Plowing in Hope
The kingdom of God is at war. The promise from the beginning was that the seed of the woman, our King, would come and crush the head of the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). Jesus’ first step out of the tomb at Gethsemane crushed that ancient and wily serpent’s head, and from that time forward we, the bride of Christ, created to be a help suitable for our Husband in His dominion calling, have been engaged in what theologians call a “mopping up” operation. The enemy has been defeated, but he doesn’t yet have the sense to give up.
That our Lord has secured the victory ought to encourage and empower us. That the serpent hasn’t yet given up ought in turn to put us on our guard. That the battles yet rage, despite the glorious truth that the war has been won, ought to inspire us to discern the times. If we were wise, we would seek not only to predict how and where the serpent might attack, but we would also think strategically about where we might attack. Consider, for instance, those culture warriors who aspire to do the work of “pre-evangelism.”
Evangelism, of course, is the proclaiming of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is sowing seed, casting forth the Word of God about the victory of the Son of God. Pre-evangelism is an attempt to make ears more ready to hear, eyes more ready to see. To borrow from the parable of the sower, pre-evangelism is an attempt to till the ground, to make rocky soil more fertile, that the seed might take root and flourish. Often pre-evangelism takes the form of “worldview” studies. Here we spend less time and energy declaring the truth about Jesus, and more time and energy defending the truthfulness of truth. In a modern age we proclaim that Jesus is the truth, against the truth claims of other religions or naturalism. In a postmodern age we cannot argue for the truthfulness of the Christian faith until we first establish that truth is even real, that it can be known, and that it transcends that which is merely “true for me” or “true for you.”
Sometimes “pre-evangelism” takes the form of artistic expressions in sundry forms. Here we may, instead of affirming the glory of Jesus, seek to depict the gloom and vanity of a life lived under the sun. We may tell stories of redemption that, while not exactly telling the story of Jesus, are signposts toward His story. We may simply affirm the dignity of man, as we bear the image of God. Here again we are tilling the ground, preparing it for when the seed is cast, prayerfully hoping our labors might be used to bring in the elect from the four corners of the globe and that His reign might be made manifest.
These sundry forms of “pre-evangelism” have advantages and disadvantages. They certainly can be effective for some. They can, however, sometimes create exactly the wrong kind of soil. That is, when we simply assault the foolishness of the world and leave out the heart of the matter, we might be making more “converts” who will wilt under the pressure of the sun. Worse still, sometimes we may miss out on the real issue. In other words, we may be so focused on the “pre” that we miss the “evangelism.” It is far easier to talk around the gospel than it is to say to our family, our friends, and the broader world: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
What we often find, however, is that when our strategies work, even just a little, it’s usually because we have stumbled onto something God has already commanded. There is a form of “pre-evangelism” that God calls us all to do that will work and has worked far more effectively than our worldview wonkery or our high-concept cultural artifacts. It is, in the end, the kingdom itself that brings in the lost. That is to say, we live faithful lives in covenant community, for we, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Peter 2), are a light shining upon a hill. This light does indeed condemn the darkness (a victory we ought to celebrate, even as we likewise rejoice when the elect are brought in), but it is also a beacon.
If we were smart, we would know that the lost are rarely brought in by how smart we are. Instead, it is our love one for another that invites them in. This is what Jesus told the disciples (John 13:35) — that it is in and through our love for each other that all men will know that we are His disciples. Our witness, then, in the end, isn’t about our clever arguments. Our witness shines through by our love for each other. This is both pre-evangelism and evangelism, for it softens the heart, even as it intrigues the mind as pre-evangelism. It is also the evidence of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ; it is the reality of the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Once again, in the upside down economy of our Lord, the more we love one another within the kingdom, the more we bring in those who were outside the kingdom. We seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things are added to us.
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