of Christianity. In almost none of those cases is this somebody who comes from a secular background, is somebody who has had a horrible experience with a religious parent or a pastor or a youth pastor or a grandparent. And you have to have compassion on that to say they’re not actually talking to you, they’re expressing this woundedness to somebody else behind you. Well, come in with Jesus.
Michel: I get to brag in my church a little bit, and my pastor’s back there, Dan McDonald.
Cook: Dan, would you stand up, Dan, where you’re at. Hey, thank you, brother.
Michel: This is the guy you need to talk to because he has planted a church in Toronto. And our tagline is “in the city for the city.” And that alone is just language to tell the city, “We’re not against you. We are for you.” And then how do you kind of put some muscle into that? Well, when you move into the neighborhood, you…because our church has recently renovated a historic church in downtown Toronto. We’ve literally moved into the neighborhood, and one block away is the gay community.
What did we do when we have…We had like a large open house event to just welcome our neighbors into the space, which I’m sure they were very curious to see because it’s an 1876 historic church building in Toronto. So, we went to all the communities, including kind of the center, the cultural center of the gay community. And they, you know, were like, “No, you cannot leave your brochures or your little invitations here.” And we’re like, “Well, that’s great. What about the cafe next door?” “Well, sure, you can leave them there.”
And literally, that night, I realized that I got into conversation the night of the event with two of the council members for the gay community, and they had come to the event. Well, and that alone is just a bridge, right? Well, then when there was a serial killer in the gay community in Toronto…if you haven’t read this story, it’s just so incredibly sad. Like, I don’t know, six, seven, eight gay men were abducted in this community. And before the police had apprehended him, you can imagine the absolute terror in the community.
They came to us, asking us to be a part of the council of community members who would be vigilant about the safety of their community members. That’s what can happen like when you’re intentional about being in your neighborhood and for your neighborhood, but we have to have language about that. We have to communicate a vision of that. And then we have to actually do things that translate, make sense of that. So it’s not just words, right? It’s not just like, “I love you,” but “I’m actually here to keep you safe. I’m here to welcome you into my space and be welcomed into your space if that’s what you choose to do.”
Cook: That’s a very like warm and gracious and compassionate stance, which in a lot of ways is very different from the populist, soil, blood, and country way that many churches really kind of…that come out of fundamentalism kind of approach engaging culture. So it’s not so much, “Hey, let’s build a bridge of relationship. Let’s build a bridge of friendship. I’m here to serve you.” And there’s a lot of, “Hey, we’re gonna create our own cloistered communities,” right? And in America, we hear this thing called…you know, in the States, we hear, “Hey, we’re gonna take America back for God. Like, we’re gonna bring America back to serve the Lord.” In Canada, that’s not an option.
Cook: So, can you talk briefly…and I’d love for you men to answer this as well. Can you talk about how that sort of rhetoric may be problematic to us in the States and for those who would have that sort of ideology when it comes to evangelism and engaging the culture?
Michel: One thing that’s just a really beautiful thing about being in the global church in Canada, guess what, it’s not the 51st state, it is a different country. And then, you know, Toronto is incredibly cosmopolitan. There are people from all over the world actually in our church. And so you realize like how limited your vision sometimes is of that great multitude at the end of Revelation that, you know, the flag that’s waving in the New Jerusalem is not stars and stripes, you know, and we’re not actually all speaking English, and there’s so many different languages that are represented there.
And so sometimes that language of, you know, “Take America back again,” I think it really comes from a posture of, you know, America is kind of central to what Christianity is all about. And realizing now, I was talking to Rebecca McLaughlin, whose book is now in the bookstore, “12…” something about confronting Christianity. I forget. I’m sorry, but go get it. And she was saying that we often think about evangelicalism, like when people picture evangelicalism, they picture white and male. And it’s actually black and female when you look at the global church.
And I think those are just lessons for us that, you know, “Take America back again,” again, comes from a position of, “Well, America is central, right, to the Kingdom of God,” and realizing….Oh, there’s the book. Someone’s holding it up. I also think it’s a false nostalgia. If we’re gonna be nostalgic for anything, we can be nostalgic for Eden, but really, we’re not a nostalgic people. We are the people who look ahead to the new heavens and the new earth.
