The problems of Evangelism-Driven mission

I came across this article on The Resurgence website this week. It discusses wrong and ineffective attitudes towards mission. The thrust of the post hits on what I have felt over the years about how a lot o reformed evangelicals in Wales see mission. An over emphasis on events and programmes – be they ‘mission week’, ‘tea and tost’ or a ‘quizz night’. This is how The Resurgence describes this mindset:

Their view of the gospel leads them to see social action as optional. For them, mission is synonymous with evangelism, and evangelism is highly programmatic. They focus on training individuals through evangelism training programs, apologetics, and use of evangelistic tracts.

The post on The Resurgence goes on to note some problematic issues with this attitude towards mission. Evangelism-driven mission, it argues, is often answer-based and heaven-centered. For example, this attitude usually leads the Christian to ask the non-believer “If you died tonight and stood before God and he said: ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ What would you say?” The questions are answer-driven. The aim is to get someone to say the right answer and to believe the right facts, like “Jesus died for my sins.” The problem here is an over emphasis on belief and hardly any on faith. The post on the Resurgence goes further and argues that this wrong attitude is not only effecting the Church’s mission but it’s started a rot in the Church itself. This is how it’s put:

Many Americans believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, but it makes very little difference in their lives. They possess mere belief. This mere belief undermines the gospel. What we need is faith. Moreover, mere belief in the right answer baits people, not with Christ, but with heaven. It is heaven-centered, not Christ-centered. In evangelism-driven mission, Christ is subordinated to the treasure of heaven, instead of heaven being subordinated to the treasure of Christ. The goal is heaven, not Jesus. Answer-driven and heaven-centered evangelism leads to nominalism and distorts the gospel. Evangelism-driven mission can undermine, not advance the gospel.

Sadly I can see and identify a lot of that in Welsh evangelicalism today. It’s primary leaders put all the emphasis on believing the right doctrines and through that demoting the importance of simple faith and Holy Spirit experience. That fact that I’ve just said that now will get the alarms bell ringing in the minds of some and they will be thinking that I have ‘taken my eye off the Cross and the atonment.’ No I havent, I’m just living and discussing experiences in light of the atonment.

The flip side to the problems of Evangelism-based mission is the problems of Social action-based mission which is discussed in a further post on The Resurgence here. I suppose the problem we have in the Welsh language scene is that most Churches fall to one of the two categories and no churches get mission right. Evangelical churches fall away towards Evangelism-based while most denominational churches fall towards Social Action-based. As I have felt for a number of years now both are missing the point and need to rediscover the Christ and Cross centric fusion of the spiritual+social mission which we read of in the Bible if we are to see effective mission again in Welsh speaking Wales.

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2 Responses to “The problems of Evangelism-Driven mission”

  1. Steffan Says:

    Hi Rhys,

    I did think about responding personally by email – an approach why I generally find to be more productive – however, in this case, as UCCF is an influential evangelical organisation, that seeks to promote Christ and the gospel, a defence needs to be given here.

    As is so often the case, I have to agree with the general principle – but have to question your critique of an organisation, in this case UCCF.

    The principle is good. I would affirm that any evangelism that is not Christ-centred; that does not proclaim eternal reality; that does not cherish Christ as the ultimate treasure and focus of heaven; that encourages mental agreeement, without true inward and outward change and transformation, i.e, true repentance and faith – is sub-Biblical and dangerous.

    We should not tolerate this in any way – whether in the extreme of fundamentalism, or the other extreme, the liberal social gospel (which among other key things, denies the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20).

    However, can I ask a few questions Rhys?

    1. Your paradigm seems to be that Welsh evangelicalism = American fundamentalism. Does this bias prejudice the way you look at the teaching and activity of the work of organisations such as UCCF and EMW? i.e. you expect Welsh evangelicals to act in a certain way, and so everything that is said or done by members of these organisations are interpreted through that lens.

    Could it be that because you have a generalised/ caricatured view of Welsh evangelicalism, you fail (refuse?) to notice other emphases, such as the life-transforming power of the gospel, the need for evangelism to be a way of life (to be cliched), etc.?

