Last week I asked the question what does it take to preach the gospel. There is a simple answer to this. Tell people that despite their sin and the consequence of sin (hell), Jesus took that consequence upon himself on the cross and conquered death for all time through his resurrection. By faith in his promise, extended by his grace, we can be justified in spite of our sins and enter into the eternal rest of God’s presence. If we preach this truth, centered around Christ, then the gospel is preached.
God uses these words of truth in spite of ourselves to give the miracle of life. Evangelism happens only when the Spirit moves somebody to faith and we are not necessary for it to happen. I want to make sure I’m clear on this. This is the simple answer.
Now for a more complicated answer.
As I have wrestled with this question this week, I realized that there are really two questions inherent in the first. The first is what is the minimum participation required by us to be able to say that we are participating in evangelism? This is answered above. The second is what is the best we can do to participate in evangelism? To answer this requires something a bit more complicated. I’m calling it the 3-pronged, 2-tiered foundation for effective evangelism.
3 Prongs of Effective Evangelism: Orthodoxy, Orthopraxy, and Orthopathy
Orthodoxy – Before everybody freaks out that I’ve gone over the top with people like the emergent church or even worse, the infidel Rob Bell, I want to make explicitly clear that saying the right thing about the gospel is of the utmost importance. If we are a church that follows God’s call to justice and live that out in a social context, and if we show ourselves sincerely feeling passion towards Jesus, but do not preach a gospel true to the scriptures, then we are not effectively participating in evangelism. The gospel is exclusive, grace-driven, Christ-centered, and to preach anything less is not the gospel. For a biblical clarification of the gospel, confer 1 Cor 15:1-11, Rom 3:21-26, and the Bible.
Generally, Evangelicals are good at this one. In fact, the close adherence to orthodoxy in the face of a shifting culture is one of the key attributes of the evangelical community. This is a good thing. Saying the right things when it comes to the gospel is important. The problem is not that the Evangelical church, especially the more conservative branches, preach and hold fervently to orthodoxy. The problem is that we often times do so at the expense of the following two prongs: orthopraxy and orthopathy.
*I borrowed the wording of orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy from a lecture delivered by my professor, Dr. Barry Jones. I am not sure where he got the wording.
Orthopraxy – By definition, this means right practice. Acting in a way that follows the ethics laid out in Scripture. In some ways, evangelicals are really good at this. There is inhibitory orthopraxy and there is exhibitory orthopraxy. Evangelicals, for the most part, are really good at inhibitory orthopraxy. (I know I’m making generalizations, but this is a blog post, not a thesis. If you want detailed footnotes, read another medium.)
Inhibitory orthopraxy is morality achieved by inhibiting oneself from immoral acts. An easy example would be sex and alcohol. Two big moral causes championed by evangelicals are sexual purity and alcohol prohibition. It is good for the church to have moral integrity in areas of sex, substances, and speech, so this element of orthopraxy should be encouraged and continued.
The area Evangelicals get in trouble is exhibitory orthopraxy. We can be really good at keeping ourselves from evil but fall significantly short in investing ourselves in the positive aspects of God’s righteousness, specifically with regards to justice. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The call for believers to seek justice for those around us, especially for sojourners, widows, and orphans, is an integral theme permeating the whole of Scripture. One of the main hurdles for non-believers as they look at the Evangelical church is the hypocrisy between what we say about the gospel and the way we enact the gospel in a social context.
The church has a tendency to yell at the beggar on the street, “Jesus loves you,” but then pass by him on the other side of the road. What I mean is that we can pay lip service to the cause of justice for the poor and hurting, but act in ways that communicate the opposite. We would rather build bigger and better churches than feed hungry families and invest strategically in alleviating the poor in our neighborhood. We vote to cut funding to education and social programs while voting to spend more on building walls keeping the poor and needy out of our country. We condemn abortion but don’t support the funding of necessary programs, care and support for pregnant teenagers facing the issue. We consume and waste natural resources and condemn those who seek to protect it.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many evangelicals who do seek justice, but it is sadly the exception, not the rule. The crisis of the absence of exhibitory orthopraxy is one of, if not, the most significant hypocrisies hurting effective evangelism. For examples of great exceptions to what’s above, check out Undocumented.tv, Compassion, and Kiva.
Orthopathy – Marriage has taught me a lot about the importance of orthopathy. I can say and do things that communicate love to my wife. I can tell her I love her mulitple times a day, I can come home and do the dishes, fold the clothes, and rub her feet. But if I do these things with a grumbling attitude or do it without sincere passion, love will not be communicated. Orthopathy means feeling the right way about God. As a student and someone who lends himself to academics, I’m immediately suspicious of this. Is it really just as important to not only know what the bible says but also to feel what the bible says?
If you’re married, you should immediately know the answer to that. The truth of the gospel is incredulous if it is not expressed from our passions. We can say everything right about the gospel, but if there is no evidence of a deep love for our Savior or for the world He is saving, our presentation immediately becomes less believable.
To effectively participate in evangelism, to put our best foot forward, we need all three prongs: orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy.
2 Tiers of Effective Evangelism: Individual and Community
The above three prongs need to be fully realized in two spheres or, better, tiers. I prefer calling them tiers because I believe that one has a priority over another, and its not what we would naturally think. The two tiers are individual and community.
Individual – For me to effectively participate in evangelism, it is important to develop all three prongs in my own individual life. I need to say the right things, I need to do the right things, and I need to feel the right things. As the gospel affects our individual lives, we need to surrender not only our minds, but our activities and passions as well. As we do this, Jesus will develop in us an orthodox, orthopraxic, and orthopathic life. As a Christian, I want to preach the gospel effectively. In order to do this, I need to take the time to develop the three prongs of evangelism in my own life, or better allow the Holy Spirit to develop them in me, so that I can best participate in the miracle of Christ’s redemption. (I know my hardcore Calvinist friends might be getting nervous by my wording, so please read it carefully and note what I’m not saying carefully.)
Community – Not only do the three prongs of evangelism need to be lived out in my individual life, they need to be manifest in the communal body of believers that make up both the lower case and upper case Church. I made the above diagram to highlight what I think is more foundational. The tier of community is not only bigger because the scope of community is bigger than the individual, but because it is the more foundational and thus the more influential of the two tiers. This is not the typical way it is thought. In our over-individualistic culture, the thought communal sanctification is more important than personal holiness seems strange, but I believe it is the way Scripture prioritizes them. For a more detailed excursus on this, read my essay, “The Priority of Corporate Sanctification in Romans.”
It is not enough for us as individuals to have a three-pronged foundation for evangelism. We as a church need to be known by our orthodoxy, orthopraxy, and orthopathy if we want to be in a position to participate effectively in the evangelism of the hurting and lost.
Lord Jesus, please move in us and change our mind, hands, and heart towards your mind, hands, and heart and create a platform of integrity in your loved church. We praise you, oh gracious God!
An Important Side Note!!!!! If you think you can make better graphics than me (which any third grader with a computer could do), then I challenge you to do so. This is a challenge to my artistic, graphic design, video making, picture taking friends. I dare you to make content to go along with these blog posts. If you submit them and I think they work, I will not only feature your incredible work in the blog, but I will give you as much props, linkage, and shout outs as I can. You have been challenged!