Evangelism in Todays Church – Interview with Eternity Magazine

(On the day that we launched Third Space I did this interview with Eternity magazine.  You can read the original here

Australia is more open to Jesus than you believe

A Scottish Christian leader wants to help local churches reach their communities

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“People in our culture are more open to the gospel than we think but the church is struggling to communicate [it].” So says Scottish minister David Robertson, talking about the country he’s just moved to – Australia.

Church leader, blogger and respected public Christian, Robertson has been imported to help spearhead Third Space, a new national initiative aimed at invigorating evangelism from Sydney to Perth, Wineglass Bay to Thursday Island. Launching tomorrow at a collaborative session in Sydney, Third Space has a big scope with one aim – more Australians giving their lives to Jesus.

“There’s no point complaining about a loss of freedom if you don’t use the freedom you do have to reach out.” – David Robertson

Robertson is a keen observer of culture across the Western World. Last year he travelled around Australia for several months preaching and presenting, and he observed that the wider society here is in a better place to hear the good news than many Christians might think. Despite apathy and antagonism to messages of the Christian faith in the Australian culture, Robertson points out a common undercurrent that remains: “The major questions that Christians deal with are questions everybody asks.”

According to Robertson, his homeland is ten years down the “regressive” road from Australia when it comes to being closed off to Christianity. Robertson lists several reasons why Australians are still poised to receive Jesus, including the ongoing influence of converts from the Billy Graham crusades of the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the amount of Christian schools, and the diversity of governance and laws from state to state.

But with steady talk of religious freedom under threat, as well as parliamentary debates about contentious issues, Australia has recently struck some Christians as already being beyond the call of Jesus. Robertson maintains that Christians in Australia still have a choice about loving their neighbours.

“There are two ways you can go. One way is you can circle the wagons and try to protect what you’ve got. And you lose. The instinct is to do that, but you lose,” says Robertson about Christians turning inward and trying to preserve their way of life by keeping the good news to themselves.

“The other way is to say that we have got these tremendous resources; let’s use them not to maintain our churches but let’s use them to reach out. While we can.”

“There’s no point complaining about a loss of freedom if you don’t use the freedom you do have to reach out.”

Robertson is an engaging guy who makes you want to join in with whatever he is doing. Alongside prominent Perth pastor Stephen McAlpine, Robertson will lead Third Space as an intentional networking body that does not intend to duplicate what already is being done, or seek to compete with other Christian groups. “What we have in the [Christian] church is that we are quite disjointed; there are a lot of dots, but they’re not joined up.”

I believe the church is the best means of doing outreach.” – David Robertson

Screenshot 2019-09-28 10.37.08Third Space sounds like a conduit that will develop over time. Created by urban evangelism network City Bible Forum and named after the area between the wider community and churches, Third Space wants to organise speakers and events, link existing ministries together, as well as create content and resources to empower local churches to share the Christian faith with their community. An example of this is rolling out City Bible Forum’s Reel Dialogue movie events across Australia, an unusual evangelistic gathering using cinemas as a “third space” for bringing Christian insights and truths to the wider culture.

Those involved in Third Space want to model evangelistic endeavours and also consult to churches around the country.

“For me, the primary thing I want to do is to work with churches, to help them. I believe the church is the best means of doing outreach.” The collaborative approach espoused by Robertson fits with his assertion that Third Space is “not the solution for evangelism. Not at all. We are a part of it, but it’s a part that has a particular emphasis on what I would call ‘cultural evangelism’.”

Robertson has never surfed but he sees “cultural evangelism” as Christians and churches learning to ride the cultural wave. “My fear is that the church is always playing catch-up to the culture. What I would like to do is use cultural things to help communicate the gospel.”

“I just see there is a particular cultural moment. And my theory is that you get lots of Christians who analyse the culture and they don’t evangelise, and you get lots of Christians who evangelise but don’t know the culture. We’re trying to bridge that.”

Third Spacethird space@0-1.5xThird Space also wants to create an association of Australian evangelists. Robertson wants Third Space to encourage local evangelists to understand their immediate context and help them to unite, rather than run solo. “Australia doesn’t need one Billy Graham. It needs 10,000 evangelists, if not more. And it needs churches which are genuine communities reaching out. Which we all agree with – but we need to be doing it.”

