On the Damaging Dualism of Proclamation vs. Demonstration

All too often I find Christians falling prey to the damaging dualism of proclamation vs. demonstration. We should not pit words (proclamation) against deeds (demonstration), for they are inseparably related in the person of Jesus Christ. The very Word of God through whom God created the world became incarnate and acted out God’s love in words and deeds throughout his public ministry. I fear that some use the statement attributed to St. Francis of Assisi—“Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words”—as a cop-out today for not sharing the good news of Jesus with words.

Having said that, Christians should not force the Word of God down people’s throats. Jesus created space with his life for his views to be heard, as did St. Francis after him. I return often to 1 Peter 3:15: we should be ready at all times to give a reason for the hope that is within us; when given the opportunity, we should always be gentle and respectful. Hopefully, our lives of Christian witness reflect the hope of Christ so well that people ask us to share the reason for our hope.

I believe the hope we have as Christians is truly life-giving: not three unbelievable things to stomach as bad tasting medicine, but three mysterious divine persons as the one God with whom to share life eternally in beloved community. Still, people fear that we advertise goods at a bargain price with the aim of substituting a cheaper product when given the chance. We need to make sure that we deliver what we “advertize” and that we are not using a justice “package” or a relational “product” to hook people. Whether or not people want to come to know Christ, or even hear about the reason for the hope within us, we should preach the good news of Jesus with our lives with no strings attached, and whenever given the invitation, share about him with words as well as deeds.

In closing, I draw attention to the words of “duskglow,” who responded to yesterday’s post: “As a (current) nonbeliever, one of my biggest frustrations with Christians is their propensity to treat me as something to be won, rather than someone to be loved.” I hear you, duskglow. May I truly listen. In the end, may we who are Christians treat those who don’t yet know Christ not as things to be won but as people to love. Only then will be demonstrate our own communal faith and our own conversion.

This piece is cross-posted at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • David Springer

    I agree so much with your words and tone–especially with regards to keeping the 1 Peter 3 passage in the forefront of our minds. It is amazing to me the thoughtlessness I have seen when some fellow Christians live a dualistic lifestyle. Proclamation outside of demonstrable caring or, even worse, outside of personal demonstration is so hurtful/harmful, but “demonstration” without proclamation–which can sometimes be deeply rooted in egoism as much as shyness as one can just assume that everyone is even watching their actions or can discern the reason behind their actions. Rather, my wife and I try to join in with God in the work He is doing around us BUT, also though our speech and outward expressions, do not try to minimize or hide our faith, our desperate need for God, our dependence on prayer, etc etc. That way, following Peter’s words, we are ready to give the answer to anyone who asks and to do so with the grace and mercy that we ourselves have required/received from Jesus.

    • pmetzger

      Hi David, I appreciate the approach that you and Krys take and live in your pursuit of Christ, as you desire to participate in what God is doing in your midst. A great balance. Thanks for these solid reflections.

  • Eric

    I deeply appreciate this. As a pastor, I find myself regularly and intentionally putting words and actions together when discussing the church’s interaction with the world around her. It seems that we are a wobbly wheel in many ways, this being one of them. Because we have destroyed unity we go to extremes, and we all know that one extreme begets another. I grew up in a tradition that constantly defined itself by what it was not. We weren’t Pentecostal so we didn’t raise our hands in church. We weren’t liberal so we didn’t care about social justice or the plight of the poor. We were evangelical, so we proclaimed, door-to-door, tracts, street corners. Aggressively. Now it seems that the knot in the wheel has rotated–proclamation now belongs to another tradition in another era while we reclaim action. Without a doubt, action needed to be reclaimed. “This ought you to have done, but not left the other undone.” It is time Christians reclaimed the ability to speak and love from a place of security upon our foundation–the Trinitarian family to which we belong, the power of God as demonstrated in the finished work of Christ, and the certain end of the story toward which God is moving humanity. It seems that this would help us yell less, run with patience, and live the type of incarnational life that causes people to start asking questions again, questions for which we could be prepared to provide an answer.

