Saturday, November 19, 2011

Evangelism and Entertainment

Note: For reasons discussed herein, this post was written on the evening of Friday, November 18th, hence the apparent anachronisms. Take the content of this post as personal opinion, and with a grain of salt.

In less than 24 hours the biggest evangelistic event ever at the U of M, PULSE Twin Cities, will hit the field house. This may come as a bit of a surprise to those of you who were just expecting a free Owl City concert. Indeed, from the large amounts of promotion for it around campus and online all I could gather is that it's a concert (free for students, unknown for non-students) featuring Owl City, Family Force 5, and Grits with some kind of important message of hope. My perspective in Cru, however, assures me that besides the music there will be gospel presentations and other Christian content as in excerpts I've seen of PULSE events at other campuses. For Cru this is pretty much the event of the year and many of my friends have been inviting their friends all kinds of ways and changing their profile pictures in excitement for the big day tomorrow.

I won't be there. Indeed, for the past few months I've done my best to turn a blind eye to all the hype leading up to PULSE. "But why, David?" you may ask. "This is the fulfillment of the Great Commission, turning the campus back to God!" I can't argue with this statement, and certainly not with the gospel to be presented at PULSE--which is why I will be waiting to put up this post until it's safely over, its impact made. But I feel that eventually, this needs to be said.

My uneasiness with PULSE and events like it (like the Maze of a year ago, which was indisputably pretty amazing) isn't with the matter of of the gospel message it seeks to spread (which is truly wonderful and life-changing) but with the manner of its operation. Like I said above, pretty much all even a very curious person can deduce from the abundant promotion of the event is that it's a free big-name concert, perhaps with some kind of agenda. (Most free things around campus have one) I expect that for people at PULSE who aren't "in on" the background of the event, the gospel message of the whole evening will come as a surprise, as it did with the Maze. To put my issue with PULSE in the simplest possible terms, it feels like a bait-and-switch. The big draw of the event (free Owl City concert!!!1!11!!) is not the main point of the event (the gospel message). To a Christian like me it's obvious why this promotional decision was made: to make the event more inviting/appealing to nonbelievers so more will come and hear the gospel. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Have "Jesus" and "gospel" become bad words? Are we so concerned with removing barriers to the gospel that we hide the gospel itself until we have a safe-sized audience? Are we Christians more concerned with numbers than the Biblical model of evangelism? I have no doubt that the gospel presented at the event will be real and authentic--like I said, I'm concerned with the manner, not the matter. The subtext of the decision to promote PULSE solely as an Owl City concert is this: "Many of the people we're trying to reach don't like the gospel. If we promote this as a big gospel presentation, they won't come, so let's promote it as an Owl City concert so they will come and hear the gospel!" If people don't like the gospel to begin with, how do you think they'll feel when they feel tricked into hearing it? (To my Christian readers, imagine if it were CASH [The campus group for humanists and atheists] putting on this event instead of Cru) Another interpretation might be that it's combining the gospel with some great music to make it more appealing. It's the gospel. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came to earth as a man, loved us personally and perfectly, took the just penalty for our sins on Himself so we could have a life-giving relationship with God, and defeated death to let us know that in Him we will have eternal life! It's the best news of all time; what can we do to make it more appealing?

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." - Romans 1:16

"But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God." - 2 Corinthians 4:2 (emphasis added)

Let's look at some early gospel presentations. In the first ever Christian sermon in Acts 2, Peter is speaking to an audience of mostly Jews in Jerusalem. At first he's explaining why he and his friends have been acting crazy and speaking languages they never learned (as Pentecost just happened), but he soon sets into a detailed explanation of Old Testament prophecy and how Jesus fulfilled them in recent happenings.

Fast forward to Acts 17 where Paul is speaking to an audience of Greeks in Athens. He doesn't cite any scripture here, but instead quotes their own philosophers and poets, tying parts of Greek pagan worship in to the one true God.

The difference between these gospel presentations shows the need to be culturally sensitive in how we share with nonbelievers. One thing I noticed was that Peter and Paul focus on things their audiences believed that were true (Old Testament prophecy or correct views of God) and relate them to the truth of the gospel, rather than tearing down their false beliefs to "make way" for the truth. Telling random people why they're wrong tends to put them on the defensive, especially today in the culture of "your views are as valid as mine", so this approach should be very appealing today. It's not pretty when people try the opposite.

But this aside aside, notice what Peter and Paul don't do. They don't start talking about something popular until enough people show up, then break out the gospel. Beyond connecting the gospel to listeners' already-held beliefs, they didn't try to make it more appealing--they trusted in the Holy Spirit to make it come alive to people.

As I finish this post, PULSE is (presumably) wrapping up. I pray that people who don't yet know the love of Christ would meet Him there. At the end of the day I am happy this event is happening because I know God will work through it, which is why it's so hard to criticize. My comments above have been more concerns about what could be happening under the surface from my search for the root of my uneasiness, and less my informed and decided judgment of the situation. My last word is this: it's critical to know where God's will stops and our implementation of it begins--to be aware of our surprisingly passive roles as "earthen vessels" bearing the glory of God for the world to see. No one came to Christ because of a fantastic concert or a silver-tongued speaker. God sends His laborers into His harvest field. Go and make disciples.

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