    2. How much exposure to the wider work of UCCF did you have as a student? You make notoriously typical black-and-white claims about UCCF “as an organisation” and things which are or are not “universally true of UCCF”. On what basis do you make such claims? Did you attend UCCF conferences? Have you looked into UCCF’s literature/ conferences on the environment, arts and culture, Christian values in the workplace, etc?

    3. Why the need to be so polemical? Your general approach on this blog seems to be – this person and this group are doing this wrong; this is how I think it should be done. . . I find this approach destructive and it comes across as arrogant and aloof (which don’t come across in a face-to-face conversation). I find this sad, and bordering on hypocritical as you tend to label others (namely, the “Evangelicals”) as the judgemental ones.

    EMW, the Baptist Union of Wales, now UCCF . . . who’s next to come under attack I wonder?!

  2. welshwilderness Says:

    Thanks for you comments Steff. I have taken the reference to UCCF out of the main post so that no more misunderstanding can happen. But here is what i said:

    “That sums up pretty much all the doing I ever had with UCCF at university. I’m know it’s not universally true about UCCF but that was my experience of UCCF. And I’m not talking about individuals now, just UCCF the organisation and it’s vision as i saw it at the time.”

    I choose my words carefully, I was referring to my OWN experience of UCCF as I saw it at the time. I made that clear I though, so to save further wrong impression I have taken the reference out all together now.

    To respond to your questions:

    1. We are all influenced by our experience I can’t deny that. I have made a point for some time now of not referring specifically too EMW but as you did refer I shall respond to your specific reference to EMW. I became a Christian through the work of the EMW, a point I always make in articles and sermons. But I also felt that I never got further than ‘how to get to heven when I die’ in a lot (not all) of EMW teaching. The post on The Resurgence explains what the problem with that mentality is – the only thing I did was to identify where I saw the phenomenon at work in Wales through my own experience. The true casualties of this teaching is not myself but rather all those nominal Christians and more importantly all those who went to EMW camps and, as of yet, have not come to faith. If you only teach sin management theology I believe that the gospel is reduced, as the post of The Resurgence explains, to nothing more than an equation. And nobody gets saved through a’n equation. People get saved through the power of Christ and what he did on the cross ond what he does today. I took the initiative (or rather the Spirit lead me) to read the Scriptures and read a wide range of Christian books and through that I saw what the implications of ‘going to heaven when I die’ had to me life here on this earth – I saw that the gospel was more than an equation – I saw it was power.

    With regard to welsh evangelicalism = American fundamentalism. I outlined the differences I saw between evangelicalism and fundamentalism in a post on my Welsh blog which can be read here: http://blog.rhysllwyd.com/?p=1057 Even you Steffan can’t deny that some of what is listed in the fundamentalism column can be seen amongst, if not even prevalent, amongst Welsh evangelicalism. Or at least in the circles of evangelicalism I was brought up in.

    2. As you know my involvement with UCCF was only at local level; mainly because of other commitments. But as I said above, I made it clear that I was talking about my own experience and how I perceived things at the time.

    3. I’m sorry if I come over arrogant and aloof. Those that know me know that my bark is worse than my bite! I assure you that I try my best to choose my words carefully, this I will try harder on in the future. It is fairly obvious that this blog is written to a’n evangelical audience – my Welsh blog is written to a general Welsh speaking audience. My series in Welsh denominational magazine Cristion is aimed at religious people, my contributions defending the divinity of Christ o’n Cristnogaeth 21 is aimed at plain heretics and my preaching on a Sunday is aimed at whoever is there! The gospel is central always I hope, but I do change my style depending if I’m at an evangelical Church or a denominational church. My point being: if you were to balance everything I say and look at the context of where I say it I hope you would find that I have a’n as balanced view as you can get from a 24 year old, over-educated, too-opinionated boy! On a blog aimed at evangelicals I offered in this post a challenge about how we (yes “we”, I still count my self as an evangelical if you would have me!) do and view mission. In a sermon on Sunday to a religious congregations I preach about the need to be born again out of Effesiaid 2.

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