Clark: Yeah. I mean, as someone who enjoys the opportunity to worship with believers in Asia and Africa with some regularity, I can definitely agree with that assessment. And to be honest, the church leaders that I’m training, sometimes they ask me questions of concern about America. I mean, they’re concerned for us, and probably rightly so. Not in the sense that we need to take America back for God, but they just recognize that there are serious gaps in our thinking, and there’s obviously, things happening in our culture and society that disturb them. You know, it can be evident obviously just in the most recent Methodist Church debates and conference.
I would say the other thing is how would…if you wanted to take America back for God, how would you do that? And I think generally, we think in terms of by acquiring greater social and cultural power and influence, that’s the way we will ultimately bring this country into line. I think we’ve got to throw that away. We need to recognize that we have a gospel that doesn’t require us a position and a status for that gospel to be powerful. Yeah. In some ways, let’s take America back for God as in the sense of let’s preach the gospel, and let’s see lives change. Yeah. What they’re saying when they mean that is not what I’m thinking.
Cook: In your book, you reference several times, example, “We don’t have to go overseas to find an example of an enduring, faithful witness despite a lack of power, despite very real persecution, death, government sanctioned, oppression. We don’t have to go very far,” and it’s the historically black church. And in your book several times, you reference how the historically black church can be a tutor for us and can educate us on what it means to be persistent in preaching the gospel despite the whole world quite literally being against you. Can you speak a little bit about that and what in your experience the historically black church can teach most homogeneous churches what it means to be faithful?
Clark: Yeah. So just to give maybe a little background, as I was envisioning this book, I was bringing into it my experience overseas living in Central Asia doing ministry in a Muslim-majority context. And I was thinking about, “Okay, how we approached evangelism and church planting as literally the minority in that country, how could that influence the way Americans who now increasingly see themselves as that minority? How can they do evangelism in this context?” Also, at the same time, thinking about 1 Peter and the idea of Exile, shame, and exclusion that we’re beginning to face in our country like never before just for naming the name of Christ.
But as I began to think about it from my perspective, I realized fairly quickly, there are brothers and sisters who have lived in this country in positions of social weakness, exclusion, shame, oppression. Yeah, it’s the historically black church. And as I began just to reflect on the worship, specifically, I’m thinking here about like in the antebellum South Negro spirituals, you know, music that hasn’t…I think many of us have an affection for the beauty of it. And what I began to witness as I did some reading and research is just the dispositions of that community, that suffering exiled community, particularly in the south, but not just the south.
They’re an example to us. They really in their worship, especially I noticed, exemplify the very characteristics Peter is asking of first-generation Christians who are experiencing exile in the Roman Empire in their own communities, even in their own homes. And so things like amazing hope in suffering, incredible honor toward authority, the ability to sing with some kind of a holy unction and call sinners to repent, even in their songs. I mean, if you think about Christian music today, we don’t sing the way those brothers and sisters sang. They sing the gospel with power and authority and love and conviction and hope and glory that I would love to see us recover. And I think we have a lot to learn from them.
Cook: I totally agree.
I wanna talk about fear really quickly, because fear tends to be, Elliot, in your book, a really central reason to why many people don’t share the gospel, why they don’t herald the good news. And, Dr. Moore, in these divided days, it’s often when we do herald the gospel that, to your earlier point, that many of the people who rail against the gospel have been hurt in the past, and church hurt is a very real thing. Enough bad experiences will make any believer lose some courage, and fear becomes a very real thing. Could you just speak to the role of fear in evangelism? And what do we do to get beyond that, or is there any getting beyond that?
Moore: Well, I think the primary issue is a justification issue, a really understanding where our audience is. I think all the time about what’s happening in John 12 where you have many who believed what Jesus was saying but who walked away because of fear of being put out of the synagogues. That is a very real fear that everybody experiences, which is a sense of, “Am I going to be sort of put out of whatever my safe zone of people would be?”
