This review is from Ted Gossard, who blogs at Jesus Community.
As one raised close enough to the evangelical tradition, later embracing it, and still evangelical as to its core conviction of seeing the gospel as somehow front and center through Jesus in the work of God, evangelism has always been considered somehow central as well. Sharing the good news of Christ with those who haven’t heard, or who do not believe. Being a witness of what we have seen and heard.
But within evangelicalism the past twenty years or so, there has been at least questions about how we evangelize. Do we go door to door with something like “Evangelism Explosion”? Do we simply invite our neighbors to church, so that they can hear the gospel proclaimed there? Do we instead opt for “friendship evangelism”? Or maybe simply pray, and try to live out the gospel, always being ready to give anyone an answer when asked about the difference in our lives?
On top of this, during the same time there has become the awareness of the emerging influence of postmodernism, a different culture in which the air is filled with uncertainty, and openness to various forms of mysticism voiced as spirituality, more often than not without religion.
At one time I was convinced that I was failing to share my faith as I ought to. But I was not convinced that what I had seen and been a part of in door to door programs was the way to do it. So over time I settled into a kind of blue funk over evangelism. Yes, I thought it was important, but I was uncomfortable with what I had seen and tried myself. Evangelism for me was essentially on hold. At least in any way I had experienced it in the past.
That gradually in my mind anyhow has begun to change. First through my own theological revolution through N.T. Wright’sThe Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was & Is. Helped along from blogging with Scot McKnight, a favorite writer of mine, and rather capped off with his recent, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.
And from an acquaintance has come a book that I have personally found helpful in pushing me to consider just how I might best share my faith with others. In fact has given me hope that there is a good way, a way blessed of God to do this. Anna Rapa, an acquaintance has written a novel in a kind of wisdom story mode entitled, Second Story: seeing what’s not being said.
I found this book intriguing in being as encouraging as it was challenging, and challenging as it was encouraging. There are still matters for me to ponder. A depth in it I have yet to plumb.
Tomorrow we will explore the book itself. And I am thinking of doing so in a bit of an autobiographical way. This book hits close to home for me. And we need to consider what is being shared in it. But I want to do so in a way which would encourage you to read the book for yourself.
…from Issachar, men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do—200 chiefs…
1 Chronicles 12:32
Anna Rapa has written a kind of wisdom story in Second Story: seeing what’s not being said. In her words to me, “It’s really meant to be an object lesson or ideas with skin on. Could’ve been written as a nonfiction book, but it seemed impossible to really convey what the ideas would look like without a story.”
Anna tells the story well, real life people. One begins to identify especially with the main characters, Alex and Annie who have been anticipating marriage. Except Alex’s accident through which his life was hanging in the balance has awakened him to the importance of making his life count for God. Gone is the care free, fun loving Alex. In in his place is an Alex who wants to talk most all the time about spiritual things. And wants to share and confront others with the truth of God so that they might see their need for Christ.
Annie is all but lost. She was glad he wanted to go to church, she was raised that way. But really caring about other’s religion or personal matters to her seemed more than a bit much.
Enter Sara, who had served as a youth worker some years back in Alex’s church youth group. The three begin to meet, and we see every bit as significant a change in Annie as had happened with Alex. Except that Annie’s change due to Sara’s sharing had come with more than Alex could have imagined. More than he was willing to take on, or accept.
Alex is busy “witnessing” to people verbally any opportunity he has. A fellow worker, Drew, Alex discovers is gay, and has cancer. Alex is always wanting to share with him his need for Jesus, but Drew is not only uninterested, but antagonistic. He has been raised in a church, and his father is upset over his lifestyle. Alex while repulsed by that himself, won’t let up in trying to help Drew come to faith, seeing Drew’s death as imminent.
In the meantime, Annie is benefiting from their times together with Sara. She had been reticent, but in desperation had committed herself to God, or reached out to him while not really wanting such help. There was something not ringing true to her in what she saw of Alex in his change. And she was not where she needed to be herself as to God and his will.
In this unfolding comes a really compelling, well told story. With wisdom and insight woven in throughout.
God begins to change Annie through study of scripture and prayer from the times with Sara. Certain parts spoke into my life, such as when Annie was trying to grapple with Jesus’ words in the first and greatest commandment to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. As is true throughout the book, how she works through this is so true to life. Annie begins to genuinely care about people. So that her friend Oliver, and her neighbors, Patti and Josie become priorities to her, simply as people. From that she does want to share the difference God is making in her life.
Alex sees every contact as a responsibility to confront others of their need, their danger if they don’t repent and believe the gospel. For him it is all about being a part of God’s work of reconciliation. For Annie it is first about loving people, praying for them, and out of that, sharing her faith when it is natural. Annie thinks it’s not always wise to speak of faith, in fact is reticent to do so unless it is a natural expression of her life, or sharing her story. Alex thinks he should always try to speak.
Out of this comes the perfect storm. Taught by Sara and really part of her own understanding and experience, Annie sees life as uncertain and not so black and white. Alex wants certainty, and sees truth at stake, or being compromised with Sara’s view that like Jesus we should tell stories from scripture, our own story as well, praying that the Spirit will give the hearer understanding. Alex can’t shake the belief that it’s up to him to help others understand the truth and their need for Jesus. Sara also has taught them that barriers to the faith for many today are largely emotional, that we help people to come to truth in their minds by being sensitive to where they are struggling in their hearts.
The story for me had an unexpected ending. It sets in stark and helpful contrast two models of evangelism and leaves us the reader grappling with which is the one most true to the witness of scripture and in the way we find in Jesus in scripture. And how we should be Christ’s ambassadors for reconciliation in this present time.
There is much more in this book. Anna covers it well, and out of her own life of nearly a decade in learning and growing in her walk in it. I believe this is an important book for this day. And Anna continues to think through this, and wants to do so with others on her blog.
For me it was an encouragement as well as a challenge. That we should commit ourselves to this life of loving others and praying for their reconciliation to God through Christ. That we are to live out God’s calling in a way that is natural to us, to God’s gifting of us. And with love and sensitivity to others. Not abandoning the call to introduce others to Jesus. But doing so as those committed to others as true friends. Not in a commitment which is only about adding more to God’s kingdom in Jesus, or seeing more saved.
So on the one hand thinking through this in reading the book alleviated pressure on me and unnecessary guilt, while on the other hand it encouraged me to be more open and ready out of love to share the good news of Jesus with others. In God’s working.
Thanks, Anna for this valuable contribution to me, to us as Christ’s body in the world. I pray that this book may be a blessing to many in days to come.