Monday, October 29, 2007,3:45 PM
So What's Your Excuse?
Yesterday in church I led the conversation on the Great Commission. We have been making our way through the book of Luke for the last couple of years and have finally arrived at the end, which of course just means we are diving straight into Acts next. For many of us who grew up in the evangelical church, the Great Commission involves nothing more than convincing other people to believe in Jesus. Preaching forgiveness and making disciples simply meant getting people to intellectually assent to a certain set of ideas. We've left out the whole part about training people in everything Jesus taught.

So yesterday we looked at the mission Jesus sent his followers on (with the help of the Spirit) in light of how Jesus himself described his own mission in Luke 4 (to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,recovery of sight for the blind, and to release the oppressed). The Spirit of the Lord was on Jesus to fulfill his mission and Jesus promised the Spirit so that the disciples could fulfill theirs as well (which included training others in the way Jesus trained them to follow). But sometimes doing that mission - spreading the message of forgiveness and freedom through our words and deeds - is hard. We obviously have failed at the whole setting the oppressed free and bringing good news to the poor (since there is still oppression and poverty), so there is a lot more work that needs to be done to fulfill the Great Commission. That's where the Spirit comes in to kick out butts.

I love the example Sarah Dylan Breuer gives as she compares what the Spirit does to a washing machine -
Washing machines don't work if the load is stagnant; without motion, there's no transformation. So the washing machines that I grew up with had something at their center that bounced around to push what's at the center out to the margins and bring what's at the margins in to the center such that the whole load could be transformed.

We call that thing at the center of the washing machine an 'agitator,' and I can think of no better word for what the Spirit does for us. The call of God's Spirit pushes those of us at the center of our world's all-too-concentrated power and wealth out to the margins to welcome the marginalized to the center. If we stay where we are and let the rest of the world stay as it is, we're not fully experiencing the presence and work of the Spirit, and we won't benefit as fully from the transformation that the Spirit is bringing.

We need that agitation, that kick in the butt, to actually be out there engaging in the mission Christ called us to. Our discussion yesterday concluded with a time of brainstorming of everyday practical things we each could do to engage in that mission followed by us having to list the excuses we give for why we don't actually engage. Here's a sampling of some of the stuff we came up with.

Ways we can engage in Mission
  • - Be a volunteer

  • - Get to know our neighbors

  • - Live more frugally and simply

  • - Take the time to be educated on justice issues

  • - Learn Spanish

  • - Buy Fairly Traded items

  • - Do chores for your elderly neighbor

  • - Go to student's soccer games

  • - Write actual letters to lawmakers

  • - Visit the "unseen" in our culture

Our Excuses for Not Doing Anything
  • - I'm too shy

  • - I won't make a big difference anyway

  • - It's too expensive

  • - I don't know where to begin

  • - There is always something better I could be doing to help others, so I end up doing nothing at all

What would you add to either of these lists?

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posted by Julie at 3:45 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 10/30/2007 12:04:00 AM, Anonymous John

    Thank you for this excellent post. I'm passing it forward - much to chew on!

  • At 10/30/2007 04:22:00 AM, Blogger Sally

    well said Julie- I think this has become my life message- and if you read the great commission in the correct way it reads- as you go- disciple- it is a call to being!

  • At 10/30/2007 08:34:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

    John Stott has good thoughts on seeing the great commission in this light. He says that he used to argue (and argued at the first Lausanne conference on world evangelism) that evangelism was the primary way to understand the great commission and social action was justified only if it was in service to evangelism. But he now sees it differently, and argues that evangelism and social justic, acts of service and mercy and stewardship, are co-equal partners in the mission of the church, with neither taking a back seat to the other.

    Stott focuses on the form of the great commission found in the gospel of John: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." How did the Father send Jesus - how did he come? He came to serve. He healed the sick, was a friend to the outcast. We are sent to serve in that way. And to teach all that he has taught us, and to make disciples.

    Stott strikes a good balance and avoids the false dichotomy of "either, or" between evangelism and social action. As Rob Bell says, "we are down with Billy Graham and his message. People need that. But we are also down with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his message. People need that, too" [my paraphrase from memory]. Both, and. Not either, or.

  • At 10/30/2007 02:01:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Yes I think it has to be both. But I am also questioning the form evangelicalism has taken over the years. As studies are showing many of those methods do more harm than good. So more than saying both are needed, a close look needs to be taken at how both are done.

  • At 10/30/2007 02:37:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

    Yeah, some past ways of doing evangelism have been manipulative or otherwise pathological, and I'm open to (and encouraged by) rethinking ways to do evangelism. But this makes me think of the update I recently received from a friend who is the pastor of a multicultural bridge-church plant focused on cultural and economic justice issues in mid-city San Diego:

    "What Not to Do: I took several classes on evangelism in seminary, and it seemed like we spent a great deal of time talking about what not to do. The first thing that was always at the top of the list was this: don’t trick people. Well, I am glad that Mariselva, a new believer that we baptized on Sept. 9th, didn’t take these classes, because she didn’t get the word that the “ol’ bait-and-switch technique” doesn’t work. Listen to this. She has been praying desperately for her colleagues to experience the joy of Jesus Christ. You know, she is praying with a fervency that only new-believers have. Well, she couldn’t think of a way to get them to church because they aren’t (in her words) “the church-going type.” So she invited 3 of her co-workers over for a “movie.” When they showed up she said, “Tonight, there is no movie, but not to worry, we are going to talk about something far more interesting and meaningful: Jesus.” Mariselva then launched into her story of how Christ brought redemption to her and to her three girls, and then she asked Edgardo and Elizabeth to fill in any holes in her story from the Bible. Edgardo, who was still in shock, began to walk them through the gospel, and much to all of our surprise, all three of these women received Christ. And these women, who aren’t the church-going type, mysteriously showed up in full force last week with their children (who have also become believers). Kinda reminds me of something I read once, about how “God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” (I Cor. 1: 20-21)