And so I think you have to reorient yourself toward Judgment Day and toward that Galatians 1:10 idea of, “I’m a servant of Christ, not a servant of acclaim of people.” And that’s gonna work out, not only just in terms of people being fearful of evangelizing because people would reject them, but also you think about Zacchaeus’s house. You probably have one group of people furious at Jesus that He’s calling tax collectors to repentance for embezzling. Why are you messing with this? And then another group of people look and see He’s with tax collectors and sinners. So a lot of Christians are in that sort of dyna…
I was with a group of really secular people in American life, you know, really fearful of religion. And I said, you know, “You all are worried about evangelism since you always panic when you see some church group is praying for Hindus during Diwali or they’re praying for Muslims during Ramadan. And you’re assuming that that means that these are the people, Christians who are dehumanizing people.” I said, “Actually, if you go into real communities, the churches that not just talking about evangelism but are really doing evangelism, they are the very ones who are saying, ‘No, no, no, you’re not gonna mess with this Kurdish refugee community. These are our friends. These are human beings to us.” That just is the case across the board.
So, take a long term view and be willing to get some rejection, be willing to have some people in your church saying, “What are you doing?” And that’s especially true not just when you’re evangelizing, but when people actually come to faith in Christ, then things really get interesting because then you’re going to have churches that are saying, “Well, how are we supposed to bear this person’s burdens, you know, who has different burdens than we have,” or whatever it is, but take a longer-term view of that, I think.
Cook: To that point, I wanna talk about hospitality for a moment, and hospitality being used as kind of a method for evangelism, but really just loving people. And I love my wife. I could care less about what our house looks like as long as there’s food there and hot dogs and college football in the fall, okay? But Courtney is really concerned about making our home hospitable and making it warm and inviting. And the amount of people who have told us through the years that, “We’ve never had a pastor invite us over for dinner,” or same-sex attracted young woman telling us that, “No Christian has ever been so kind.” With your experience in Toronto, how has hospitality kind of played a role, or has it played a role in how you and your church tends to see evangelism and being a good neighbor? What does that look like?
Michel: I think it’s not at all coincidental that when Jesus gave us, you know, a way to remember him, he gave us a meal. He said, you know, “This is the way that you’ll proclaim my death until I return. You’re gonna eat together, and you’re gonna drink together, and you’re gonna remember my sacrifice.” And, of course, you know, that’s not an exact equivalent to inviting your neighbors over for dinner, but it does mean, and I think there’s something really holy about the table.
And in my city, I think really just inviting someone into your home is a way that you invite them into an unhurried space. And in a global city, like just to be sort of unhurried is a gift to people. To invite somebody into your home is an incredibly intimate act. You’re allowing them to kind of see the way that you live and see what you do and don’t have.
And I think that’s a real challenge in our city, is to get beyond kind of an entertaining model of hospitality where it…you know, because we have a lot of foodies in our congregation and we have a lot of good food and restaurants in Toronto, I always feel the burden of like, “Oh my gosh, if I can’t do that, then, you know, I’ve failed.” But I have to remember like, “No, just inviting people into my home is like inviting people into my life.” And, you know, the Apostle Paul said, “I shared my life with you even as I shared the gospel.” Proclaimed? Did he say proclaim or share there?
Clark: I’m not the share police. Maybe I’m thinking it in my mind.
Michel: It’s been a huge way, and truthfully, it’s been a beautiful way to love on the friends of our children as well. I’m very surprised at how often our children’s friends wanna come to our house. It’s not the nicest house, it doesn’t have the coolest things, but there’s always food. You know, there’s something to be found, and that’s part of the fact that we have five children, so there’s always food.
Michel: You know, amen. But why do people feel like food is an invitation? It really is, and it’s such an intimate act, and it’s so simple, too. But I think to Elliot’s point is the challenge of turning those polite conversations, polite spiritual conversations even, to proclaiming the gospel. I would say that’s where I am, my husband and I are personally, is like we have a lot of wonderful friendships in the city. We’ve had a lot of wonderful spiritual conversations, and I would say most of them have been polite. And few of them have been pushing toward that, “Hey, I really want to proclaim this good news to you.” So that’s a challenge I think for us personally.
Clark: Yeah. So, obviously, hospitality, if you’re even attuned at all to kind of the evangelical culture, is getting a lot of play these days, and I think rightly so. If you look at Matthew 8, Jesus is approached by the Centurion who’s got a servant who’s at home sick, and Jesus is astonished at his faith. And He stops everything, He turns and looks at His disciples and says, “Do you realize that many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom?”
