Dr. Pearson Johnson, Director of Student Care
We have all seen the movies or read the books about the adventurer who walked through the jungle, over many obstacles and onto what he thought was a patch of dry ground. Suddenly he found that, instead of walking on level ground, he was being sucked under by it. He had discovered quicksand!
Much current writing on evangelism and missions focuses on finding, in discussions of life and eternity, places of “common ground,” where we agree on certain basic principles. If we can find this place of agreement, then we can build a case for the truth from there. For some, common ground is philosophical: agree that the rules of logic follow for all people, so use logical arguments to convince others of the truth. For others, common ground is scientific: if we adhere to the scientific method, and provide enough evidence, then someone can be convinced. Others seek common ground where religious principles agree, as in the monotheism of Islam and Christianity. Dialogue can occur upon this agreement. Still others find common ground in their emotions. They appeal to the heart and the feelings. In all of these approaches, many people believe there is a neutral area at some point. If we can get down to that common point, then we can build our Gospel approach on that.
In the next few posts, I would like to begin to show that, biblically, there is really no neutral common ground outside of Scripture that we can build our proclamation of the Gospel upon. Beyond this, the search for common ground and the process of an objective, two-way conversation (“dialogue”) can lead to missions’ quicksand, where the truth is sucked under by the ground we had hoped to build upon. Common ground approaches lead to syncretism, or, the mixing of religions, philosophies, and worldviews, rather than the conversion to the truth.
By saying we have no common ground in Gospel witness, let me tell you what I am not saying. First, I am not saying we have nothing in common physically with unbelievers. We share a common humanity in many ways. I am not saying we do not have or should not have anything in common socially with unbelievers. We cannot become like unbelievers to witness to them, but we must have contact with them if we are to share the Gospel. Our purpose is not to stand in judgment on unbelievers, but to, in compassion, proclaim the good news of escape from judgment. We don’t even mean that we have nothing in common psychologically or culturally or even, in some ways, spiritually (in that we are spiritual creatures). We have a lot in common with all of humanity.
Also, please understand that I am trying to help us become more biblical in our proclamation. I am not questioning the genuine love for souls and desire for evangelism that is at the heart of the methods of many missionaries and evangelists. I am sure people have been genuinely converted using approaches focusing on finding common ground because they eventually were drawn by the Spirit through the Word spoken, not through arguments, logic, evidences or feelings. I do hope being more biblical in our approach can lead to greater effectiveness, however.
When it comes to the claims of Christianity and their being proven as true and verifiable, there is no neutral ground for both the Christian and non-Christian. Some assume that many people can and will make up their own mind in favor of the truth if presented with enough data—that good information will lead to good conclusions. Some think that if the right felt need is uncovered and met, true needs will be met eventually as well. Others think that if we can focus on areas of agreement, then logic, study, and/or evidence will eventually lead to overall agreement.
Biblically, however, these approaches start at the wrong point. Christians and unbelievers have a clash of worldviews that goes to the very heart of who we are. In the next post, we will look at the Scriptural teaching of depravity and how that guides our approach to evangelism and missions. Following that, we will propose a way forward in evangelism and missions that is wholly biblical, cross-centered, and theologically-driven.
The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.