Saturday, January 19, 2008

[THO] Pope Paul VI on Power Evangelism

"Recognizing that the Spirit also works outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body, Dialogue and Mission argues that the Church is impelled to discern the signs of the Spirit's presence and to serve as its humble and discreet collaborator through a committment to dialogue in its many forms. (#24)"
Gregory Baum, Amazing Church, p.114.

Those familiar with Wimber's concept of Power Evangelism might seem a bit put out by the connection here. Likely not a lot of us who know Wimber's theology have also read too many Vatican documents. I oft times find the Vatican documents lacking and even frustrating. But there are some brilliant insights here. And while this document is about interreligious dialogue, I think there is a place to extend the insights of Wimber to this arena. In Power Evangelism we are called into a partnership with the Holy Spirit in our efforts to bring the gospel to the world. Over the years I have had my understanding of the arena of this work expand to include the whole world. I have also come to realize, as did Wimber, that God is already at work in the lives of people. The best thing we can do as evangelists is watch for the signs of the Spirit's already present work and partner with what we already see God doing.

This is not that attractive for those wanting quick and clean conversions. There is a false expectation in the evangelical church that folks should "clean up" nice for Christ. But life rarely works out in nice tidy ways, so why should we expect that from conversion.

I think the term Power Evangelism is a misnomer. Yes it is a powerful mode of evangelism and yes it does make room for a real power encounter with God. But this isn't the heart of it. The heart is God is at work, so why are we working against God?

My experience of conversion has been messy. I have seen lots of folks come to Christ, but that is really where the work just starts. It isn't about cleaning them up as much as protecting them from all the BS expectation that will let the already "saved" continue to feel comfortable in their places of worship. I would prefer to call it Messy Evangelism. Messy in that it has no pretense that this is easy, quick or even going to work out. Rather it is entirely dependent on God and it calls us to watch carefully for what the Spirit is doing and work there. Even if that isn't sharing a message that they need Jesus (or whatever is the evangelical message of the month these days).

Recently a fellow pastor emailed me about his understanding of the number one priority of God, that is saving folks from eternal damnation. I understood his heart, and I think we end up much in the same place. But this eternal language really misses that God wants to get into the mess of our lives now. God is a redeemer not a benchwarmer. God hasn't prepared a place on the bench for us to sit on an wait out the pre-show. That kind of thinking can maybe justify the horrid expectations placed on those interested in Christianity. This is the real show - and God wants in on it. In fact God wants in so much that the Spirit is already here at work.

Baum brilliantly draws this out of Dialogue and Mission, the Church is called to recognize that God isn't boxed in by "visible" boundaries of Church. God doesn't somehow give up when we screw up. But God continues to work by redeeming our failings, drawing us towards wholeness, showing us love and meeting us in the midst of all life throws at us. And what is most brilliant is that God most often does this through our participation as we look for and cooperate with the Spirit in the lives of others.


Hank said...

Not trying to threadjack or anything, but I was wondering if there was something on the web using the name "Thinklings," as I was considering using it for something on my own. I found this site

Immediately I thought you might want to check it out and see if its worhty of your blogroll....

It's on mine.

One of Freedom said...

Yeah that is a good blog Hank. I am slow at updating my blogroll though. I'll see if it ends up being one I regularily follow.

BTW school is insane.