A Strategic Problems of Evangelism in Post-Atheistic Society

The seminar for the pastors of the churches in Crimea

Sergei Golovin Simferopol,Ukraine

The forgotten meaning of the familiar parable What really happened? Who created a lie?
Awakening or illusion? What does tomorrow have in store for us? A non-typical conversion
In what we believe today Forward to the past To speak or to listen?
The purpose of man Adam, where are you? The power of conviction
Road towards God Always be prepared Until when?
With whom was Paul speaking? O death, where is your sting? Tell me the story

Translated from Russian by E. Molodchiy
Edited by Amy Shved

Always be prepared

The diagram that we looked at demonstrates what the primary role of a preacher is at a given stage of a person's spiritual walk. When another stage is entered, the primary role becomes secondary, but does not lose its significance altogether.

Every believer is called to be involved in the ministry for which the Spirit gave him a gift. But it does not mean that other ministries are not needed. For example, the Scripture talks about faith as a special gift that is given by the Spirit to some believers (1 Corinthians 12:9). But it does not mean that a person who is given a different special gift of the Spirit should not have faith (otherwise what kind of a believer would he be?) In the same way the commandment to teach (Matthew 28:19) and to spread the Good News (1 Corinthians 9:16) is given to all believers, no matter whether the gift to teach and evangelize is their special gift or not. But serving in the area of one's giftedness is a person's main calling.

In a similar way, while working with believers, the role of a preacher as an evangelist is not his primary role, but it does not disappear altogether, because believers are to be always established in the truth that they received. The apostle writes, "So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have" (2 Peter 1:12; NIV). The role of an apologist is primary in the work with "gentiles," but it does not disappear at further stages. What remains after the strongholds are broken down is just a hole, a crater. Any trash can fill it up. But it should become a foundation pit for building a worldview that correctly represents the truth.

When working with "Jews," apologetics lays in this pit a foundation of beliefs upon which a new worldview will be built. A man can come to God also under the influence of emotions, or while in a state of excitement, or, on the contrary, while being in a depression and sensing the despair of his situation. But the laying of a firm foundation will be the security behind firm establishment of a new convert in the faith.

While working with "infants," on the foundation that was laid we build up the building itself of biblical worldview, and here the task of apologetics is to establish a person in the faith. Work with the "faithful" is the completion of the building project, roofing over. Here apologetics does play an important role, although not its primary role - equipping the faithful for service at all of the previous stages. Thus, the skills acquired in the work with "gentiles" will not go to waste. There is always an appropriate place for apologetics. The Scripture says, "Always be prepared to give an answer (in Greek - apologiya) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15; NIV). Always, and to everyone who asks.

The statistical data provided earlier is a vivid illustration of the results to which spreading of the faith without changing beliefs can lead to; roofing over where there is not even a foundation pit. With all of our strength we were fighting for the numerical harvest (it so much reminds me of the corn campaign of the sixties!), and now we are reaping not the fruits of the Good News, but of our own approach, when believers stopped being always ready to give an answer, and became without excuse (in Greek - anapologetos).

We are living in a post-atheistic society. After several generations of systematically imposed godlessness, the majority of people still believe that the Bible is a collection of fairy-tales, myths, and legends, and that Christianity is a popular belief, which is not worse and maybe not better than others. On the other hand, they themselves have come to know that atheism is a rod to nowhere. This stronghold has collapsed on itself, and various impurities rushed immediately into the emptiness that was created as a result. Because of this we have a mass fascination with the occult, magic, and variegated oriental practices.

Construction workers know that if the foundation pit is flooded with run-off water, one cannot lay a foundation until the water is pumped out. We, however, often present the Good News as a certain "alternative ideology," instead of trying to solve the problem at the level of worldview. Transition "to Christianity" often boils down to memorizing some doctrinal formulas: we believe this and this; who does not believe the same - he should be declared an anathema on. Capitalizing on the majority of believers' lack of clear and accurate ideas about worldview, the evil one goes all out to convince people that the Word of God is compatible with other beliefs, that is, superstitions. As a result, ideas that were rejected by the church for the last two thousand years, today are accepted as a matter of fact, and sometimes are even preached from church pulpits.