“I am 100 per cent committed to being an evangelical Christian.” – David Robertson

Robertson visited Australia last year and spoke openly and often about the need for Christians to make meaningful contact with those around them. A pastor for 35 years, Robertson remains invigorated by spreading the gospel – and encouraging other Christians and churches to do the same.

City Bible Forum co-founder Peter Kaldor approached Robertson and offered him what has become Third Space. Put that another way: Kaldor handed Robertson the opportunity to do what he wanted to do – fuel an evangelism movement to a national, co-ordinated and unifying degree. “Third Space is deliberately intra-denominational.”

Robertson grew up in the Brethren church before attending a Baptist church. He’s a Presbyterian minister whose previous congregation had Charismatic Christians, and he now attends an Anglican church. “I think in some areas of Australia there is quite a divide between different evangelical groups. Some of that has to be, I suspect. But some of it doesn’t have to be. And my interest is in evangelism, so I don’t care if you are Hillsong, Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican or whatever – if you want me to be involved in evangelism with you, if you are seeking to teach the Bible and be faithful to it, and if you don’t tell me what to say, I’m there.”

“I am 100 per cent committed to being an evangelical Christian. I’m committed to the Bible and believe it’s without error. In my theology I am Reformed but because I’m Reformed, I can work with other people – because I believe God is sovereign and he may save people through Catholics, Charismatics and Anglicans.”

Commending the efforts and focus of many Christian churches and organisations around Australia, Robertson hopes Third Space enhances them so well that it ceases to exist: “Success for Third Space looks like this – We work ourselves out of a job, so we’re not needed any more because it’s in the DNA of churches that they want to reach out and they’re thinking about it and doing it.”

“No, the absolute success for Third Space is more people becoming Christians. That’s it. That’s the aim. And by ‘becoming Christians’, I mean Matthew 28: joining and being discipled. I’m not talking about just hands up at a rally or signing a form. I’m talking about disciples. Because that changes everything.”

Robertson doesn’t put a number on converts or specify the exact ways to reach out. He just wants to be part of encouraging Australian Christians to be part of what is a long-term goal. Some churches and organisations focus on short-term goals, such as growth in numbers of people attending weekly services. But Robertson wants to see seeds being sowed for reaping in the distant future, as generations of Australians are changed by their interaction with the gospel.

“I believe if Christians are energised, equipped and emboldened to communicate the gospel, people will be converted. I don’t think there is a formula for it but I believe that God’s word won’t return to him empty. So we get the end goal of more people becoming Christians is obtained through Christians being energised and equipped.”

Third Space – Interview on 20/20 Vision

13 thoughts on “Evangelism in Todays Church – Interview with Eternity Magazine

  1. Thanks David , For the information and purpose of Third Space . It has given me a greater understanding on your call to Australia. May the Lord bless that work and open more doors of opportunity for the good news of Jesus Christ !

  2. “And my interest is in evangelism, so I don’t care if you are Hillsong, Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican or whatever – if you want me to be involved in evangelism with you, if you are seeking to teach the Bible and be faithful to it, and if you don’t tell me what to say, I’m there.”

    Great! I am sure I was prompted by God to point you in the direction of the Lutheran Church of Australia the other day. This comment reaffirms that.

    1. Absolutely – and I would not want to spend eternity with any person who held such racist views. The Aboriginal cultures are some of the most ancient in the world – I have already met some fine aboriginal people who I am delighted to call brother and sister. We have a lot to learn from them…

    2. Ethnicity will not even be a concept! All of us will spend eternity in the company of either those who have accepted the salvation gained for us at Calvary, or with those who have rejected that offer! Ethnicity will not even be a concept!

  3. “I am 100 per cent committed to being an evangelical Christian.”

    Yikes! That’s the very thing that puts most Australians off. That’s what separates them from, say, the US: Australians’ lack of fervent evangelism (and nationalism).

    But no doubt David will change all that.

    1. Chris – I suspect you don’t really grasp what evangelicalism is. It has nothing to do with nationalism – in fact it is almost the opposite. I very much doubt that most Australians are put off Christianity because of evangelical Christianity – because I suspect that most don’t know what it is….and most probably don’t give it a second thought!

