Thursday, January 9, 2014

Scot McKnight on Threshold Evangelism

I just stumbled on this post on Scot McKnight's blog that perfectly expresses a qualm I've had about how we often carry out evangelism which I've tried to express a few times before. It's hard for me to quote just part of his outline (instead of the whole thing), but he defines "threshold evangelism" as the attempt to "to get people near the threshold to cross the threshold: Identify the “target” and create liminality and strive for decisions." In other words, it's the kind of Christian evangelism that places a great emphasis on securing "decisions for Christ", counting these as souls won for the Kingdom. Great effort is put into getting people to make that all-important decision, such as a host of attractive environmental factors (his point 1.2) or packaging the gospel into the sleekest, simplest, most "relevant" form possible.

He lists eight damning (no pun intended) problems with this approach, though:
  1. Message says nothing about what happens beyond threshold.
  2. Emphasis is “decision” (accepting, believing) not the fullness of the NT: repentance, belief, baptism, confession.
  3. Gravity is on “in vs. out” and threshold is “in” line.
  4. Theology is almost exclusively salvation, with little theology, Christology, Story, Bible, church.
  5. Process has been Two-Stages: decision then discipleship.
  6. Core is information (self and salvation) and affirmation.
  7. Church has become a “salvation” culture instead of a “gospel” or “kingdom” or “Jesus” culture.
  8. Effect is low: 20-25% of those who “respond” become serious followers of Jesus. Which both cheapens the message about Jesus and waters down the commitment level of Christians in the church.
To summarize a bit, threshold evangelism tends to be very propositional (focused on knowing and intellectually accepting information), creates a division between salvation (which is heavily emphasized) and the rest of Christian faith and theology (which is less emphasized, as a sort of dessert to the main course of salvation), and is ultimately ineffective at producing serious followers of Jesus. Indeed, it is more concerned with clearly defining the boundary between Christian and non-Christian (translation: what is the least one has to do to "get into" Christianity) than with the center of the Christian set, that is, Christ Himself. We look at ourselves and each other to figure out whether we belong rather than to the One we're supposed to belong to.

Of course many evangelical leaders that I've heard and read recognize these problems, but we usuall;y attempt to clean them up while still holding to a core of threshold evangelism. Maybe because we have trouble imagining how evangelism could be different, maybe because laying aside our concern for "decisions for Christ" is unthinkable, maybe because we inhabit a subculture where any perceived sign of less-than-zeal for the gospel is rebuked.

McKnight finishes by illustratively contrasting the two approaches:
Bounded set [threshold] evangelism asks: Have you accepted Jesus into your heart, been baptized?
Centered set gospeling asks: Who do you think Jesus is?
What is the point of the former questions without the last one?

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