    Not to say we should be manipulative, nor that we shouldn't seek to do evangelism with integrity. But as with acts of mercy, justice and compassion . . . sometimes (usually) just getting out and doing it as best we currently can, is better than sitting around talking about the bad ways others have done it in the past, or the ways I could mess it up if I did it wrong or insensitively so I'd better wait until I've got it all figured out, etc.

  • At 10/30/2007 05:27:00 PM, Blogger paul

    i wonder sometimes how revisionist a view we have of our evangelical heritage, after all it has a strong tradition of social action, justice, as well as evangelism. We just never really liked mixing the two, there was faith and works, church and parachurch, saving souls and saving lives etc.

    maybe we are experiencing something more holistic now in realising that really the divide that we created doesn't really exist, or maybe more radically it is in serving that we are saved and in being saved we desire to serve?

    As for barriers i think i can often feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world and the insistence that i need to go out and solve them using my own two hands.

    I can also feel guilty/put off when people discount giving money or writing letters as an opt out when i feel that is very much an opt in.

    I also need to keep being reminded it is about the small things, a cup of cold water given in love goes a long way in the kingdom. but it is also worth giving to aid agencies and writing to the govt to lobby for clean water for everyone...

  • At 10/30/2007 09:01:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    I don't think it's "revisionist" Paul. I think maybe it's just a matter of differences within certain strains of evangelicalism. Yes, there have been some strains that have a strong tradition of social justice (the Salvation Army comes to mind), but there are also very many that, largely in reaction to the so-called "social gospel" and also due to the influence of dispensational eschatology, have in fact eschewed most if not all kinds of social action as too "liberal" or "works based righteousness". Yes, let's give credit where it's due, and not lump all evangelicals together, but let's not also ignore the fact that many of us are in fact coming out of faith backgrounds where we were actively discouraged from helping the poor and working for justice in this world. And let's not ignore the fact that this attitude was in fact based on certain types of evangelical theology.

  • At 10/31/2007 08:34:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

    I think Mike is right - there's no denying that many who grew up in evangelical churches during the second half of the 20th century didn't hear much about social action and acts of mercy as vital parts of the Christian life. But neither is there any denying that roots of social action, justice and compassion run deep in historic evangelicalism, and continued to exist in many pockets of evangelicalism right through the 20th century to today.

    Were they still assigning "Discovering an Evangelical Heritage" at Wheaton when you were there Chris and Julie? Dr. Dennis Ockholm had our Theology of Culture class read it my first semester of freshman year, and it was an eye opener for me, even though I grew up in a church that actually emphasized ministry to the poor quite a bit.

    From Amazon: "When it first appeared, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage was widely regarded as a groundbreaking historical work. The continued relevance of the issues with which this book deals justifies its reappearance twelve years after its first advent challenged countless people to rethink their Evangelical heritage. If anything, the challenge is even greater now to follow the example set by the forebears of twentieth century evangelicalism.For instance, Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army and ardent feminist, offers a powerful testimony to the impact that Christian witness can and should have upon society. Likewise, abolitionist Theodore Weld, converted under the ministry of Charles G. Finney, showed what a response to the radical call of Christ means as he strove to right social injustice and inequity during his day. Despite the hardship and consequences of living out their faith, these and other evangelical forerunners left a heritage to be remembered and an example to be followed. Like the author himself, the reader will be challenged to rethink his or her own relationship with Evangelicalism and will have to reflect upon the broader significance of that movement in American culture."

  • At 10/31/2007 01:25:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

    Chris and Julie? Not sure where that came from. Sorry about that Mike. And Julie.

  • At 10/31/2007 08:03:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    Hey Karl,

    No, we didn't read that book. By the time we took Theology of Culture at Wheaton Okholm and Philips had written their own book "A Family of Faith: An Introduction to Evangelical Christianity" and assigned it to all the incoming classes. It basically described different stream of evangelicalism according to Richard Niebuhr's categories (Anabaptist=Christ against culture, Lutheran=Christ & Culture in Paradox, Liberal Protestants=Christ of Culture, Calvinists=Christ Transforming Culture), and showed a clear preference for the Calvinist/Christ Transforming Culture option, while at the same time expressing the typical conservative evangelical assumption that "culture is against us". At the time I found the categories informative, but later I started to think that they were overly simplistic, and forced me into a false dilemma of having to choose one tradition and rejecting the rest. It wasn't until I read Foster's "Streams of Living Water" that I started to think that all these different traditions might have good things to offer.

  • At 11/01/2007 10:11:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

    That's a shame, because the "evangelical heritage" book was a good one, at least it was for me at that stage. I haven't read Ockholm and Philips' book, though I'd heard of it. I thought Streams of Living Water was terrific. I had a similar reaction as you to Niebuhr's categories. Informative and helpful for organizing some thoughts, but too reductionistic and falsely implying that it's always an either-or choice. Thankfully the prof I studied it under, Dr. Woodiwiss (for one of his political philosophy classes), didn't address it so simplistically.

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