    2. Hello ChrisS

      “Yikes! That’s the very thing that puts most Australians off. That’s what separates them from, say, the US: Australians’ lack of fervent evangelism …”

      If, by evangelism, you are thinking if US -style televangelist conmen/George Dubya-voting warmongers/”prosperity gospel” preachers/etc, I think you will find Pastor David is opposed to that kind of thing as well (as I very much am too, for whatever its worth). He is using the term “evangelical Christianity” in its more traditional sense, not in the way it has been hijacked.

  4. “I’m committed to the Bible and believe it’s without error.”

    The second half of that statement is remarkable in its blithe assumptions.

    It’s one thing to take the message or sentiments of the Gospels, and deliver them to contemporary audiences; it’s quite another to ask people to accept that many of those foundational Bible stories — from Genesis through to Joshua, say, and the Gospels themselves — are anything other than theological explanations for a very specific, pre-scientific culture. Hence, not divinely inspired, and certainly not free from innerrancy, as you like to imagine.

    No doubt you will ask for concrete examples; but we’ve covered some of this territory before (and I have no wish to rouse the sleeping dragon John Kilpatrick, and be pelted with a fusillade of endless paragraphs). I would also point out, in defence, that you, too, opted for generalities: “Robertson doesn’t…specify the exact ways to reach out.”

    Why do you think Australians don’t know what evangelical Christianity is? How do you know they haven’t rejected it already, based on what they do take it to mean?

    1. You associate what evangelical Christianity with nationalism – thus demonstrating that you don’t know what it is….I also spend my time asking Australians if they know what evangelical (biblical) Christianity is….most don’t.

    2. Chris S,
      You’ve said nothing positive here, not answered your own questions to set out not only the view of “Australians” in general and how you know them. But more significantly do not set out succinctly, what you say the “evangel” is ,from which you seem to want to “hit and run”, by setting out your slim-line disparagement of both evangelism and an ad hom attach on John Kilpatrick. without a significant , or any rejoinder at all. I’m not sure that “we’ve” covered this before. It may be remiss of me not to have noticed any significant contribution from you on this blog, but memory may fail me.
      But for good measure, whether you welcome it or not, I’ll add this in answer, in respect of scripture, inspiration and inerrancy, what it is and isn’t, particularly as you make no attempt at any definition. Maybe it”l be too much for you. It is in, headline, note form not long form essay.
      Enjoy,
      1 Inspiration.
      1.1 Word of God. This is not the same as inspiration of an artist of musician. The bible claims to be the very word of God, from his very mouth.
      1.2 Definition,
      Inspiration has been defined as, ” the mysterious process by which God worked through human writers, employing their individual personalities and styles to produce divinely authoritative and inerrant writings.” Geisler.
      1.3 this includes the OT (such as as forming part of a whole section such as “Law and Prophets) and historic and poetic (H&P) books. H books present “what God showed” in the concrete events in national life(history) rather than “what God said” (law and prophets). Poetry is what God said in the hearts and aspirations of individuals within the nation. Together they form part of the implicit didactic, “thus says the Lord”.
      They, the scriptures, are all God’s didactics.

      2 Inerrancy. This integral to inspiration. It means “True in everything scriptures affirm.” Everything affirmed by the Bible is true.
      2.1 This is a logical deduction that the Bible, being from God, based on God’s character, is without error, inerrant
      2.2 Meaning of inerrancy: scripture in their original autographs will be shown to be true, in everything they affirm, whether this has to do with doctrine or morality, or with social, physical or life sciences.
      2.3 God used a variety of expressions, personalities and styles, forms, types, anti-types, metaphors, themes, symbols and more.
      2.4 meaning would not be confused or misconstrued.

      3. What inerrancy is not.
      3.1 Not strict grammar. Some literary devices are used.
      3.2 Historical and linguistic imprecision does not imply error. It was compiled in ancient times using ancient standard, Precision by today’s standards should not be absolutised. The bible speaks in the language of the day to people of that day, in the mode of that day.
      3.3 Inerrancy does not guarantee comprehensive account(s)
      3.4 Does not mean there are not scribal/copyist errors.
      3.5 Not a recent idea. Out side of scripture, it goes back at least to Augustine, to Aquinas as well as the Reformers.
      4 There is a false separation between the spiritual, physical, historical.

      5Interpretation: “That’s just your interpretation!”:
      Exegesis -reading the text to see what’s there.
      Here is a short 5 min that really needs to be watched to the end. “That’s just your interpretation.” DA Carson
      https://youtu.be/9OIxOq3aOIo

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