    • pmetzger

      Amen! I loved these lines: “It is time Christians reclaimed the ability to speak and love from a place of security upon our foundation–the Trinitarian family to which we belong, the power of God as demonstrated in the finished work of Christ, and the certain end of the story toward which God is moving humanity.” Yes, such confidence in our sure foundation would benefit Christ’s people greatly in our pursuit of holistic witness. Thank you, Eric.

  • Wm. Darius Myers

    Amen to the post and other comments. In addition to this post, I was also inspired to post on this topic by the fact that I’m preaching this Sunday on Mark 1:29-39. In my work as a chaplain and educator in public institutions, I do hold great hopes for something resembling the scene in Zechariah 8:20-23. But I would also add a reminder of the prayer request Paul makes in Colossians 4:2-4. As much as we must be prepared to answer the questions we hope will be asked of us, we’re sometimes in a position to ask a few questions of our own, too. (John 5:1-8 seemed appropriate to include.) There’s (perhaps too much) more at: http://deathpastor.blogspot.com/2014/01/what-chiropractor-taught-me-about_7.html.

    • pmetzger

      Many thanks, Bill. I encourage people to reflect upon what Bill writes at his blog on the subject. He is a thoughtful and seasoned Christian witness. Great pastoral instincts. Bill, I like what you write here about asking timely and appropriate questions in addition to being alert to questions that people may raise.

  • Julie G

    Loving people, all people is difficult for some. The Bible becomes the benchmark of justice and what is right, which is good, but yet it is often used as a weapon. Love draws people to us, curiosity begins, the reason for my love is Christ.

    I feel we should also be prepared for a direct intervention and a plan when it’s called for. I suggest the simple book, “Sharing Jesus without Fear” or learning the Romans road.

    We should also assume Jesus is at work in all people, and help the seed grow versus smashing it with our judgement. Let the Holy Spirit work.

    So, walk the walk, but know the mission.

    • pmetzger

      Thank you for these reflections, Julie. I so appreciate your emphasis on love and not using the Bible as a weapon. May God’s word never serve as a weapon to hurt our fellow humans, but as a light that illumines God’s love in and through Christ’s Spirit in our midst.

  • Colleen Milstein

    Thank you for this post. I love this line – “Hopefully, our lives of Christian witness reflect the hope of Christ so well that people ask us to share the reason for our hope.” In the Advent season I often reflect on the truth of Jesus coming is Good News. The Gospel is Good News. I want how I engage in the world to reflect that reality. I find in myself a tendency to perform religious duty, making either deeds or words a task, and missing the reality of the hope inherent in the good news. Each time I reduce witness to task or duty, I no longer keep an awareness of beloved community, but reduce relationship to ritual. I see two layers of dichotomy in me, the external of proclamation vs demonstration, and more subtlety the internal of ritual or relationship. I want to learn to truly overflow both proclamation and demonstration from a basis of being settled in beloved community and from growing in seeing people as beloved.

  • Brian Considine

    Good word, Paul. Sharing this on my page Living Sent Today.
    I am in a position where I relate to and need to wrestle with both
    sides of this dualistic separation of the Gospel. Just yesterday, I led a
    planning meeting for a big citywide Christian event. At the table were
    folks of the Proclamation tribe as well as those who are of the
    Demonstration tribe. I talked about Gospelizing which can be defined as:
    to PROCLAIM and APPLY the gospel for the conversion of the unbeliever
    AND for the building up of believers and grounding them firmly in the
    faith.” What we need is a “Whole Gospel,” not just one-half, for neither
    alone is the example Jesus set for us. “duskglow” comments certainly
    speaks volumes and is how we are to gospelize – only by loving do we win

  • duskglow

    One thing I do notice about Jesus is that he was never “in your face” unless prompted. Sure, he rode into town on a donkey and was making a huge statement, but he rarely said or did anything to anyone unless they first approached him. In fact, he seemed to like to wander off to be alone with his thoughts and Father. (I say rarely because when he found fertile ground, such as the woman in the well, he didn’t shy away from it, but he obviously was much better at discerning which ground was “fertile” than most Christians.) I’m really appreciating this series of blogposts, because you’re one of the few Christians out there who actually seems to “get it” – “it” being why many of you are seen as obnoxious a-holes with no interpersonal skills. I walked into a local church a while ago that was highly recommended to me, and I did not last a week without someone trying to “witness” to me. Instead of witnessing, he quite literally creeped me out and I could tell the feeling was mutual. And I hate to say it, but I’m proud of that.

