DENVER (BP)–“Have we gone soft?” On Mission magazine of the North American Mission Board asked. “Do we sugarcoat the gospel?”
The magazine asked several Southern Baptists leaders to respond to the questions in its September-October 2000 issue.
Among them was Rick Ferguson, who was killed July 25 in an auto accident in Kansas while en route to a family reunion in Missouri.
Ferguson was pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver and a former first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
His reflection, in full, follows:
It’s wrong to sugarcoat God’s truth to make it more appealing. In today’s environment, we have to contextualize our ministry without compromising the gospel.
We can do this without offending our listeners, making them feel like a project, like a notch in our evangelistic belt. The goal is not to immediately give them a gospel presentation but to form a relationship with them and begin to build a bridge. That will lead to a comfortable but direct discussion of how Christ has worked in your life, how you have changed as a result of committing your life to the Lord. We can make more inroads by inviting non-believers to Starbucks and showing them who we are by our day-to-day lifestyle than by in-your-face evangelism which can sometimes hurt the presentation of the gospel more than help it.
I see similarities between our culture today and the culture the apostle Paul was speaking to in Athens on Mars Hill in Acts 17. Today’s culture is philosophically curious, especially people like the Gen Xers and the Echo Boomers. They don’t even know a society in which there are moral absolutes. They’ve never experienced that, and they don’t have the same mental grid through which to process the concept of sin. Most postmoderns don’t really see themselves as sinners, because they are functioning from a convoluted worldview.
Many will come to Christ inch by inch, not mile by mile. In other words, they have to process the gospel, and so while there will always be a place for confrontational evangelism, the best opportunity is for incremental movement in their understanding of the gospel through ongoing dialogue with Christians. Postmoderns are processors; they want interaction, which is why dialogue, at their own pace, is so effective.
So we have to form relationships and earn their trust and confidence. And we have to be willing to answer their questions and be good apologists. Postmoderns are not won by emotion. They are attracted to reason and rational thinking. The good news is that the gospel makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the worldview that leaves out God, like the big bang theory. The mind of God, though hard to comprehend, certainly makes much more sense than the chaos that modern theories put forth. Our job is to articulate our worldview.
So, first, we have to learn to communicate. At Riverside we teach dialogue skills on how to get conversations going, how to maintain them, how to express your points in a personal and not argumentative way.
For example, you don’t have to understand and articulate the intricacies of DNA to explain the concept that everything we know from science supports a cause-and-effect universe. So if you talk to a postmodern who believes in the big bang theory, then he or she is talking about an explosion that supposedly ignited from nothing — there was no cause for it, which makes no scientific sense. And this leads to God, the “uncaused first cause,” which — though hard to comprehend — at least makes rational sense because God explains a mind and a meaning behind our existence.
These are hard truths, not soft, told in a contemporary way.