And it’s his faith, this Gentile’s faith, that excites Jesus enough that He says, “Time out, brothers, let’s…did you see what just happened?” He talks immediately about the honor of a Gentile sitting at Abraham’s side in the kingdom. And then just a few verses later, chapter 9, we see Jesus sitting at table. Matthew uses the phrase two more times in just a matter of a chapter, Jesus sitting at a table in Matthew’s house, eating and reclining with sinners, and calling them to repentance, Matthew tells us. I mean, Matthew puts out a great feast, it says. And I think it’s intentional. It’s with wicked people. You know, there’s some discontinuity in who you should be inviting into your home, not sameness, and it’s to call sinners. And that’s the goal. And I think people are only going to sit at table with us in the kingdom, some people, if they only first sit at table with us in our homes. So, let’s move that way.
And then just maybe a little different approach. I don’t talk about this in the book. But we often, when we envision evangelism, if you’re in the workplace, let’s just say, I’ve had these thoughts many times, “If I can just get that moment.” Maybe I’m praying for this person, “If I could just have that perfect moment where I’m alone with so and so, that then we can have this conversation.” And I’m just waiting for that perfect moment. And I just wanna encourage us, evangelism doesn’t have to be individualistic, one-on-one conversation. In fact, there’s a lot of power in multiple people together talking about this. Maybe the person you’re wanting to talk to is not gonna respond, but what if their mother or their brother is? What if they’re only gonna hear it if you invite the whole family over?
And then, you know, one of the growing concerns obviously in our Christian culture is what’s happening to our children. They’re leaving the church. But have our children ever heard us preach the gospel to someone else? And if you do evangelism in your home, it’s amazing because your kids watch you demonstrate the reality of your faith in front of them in ways that to me are more powerful than almost anything else you could do with your children.
Cook: Dr. Moore, you’re one of the busiest men that I know. And there may be people who would say, “Well, that sounds good and fine, but I’m really busy. I travel a lot for work, and I’ve got a lot of things to do. You know, I’ve got kids, and I’ve gotta get to games and rehearsals and recitals.” What does that look like for you being anchored in a local church, and how do you see evangelism as a busy person in light of this conversation?
Moore: Well, I actually think busyness can be an asset in one sense, because you find places to connect with people that can enable you to actually go a little deeper than you might ordinarily do if you start out saying, “This is what we’re going to.” I think about this all the time in terms of when my oldest sons were getting ready for the talk, you know, about the facts of life. I had a program that a friend of mine had developed that was kind of a CD series that you listen to in the car and then you would stop and talk. And the reason they did it that way is because it took a little bit of the awkwardness out of it, you’re driving along, you’re looking ahead. So some things are kind of processing, and then you stop and have the conversation. It was just [inaudible 00:45:10], “This is so much better than it was when my dad said, ‘Hey, let’s sit down, and I’m going to talk to you about these things that you never ever, ever, ever want me to say to you again.”‘
And I think really, a lot of these…you know, we think about what’s the big problem when it comes to these conversations about the gospel, is there’s a self-protectiveness. You’re really getting right at the core of people sometimes when you’re finding these other areas to connect. And then one of my closest friends in the world is a completely secular Muslim guy who probably doesn’t agree with me on much of anything, but we happen to be working in the same place at one time and built a relationship. And you’re able then to have deep conversations both directions really without a sense of artificiality. So I think sometimes the busyness if you just pay attention to it can actually be to the benefit.
Cook: That’s good. We’ve kind of been tiptoeing around this. We’ve talked about hospitality. We’ve talked about relationship building. We talked about our homes. We talked about being a little bit of an exile and culture. And there seems to be though still this need to move beyond politeness, beyond superficial conversations, and really go to calling people to repent and to respond. Elliot, in your book, I wonder if you can tell us a story about the young man that you’re sharing with, and you get through the conversation, and he’s like…can you share that story with us?
Clark: Yeah. This is a hard story to tell personally. Our family had served a number of years overseas. We had the chance to return, and the goal for returning was mainly to encourage the believers. But when we found out we were heading back and let people know, one of the first people to respond was not somebody I really wanted to meet. He was an unbeliever. It wasn’t the priority of my visit, but I just thought, “Okay. God’s bringing this together. I should pursue it.” You know, I think maybe it begins there. It begins with seeing your everyday experience as God ordained, and the Spirit is moving. I don’t necessarily have to manipulate conversations. God’s putting them right there, it’s whether I’m gonna be faithful where I am.