  • georgeor

    There are a couple of stories about Francis of Assisi that I think pertinent here. I’ve heard that he showed up on the scene of an impending battle between the Turks and some various Christian rulers. He presented himself before the Sultan and preached the gospel to him. The Sultan dismissed him, but let him live. The only other story I know about Francis preaching is about him preaching to animals. What was it that made these two cases necessary? Preaching with words became necessary when wolves might devour or Sultans might order your head chopped off. Put another way, preaching the gospel with words became necessary when preaching the gospel ceased to be safe.

  • Byron Chinchen

    “Hopefully, our lives of Christian witness reflect the hope of Christ so well that people ask us to share the reason for our hope.” As I read this article I can’t help but say… yes. However, I am also frustrated inside due to how impossibly hard this can be at times. Words and deeds should never be separated when we are trying to “show and tell ” others about our hope in Christ, yet there is a reason why we so often separate one from the other… and it’s probably due to how hard this reality actually is. I think about my personal journey when confronted with this issue. I think about my close friends who knew the “old Byron”, before I committed my life to Christ, and I often see a look in their eye that tells me they see something changed in me, yet I know that in the back of their minds are memories of who I used to be and what I stood for (which was anything but Christ). So, there is this reality of skepticism that lingers in the friendships, there is an unspoken prompt for me to do more for them… there is a “show me” factor that I have yet to give them. Blending word with deed to create a tasty, chocolate milkshake-gospel may never be drank my friends, but I do pray that one day I will be able to give them something close to it.

  • Alex O’Leary

    “Preach the gospel always, if necessary, use words.” As someone who was raised up in the church, I heard this expression all the time. In fact, there was a time when I thought it was a quote from Paul, not St. Fransis. While I was definitely guilty of using it as a cop out for not verbalizing the gospel, I think the larger issue was it lead to this idea of sin management. It seemed that if I made any mistakes, I would no longer be worthy of sharing the gospel. While I don’t think that is what St. Francis had in mind, it was how I understood it. As such, I tried to be perfect. I would never tell anyone that I struggled with anything. As such, I think I gave off a “Holier-than-thou” persona. That is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to live blamelessly, but we need to be open that we are real people.

  • Joe Gatliff

    Unless one is a productive and socially acceptable member of the American
    Christian Corporation, then they are politely but firmly delegated to the
    outskirts to watch the inner circle perform the show.

    The conversation so often is about how we relate to “unbelievers” in relation to Christ while we ignore and take for granted the vast majority of the rank and file.

    The problem of a lack of love for unbelieves among evangelicals is because there is a lack of love between the believers. The evangelical church is great about proclaiming and demonstrating to get people in. Once they are in, they are
    expected to tow the party line- sit, listen, and tithe.

    At Multnomah, I see the future inner circle leaders (who I find myself
    starting to really care about). Many will go out and find a good inner circle in
    another church to fill with paying productive customers. But they will always
    have the unproductive nontithing hurting unloved ones who are surely
    represented by some negative equation in the church growth model.

    Hallelujah for the back pew sitting, quiet, unsocial, desperately hurting, non-bible-reading and non-praying outer believers who are just a negative cash flow. Praise God for the addicts, dysfunctional families, and mentally-ill In our churches!

    I sincerely pray to God, to protect me from the power-ambitious and self-congratulating trap of the inner circle church leadership and allow me to serve and encourage the Christian disenfranchised. – The ones who are the unavoidable baggage that every church gets stuck with (though some leave after while of being ignored).

    Of course, there is only one way to really serve them- relationally and incarnational, through word and deed, alive in Christ and inspired and powered in the Holy Spirit.

