The Evangelizing Church: Chapter One: A Lutheran Confession
Bliese, Richard H., and Craig Van Gelder. The Evangelizing Church: A Lutheran Contribution. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2005.
Bliese summarizes this chapter (and potentially the book) with this phrase: “Lutherans have an incredible theological heritage upon which to draw, especially when viewed from a missional perspective—Lutherans have a confession to make” (p1).
He then parses out three insufficient approaches Lutherans have historically taken to “evangelizing”: 1. Skeptical (avoidance), 2. Pragmatic (adopt other approaches uncritically), 3. Romanticize (call everything evangelizing, making nothing evangelizing). Bliese summarizes this: “All these activities can certainly be associated with the concept of evangelizing. But they fall short, even collectively, of getting at the heart of an evangelical understanding of the gospel that proclaims salvation by grace through faith that results in the forgiveness of our sins.” (p2). The CLB could have written that last sentence!
Bliese centers the church’s identity and ministry in the gospel, grounded in the twin realities of mission and confession. “The puzzle Lutherans must solve in the twenty-first century is how to marry the concepts of mission and confession in our ministry context of the United States. They need to do this while simultaneously escaping the traps of a skeptical dismissal of evangelizing, a narrow evangelistic pragmatism, and a generalized romanticizing of evangelizing.” (p3)
JL said it well in September 2007: We should have evangelism at the center of all we do. Bliese agrees: “A church committed to evangelism tends to have a program to which only a few laity are committed. In contrast, an evangelizing church puts an evangelical imagination at the center of all its activities. Thus, the gospel witness becomes core to the entire life of the congregation and does not just function as a peripheral or programmatic activity.” (p9)
This challenge is alive-and-well for us at Ebenezer. As long as we continue to have an “Evangelism Board,” we will have few people actually involved as followers of Jesus with a confession to make, and rather will have many remaining on the sidelines cheering from a distance for the few who actively bear witness to God’s kingdom coming in Christ Jesus. How do we transition from a programmatic approach to evangelism to a missional expression that views evangelism as the center of who we are as Christ’s body?