Jell-O was probably the most bizarre commodity of my church upbringing. Jellied salads with strange vegetables afloat at potluck dinners, food fights with Jell-O in youth group, hidden treasures in colourful Jell-O at Sunday School picnics. Dad would say about a church leader’s indecisiveness, “Getting a clear answer from him is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.”
What is it about Jell-O and our evangelical fervour? Are we stuck in amold? Are we too inclined to be conformists? Maybe it’s because we like the prescriptive, the pre-set.
I wonder if the way we share the gospel has become just a wee bit too wobbly? We rely on old ways of doing things. The tried and true methods can become tired and old. Are we sufficiently embracing our creative and passionate gifts in adaptive and contextual ways of sharing the gospel, or, as Michael J. Gorman puts it, in ‘becoming the gospel’?
Recently, I went for a long walk along the river valley in Edmonton and then sat to read a book. Another walker asked what I was reading, and from there, our conversation hurdled itself into dozens of directions: science, politics, art, leadership, human rights, epistemology, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final between the Oilers and the Maple Leafs … You get the picture. I nudged the conversation towards the gospel. My interlocutor was decidedly resistant. “I categorically reject the absolute claims of any religion,” he rebutted.
After the conversation ended, I wondered how the good news of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, our Saviour and Redeemer could possibly reach him, or any of the hundreds of people walking along the North Saskatchewan River. And later that day, I read Romans 10:14-15 (NRSV): “But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
Too often, we equate ‘the beautiful feet’ bringing the good news with missionaries who work cross-culturally. And indeed, they bring the good news.
Here in Canada, we hear each year of hundreds of people coming to faith in Christ as a result of the witness of Canadian Baptists. Summer camps where children and youth have heard and accepted the good news, VBS and other church initiatives. Meaningful regional gatherings like Tidal Impact and SERVE. These are all viable means to bring the good news.
Many of our churches have shown faith-filled hospitality to Syrian and Iraqi refugees in their communities, some of whom have become Christ followers. These are beautiful feet, open hands, warm hearts … good news. There are so many opportunities, so many open doors, when we become the gospel to our neighbours, or as Lesslie Newbigin wrote:
“How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to
believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am,
of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel – evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one. But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989)
Does this ring true for you and your church community today? As Canadian Baptists, we are a people of the good news. This edition of Mosaic explores the rich and diverse topic of evangelism through a wide prism. Local church pastors and a seminary president, a national youth leader, a seasoned missionary and younger Field Staff, and our former Executive Director all embark on an in-depth analysis of the current state of affairs.
So let’s continue to break out of the mold. Shake it up. And together, by the power of God’s spirit in us, let’s bring Jesus into our neighbourhoods and into our world.