So we got together, and it’s a complicated relationship in that he knew some other believers. He’s a Muslim himself. He knew other believers in our church, but I never was close to him. He just knew me as kind of the pastor and an acquaintance. But we’re sitting down and we’re 45 minutes into the conversation, and I’m praying, you know, “God, I want an opportunity to speak.” And that is something I talk about in the book. Often, our prayers for opportunities, gospel opportunities, are more like excuses not to do evangelism. So I’m praying and, you know, I’ve gotta say something. So finally, I just pushed the conversation with a question. You know, “What do you think I believe?” And he was more than happy to answer.
My general impression from non-Christians is if you ask them what they think, they’ll tell you, which is great. I mean, be a good listener, be a model of a good listener first, and then they might learn from you how to listen to you. So, I asked him, and he just explained, kind of gave the standard Muslim response, “I know what Christianity is. I disagree with it because XYZ.” And I carefully tried to explain, “No, it’s not that way. Here’s what I believe.” And we were going back and forth, and it got to the conversation winding down, and he kind of looked perplexed, and he just said, “Why did you never tell me this when you lived here?” And that’s not what you wanna hear when you’re a missionary, it’s devastating. I was unfaithful.
And he said, “Because if you had told me then, I’d had more time to ask you questions. We’d have more time to talk about this.” You know, I don’t wanna live with regret, and I’m not encouraging any of you to in any way either. But God had put me in his life years prior, and there were opportunities. I just didn’t take advantage of them. I don’t know if that’s what you were looking for.
Cook: Yeah. That’s exactly. I found it to be really convicting that we can often wait till the perfect opportunity arises, right? Somebody asks, “So what exactly is the gospel, and how can I be saved?” When in reality, we are not to be concerned about the results but only faithfulness, right? And there’s blessing in faithfulness.
Clark: I had told myself all the reasons why it wouldn’t make sense to witness to him, you know, “He knew other believers. That’s their job. He’s gonna think certain things about me,” you know, all kind of stories we tell ourselves about why we shouldn’t evangelize.
Cook: That’s good. I wanna close our time by talking about the blessing of evangelism as exiles. Elliot, you write in your book, “To be an exile, to be other is central to the Christian calling. We’re strangers in our land, and that’s good news. Sometimes, the experience of exile can actually remind us of our true identity and home.” I kind of wanna kick around that kind of…what does it mean to be a citizen of heaven, to not be of this world? How does that actually spur us on to boldness and faithfulness in the midst of a world that we aren’t in control and have no power, little power rather?
Michel: I think one thing that we’ve done, it’s just a very small thing, but we’ve never let our kids participate in competitive sports on Sundays because we’ve just chosen to prioritize church. And we really believe that that’s one really essential to their spiritual formation. It makes me feel like a complete alien. You know people are like…we actually have some like pretty athletic kids, and people are like, you know, “Your kid could really progress at basketball if you’d just sign him up for that rec league.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but we go to church on Sundays.” So that would take our family away from church. And it’s funny because the news trickles out, right? And people are like, “Yeah. They go to church on Sundays. They’re the religious people. Like, they’re the other.”
And you know what? As soon as you kind of get labeled that, you settle into it. And you sort of are like, “Great. I actually don’t have to prove anything to you.” I get to fully assume my identity as stranger and alien. Now I’m coming from a place where you’re kind of expecting me to be the religious person. And so when I try to strike up a religious conversation with you or a spiritual question…I have a spiritual question for you, like you expect that from me, how wonderful, you know. And I think it is really wonderful to be in a context where it’s like, “Christianity isn’t just like the sprinkling on the cupcake, you know. Like, I had a good life and now I’m a Christian, and it made my life even better.” Like, “No, it’s an other life.” You know, it’s like you’re eating…you know, I’m not even a cupcake, you know. I don’t even know what I am. I love zucchini or something, you know. But there’s a lot of freedom in that, I think, and kind of a release into boldness I guess.