  • Deanne

    I think an important thing for Christians to recognize is
    that it’s God who ultimately draws people to Himself. It’s not up to me to
    convince someone of their need for God. I think of the non-Christians I worked
    with for many years; at first, I felt it was my “duty”, my mission to see them
    converted. It took me years to realize my focus was wrong and God showed me my
    need to love Him more than anything else and let His love over-flow out of my
    life. I love the words in Casting Crowns song titled “Lifesong” (by John Mark
    Hall): “Empty hands held high, such small sacrifice, if not joined with my
    life, I sing in vain tonight. May the words I say and the things I do, make my
    lifesong sing bring a smile to you. Let my lifesong sing to You. Let my
    lifesong sing to You. I want to sign Your name to the end of this day, knowing
    that my heart was true, Let my lifesong sing to You.”

    I pray for this to be true in
    my life.

  • Noah Hoff

    I definitely agree that we as Christians should not shove the
    Word of God down people’s throats. I am a firm believer that demonstrating
    God’s love creates interest from non-believers and therefore brings them into a
    situation where proclaiming can be presented. Both are important but it is a
    better strategy is to demonstrate first and then see what fruits come from it.
    I will admit that the world ‘strategy’ is a horrible word for me to use though.
    This creates a subliminal idea that non-believers are targets and seen as
    separated from us. When actually, we are all equally loved and cared about by
    our Father, and therefore should love and care for others equally. No one
    person is better than the other. This is why it frustrates me when I see people
    standing in malls or public parks reading the bible and stating, “YOU sinners
    need to repent of your ways” etc. When in fact, the person should be saying, “WE sinners, need to repent.” But, in my opinion, there shouldn’t even be a man
    proclaiming in public like that though; it is more of a turn off than an
    invitation. What other ways can demonstration be seen as more effective than
    proclamation? And do you have other examples of how proclamation is simply not the best route to initiate first?

  • Olwa

    Thank you Dr. Metzger for a thought provoking discussion. I think that prejudice can be an impediment to how we relate with others as we
    share Christ. I agree that we should not approach people with the mindset that
    make them feel like targets of our endeavors, or make them feel inferior by
    throwing our positions, titles, or credentials the first time we meet them. I
    wonder how we can know how relational we are if we have not encountered other
    worldviews with humility and grace. How do we see other cultures and belief
    systems compared to ours? Some school of thought suggests ignoring points of
    differences and embracing nuances that bring us together as we avoid
    prejudices. This thought I think, leads to unifying all religions and
    worldviews and tragically, leaving no room to question differences that can be
    historically, geographically and archeologically proven. I advocate for a view
    that considers the differences while emphasizing on truth. We should
    ask ourselves if we truly have relationship and community that enables us to
    share our Christ centered life. Can we really fathom the depth of true
    relationship and community in a culture that relationships are narrow and superficial? If we are able to overcome these barriers, then we can say that our worldview is truly relational. In my context, I see a lot of potential for growth and
    self-discovery. My friend recently said “When I studied theology, I thought I was studying God. But constantly I realized theology is where I am (man) under the microscope, with the lenses of God, and I am studying myself (Man).” Knowing God lead to self-discovery which affects how we relate with others as we value the way God values them.

  • Guest

    I think when you disconnect a worldview from the relational
    piece it is so much easier for hate and distrust to creep into our lives.
    Instead of seeing the people who differ in worldview, it seems we start to see
    a force with to reckon. Additionally, a sense of belonging comes by identifying
    our worldview and those who hold the same beliefs. This can definitely be
    valuable. But if we have disconnected from the relationships of others to
    simply viewing them in terms of an impersonal, inhuman ideology, then I think
    that sense of “us” versus “them” starts to become more powerful and dangerous.
    As a Christian, I see my fellow believers doing this and regret that I have
    also fallen into this mindset as well. I think this depersonalization probably
    contributes to the belief that so many hold that Christians hate the GLTBQ
    community, people who are pro-choice, Muslim, etc. This is a tragedy. We are to
    be known for our love of people, not hate. How can I continue to grow in this?
    I think a start is approaching people who I know have different beliefs first
    as people to discover and enjoy instead of approaching them simply as Buddhist,
    an atheist, etc.