O death, where is your sting?

Let us take, for example, the new-fangled doctrine of "theistic evolution," or its twin-brother "progressive creationism," that tries to bring together the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1; NASB) about the gift of eternal life and the pseudoscientific "good news" from Darwin about survival of the one who has adapted the best (that is, if we call things by their real names, about dying of all who will not survive). The Scripture tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23; NIV), that just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin (Romans 5:12; NIV), but also that through the sacrifice of Christ the last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Corinthians 15:26; NIV), and then the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21; NIV). Because of that, as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22; NIV). However, if all do not die in Adam, then…

Really, if man appeared as a result of a long unbreakable chain of deaths of millions and billions of the "less adjusted" (and where death reigns, no one is "adjusted" to eternal life), it means that death existed before the fall! Then what did Jesus' sacrifice on the cross redeem us from?

"Only from the spiritual death," try some theologians-evolutionists in an attempt to get out of this corner. But then we end up with an interesting picture: in the garden of Eden here and there lie degrading corpses of animals, some of whom are Adam's closest relatives; animals bite and devour each other, blood had been flowing like a river for millions of years; everything that is alive inevitably dies, man is not about to escape the same destiny, and God is consoling him, "There's nothing to be afraid of, Adam, calm down. Everything is very good."

This is exactly what liberal theologians are teaching: they say that physically Adam and Eve would have died anyway. But when they did not obey God, spiritual death entered the world. If the man and his wife did not drop down dead after eating some fruits (in the original the word is in the plural), it means that physical death has nothing to do with it. Those who say these things are already not interested in explanations of Hebraists, that the repetition dying thou dost die in Genesis 2:17 (see YLT), that is translated in KJV as thou shalt surely die, and in the Russian Synod translation as you will die a death, is future continuous tense: from this moment on (compare with in blessing I will bless in Genesis 22:17; KJV).

But if the wages of sin is only spiritual death, then it means that there was needed in the sacrifices of lambs and calves their spiritual death? And, furthermore, just the spiritual death of Jesus and just His spiritual resurrection? As a matter of fact, "Jehovah's witnesses" have believed in the truth of the latter already since a long time ago. However, if we keep on expanding this idea further, we arrive at the conclusions that even they have not thought of yet. The Scripture says, "There will be no more death… I am making everything new!" (Revelation 21:4-5; NIV). That is, when a new heaven and a new earth are created, when God recreates His creation in its original form, there will be no death. What death? Spiritual or physical? If physical death is a normal quality of the created world before the fall, it means that really, there will be no spiritual death, but physically we will continue to die. Such is the "gospel," that is, good news. Is it worth it to resurrect then?

As soon as we start looking for a compromise between the Word of God and human opinions, we immediately find ourselves in the trap of the evil one.

Who created a lie?

Before we go any further, we need to learn one very important thesis. That in its absolute sense, a lie does not exist!

God is the Creator. "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16; NIV). It is He who creates absolute categories - good, truth, light, life… These are all real existing things. Let us take light, for example. It has certain physical characteristics: color (wave length), direction, polarization, intensity. And what characteristics does darkness have? None! Darkness as a physical phenomenon does not exist. This concept only means absence of light, and it is impossible to define it without referring to the concept of light.

The physical concept of heat is similar. Heat is an absolute entity. In its everyday sense we can talk about cold as lack of heat. However, in physics the concept "cold" does not exist. There can be more or less heat, or there can be no heat (in physics this state is called "absolute zero," it corresponds to the temperature minus 273 degrees Celsius). But there never appears a phenomenon or object called "cold." Objectively cold does not exist.