Clark: Yeah. I think, you know, some of the gospel-centered movement that’s come about in the last decade or two has pushed on us, and churches and pastors don’t assume the gospel. So, in our churches, we’ve recognized maybe far too long we’ve assumed people in the pew know the gospel. We assume that we can preach sermons that don’t preach the gospel. But the other reality is we’ve…for many years in our land, we’ve assumed our neighbors know the gospel. We’ve assumed that…they’ve assumed they know us. They’ve assumed they know what Christianity is. And as we become other, those assumptions are being broken both from them and from us. So, no longer is your neighbor necessarily clear on the gospel. Most likely they’re not, obviously.
But for us, especially, we maybe have had the posture that, “Well, they don’t come to church or they’re not interested in Christ because they have knowledge and they’ve just respectfully declined.” But that’s not the case anymore. And so as the gap widens, we can’t kind of assume anything anymore. And so let’s just embrace being that strange other. It empowers us to preach, and honestly, just to say things to people that they think are crazy. You know, I have non-believing friends who aren’t afraid to say stupid stuff. And we could learn from that honestly, just would be willing to say things. I see it in Paul, I see it in Jesus, over and over willing to be misunderstood and willing to kind of push the envelope in ways that is gonna leave it out there so that they might wanna come back because they’re left scratching their heads. “I thought it was this way, but you’re saying something else. I wanna know more.”
Cook: Finally, Doc, can you talk to us a little bit about our future hope and glory and the role that evangelism has, the eschatological implications of our boldness and faithfulness in sharing the gospel as exiles. Can you just wax poetic for a moment about how those two things coincide with one another?
Moore: Well, I think we are…when we talk about heaven among ourselves, it tends to be in worship music that we’re singing about ourselves, and that’s good. But we don’t have a lot of concentration on the longing for eternal life that is implanted in everyone else. And the other thing when it comes to…when we talk about eschatology, I think usually, we’re just thinking new heavens and new earth. We don’t spend enough time thinking about and talking about hell, because this is the most offensive thing. Really, you get through all the other things. Ultimately, hell is the most offensive thing, not only to unbelievers but often offensive to ourselves.
And so we minimize this in a way, when actually, probably theologically, the closest point of contact that we have with a secularizing, unbelieving world is, in fact, the doctrine of judgment and the doctrine of hell, because everybody ultimately gets to a point of seeing, “Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Some things have been done to me, and they’re not right.” And there has to be some sort of an accounting there. They don’t know where that accounting comes from. It just ends up in either bitterness or in despair or something else.
We are the people who can come in and say, “Yes. That feeling that you have about ultimate judgment is correct, and it applies to everybody, Romans 1 through 3, and so let us show you what God has shown us in the cross, where God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” I think sometimes when we lose that, because we think sometimes that hell is simply a, “You don’t wanna go there, so believe in Jesus,” not the motivation of a doctrine of hell in the New Testament. A doctrine of hell is coming in and saying, “You are called to agree with God now about the verdict that apart from Christ He would pronounce upon you.” But the good news is that worst thing that could possibly happen to you if you’re in Christ has happened at the cross. You’re moving from judgment outward.
When I talk to unbelievers, a lot of times, they assume that Christians think that they’re morally superior. And even the language that we use to make that, “We’re not perfect, we’re just forgiven,” or whatever, that sounds like even more moral superiority. But I think a real sense of hell, and of the hell that was experienced on the cross might cause us to communicate better.
Cook: Praise God. Can we just show some love for them? Thank you all so much for coming. I’m gonna close us in prayer, and then we can head off to round two. Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we do thank you for your great kindness and your mercy that is available for us every single morning. I thank you that your mercies are new because I use yesterday’s mercies all up. They are never-ending. You are an indefatigably gracious Father. We need that grace. We need that mercy, and would it be from that that we would take the same message of hope to a world desperate for hope, desperate for mercy, and a world calling out for justice. God, you are the judge and the jury. Would you lead us? Spirit of God would you equip us, would you give us the boldness of Stephen, would you give us the boldness of Philip, would you give us the courage of Lydia in the first century Christians, who despite the winds and waves of culture, were faithful to press and buck against it? And we ask that in our efforts that we ourselves would not be made much of, but that you the Son of God would be lifted high, and when that happens, you would be faithful to your word and call all men and women to yourself. Lord, would you make these things so? It’s in your great name we pray and for His sake. And all God’s people said.
Cook: Amen. You all have a wonderful day.