Evangelism: Reclaiming the “E” Word

Linda Linfors   -  

Open Doors is a St. Stephen small group whose members strive to live out their baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression. Open Doors offers occasional commentaries and articles exploring a wide range of issues at the intersection of faith and justice.

I confess to having a confused relationship with the meaning of the word “evangelist.”

While the Bible clearly identifies the duties of an evangelist in Ephesians 4:11 as someone who is “a publisher of glad tidings” (the writers of the Gospels were themselves evangelists, of course) there is also my sighting of the frightful-looking man standing on the corner of Trade and Tryon sharing a story of hell and punishment. The fictional account in Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible tells the story of how destructive an “evangelical” message can be. Sometimes called the “E” word — yes, even in Christian circles — “evangelical” can often remind us of a teaching of rigid indoctrination and submission within an isolated society. It doesn’t help that the past few decades have seen the word “evangelical” morph into a secular, political shorthand for a variety of partisan views and policy positions.

None of this is what I picture when the Apostles were sent to share the Good News.

John 13 tells us the story of Jesus getting up from a supper table, setting aside his robe and put on an apron so that he could wash the feet of his companions. Many other stories tell of him visiting the countryside with messages of hope and healing.

Bryan Stone has written a book (Evangelism after Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness) on this subject with an introduction entitled “Reclaiming the ‘E’ Word”:

“Christian Evangelism should not be understood as an adventure in ‘winning friends and influencing people’ but a fundamentally subversive activity born of the posture of eccentricity (living ‘off center’ or ‘outside the center’ at the margins) and out of the cultivation of deviant practices as ‘sharing bread with the poor’ , ‘loving our enemies’, ‘refusing violence’, ‘forgiving sins’, and ‘telling the truth’.”

How can we all become more like Jesus and practice “living off center”?  How can we make living this way of evangelism primary to our goal of living as Christians in the world?

As we move into the Lenten season, we will all get to share in the stories of the first eyewitnesses to Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection. I hope you’ll join me in reading the Lenten Devotional created by church members reminding us of witness, grace and love as Good News.  Through worship and devotional readings we can become evangelists who live “off center” in transforming our world.

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— Photo by cottonbro studio, via Pixels.