In the same way lies do not exist, because truth is an absolute entity. The lack or distortion of truth we call a lie. It is impossible to make up such a lie that would not be based on some truth that existed before. Satan, the father of lies, is not a creator and himself is not able to create anything. God is the Only Source of truth. The enemy, however, distorts this truth. And the bigger the distortion, the more difficult it is to discern it. Please, recall Satan's speeches, when he was tempting the woman in the beginning of the Old Testament history or when he was tempting Jesus in the beginning of the New Testament history. All of his statements are true (who would have listened to them otherwise?). However, it was either not all of the truth, or slightly distorted truth, or truth presented out of context.

At worst, a lie is presented in the form of personal opinion, which is worth talking about. The Scripture says, Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters (Romans 14:1; NIV). When the serpent declared, just like the chairman of a party meeting, "there is an opinion that…," the woman, instead of comparing the true word of God to the lie, gets involved into a dispute about opinions. The tempter asks,

"Is it indeed forbidden to eat any fruits?"

"No, theoretically, any fruits can be eaten, but these, I think, better not be touched at all. To be on the safe side," responds the woman.

And here the woman is already in a trap, because now she is forced to stand up for her own opinion (it is forbidden to touch), and not for the absolute word of God (do not eat). Instead of some shaky ideas the evil one offers her the truth, you will be like gods (Genesis 3:5; KJV). It is absolutely true - that is exactly what man was created for. Only the context is different: will be like gods, but not obeying His good will, but acting in opposition to it.

Why is it so hard sometimes to discern a lie? Because a lie, which does not really exist, is made up of pieces of truth. Why is it that with time any lie comes out? Because the truth, which really exists, sooner or later shows itself.

When Satan approaches Jesus, he also says the truth (lie does not exist, remember?), but not all the truth. Do you want to eat? No problem! Turn stones into bread and eat! You are the Son of God! Use your power in Your Own interests! (Satan will be trying to provoke the Savior to this action during all of His earthly ministry: provide some food for Yourself; bring fire down from heaven and square it up with the offenders; why risk it? Don't go to Jerusalem; and finally, come down from the cross.)

"All of the kingdoms of the earth I can give you, they all belong to me," says the enemy to Jesus. That is true, they really belong to him, no question about that. According to God's intention, man was the prince of this world, such was his destination. However, man disobeyed God and acted at the evil one's bidding. And when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey (Romans 6:16; NIV). Thus, Satan became the prince of this world. The only thing he forgets to say - they belong to me for a short time only; not because I deserved them and not forever.

Does Jesus start arguing with Satan? No, but in response He says, "It is written…" If a statement is incompatible with what the Word of God says clearly and unambiguously, what kind of opinions can there be? The Word of God is the absolute authority. And then, unlike many of today's liberals, Satan immediately retreats. If it is written, then there is nothing to argue about. However, created in the image and likeness of God, and therefore surpassing the evil one in his skills, an educated theologian approaches this question in a much more creative way, "It is written this way, but really it needs to be understood differently. Besides, there can be added an interval between these two verses, and then anything can be put in it. For example, it says, "1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth; 2. Now the earth was formless and empty," and between these two verses we put in millions of years of evolution, extinction of dinosaurs, and everything else that we like."

Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: … Then the devil left him, … (Matthew 4:10-11; NIV). The devil cannot compete with today's experts in theological discussion!

However, because a lie in itself is not real, because no absolute lie exists, any false statement or teaching can contain a grain of truth, His true part - the "invisible God." This is the essence of the approach toward evangelism that was practiced by Jesus and His disciples: after finding out where the listener is in his relationship with God (the scale looked at earlier might offer some help here), and what strongholds are between him and his Creator, one needs to discern the true part in the listener's ideas and use it as a starting point. Any truth is from God. Correct ideas, that are part of the listener's false beliefs, are your starting platform in his field.

A non-typical conversion

You will say, "Excellent! But Jesus can see man's heart! It is always clear to Him, where a man is mistaken, where he is wrong, and what strongholds prevent him from getting rid of his wrong beliefs. But how do we learn about it?

