Frauenkirche, Munichfrom wikipedia

Frauenkirche, Munich
from wikipedia

This and the next post are the conclusion of a 7 part series on Christian nominalism in Europe

Taking Jesus’ words into consideration (parts 1 and 2), leaning on an understanding of what we know about “secular Christians” (3 and 4), and even using the Lausanne occasional paper as a starting grid (part 5), an effective strategy for seeing nominal Christians transformed by Christ must include the following elements:

The Word

Life-on-life witness

Obedience-based discipleship

Relationship and community

The power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, these elements are present in any good strategy of Christian witness – and have been ever since Pentecost.  However, the application of such elements may be significantly different among “cultural Christians” from what it would be among tribal animists.

The Word.

It may be very tempting at times to avoid this point of our strategy. The average European practical atheist does not see the Bible as authoritative. So an attempt to bring the Bible into everyday conversation may be seen as fanatical, or at least weird. However, many Europeans think they know quite a bit about the Bible (even if they’ve never read any of it), and are more than willing to share their opinions. When we honestly and consistently refer to the Bible as our authority, we can work in an almost subversive way to change the way our nominal friends consider the Scriptures.

Of course, a one size-fits-all approach, which ignores the vast differences between various countries, will be inadequate. Whereas in France or the Czech Republic it may be rare to find someone who has heard the Bible read – let alone read it for herself – the average Pole, Greek or Croat has probably heard the Bible read many times in church, and likely has read a portion on his own, as well.

Of course, in humility and love, we need to recognize that the Bible is our authority – but it isn’t yet perceived as such by our neighbor. Demanding that our nominal friend submit to the Bible’s teaching is likely to produce a quite opposite effect than what we would hope for. Consistent submission to the Bible, and practicing what we read and hear, however, serves as a life-changing instrument, first in our life, and then by extension in the life of our friend – and such a witness leads us to our next strategic component:

Life-on-life witness.

The Lausanne authors referred to this as consistent life-style, presenting a lifestyle of growth, witness and caring. The key idea is that we would demonstrate Christian living in front of a watching world. We need to allow our neighbor

“to peer into our lives in order to see exactly how we are in the process of growth. We do not clearly model for others the process of change that is taking place in our lives as we apply the Word of God and learn obedience and submission to him in daily practice. This growth is demonstrated naturally if we are in the Word of God together and sharing our actions and reactions to it. This will allow those we are seeking to lead to look into our lives. It will help them to see how the hand of God is at work conforming us from faith to faith into his perfect image. It will reveal to them how we correct sin in our lives and repent from it.”[1]

We also need to model witness and caring. As we allow others to see us “in action,” we are able to live out a witness in front of them that is irrefutable. Who can argue with a life lived in obedience to Christ? However, such a life requires consistency, and especially transparency and openness. In this way, we allow others to be “fruit inspectors” in our life, following in the spirit of Jesus’ words from Matthew 7:16-20. Such a life-on-life witness demands that we take seriously the third component of our strategy:

Obedience-based discipleship.

We must first model such a discipleship in our own walk with Christ. We should not expect others to follow Christ whole-heartedly, when we ourselves do not make Him Lord of our lives. When we work as a wise builder, though, we build a life that can weather storms, and we show to others a storm-proof life.

Obedience, doing that which we hear from Jesus (Mt. 7:24), is a vital component of discipleship. In fact, it may be the one totally necessary ingredient in making disciples. After all, Jesus tells us in Mt. 28:20 that we are to “teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.” James 1:22 reminds us that a true disciple of Christ is a doer of the word, not only a hearer. Unfortunately, we have usually placed a far greater emphasis on hearing the Word. We have frequently unwittingly re-written the Great Commission to read “teaching them everything I have commanded you,” and left out the emphasis on behavior and practice. Especially in the West, we could probably scale back on the knowledge in exchange for a greater emphasis on application, action and accountability.

A couple of years ago, I was in a conference with others involved in theological training from around Europe. The presenter showed Mt. 28:20 on the screen, but left out the words “to obey.” He then asked us what was missing. No one caught the omission! We all thought, at first glance, “teaching them everything I have commanded you” was correct. Oops! Obedience, life application and accountability must be part of our discipleship.

Obedience-based discipleship, especially in the confrontation of accountability, is most effective in relationship and community – the fourth element of our strategy, coming up in part 7.

Comments
  1. chaddamitz says:

    I enjoyed your article on Christian Nominalism in Europe. I often find that Atheists don’t submit to any authority that claims to be objective, but determines for themselves what is right and wrong. If the person is skeptical of the Bible, do you begin with showing them the historical truthfulness of it or do you start from the beginning and show them the rationality of theism? I find it difficult to decide which step to take first in apologetics. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for liking the post! Your question probably requires a lot more thought than my short reply will due justice to. I think I would say: both. The historic truthfulness of the Bible, and the rationality of theism. However, for a postmodern atheist, neither will probably be as effective as our personal life-witness, as we incorporate the authority of the Word in our own life, or as effective as building a relationship with them. For many postmoderns, an epistemological decison on truth is based on feeling and relationships – not on logic and apologetic.

  3. […] part 1, I introduced a five-part strategy for reaching “secular” […]

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