Let us look at an illustration from the Bible,

So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip,
"Go to that chariot and stay near it."
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.
"Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked.
"How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth."
The eunuch asked Philip,
"Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?"
Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said,
"Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?" (Acts 8:27-36; NIV.)

In just ten lines Luke presents to us this man's whole life. This nobility, as a matter of fact, held the highest position that a mortal man could reach in the Ethiopian kingdom, which was situated in Nubia, on the territory of the modern day Sudan. Ethiopians worshipped their king as god, and he was not supposed to be involved in any governmental, that is, earthly, matters. The official head of the country was Candace (it is a title, not a name), the mother of the king. And our official was her treasurer, the most trusted person. But, in order to get the position, he had to give up something - he had to become a eunuch. The mother of god was to remain above suspicion.

It is necessary to understand that modern disparaging attitude toward eunuchs - is a by-product of our culture, which is based on Judeo-Christian ideas. But in those times and in that culture it was a great honor to become a eunuch. It was perceived as a sacrifice of one's own family happiness for the sake of the welfare of one's people. It was an upward road, towards power, position in society, toward wealth. The person chosen for this accepted it with much pride.

Apparently, with time the official learned about the existence of the One God - the Holy One of Israel, the Creator of heaven and earth. And it is here that the main problem arises. According to the Law of Moses, anybody from any people group can become part of the people of God. Only eunuchs cannot do it (Deuteronomy 23:1). The only thing that gives life real meaning - fellowship with the living God - turned out to be out of reach for him.

When we think about this eunuch, it is hard not to see parallels with our own lives. While living in the world, we do with pride things that the world considers necessary, correct, and worthy. But when finally we find God, when God finds us, we understand that everything that we did separates us from Him forever. But for the Good News, life would be altogether deprived of any meaning.

To all appearances, the Good News reached our eunuch as well. We can see that on the road he is reading the prophet Isaiah. This fact is particularly remarkable. In the first place, there were no bookstores at that time, and manuscripts were very expensive. And here we are talking about some holy manuscript! What convinced some Rabbi to sell this precious scroll to a foreigner, even a eunuch? It appears that the amount of money offered for it was not small. Maybe, it was enough not only to have another scroll copied, but also enough to build a new synagogue? Besides, at that time it was not only unusual - it was practically technically impossible to read on the road. What made this man, the most well-known man in his country, fork out such an amount of money for the scroll, and even read it while moving, in spite of all the jolting and other inconveniences? For sure, it was something that concerned him alone. With much assurance we can conclude that during the festive reading of the Prophet, he heard "the Good News for eunuchs," written down precisely by Isaiah,

And let not any eunuch complain, "I am only a dry tree." For this is what the LORD says: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant - to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:3-5; NIV.)

It turns out that he can hope for salvation and eternal life! At the house of God he as well will be given a place! And not just a place, but a place and a name better than the one for sons and daughters, an eternal name that will not be cut off! When will it all happen? When the Man of Sorrows comes, this Lamb of God, voluntarily and without a grumble giving Himself up for slaughter, in order to take upon Himself our weaknesses and to carry our diseases.

Who is He then, this Man of Sorrows? When will it all come to pass? Similar to the merchant, who found a precious pearl, the official does not spare any money to buy the scroll, which contains the most important News of his life, and, not waiting for a stop, is reading every word on the road, trying to understand, determine, figure out - when will all of this happen? It is at this time that Philip appears and asks,

"Do you understand what you are reading?"
"How can I understand," exclaims the eunuch, "if there is no one to explain it to me?! Who is the prophet talking about - about himself or somebody else? Has it already happened or will it be in the future? Do I still have hope?"

When Philip tells him that what the prophet foretold already happened in all the details, the official, still not daring to believe in God's grace, asks the evangelist again, "Is it really that simple? Then, here is water. Isn't there anything else that prevents me from being baptized?" And Philip answers, "Nope, there's nothing else. Everything that was in the past is water under the bridge, washed away by the blood of the Lamb."